Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘One Star’ Category

The second book of the Change trilogy by Stirling, following Island in the Sea of Time.

Good:

Stirling must have done deep research to write this trilogy. I learned a lot about the Bronze Age, how people lived then, thought, loved, feared, raised their families and how they died.

Stirling develops colorful and multi-dimensional characters that I could see and emphasize and identify with.

The underlying premise of a 20th century society (a small town’s worth) being thrown into 1250 B.C. and having to cope is a fascinating “what if” question and the development of the story, from the first through the second book, kept me turning pages without rest.

Bad:

There was not enough new material here compared to the first book. The battle scenes went on too long andwere too explicit. After a while they simply got boring. Stirling could have made the first book 100 pages longer and he would not have needed the second book.

To build on that thought: Each book in a trilogy must stand on its own. Clearly the author made an effort to give enough background to make this possible, I don’t think anyone that did not read the first book could have made too much sense of the second.  I would suspect that any reader that did not read the first book would be lost and would abandon this within the first 100 pages.

Ugly:

There was somewhat of a start of the second book, but there was no end. Somehow the story just fizzled out in the last 50 pages. There was the beginning of a climactic war between the rebel Walker and the Republic, along with the various middle eastern alliances the Republic had forged, but the war didn’t finish – or did I miss something. Ok, I know there is a third book, and I presume it’ll pick up after the second, and the whole thing will eventually get resolved. But then, why three books? Why didn’t Stirling just write one massive epic a la Pillars of  the Earth and be done with it?

This is not a trilogy. This is three books strung together.

Going Forward:

I have already bought the third book, so I am pretending that the second isn’t really done, and I am just going on. Since the books were written starting in 1998, with intervals of a year or so between them, the original readers must have been frustrated, having to wait a year to know what happens next. I can just go right on.

If I had not made the investment of  time of reading the second book, I would probably stop and not bother with 2 and 3 now.  But at this point, I want to know how it all gets wrapped up. If Stirling wraps this up, I’ll probably read other Stirling books in the future. If he does not wrap it up and leaves me hanging, I’ll probably be done.

But now – on to the third book.

Rating: *

Read Full Post »

Like our first kiss and the birth of our children, we remember forever the first book we read in a new language.

My first German book was Die Smaragdenstadt, a story about a group of children traveling to an Emerald City. It was the first “chapter book” I read when I was probably seven years old. I remember how proud I was when I had finished it.

My first English book was Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. I was a foreign exchange student in an American high school, and I don’t know why I picked that book of all books to be my first. It kept me reading, I kept turning the pages, and I looked up words incessantly in my German-English dictionary. I learned.

My first Spanish book was Once Minutos by Paulo Coelho. It’s a paperback of 242 pages. I bought it in the beginning of December 2009 on a trip to Oakland, and it’s taken me until now to finish it, much longer than I thought it would.

Why did I pick Once Minutos?

The author, Paulo Cuelho is also the author the the bestseller El Alquimista (the Alchemist), which I had just read about a year before. The Alchemist is a fable-like story of a shepard getting life lessons during an impossible journey. The language was simple, the story more like a children’s book. So I thought this would work well for my entrance into original Spanish literature.

In hindsight, the choice was not such a good one. First, Coelho is not Spanish, he’s Brazilian, so I he writes in Portuguese. The Alchemist actually has the Guinness World Record for the most translated book of all time (67 languages). So much for my choice of an original Spanish writer.

Once Minutos (Eleven Minutes) is the story of Maria, a girl born in Brazil.

Érase una vez una prostituta llamada Maria.

There once was a prostitute named Maria, the book starts. We follow Maria through her early childhood in a backwater town in Brazil, her first unreciprocated love for a boy in elementary school, her growing up. Eventually she wants to see the wide world. She is swept up by a Swiss disco owner who is exporting exotic Brazilian girls to his Geneva clubs for Samba dance troupes. Maria becomes lonely and disillusioned and figures out quickly that she is an indentured servant with no way out of her situation. It does not take long before she becomes a prostitute. Her goal, however, remains to make enough money to buy a hazienda for her and her parents in the country in Brazil, find a husband, have children, and live happily ever after.

The “Eleven Minutes” is about the time it takes for the average couple for a love-making session. That’s all. Everything leading up to it, and down from it, is not relevant. The whole world revolves around the Eleven Minutes.

Eleven Minutes is by all means a sexually explicit novel.

Aquello era el dolor y el placer, el mango del látigo presionando el clítoris cada vez más fuerte, y el orgasmo saliendo por la boca, por el sexo, por los poros, por los ojos, por toda su piel. (pg 166)

You don’t need to know Spanish and I don’t need  to translate for you to get the gist of what this is about.

Maria discovers her sexuality, not through her job as a prostitute, but rather through a few men that teach her, through trantric teachings, through sadism and other exotic techniques.

You’d think that this would  be an interesting  read for me as my first Spanish book. If I were 15 years old, the age I was when I secretly bought Fanny Hill, as all my friends did, and read it hidden from parents, siblings and friends, I would enjoy Once Minutos. It’s written for young people that want to read about sexual coming of age. But for me, call me jaded, call me grown up, place me past my sexual prime, it was flat-out boring. I was not interested in reading about a girl and her clitoris. I chucked about sentimental musings about making love and the merging of not just two souls, but the completion of the universe.

Al mismo tiempo que sentía su sexo dentro de mí, sentía también su mano en los senos, los nalgas, tocándome como sólo una mujer sabe hacerlo. Entonces entendí que estábamos hechos el uno para el otro, porque  él conseguía ser mujer como ahora, y yo conseguía ser hombre como cuando conversamos o no iniciamos en el encuentro de las dos almas perdidas, de los dos fragmentos que faltaban para completar el universo. (pg 235)

Yeah, right!

Since the subject matter was not all that interesting, since it was not a page turner, but it was work going through this book, I didn’t look up as many vocabs as I should have, I skipped some sentences when I knew Coelho was waxing poetic and I didn’t give a damn, just to get on with it.

If you are a high school kid, like I was when I read Fanny Hill, go get Once Minutos in Spanish, if you’re learning the language, and you can read smutty stuff right in front of your parents. You will enjoy it.

If you are over 25, and you want to learn all the names of the body parts and many Spanish words for breasts, this is the book. I probably increased my vocabulary by 300 words. I doubled my reading speed in Spanish. I met my overall objective. Now, for the next book, I have to pick something adventurous, something I am actually interested in, perhaps history in the Caribbean, something about pirates, to get me through it faster.

Maybe Don Quixote, the greatest novel in the Spanish language? Nah, that comes later. After Ulysses.

Rating - One Star

Read Full Post »

I lost no time reading the third book of the Fourth Realm trilogy by John Twelve Hawks. Now I am asking myself why I read these three books and kept turning the pages. I actually don’t think that the books are that good or that Twelve Hawks is that good a writer.

First, I should note that The Golden City is the first book that I read on my Kindle. For the first time I do not have the satisfaction of placing the book on the top two shelves in my den, the “books already read” shelves. There is nothing to put there. It’s digital only. But that’s another blog post entirely.

Second, if you check my reviews of the first two books, The Traveler and The Dark River, you’ll see how I criticized the writer and rated the books two stars and one star respectively. The Golden City will also be one star.

As I said already after the second book, the author should have combined the three into one. It would have been a more consistent story that stood on its own feet. It would not have required awkward regurgitation of background that the reader of the preceding books already knew. And the more I think about, the less I believe that anyone would pick up The Dark River or The Golden City and make sense of them without first reading The Traveler.

The Golden City was disappointing. Just as the author left things unraveled after the first, and particularly after the second book, he didn’t bother to completely tidy up after the third one.

Spoiler alert — I am giving plot information away and if you are going to read The Golden City, stop reading this review now.

I can’t figure out why he called this The Golden City. Yes, there is a strange ‘city’ of buildings in the Sixth Realm that has golden towers. However, the story about the city is shallow, the description vague, and the entire chapter is uninteresting.

Matthew, the father of the Corrigan brothers, finally appears in the flesh for the first time in the trilogy, but rather than being the sage, the father of all Travelers, he is basically a self-absorbed and possibly senile old man with nothing to say but trite drivel in his first conversation with his son in twenty years. Gabriel’s comments to his father are wooden, silly, juvenile and totally unrealistic. When reading that chapter, the book lost me. There is better prose in Reader’s Digest. That whole scene is about as wholesome and satisfying as a sandwich and fries at Burger King. At the end we find out that Matthew finally died, but we don’t know about the circumstances, and frankly, we don’t care.

The final conflict between Maya and Boone, the cold-blooded killing machine of the brethren, is so vapid that I was almost exasperated. Just before the final battle, we find out why Boone is what he is. He lost a daughter at a shooting at her school some years before. Boone is the man who killed in cold blood innocent people in all three books, the man who killed Maya’s father by having his eyes eaten by ferrett-like animals trained to hurt and kill. Maya has him at gun point and they have to travel out to the desert. She intends to kill him once he takes her there. But at the last minute, just before she pulls the knife, she changes her mind and gives him a handgun. The modicum of characterization that took place in these books focused on Boone, and how he was a completely cold-blooded killer who wanted nothing more than to eradicate the Travelers and Harlequins. And here she gives him a gun and presumably trusts him. RIGHT.

Hollis becomes a Harlequin, which is not much of a surprise. Linden and Maya actually accept him into their brotherhood.

Maya is pregant with Gabriel’s child. This is significant, since they presumably are in deep love. The child is likely to become a Traveler, and with so few left, that should be a really big deal. Yet she never tells him. The story ends before the child is born. Gabriel never knows. In a plot with so many holes and so many shallow side paths, something as significant as a new Traveler does not really make much of a difference.

Alice Chen hangs with the Harlequins and we sense that one day, she too, will be a killing machine like her role model Maya.

Here is the worst. The overriding conflict of the trilogy is the polarization of the Corrigan brothers. Michael joins the dark forces and spreads evil and killing throughout the world. Gabriel is the savior of  the world. At the end, it seems like Gabriel makes a signifcant dent into the plans of the Brethren, but he certainly in no way eradicates them or their threat. Like the war on terror, this war can’t be won. But incredibly, we don’t find out what happens to the brothers. Toward the end of the story, they both confront each other and slip into another Realm. We briefly follow them there. At the end of the story, months later, Hollis, Alice, Maya and their friends are all well and happy, and we know that the two Travelers have not come back. What happened? Have they won? Where are they trapped? The conflict is not resolved.

I wonder why I kept reading. I wanted to know what happens next, but nothing much happened next. Somehow John Twelve Hawks, who is an awkward writer at best, kept me reading, and got me to buy all three of his books. I would not do that again if I were starting over. He is a marketing genious.

Rating: *

Read Full Post »

This is the second book of the Fourth Realm Trilogy. The first one was The Traveler.

The story carries on where The Traveler left off, but the way the author maintains the continuity struck me as awkward. It’s a trilogy, I get that. Each book is some 400 pages long. When the author tells about a character that we should know from the first book, he has to reintroduce the character in the second book, and then give some background, so any reader who did not read the first one has a chance of understanding the story. That’s okay for characters, but for concepts it gets tedious.

After reading the first book I knew what a Traveler was, and a Harlequin, and the Tabula, and the Brethren. I knew the mechanics of the various Realms and how to travel back and forth between them, the possibilities and the limitations. It simply struck me as awkward to have to hear about it all again.

Also, the end of the first book, I remember, was abrupt. The end of The Dark River was not just abrupt, it was jarring. Gabriel, the main protagonist, stepped back from the First Realm (think of our vision of hell) into his current body, lying in a shabby room in London. Maya, the main Harlequin, was trapped in the First Realm with seemingly no way out, in the middle of a sword fight, surrounded by a whole group of very bad guys with clubs and knives. Her Roman friend Lumbroso, who helped her get to the First Realm, was left in Ethiopia, waiting for Maya to return. Hollis Wilson was left in the middle of a battle with Tabula mercenaries in which Mother Blessing was killed. The book stopped mid-action, without all the major conflicts resolved.

The third book is titled “The Golden City.” I need to get it and read it. It’s out in hardcopy but won’t be released in paperback until July.

I was not satisfied with the ending and resolution of the second book. The author wanted to make it stand-alone, and he went overboard in the beginning to do that, and he didn’t tidy up at all at then end. The Dark River makes little sense without reading The Traveler first. If anyone were to pick it up without knowing The Traveler, they simply would not get enough out of it. The way the author left it, I need to read the third book to tidy things up.

I think Twelve Hawks would have done better if he had simply strung the three books  together into a 1,200 page Stephen King-esque story and sold it as one book. He could have left the awkward stuff out, and he could have focused on telling the story.

To give him credit though, I kept reading. And I will buy The Golden City, but not as a hard-cover. That would be too much of an investment.

Rating: *

Read Full Post »

Dietrich, the main protatonist, is a Catholic priest in the small village of Oberhochwald in medieval Germany. In the summer of 1348, just before the Black Plague ravages Europe, a spaceship crashes in the nearby woods, setting off an electrical storm, lightning and fires. Some aliens are wounded, but most survive.

The aliens are adapted enough to earth’s atmosphere that they can exit their craft and survive. They are lanky beings, their heads smaller than human heads with huge yellow bulging, insect-like eyes and antennae. Their mouths are wide and they have soft front lips and horny side lips. With long arms and legs they are between five and over six feet tall. When they haunch down and sit, they hug their legs and their knees extend above their heads. They communicate by creating hissing and chirping sounds out of their side lips and by rubbing their serrated forearms together. To medieval Germans, they look like giant grasshoppers.

Of course, to medieval Germans, who are deeply steeped in religion, they also look like demons. Fortunately, the aliens have universal translating machines and head harnesses that they and humans can wear which do the translating. The translation software has to learn the vocabulary, and it gets built over time. This capability of the aliens saves them, since some of the humans quickly figure out that there are a lot of advantages that come with advanced technology. For instance, the aliens have flying harnesses. They have weapons with bullets, explosives, cameras, medical tools, all of which come in handy when you have to defend yourself against crooks and neighboring war lords.

The story plays in 1348 and 1349, but there is also a frame plot that plays today, where a historian and his physicist girlfriend figure out that there were aliens through a complex set of circumstances. This makes it a book with complex material, and that is confusing and distracting at times.

Flynn writes extensively about medieval lifestyle and history, and you really get immersed into that long-ago world.

He knows a lot of languages, and he shows off his Latin, Greek, German and French, sometimes without translation. I was able to get most of it, but the average American reader would simply not be able to follow. His language is stilted, and people talk unnaturally, or perhaps they really talked that way in the 14th century, and it just seems unnatural to me.

He uses an abundance of German, with German names of people and places, expressions, exclamations, all intended to make it seem real. Sometimes I wondered why he didn’t place the story into medieval England or Ireland. The spacecraft could easily have crashed there. He could have accomplished the very same goal, but with less confusion, because he could have remained in the English language, alas, he could not have shown off his German.

He waxes extensively about advanced physics and cosmology. This book would have been just fine with a little more focus on the real story and leaving out the modern physics. It simply didn’t connect.

Did he want to write a book about cosmology, the plague, medieval Germany and medieval religion? Maybe. He did write a book about what might happen if an advanced technological and completely alien race were to be mixed up with a feudal, pre-industrial society. That’s the part that kept me reading to the end. All the other stuff was interesting, but distracting and took the story out of focus.

Rating: *

DarwinCatholic: Here is another good review with a theological angle.

Read Full Post »

The book “The Shack” with the subtitle “where tragedy confronts eternity” was a challenging book to read and it’s going to be more challenging to review. According to the cover, there are more than three million copies in print and it’s a #1 New York Times bestseller.

I didn’t  pick up the book myself, since it advertises its religious content, and I am generally not much interested in the subject in fiction. A dear friend gave me the book, though, and said it was excellent and I’d really enjoy reading it.  So I did.

First, the author’s short bio on the back cover caught my attention:

Wm. Paul Young was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was New Guinea. He suffered great loss as a child and young adult and now enjoys the “wastefulness of grace” with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

Clearly, there is an indication of first a very different viewpoint, one that most of us cannot even fathom, and second, some deep struggle to explain severe adversity and possibly evil when there is presumably an all-loving God, particularly when your parents are missionaries and presumably deeply religious.

If you were a devout Christian and had something horrible happen to you, and you needed to come to terms with it, you’d write “The Shack.”

The story is quite simple: a family loses a small child to a deviant repeat abductor and murderer. We never get to meet the criminal, but from the evidence of his deeds we can conclude that he performed unspeakable atrocities before eventually killing the child. The rest of the family has to live with this and they all try to blame themselves for what happened. After years of grief, Mack, the protagonist, receives a note that he cannot explain other than that it came straight from God. His instructions are to come back to the shack, the location of the heinous crime years before.

He arrives alone, and indeed meets God. There are as many interpretations of God as there are religions and subreligions. For Mack, God shows himself as three people. Papa is God, the father, who is first a large black woman and later an aging hippie with a long grey pony tail and a goatee, in jeans and hiking boots. Jesus is God, the son, a stocky Middle-Eastern looking man in his early thirties, who is a handyman around the place and likes to build things with his hands. The Holy Ghost is Sarayu, a middle age Asian woman who likes gardening and is restless, flitting about and sprinkling wisdom around. The three spend the weekend with Mack, going on various walks, hikes and activities, talking and giving lessons. Mack is enlightened and eventually returns home.

I won’t tell you any more than this, lest I spoil the story and enjoyment. It’s an intricate plot, a well crafted and almost engineered story line. The author tries to make things come alive in front of you, but I don’t think he succeeds. I am constanly reminded of the fact that I am reading a book I was asked to read, and I make myself turn the pages. When Steven King tells of a group of good old boys sitting around in the lobby of a Texas gas station on plastic chairs, popping open cans of Bud Light, you can smell the beer, feel the Texas heat, smell the gasoline fumes and see the greasy fingers of the attendant. You are there. When Young elaborates on a point that is irrelevant to the plot but he makes it to paint the picture, you see just that, he’s painting the picture, and you wish he got on with it. There are several places in the book where Jesus or Papa tell Mack to “grab a bite” in the kitchen before they embark on something. The vision of “grabbing a bite” simply does not make things come alive for me.

The majority of the story is comprised of conversations between Mack and one or more of the personifications of God. They are talking about the original sin, Eve giving the apple to Adam, they are explaining good, evil and free will, they show why Christ died and how this somehow saved the world, and every other Christian theological topic you can think of. Young is obviously a preacher who wants to explain the whole of Christian doctrine in terms that people in 2009 can understand.

If you are a Christian, you will enjoy the new interpretations and answers to questions you may have harbored deep within you for a long time. You will probably interpret some of the dialog as theological discourse. You may find the story as creative and possibly spiritually profound and life changing. Every Christian will enjoy the book and the pages will keep turning automatically, regardless of the at times cumbersome prose and predictable plot.

If you are not a Christian, like me, you will simply be bored, when you realize about one third into the book that for the rest of the story, you will be presented with one interpretation of Christian doctrine after another, neatly packaged in conversations directly with God, speaking through characters manufactured to be likable.

The book is only 250 pages long, and it took me more than two weeks, on a business trip, to read, since I had to keep telling myself I was interested in this and keep turning the pages for that reason. After a few pages I’d fall asleep and I’d start over the next day. Without acceptance of a holy trinity the whole story does not make much sense. In my mind, the trinity was represented by a God father, an old bearded and long-haired man in a throne, Jesus, a guy in a robe with long black slightly wavy hair and a beard, and the Holy Ghost, a white dove. Ok. Now I have a big black woman, a Middle-Eastern man and an Asian woman. It does not help or expand my picture of Christianity.

People of other religions may have similar trouble reading this. The concept of the original sin does probably not filter through to a Hindu, but I am only guessing here. Having Jesus help Mack walk on water might elicit a good chuckle for a Christian, but it won’t invoke the same response in a Muslim.

This is a book written by a devout Christian struggling with the concepts and tenets of his religion, trying to make sense of it, for the audience of all other Christians with the same trouble. That’s why it’s a bestseller.

For everyone else, it’s just 250 boring pages by a mediocre writer.

Rating: *

Read Full Post »

Sunstorm is the sequel to Time’s Eye by Clarke and Baxter. It is also the second book of the ‘Time Odyssey’ by the two authors. I just finished reading Time’s Eye last week in Boston and I went ahead and bought the next book right away.

Why it is a sequel I don’t really know. There is only a lose and contrived connection between the first book and the second, and they both could have stood alone just fine. There is one character only, Bisesa, that appears in the first and second book, tying the story together.

Sunstorm was nowhere near as exciting as Time’s Eye. It almost landed in my pile of “books (not finished reading)” which you can review by clicking on this categories item on the right side of the screen. When I was about a third of the way into the book I got bored with it. Fortunately, I was on a cross country flight with nothing else to read, so I kept going.

If you are interested in the physics of the sun, this is the book. You learn more about the sun than you ever wanted to know, unless you are a physicist or astronomer. There are also a few concepts of grand space engineering, highly improbable in the near future (2040) and a side plot of a human mission to Mars. All is done fairly well, but you simply can’t get away from the reality that there are two science authors who want to impart their skill and they are writing the story so they can weave in all this stuff they want to talk about. Nothing ever seems real, nothing gets deep, the characters are all caricatures and you keep turning the pages to find out what’s next.

Will I buy “Firstborn,” the third book of the trilogy? Probably. I’ll check it out next time I am at the bookstore. I’ll read the back cover and decide. But I have gone through two out of three, why not go all the way.

Read Full Post »

In May 2005 I read the book Nights in Rodanthe – by Nicholas Sparks and this is what I wrote then:

When my daughter saw a Nicholas Sparks book on my nightstand, she actually asked me why I was reading it. I told her I tried to keep an open mind and read a “sensitive” book once in a while. A “chick book” as she would probably call it.

Here is a book that follows a well-tested formula and it is anything but unique. As I was working my way through it I kept thinking of how closely it followed “The Bridges of Madison County.”  Bridges, however, was much more fresh and surprising. Bridges, when I first read it, made me cry out loud, a first when reading a book. Rodanthe made me sniffle a few times at best.

The story was the same one:

A successful surgeon neglects his family all his life for his career. He gets burned out in his fifties, after he loses his wife to illness and his son to neglect. Then he sells his house, his practice and his life, and gets on his way to Ecuador to try to reconcile with his estranged son. He plans to be there for a year.

A housewife and mother of three school-aged children lost her husband to a younger woman and cannot forgive him. She cannot make ends meet, but is dedicated to raising her children to the best of her abilities.

Chance has it that the two of them are holed up in a bed and breakfast in a small coastal town in North Carolina by the name of Rodanthe. The woman, Adrienne, is taking care of the B&B for a friend of hers for the weekend. The surgeon, Paul, is the only guest of the B&B. They are there for a long weekend of four nights, during a severe storm that for the benefit of the plot keeps away all visitors and any other guests. Stuff can happen when two lost souls are together in a nice and romantic setting. And stuff does happen indeed.

As the plot goes, the first day together they get to know each other and we get to know the players. On the second day they fall in love and lust. That love gets consummated on the third and forth day, and then they part. Fate has it that they never meet again. Both are desperately in love, and for both there will never be another partner, not to mention a partner of true love and soul-mate-ship as they were to each other.

Bridges was that way, too, but it was a better constructed and more credible novel. Bridges seemed real, while this seemed contrived. Two middle-aged hapless souls meet and mate, and their lives are changed forever. Okay. What else?

In stories like this, there are way too many characters that are just not real. Paul, for instance, is a brilliant doctor, nationally renowned for his skill. But he is also a world-class runner, which helps make his body trim, muscular, and apparently sexy for the females in the story. Not only is he extremely successful, but he also has rugged good looks, a sensitive soul that, of course, is only brought out by the female protagonist, and it even surprises him himself. When he dresses, he just “throws on” a pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt every day. The shirt shows his muscular arms and back, to the enticement of the female. His intense gaze and his humble demeanor round out his attractiveness.

Both characters “throw on” jeans at times in the story. That “throwing on” of clothes reminded me of another fairly weak book I had read a couple of years ago by Sandra Brown: A Kiss Remembered. Those guys also kept throwing on clothes.

My point is, why can’t Paul be a credible and normal character. Yes, he can be a doctor, he can be anything, but it would have been more credible if he had had some flaws, if he had been a real person, not some superhero of the American society in the early 2000’s. Give me a shoe salesman, give me a carpenter, give me a postman, give me anybody that I am likely to run into at the supermarket, and I’ll get into your story. Give me real persons, not cartoon characters of precise drawing and coloring.

I could not quite picture Adrienne in this book. She is in her late forties, somewhat overweight and rounded, and with a few facial flaws, like a hooked nose. Of course, the plastic surgeon eventually tells her she does not need any surgery. Hmmm. We never really find out what’s up with her, and why he is all engrossed by her. She is a “normal person,” not a superhero like he. She works in a library. What exactly attracts Paul to her? Is it her looks, is it her smarts, is it her personality? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because she is the only woman there in the B&B, and all the women get sexier as closing time comes nearer.

Maybe I will stay away from any more “chick books” for a while. On second thought, perhaps just Nicholas Sparks books.

Today I watched the movie:

Richard Gere plays Paul, Diane Lane plays Adrienne.

The story is the same one, only more watered down. It’s supposed to jerk your tears, and a few do come out.

The best part is the house on the beach. The front porch posts are in the surf, no kidding. It’s supposed to have been there since the owner’s great grandmother lived there, but when we watch it during the hurricane we can’t believe it’s still there the next morning. Who put that house there, and what were they thinking? But it does look good, and the third floor art studio would be my favorite room, if I could live there.

I won’t tell you about the movie. The acting is ok and the actors make it through a  contrived plot. But you read all that above.

Read Full Post »

It was time for some epic science fiction. So I bought this 1000 page book by Hamilton, and in a lot of ways it did for me what I wanted. I love stories of mankind mingling with aliens, and there were plenty of aliens in this book. Not the kinds of aliens we find in Hollywood movies, humanoids with two legs and two arms, and knees and elbows just like ours, and heads with two eyes and two ears.

If we ever find aliens, there is a very small chance that they will be bipedal, let alone with the same number of ligament segments we humans have. That’s just convenient for movies, so you can put a person into an elaborate costume and makeup job just to make it work. Also, aliens are not likely to talk, using sound waves coming out of orifices used for eating in the front of their heads. It is very likely that we would not be able to figure out how to communicate with them at all, for years, for decades perhaps.

In Pandora’s Star there are individual aliens the pass the plausibility factor, races that communicate using telepathy, others using ultraviolet signals, and others yet using strange song patterns, goofy-seeming aliens.

It is the year 2380. Human civilization has spread over 600 planets in a spherical area around 300 light years across, with a few outposts further out. This was possible through the discovery of wormholes, shortcuts through space.

Space travel has the ultimate speed limitation of the speed of light, which no ship can theoretically approach. This makes it virtually impossible for us to reach even the next star, Alpha Centauri, about 4 light years away. Let’s say we figure out how to build an engine that can accelerate to one tenth the speed of light, and to make the math simple, that it can accelerate and decelerate quickly so the ramp up and down time is negligible, it would still take 40 years for that ship to reach the nearest star. Assume we stay there for a few years to explore, and then come back, more than 80 years will have passed when we return home. To make matters worse, there is no way of knowing if there are any viable planets to explore at Alpha Centauri, so the whole trip could be a big waste of time.

Hamilton’s wormholes bypass this problem. If you have watched the Stargate series on TV, you get the picture. You simply walk through the wormhole and you come out on the other side in a completely different place. Complex math and immense power make it possible to place wormholes so accurately that you can build train tracks through them. Humans board a train at LA Galactic (vs. LAX) and drive right through, coming out on the planet Anshun, 25 light years away,  under a dim pink sun. This network of wormholes enabled humanity to spread, and new frontiers are being discovered all the time, ever outward. Just like traveling by plane today from San Diego to Springfield, Illinois, requiring a stop-over in Chicago, traveling to distant planets via wormholes requires tickets on trains, complete with layovers in interim hub planet stations, to get to your destination.

Hamilton paints a rich tapestry of a utopian world in this book, with extensive character development, neat technology, a few heroes and interwoven plot lines with many subplots and side stories. You can delve deeply into it and lose yourself. You can experience alien thoughts. You can explore with the explorers.

However, I didn’t care for the side stories. There was way too much distraction with politics, the president of the Commonwealth, blustering senators, criminals, terrorists, subversives. Some of the characters were introduced, and we spent 40 pages following them, and then they seemingly disappeared from the story. I admit, out of the 1000 pages, I read perhaps 500 of them, those segments that were of interest, and I turned the pages through the endless boring sections that I didn’t care about, simply was not interested in and that apparently didn’t contribute to the main plot enough for me to miss them or be confused. Hamilton could have written this tome in 500 pages, and it would be a much better book for it.

In the end, the story didn’t complete in any satisfying manner. I believe a novel that is sold on its own should be able to stand on its own. This didn’t. It just ended, as if it was a chapter all by itself. The final war was not completed. The fate of humanity remained undecided, albeit tenuous. One major character, Ozzie and his small entourage, spend the entire book on a weirdly implausible excursion without any connection to the main story. I kept waiting for Ozzie to loop back into the plot, and he never did. Ironically, I enjoyed Ozzie’s adventures enough to read them all the way through. Why was Ozzie there? I do not know. So Hamilton could have written another book the Ozzie Story, in about 300 pages, and he would have had two books that I would have understood and read and enjoyed, versus one that confused me.

When the book finally ended, Hamilton wanted us to go to the bookstore and buy the sequel. I am not going to buy it. I know that 500 pages will be boring peripheral stuff I am not interested. The other 500 pages will be more core material I really do enjoy, but not enough to go through that again. Ozzie was fun, but not that much fun.

So I got my technology fix, my science fiction epic fix and my alien immersion. That was good. Hamilton is a good story teller and a creative writer. He just packs too much bullshit into the stories and thus dilutes them to a point where they become a pain to read.

And why was it named “Pandora’s Star?” Probably a pun on Pandora’s Box, but never mentioned in the book. I probably turned the pages over it. Oh well. Done with Hamilton.

Read Full Post »

This book plays in the middle of the 21st century, in near future, as science fiction would label it, and describes an earth on the brink of self-annihilation, mostly at the hands on incompetent politicians worldwide.

Then, suddenly, an astronomer discovers a signal from space. Aliens announcing their arrival three months hence. This puts events in motion on earth, of course, and we get to follow those.

The author tells the story from the perspective of dozens of participants, quickly switching around, making it difficult to follow. To make matters worse, the characters are fairly one-dimensional and I simply didn’t find them interesting enough to follow. I did read the book, if you count my quickly skimming over the boring parts, those where I didn’t care about the characters and I didn’t find enough interest in their contributions.

The story was not as interesting as I’d hoped from the back cover description, which was the reason I picked it up in the first place. It was worth a read, but that’s all. This was only the second Haldeman book I have read, so I can’t cast judgment yet. If this had been my first Haldeman, I would never have picked up another one. Given I loved The Accidental Time Traveler, I’ll go for a few more.

But I think you can skip this one.

Read Full Post »

When my daughter saw a Nicholas Sparks book on my nightstand, she actually asked me why I was reading it. I told her I tried to keep an open mind and read a “sensitive” book once in a while. A “chick book” as she would probably call it.

Here is a book that follows a well-tested formula and it is anything but unique. As I was working my way through it I kept thinking of how closely it followed “The Bridges of Madison County.”  Bridges, however, was much more fresh and surprising. Bridges, when I first read it, made me cry out loud, a first when reading a book. Rodanthe made me sniffle a few times at best.

The story was the same one:

A successful surgeon neglects his family all his life for his career. He gets burned out in his fifties, after he loses his wife to illness and his son to neglect. Then he sells his house, his practice and his life, and gets on his way to Ecuador to try to reconcile with his estranged son. He plans to be there for a year.

A housewife and mother of three school-aged children lost her husband to a younger woman and cannot forgive him. She cannot make ends meet, but is dedicated to raising her children to the best of her abilities.

Chance has it that the two of them are holed up in a bed and breakfast in a small coastal town in North Carolina by the name of Rodanthe. The woman, Adrienne, is taking care of the B&B for a friend of hers for the weekend. The surgeon, Paul, is the only guest of the B&B. They are there for a long weekend of four nights, during a severe storm that for the benefit of the plot keeps away all visitors and any other guests. Stuff can happen when two lost souls are together in a nice and romantic setting. And stuff does happen indeed.

As the plot goes, the first day together they get to know each other and we get to know the players. On the second day they fall in love and lust. That love gets consummated on the third and forth day, and then they part. Fate has it that they never meet again. Both are desperately in love, and for both there will never be another partner, not to mention a partner of true love and soul-mate-ship as they were to each other.

Bridges was that way, too, but it was a better constructed and more credible novel. Bridges seemed real, while this seemed contrived. Two middle-aged hapless souls meet and mate, and their lives are changed forever. Okay. What else?

In stories like this, there are way too many characters that are just not real. Paul, for instance, is a brilliant doctor, nationally renowned for his skill. But he is also a world-class runner, which helps make his body trim, muscular, and apparently sexy for the females in the story. Not only is he extremely successful, but he also has rugged good looks, a sensitive soul that, of course, is only brought out by the female protagonist, and it even surprises him himself. When he dresses, he just “throws on” a pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt every day. The shirt shows his muscular arms and back, to the enticement of the female. His intense gaze and his humble demeanor round out his attractiveness.

Both characters “throw on” jeans at times in the story. That “throwing on” of clothes reminded me of another fairly weak book I had read a couple of years ago by Sandra Brown: A Kiss Remembered. Those guys also kept throwing on clothes. Have you noticed that only superhero doctors with perfect bodies, or 23 year old female Ph.D.s in Micheal Crichton stories can “throw on” jeans and T-shirts and get away with it?

Why can’t Paul be a credible and normal character. Yes, he can be a doctor, he can be anything, but it would have been more credible if he had had some flaws, if he had been a real person, not some superhero of the American society in the early 2000’s. Give me a shoe salesman, give me a carpenter, give me a postman, give me anybody that I am likely to run into at the supermarket, and I’ll get into your story. Give me real persons, not cartoon characters of precise drawing and coloring.

I could not quite picture Adrienne in this book. She is in her late forties, somewhat overweight and rounded, and with a few facial flaws, like a hooked nose. Of course, the plastic surgeon eventually tells her she does not need any surgery. Hmmm. We never really find out what’s up with her, and why he is all engrossed by her. She is a “normal person,” not a superhero like he. She works in a library. What exactly attracts Paul to her? Is it her looks, is it her smarts, is it her personality? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because she is the only woman there in the B&B, and all the women get sexier as it gets closer to closing time.

Maybe I will stay away from any more “chick books” for a while. On second thought, perhaps just Nicholas Sparks books.

Read Full Post »

Before boarding a plane for Europe in Dallas, I knew I was going to run out of reading material. I stopped at the only bookstore in the terminal, and when I couldn’t find anything else, this was the book I picked.

The story seemed intriguing. It’s a family drama, told from the omniscient perspective of the writer that can get into the heads of the various characters, at different times. It tells the story of twins, separated at birth by a twist of fate and a moment of very bad judgment by their father.

The writer delves into the thoughts of the various family members and tells their stories and feelings with great detail, to the point, that I would start speed reading, or skimming, to get over the sections that didn’t seem to contribute to the story other than providing more detail about the characters.

The truth is, while I found the story and plot intriguing, the characters didn’t really ever interest me. I was constantly aware of the fact that I was reading a fabricated novel. I was following a story that somebody had made up, making an effort to keep it interesting. There wasn’t really that much going on. There was a lot of telling, but not much showing. There was a lot of thinking, but not much acting.

In the end, I put the book away, glad that I stuck with it all the way through, but also glad that I could leave the characters and I wouldn’t have to spend any more time with them.

The critics on the back cover call the novel mesmerizing. I call it sleepy. I recommend you pass.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: