Monday, June 27, 2011

King's Dragon

King's Dragon (Crown of Stars, #1)King's Dragon by Kate Elliott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A pretty standard, kingdom in turmoil, invaders from the north, treachery from a royal sibling, mysterious waif loses guardian to nefarious forces, adopted bastard chosen by fate to be protector of the kingdom type of book. The execution however, is pretty good. The waif suffers true trauma. The kind of thing that can damage a person for a long time. And it's not how her guardian dies, but what happens after.

The religion is very catholic-like, with saints and priests, though a more gender-neutral(or even reversed) version of the church hierarchy and dogma. Religion is depicted mostly positively, though some members use the church as a vehicle of their ambition, others are sincere. Saints do appear in exceptional circumstances, but most of the time, people have to follow their religion the same way we do, with faith.

The structure of the kingdom is interesting, with a roving court, a semi-autonomous church authority, and a semi-matriarchal line of succession. The politics are introduced slowly, only halfway through the book are we given a real picture of how the land is governed.

The characters have some real progression, with loyalties tested, religious callings conflicting with religious morals, trauma forcing an escape inwards, and imperfect mentors.

I'll be reading more of this series. I'll let you know if it loses its interest. But I'm optimistic.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Riverworld, book 1 and 2

The Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld 2)"To Your Scattered Bodies Go" and The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I checked this out from the library, and I'm glad I didn't purchase it. The edition I checked out was an omnibus of the first two books of the Riverworld series.

My feeling is these books are like, "Wouldn't it be really cool if..." all the interesting characters of history were all living and ran into each other. And, yes, it's cool to think about, but it's not something you can base a novel on. It's more like a dinner party idea. Though, I've never been to that kind of dinner party.

The reason the idea doesn't really work is that the characters are restricted. Or at least, the author's ability to be creative with the characters is restricted. So the first book, written with a relatively unknown(at least to most modern audiences) character has a somewhat more interesting characterization. The second, starring Samuel Clemens, seems more forced, less natural.

The world is a little interesting--an artificial world with one long river, food and clothing supplied daily, but very little in the way of natural resources besides wood--but also unvarying. In a way it's an advantage, since after a single description of the landscape, it's easy to visualize wherever the characters may travel. You never feel like you don't know the place. The only difference is in the cultures of the people inhabiting the area. This gives you a sense of humanity being the landscape.

One thing I found surprising was the female characters. They were essentially objects. Not necessarily sexual objects,(though they sometimes were) but things to be acted upon, not actors in themselves. Sometimes Fantasy and Science Fiction are harped on for their depictions of women, and this book made me understand why. There's a big gap between the way Brandon Sanderson writes women, and the way Farmer did.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Bikes of New York

Something slightly different, free fiction, read it in full here:
The Bikes of New York


I read this a few years ago, but this story on slashdot reminded me of it.

A novella about the pressures of feeding a family and the difficulty of maintaining an ideologically pure rebellion. Starting with a startlingly believable premise that our economy fueled by oil crumbles, and instead of an unrecognizable world, it's a limited world. Cities are not graveyards, but they are dark at night. There's still money, there's still government, but the streets are filled with pedestrians, and power from an outlet is a luxury.

If it sounds like there's too much going on for something that's not a novel, set your worries aside. This is a focused story, with a sympathetic and flawed protagonist, action, villains who are both sinister and pathetic, and great speeches about the freedom to work.

If you don't like Science Fiction, try this anyway. Seriously. If you do like Science Fiction, try Simon of Space afterwards.

Has some profanity, and one euphemistic use of the word "Servicing".