wilderthan: ((Quistis) Sophisticated)
Caliban's Hour (Tad Williams)

It's a long time since I read The Tempest, which didn't help my reading of this -- in the end, I quickly looked it up on wikipedia, which helps. It's a story best understood as a companion to the play, I think. It's well-written -- the descriptions are lovely -- but you have to know what Tad Williams was responding to, to really understand what he was trying to do. I think he succeeds in questioning the actions and attitudes of Miranda and her father, and in making Caliban an interesting, sympathetic character. The most implausible thing about it is how articulate Caliban is, all things considered.

I really love the ending, actually, that offers both hope to Caliban and Miranda's daughter, while leaving Miranda despairing -- and the way she does repent of what she did/how she acted.
wilderthan: ((Akihiko) Oh yeah?)
I read this book a long time ago -- it was the first book by Tad Williams that I read -- but never wrote a proper review for it. Both times I've read it I ate it up in about two days. The writing was pretty good -- or it tasted good, anyway, from a synaesthete's point of view -- and the plot was interesting enough to draw me on and make me read it in great big chunks. There was something unmemorable about it, though. I have a pretty good memory, like my dad, and my dad is one of those guys who can tell you what happened in an obscure episode of the old series of Doctor Who that hardly anyone even remembers seeing. But I just didn't really remember what happened in this book, so reading it again was actually mostly discovering things all over again.

One of the things I like a lot about the book is that it isn't some great multi-volume epic with hundreds of characters. You stay focused on one main character throughout and don't go off on too many tangents. Speculative fiction seems to, by default, come in trilogies, which drives me a little mad when I want a relatively simple/quick read. Unfortunately, this can be a bit of a pitfall, too. The War of the Flowers is pretty dense, and the main character, Theo Vilmos, is a bit slow and a bit of a jerk. He seems to sort of mean well, but he keeps saying and doing the wrong things.

There are some pretty awesome supporting characters -- particularly Applecore, who is a little sprite with a foul mouth and a temper and, despite an odd soft spot for Theo, she calls him on his behaviour a lot. There's a lot of other interesting characters, both good and bad, although some of them are more concepts than fully realised characters -- for example, the Terrible Child.

There is also a lot of world-building packed into the book. Because parts of it rely on political machinations, there's a lot of social/historical background packed in. It's also complicated by the fact that Williams uses the old stories about Faerie, but his Faerie society is what we would consider to be more advanced: out of the medieval era into the world of "electricity", etc. I liked the world he built quite a lot, although the obvious parallels with our modern world were somewhat intrusive. I don't know how much it was intended to be a commentary on our world, but some parts felt rather pointed.

Overall, I think it could have been a shorter, slicker read, but I kind of liked the slow build. I'd say it's just good summer holiday reading, but I know the first time I read it I read in the gaps between classes and so on, so it's not something you can only stand if you settle down with it in the evenings or whatever. Depends how you read, I guess.
wilderthan: ((Fujin) Won't understand)
Just finished reading Accelerando, by Charles Stross. It's a sci-fi book, and tosses around words like singularity and wetware and all kinds of words that seem to be required knowledge for reading sci-fi (since I recognise them from Ken MacLeod's books). To be honest, I'm rapidly discovering I'm out of my depth with a lot of sci-fi. I'm alright with Le Guin, Alastair Reynolds, Tad Williams and Asimov, but a lot of the rest is beyond me.

Most of the book basically flew right over my head. The characters weren't that special, either. About half way through the book I got more interested in it all -- perhaps because I finally got into the world and characters a little.

I'm pretty sure that for someone who reads more sci-fi, or maybe does physics and also knows a bit about business/law, it would have been a really, really interesting book. Some of the ideas intrigued me. It felt very, very fast paced -- which makes sense, considering the speed of the world its set in -- and felt to me like a succession of ideas, none of which were fully realised.

Really, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that I am not the target audience for the book. It's not keeping me from picking up one of Charles Stross' other books, Singularity Sky, but that's only because I already have it. I don't think I'd buy it.
wilderthan: (Default)
For [livejournal.com profile] bottle_of_shine's cat herding challenge, which, misleadingly, involves no cats. It actually involves books. And you can read more about it here. The basic idea starts with listing ten books you love. I've decided to list trilogies and the like as a single book, otherwise my list would get swallowed up by about two authors! But I'd say that reading and reviewing any book from the trilogy/series would count as one.

Ten books I love )
wilderthan: (Default)
Right now, it seems books have to be intriguing -- if not brilliant -- right from the outset to actually get me to pay attention to them. I knocked three books off my "read before you get more books" list today: not because I finished them, but because I read the first chapter of each and knew I wouldn't want to finish them. At the moment, my standards are skewed from usual (when I would give everything a good long chance) because I'm trying to read all these books before I buy new ones.

Thirty-two remain on my list. A load more might get knocked out after the first chapter: we'll see. I think this exercise in getting books knocked off my list might make me more selective about buying books. I bought two of Tad Williams' series on a whim, reading just the first couple of pages of the first book in each quartet. That gamble paid off: I love all those books. Same goes for Sarah Zettel.

On the other hand, Robert Newcomb's books turned out to be unbearable. So much telling, so little dialogue -- one line of dialogue, spoken to calm a horse, along with pages and pages of exposition covering years of history. Booooring.

For another example: Fiona McIntosh disappointed me. I bought two of her trilogies after a recommendation. I found the first book of one of her trilogies derivative in the extreme -- I was told she was like Robin Hobb. Well, she wasn't just like Robin Hobb. Some parts of it were lifted directly from Hobb. For example, a man is sentenced to death. He goes into someone else's mind and survives, only to be put back into his own body after he's supposed to have died. Hmmm. Sound familiar to any Hobb fans?

I wince to think how much money I've spent on books I didn't end up reading more than the first chapter of. Lesson for the future for me: read the first chapter sat on the bookshop floor, regardless of the looks you get.

Lesson to authors: that advice you hear about cutting the first chapter out? Consider it long and hard.

For my own future reference as much as anything else... Hooks are good. Begin in medias res. Introduce a mystery that the book will solve. Give me a character I instantly love or loathe so I have some kind of emotion about it all. The first chapter is not the place for minor characters. Feel free to introduce things in a way that will be turned on its head later on -- for example, I love the way, in A Sorcerer's Treason, Sarah Zettel introduces the characters of two main females completely skewed, and then proceeds to make you and the main character discover the reversal. But don't spend a chapter's loving description on a guy who'll be dead by chapter two.

(Of course, there are exceptions to that and valid reasons for doing it. But as a rule...)
wilderthan: ((Garnet) On my own)
The Otherland series by Tad Williams consists of four books: City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass and Sea Of Silver Light. I'm not going to review each one separately, just talk about my general impressions of the whole. Sci-fi isn't really my genre, though I do love it, so I can't speak for accuracy of the technology described or anything -- just my reactions to the plot and characters. The series isn't one you get into lightly. The books average about 1000 pages each, and -- for me at least -- it's not easy going.

I loved the characters. There were very few I didn't like much -- the psychopath, Dread, for one, and of course the big baddie, and Del Ray Chiume because he was just an ass. But the main characters -- mostly Renie, !Xabbu, Martine, Jonas, Orlando and Fredericks -- really captured me. I was rooting for them all along. I thought there were maybe too many characters, and that the books could have been seriously slimmed down by cutting down on a few subplots. Or simplifying some of them a bit. A lot of things only came together at the end, so it was hard to see why some of them were relevant.

The love stories, I thought, were handled well. Much better than Miriamele and Simon, from his fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. They actually had me rooting for them, in fact, rather than getting annoyed at them, and one in particular was so carefully built up, from book one right through to the last book, that I cheered when I read the bit where they got together.

There were a lot of different ethnicities involved in the book. I thought that was handled quite well, too. A bit of resentment between different races, a bit of tolerance -- a range of reactions that felt realistic and not at all like the author was subscribing to them.

I did love the way everything came together in the end. When I read Williams' fantasy series, I was about ten steps ahead of the characters at all times. This time, I was discovering everything pretty much along with the characters, which was... interesting. It made it a more difficult read, I think, but then, I'm much more versed in the clichés of fantasy plots than I am in the clichés of sci-fi.

Anyway, I loved the ending -- the more or less happy, but also kind of bittersweet, ending. Everything was resolved nicely, while still leaving room for the future.

I'm not sure I'll reread the books, though I enjoyed them a lot. It felt like such a mammoth undertaking! Still, they were interesting and absorbing, and much less predictable than Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
wilderthan: (Default)
Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is a series of books by Tad Williams: The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower: Siege and To Green Angel Tower: Storm. I finished reading the last one last night and honestly, my first reaction was a lot of love.

My thoughts, let me show you them (spoilers) )


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