Cataclysm Baby: 2013 Book #7

4 out of 5 stars

What struck me most about Cataclysm Baby was its rhythm. I liken this book to one of Bell’s other stories – Wolf Parts. Individually, each of these 26 vignettes of failed parental and domestic relationships is a gut-wrenching look at how the most basic of all units – the family unit – breaks apart in the face of the apocalypse. But one after another, weight of each story continues to batter you as a reader. Until, like the ocean beating on a glacier or the wind cutting at stone, it simply becomes to much to bear and all the individual stories begin to resonate against each other, generating a sum sound greater than the parts.

The rhythm exists at each level of the collection – at the sentence level, where Bell takes meticulous care weighing the sound and timbre of each word in the reader’s mind. The paragraphs also echo each other, needling at each story from a multitude of angles with a familiar construct. Then the stories themselves, with echoing themes and their titles, each a trio of names that fit perfectly together.

If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, and like your stories experimental – I wouldn’t hesitate to pick this up.

LoveStar: 2013 Book #6

LoveStar: A Novel  Andri Snær Magnason
4 out of 5 stars

Picked up this book after my local B&N didn’t have the one I was looking for, and I’m glad I stumbled upon this. On top of containing notes of Vonnegut, Orwell, I’ll also throw in Maxx Barry’s Syrup for good measure – science fiction that is unflinching in imagining the worst blend of advertising and human nature, yet finds hopeful stories of humanity in the almost post-apocalyptic fallout of a culture totally consumed with, well, consumption.

During the first few chapters, you might find some of the ideas preposterous – hijacking people’s vocal biology to artificially spread word of mouth, genetically engineering bizarre creatures or shooting deceased loved ones to fall from the sky – but Magnason weaves the fabric of this world so expertly before long you accept them as normal, and I caught myself laughing at the absurdity of some of the lengths the characters were forced to go to.

Even though this was written far before Facebook, Twitter, and all the other places we wirelessly communicate with the world, the vision of a future where we are all tapped to recommend products to each other based upon mountains of data isn’t that far off from the reality we have ended up in. While we don’t live in the world of absolute calculations and a single monolithic corporation, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to draw parallels between the themes of this book to our current world. I was also pleasantly surprised by the translation – had I not known this was first written in Icelandic going in, the beauty of this book was not lost in being converted to English.

Warm Bodies: 2013 Book #5

2 out of 5 stars

Perhaps I shouldn’t have seen the movie before reading the book, but then again, I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book without seeing the movie first. I very, very rarely like film adaptations more than their literary counterparts, but this was one of those cases.

Some notable choices the author made that I thought felt off when contrasted with the movie: Not allowing Julie’s father a chance at redemption, not letting the corpses have a chance at redemption, attempting to make the Boneys more than just husks of zombies who’d given up, all of the scenes with R and Julie in the Stadium.

Where the movie had heart, a bit of fun and plenty of poignant moments, the book felt like quite a few half formed thoughts strung together into a loose narrative. I did like the stronger connection to Perry, and how R seemed to find himself again through the experiences of another. It’s something that was lacking in the movie and felt like a half-formed thought in that adaptation. The characters were likable enough, the plot compelling enough, and the concept interesting enough to keep me entertained for what was ultimately a pretty quick read.

The Name of the Wind: 2013 Book #4

4 out of 5 stars

I got tipped off to this book from a friend with similar tastes, and when I added it to my Goodreads shelf, I noticed quite a few of my friends rated it very highly as well – including some folks who I know don’t usually read fantasy novels.

I think that speaks to one of the book’s strengths – building a compelling fantasy universe that has broad appeal. Kvothe’s story of struggle and growth from a tragedy, hitting rock bottom and finally attaining his dream, but having it not be what he’d hoped – that’s something everyone can relate to. There is magic, and there are strange creatures, but they almost exist outside the story. The real tale is Kvothe’s quest.

I found the main character confident, capable, and even cocky at points – but somehow Rothfuss managed to leave an overall impression in my mind as humble. Perhaps it was how he handles what Kvothe calls his most important relationship – the stuttering romance with Denna. After reading the book, I felt like the author may have overstated this, but I’m withholding judgement until I read the rest of the books in the series. Kvothe has lots of different relationships with lots of different people, but this one with Denna (aside from perhaps Auria), is what drives him to act in the way he acts for the key scenes in the book.

This leads me to what I felt was a big weakness for the book – this didn’t work 100% for me as a standalone book. I realize it is part of a series, but I didn’t feel any sort of solid resolution at the end of it. It felt like there were scenes missing after the last page (which I’m sure will be contained in the 2nd book) and the last two hundred pages felt unfocused.

The introduction of the sweet eating draccus felt like a hasty plot addition. Rather than providing meaningful progress along his hunt for the Chandrian, a creature that hasn’t been mentioned in the entire book is introduced, and perhaps forms (arguably) the climax of the book. After this, there are mini climaxes, with Ambrose, the University, Bast and Chronicler. All these combined led to me feeling the final pages of the book were the weakest.

I also wasn’t a fan of the structure. I had to struggle past the first 50 pages of introducing Chronicler before we got to the meat of Kvothe’s tale, which is one giant flashback. Again, as a series, this storyline may be compelling, but it nothing but get in the way in this first book. However, the book contained 500 pages that I thoroughly enjoyed, so I will definitely be reading the 2nd and 3rd edition in the series.

A Memory of Light: 2013 Book #3

5 out of 5 stars

I started reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series back in the seventh grade. I’m thirty-two now, with the final book just released and on my “read” shelf. I’m not the only one who can claim this – fans of this series are legion, and with fourteen books that often clock in at a thousand pages or more – folks have spent a lot of time with this series.

Folks have also been waiting a long time for this series to end. Part of me thought there was no way Jordan or Sanderson could end this in a satisfying way. Part of me hoped it would, after Sanderson took over after Jordan’s death and erased all the frustration myself and a lot of fans felt with the series not going much of anywhere between books seven and eleven.

Long story short, he pulled it off. Like the other two books Sanderson has penned, this one has its imperfections, but delivers in an epic way. Made all that much more impressive when you think about the scope of what Sanderson inherited. In fantasy fiction, this is Abrams inheriting Star Wars. The only thing more daunting I could imagine for an author in this context would be if a publisher decided to do a second trilogy set in Middle Earth.

I’ll hit the highlights and try to avoid spoilers as much as I can.

For those wondering if this book would be all Last Battle, given the way Towers of Midnight ended – it is. There’s one massive 190-page chapter entitled “The Last Battle,” but really, the whole book is the forces of Light against the forces of the Shadow. It’s nearly all action, and you literally never come up for air after page 1. If the other thirteen books hadn’t spent so much time on character development, backstory and world building, I’d say this was a flaw. But for the most part, it works. One thing I didn’t like was how well things went for the side of the Light in the first half of the book. It definitely becomes an even fight, but for much of the initial scenes, everything felt way too tidy.

This final struggle is depicted from all angles. There’s no fighting or conflicts that happen “off-screen.” Sanderson’s structure in this book is to jump from character to character, going wherever the action is, showing us exactly what we need to see and moving on. There are no Mat chapters or Rand chapters, each one holds four or five perspectives. Every major character has a role to play in this book. The two characters I had a problem with Sanderson’s interpretation of are a little easier to stomach, Mat and Suian. Mat still feels off to me, and Suian only has a handful of sections from her perspective, but on the whole he seems to have figured them out, which was lacking in his other books.

The one criticism I would have is that the book suffers from the old cliché of characters not doing what makes sense for the sake of drama. See Demandred calling for Rand’s head through an entire battle instead of laying waste to soldiers. See Androl standing right next to one of the Forsaken leading the Shadow’s army and doing nothing so he can go after Mazrim Taim instead. See Demandred refusing to use the Power or accepting help from his lackeys when he crosses swords with would be foes. Once or twice would be forgivable, but it happens a lot in this book.

I couldn’t imagine anyone reading the first thirteen books and not picking this one up. But if you’re one of the folks who quit after an entire book went by without the appearance of their favorite character, or stopped reading after a volume ended with more Forsaken alive than it had started with, and are wondering whether or not it’s worth diving back in now that it’s over – I’d definitely recommend doing so. I think you’ll find the last three and the final book are mostly everything you hoped it’d be.