Assassin's Quest

Fans of Robin Hobb's Assassin series already know that they are in for an emotional roller coaster, but Assassin's Quest in particular is very difficult to read. All of the supporting characters that Fitz loved and trusted have been wrested away from him by one manner of disaster or another. Those whose lives have included periods of major depression will recognize the symptoms and the self-destructive impulses. This is not a book for the emotionally fragile, but then, if you are still reading the series by this point it should be obvious. In a way, the book is noteworthy for that quality in itself: rarely does an author bring their main character so low and portray the results with such unsympathetic clarity.

Anyone who has been reading the books hoping desperately for a happy ending is unlikely to be satisfied, and I was personally somewhat disappointed by the deus ex machina quality.

Overall, it's a different sort of book. The saying is that the point of a story is the journey rather than the destination; this book is a perfect example and perfect counterexample in one. Reaching the destination is unlikely to make the reader particularly happy, but does bring a sort of catharsis; and anyone who can reach the end of the book without feeling strongly for the characters is probably a sociopath.

Probably not a good book for moody teenagers.

Categories Robin Hobb

Fri May 09 13:52:21 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

The Elfstones of Shannara

The Elfstones of Shannara (The Sword of Shannara) is, in my opinion, the best of the Shannara books. Terry Brooks has exorcised the need to imitate Tolkein, and is now free to explore a somewhat different -- and more original -- story. While he does not succeed in creating a classic that will ring down through the ages, he does manage a reasonably enjoyable fantasy novel.

Unfortunately, reasonably enjoyable is still pretty flawed. The main issue in the story is whether the main character can access and use the power of the Elfstones. The answer is generally no, or at least not yet; eventually the threat grows to the point where their power can be accessed to smash the opposition and the quest continues. Once the reader has figured out the pattern, there's not really much sense of threat. The quest is pretty much a standard "take the McGuffin to Mount Doom", conveniently handed out by a Druid with very little backstory.

All that said, this is probably the best of the Shannara series, and a good place to start with Brooks to see if you will like him as an author. There is very little connection with the first book in the series (The Sword of Shannara) and the writing is better than The Wishsong of Shannara. All three have basically the same plot with different McGuffins.

Categories Shannara Terry Brooks

Thu May 08 13:52:21 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Ebooks and book pricing...

Over at the Mad Genius Club, Amanda finds a publisher talking about ebooks as a "service" and charging more for them than printed books because they are convenient for the reader. Both sides have valid points, but the discussion hook is Amanda's conclusion:

But to say an e-book should cost considerably more than a print book because it is more convenient is ludicrous. It is especially so when the publisher refuses to admit that a reader buys the book instead of just licensing the right to read the book. As for Luby, well, he needs to quit drinking the kool-aid and realize that the reading public isn’t quite as naive — or foolish — as he seems to think it is. As for the publishers and bean counters still doing their song and dance of joy over what he had to say, they need to adapt t changing times and demands or be left behind. As the song says, “the times, they are a-changing.”

(Read More...)

Wed May 07 13:52:21 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Feminism in speculative fiction

I don't have a lot to say on this topic, mostly because I think the people screaming about it the loudest are really annoying and trying to make mountains out of the mole-hill they personally saw once. We all have bad personal experiences with other people occasionally, especially when everyone involved is probably drunk, but those experiences aren't a license to attack an entire community. Individuals are responsible for their own actions.

... But, that said, I've been following Leigh Butler's reread of A Song of Ice and Fire, because it's really amusing to watch her bang her head on her desk over and over and over again while complaining about sexism in Martin's universe. And the thing is, she's justified in Martin's universe, because it really is amazingly sexist. Perhaps uncomfortably so, because a lot of the sexism is rooted in the very real physical realities of violence.

But this week she said something that made me bang my own head on my own desk.

(Read More...)

Tue May 06 13:52:21 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Can we land a robotic probe on Europa?

The more we learn about Europa, the greater its allure. Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter’s four largest moons in 1610, and in the intervening centuries Europa, the smallest of them, has revealed itself as a likely harbor for liquid water—and maybe even life. Last week NASA took tentative steps toward sending a robotic mission there—a goal long lauded by planetary scientists. But exploring Europa presents some serious technological, financial and political challenges.

It looks like NASA is thinking about the possibility. Of course, science fiction has already been there (Europa Report).

The science fiction version of Jupiter's moon is a pseudo-documentary in the "found footage" style. It won't blow your mind, because after all it's fiction; but it does a decent job of capturing the excitement of scientific exploration without falling back on the tropes of humanoid aliens with funny foreheads or instant hostilities. If you're interested in science and space exploration, this will keep you entertained for an evening. If your main interest in aliens is blowing them into small pieces, you can skip this one.

Mon May 05 13:52:21 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Adapt and Overcome

There's not much to say about Adapt and Overcome (The Maxwell Saga), the third book in Peter David's series about a young man who joins the space navy and comes of age amongst a series of increasingly improbable coincidences. It's fast, reasonably fun, and the infinite improbability drive is set to just a notch below winning the lottery without buying a ticket. The author's complete failure to grasp his readers' comments about his main character's plot invincibility in prior books is a charming mirror of his main character's casual stroll through explosions, firefights and love affairs that never seem to leave a scratch on him.

Readers are unlikely to be bored, but are also unlikely to remember the plot the next day. I was hoping the author would step up his game a little bit after his first two books, since comments on his amazon page suggested he was trying to address the plot armor problem. Unfortunately, the most striking difference between this book and the previous two is the spaceship on the cover.

That said, it's a fun read, and if you liked the first two (Take The Star Road and Ride The Rising Tide) you'll like this one.

Sun May 04 13:09:29 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

Born of Hope -- a fan film

Sun May 04 13:01:02 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments


Brandon Sanderson's excursion into young adult literature, Steelheart (The Reckoners) explores the world of superheroes and supervillains... or more accurately, explores a world where there is a surfeit of supervillains and absolutely no superheroes whatsoever. The world is based roughly on our own present, but with variations ranging from the surreal (supervillains ruling various cities as dictators) to the bizarre (transforming entire cities into steel, with super-moles digging vast tunnels for people to live and work within).

The plot is fairly complex for a young-adult novel, with twists that an experienced reader will be able to anticipate without the sense of boring certainty that makes the whole exercise feel like a color-by-numbers exercise. I was entertained, but not blown away, which appears to be my usual reaction to Sanderson's more workmanlike books.

For devoted fans of the young-adult-superhero novels, this has a lot more depth and realism than most books in the genre and can be readily enjoyed by adults as well. Unfortunately those same qualities mean it lacks the most important quality for a really good superhero book: a light-hearted sense of fun with witty quips flying as fast as the punches. This one is definitely on the grim side.

Sat May 03 13:01:02 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

The Silver Gryphon

The Silver Gryphon (Mage Wars) is the third book in Lackey's Mage Wars trilogy, which itself is an attempt to fill in some major backstory to her Valdemar universe. It's not particularly memorable, and there are few ties to the larger world and story of Valdemar itself. Even if you've read the first two books in this trilogy, you're safe skipping this one. It's really bad, but in an inoffensive way.

Fri May 02 13:09:29 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

The Privilege of the Sword

I picked this up hoping for a mildly interesting tale of intrigue, and what I got was the renaissance through the eyes of a feminist who really, really wishes she could grow up to be a swordswoman. The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside) is not a bad book exactly; it's an unrealistic premise handled reasonably well with a light dose of intrigue and humor on top. Interesting, particularly for the attention to detail given to the fencing, but not very meaningful.

There is a sequel, Swordspoint (Riverside), which I really have no interest in reading.

Thu May 01 13:19:37 CDT 2014 by Matthew. Comments

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