Science Fiction

Time and Again

time and again aceToday is Clifford D. Simak’s birthday (1904 – 1988).  It is a happy coincidence that I am writing this review today, after having finished reading his 1951 novel Time and Again.  I read the Ace 1983 edition with cover by Romas Kukalis.  I also own the 1976 Ace edition with cover by Michael Whelan. I like the Whelan cover more so I read the 1983 one.

This is the fourth Simak novel I have read.  It took awhile to get through this one – and I managed to polish off other novels during the time I was also reading this one. I admit, I got stuck on page 90 for a couple of weeks and the book sat abandoned.

 I got stuck at page 90 on June 15th. (Today is August 3.)  So, the book sat there because I did believe this might be a book I have to abandon. And abandoning a book mid-read is not really something I do, unless there is a very good reason. The novel starts all right, gets ridiculously awful – disjointed, confusing, and random – and then suddenly most of it straightens out and things make sense. The ending continues on too long and gets a little out of hand, honestly.

I am impressed that Simak pulled this one together. Still, there is no excuse for the nonsense and total random that goes on early in the book. It is REALLY tough to read through – literally, I was just reading words and they were not stringing together to make a coherent plot or even any basic sense. I could not have told you what this book was about for anything. I forced myself to keep reading (weeks later) – and then Simak pulled some threads together and the writing improved by leaps and bounds.

The story has less to do with time travel and more to do with Simak’s views on quasi-religion (destiny/life). The questions revolving around destiny and life are juxtaposed against the natures of humans and androids. (Simak’s androids are different than Asimov’s.) Finally, over all of this, to make this a science fiction story, rather than a pondering, there is a “war” of sorts that is fought by far-future humans and robots. All of this makes for a confused book. I see what Simak was doing, and its not a bad idea, but the execution got muddied. He sorts it out – mostly, but there are some rough sections that are really tough to get through.

The middle and middle-end part of the book is quite good. You really could not read it without the beginning and actual end, though. So readers are stuck with that murky front end with the total chaos.  Still, when Simak is “on” the writing is great.

And he didn’t say it because he was interested at the moment in war, whether in three or four dimensions, but because he felt that it was his turn to talk, his turn to keep this Mad Hare tea chatter at its proper place.

For that was what it was, he told himself… an utterly illogical situation, a madcap, slightly psychopathic interlude that might have its purpose, but a hidden, tangled purpose. -pg. 145  Chapter XXIV

I really liked this quote and I feel that I can relate to the character’s feelings here. Haven’t you been in a conversation where it seems you are talking around something and everyone seems smiley and fake and bizarre, but everyone plays along? Anyway, the next lines are quotes from Carroll, so Simak’s usage of the Mad Hare (as opposed to Mad Hatter) is clearly deliberate. Similarly, this is somewhat of the feeling you get when you read the early chunk of the novel:  we are all talking about something illogical, random, but we sense a hidden and tangled plot in there somewhere.

At the end of the day, the basic concept of the novel is that of Destiny. Or destiny. I do not believe Simak is a theist, so I do not think that is a euphemism for a deity, but there is definitely a pseudo-Tao concept being played with here. I am not suggesting that it is totally worked out in an academic way, but it is a solid concept for a 1950s novel.

Destiny, not fatalism.

Destiny, not foreordination.

Destiny, the way of men and races and of worlds.

Destiny, the way you made your life, the way you shaped your living. . . the way it was meant to be, the way that it would be if you listened to the still, small voice that talked to you at the many turning points and crossroads.

But if you did not listen. . . why, then, you did not listen and you did not hear.  And there was no power that could make you listen.  There was no penalty if you did not listen except the penalty of having gone against your destiny. – pg. 175 Chapter XXIX

This page sums up what Simak is playing with in this novel. I am not sure it is clear for most of the book, but this page lays it out plain as can be – or, as plain as the concept of destiny can be, anyway. And the action and characters and storyline are all accidental, it seems, to this discussion, which does not even occur until late in the novel. Its fairly interesting, but the reader will suffer getting to that point. Depends on if it is their destiny or not, right?

time and again ace whiteNow, there is a bit of time travel – but its not very much like time travel stories we know and “love.”  This time travel is juxtaposed with the concept of destiny, so it kind of applies. And in the last quarter of the novel, the main character ends up in the year 2000 or so in Wisconsin. On a farm near a river in Wisconsin. (Simak students will know this is Simak’s home of which he had a great fondness for and often plays a part in his novels.) Simak really likes Wisconsin, because when he writes about it, it is descriptive and meandering and he draws it out and praises everything about it.  Its so dang rural. And farmy. It kills me when Simak does this. I do not doubt his sentiments and I understand his love for the location, but my word do I suffer reading about grass and hay!

Lastly, Simak had me grinning in chapter XXXIII, when Sutton (the main character) first arrives in Wisconsin in 2000. Sutton meets a resident of the time just fishing and smoking a pipe…a fellow named “Old Cliff.”

This is a difficult, but relatively rewarding read. Definitely for Simak fans. Those with interest in 1950s robots/androids could find interesting bits here, too. And, of course, readers curious about Simak’s concept of destiny would enjoy this. The first half of the book, however, will require a bit of effort from all.

3 stars

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Ender’s Game

Enders GameEnder’s Game is a very famous science fiction novel from the 1980s.  I could have read it in any number of decades – the 80s, the 90s, the 00s, and yet I only just read it this month in 2017.  Please do not think that I was avoiding it for any reason. I was not. I, quite simply, never had the opportunity or occasion to read the novel.  There are a lot of novels that fall into this category with me (yeah, Lord of the Flies is still unread), but Ender’s Game was a standout omission because it always seemed like *everyone* had read it multiple times.

And now that I have read this novel, I feel it is vaguely moot to bother writing a review of it. I mean, what can I really add or mention that has not been already said, alluded to, or complained about? It seems everyone, except maybe infants in underdeveloped countries, has already formed their opinion of this novel.  And what hubris to think anyone has interest in my opinion….

Keeping that in mind, I did not love this book, nor did I hate it. I feel like a heavy majority of readers either love it or hate it, but most do not fall into the category of simply enjoying it as a decent science fiction novel.  The Introduction (written by the author in 1991) is a bit that I found very obnoxious. However, I read it after I read the novel, so that did not sway any of my sentiment.

I believe that this novel will return to the reader what he brings to it. By this I mean that however the reader feels about the world – his own experiences, judgments, ethics, feelings – will be cemented or enforced by this novel.  In other words, this is not one that will change people’s opinions; you know, opening hearts and minds, or whatever. So, if a reader feels strongly pro/anti-military, his reading will reassert those positions. And what a reader prioritizes in their worldview, is what the reader will highlight and evaluate most in their reading of this novel. Not to say that that this is the most philosophical or intellectual novel ever written. At heart, it is the story of Earth military versus Alien military.

Considering that I believe the above, viz. that the reader will focus on things in the book that are focused on in his own life, I am not sure how to write this review without at least some personal revelatory comment.  Is Ender a tragic character? Yes, he is and, perhaps what is worse for him, he knows that he is. As are, more or less, the other selected student-soldiers.  I would not have been opposed to the techniques in Battle School. Nor was I shocked at the mentalities and realities of Ender’s early schooling. The pressure that Ender and his mates are put under did not bother me. However, the part that made me feel empathy for Ender was during Battle School and Command School they (from Ender’s perspective) kept changing the rules on him. I hated this on Ender’s behalf. I did not hate the extreme pressure, nor the fierce competition, the intense training. But I did feel badly for Ender when it seemed all his work was for naught because the rules suddenly would change, seemingly spoiling his efforts.

Granted, as you read, you learn that even these harsh “rule changes” are part of the process of training Ender.  But even knowing this, it is the one thing that really made me feel any empathy.

The brother/sister dynamic was weird – much weirder and odder than I expected. In fact, that is the segment of the book that is disturbing, not anything with Ender. I cringed any time the story turned to those two. It is interesting to a point, I guess, but I cannot say that I cared much about that part of the storyline. I know it shows this overarching schema in which the author juxtaposes Ender and with his siblings (all of them genetically enhanced). Card even throws in there a nice metaphor about a coin. It works, but I did not care.

Finally, the ending was too odd for me to enjoy and it made me consider giving the novel three stars and not four. The weird Bugger-mind-ansible-cocoon thing. All of it. All of it after the Earth Civil Wars was just throw away, in my opinion. I do see how it neatly wraps up some questions about the computer game Ender plays and I do see how it might generate sympathy from readers.  The Buggers are a misunderstood situation, condemned because of their mode of communication, and Ender is maybe also their beginner. For me, though, the book ends when the “final exam” ends.

So do I read on in the series? I think Ender’s Game is perfectly standalone. But Card knew he had a golden franchise. And, I cannot say I am uninterested in the storyline. I will probably read book two, at least. Officially, between you and me this is a 3.75 star rating.

4 stars

Alive

AliveAlive by Scott Sigler is the first book I have read by this author. It was published in 2015 as the first book in The Generations trilogy. It is marketed towards a “young adult” audience.  However, there is a lot of gore in it. I might be totally off-base, though. I mean, I have no clue what young adults read or are capable of reading. It just seemed to me to be a little heavy on the “blood & guts” part. At least that is how I usually refer to those elements. So, take heed all of you with sensitive imaginations!

This book has a famous last page wherein the author begs readers (particularly those who use social media) not to put any spoilers out and about. Because everyone deserves a fair shake at the novel’s surprises and plot twists. I think its a noble request and a good idea and I will agree to it.  Although, I believe there is an ulterior motive to it. That being said, please understand if this review seems a bit vague.

For the most part, I like all of the characters – in the sense that qua characters they drive a good storyline. I do think that the plot is confusing – even after some of the reveals. There are some questions and difficulties that, even though I think we should have gotten them resolved, don’t seem satisfying. But, it is only book 1 of 3; maybe more answers are forthcoming.

The overall sense of the book is suspenseful, dark, and tense. The author does a good job with the tone of the thing. However, when it comes to descriptions where explanations are being made – its sketchy. The explanations are confused or just seem jumbled a bit. Not to the point that they become unreadable, but that it requires more patience than I think it should to get through some of these sections.  Descriptions and explanations should help, not make things more confused.

I gave this four stars because I felt that it was unique enough in presentation (if not in actual plot) to merit that. To be honest, the novel deserves a 3.5 star rating.  However, I do not use half-stars, so I bumped it up to four.  The main reason I was tempted to keep it at three stars was because there is a very…awkward obsession with breasts. Yeah, I know that sounds super odd. And if it sounds odd – trust me, it is because it is odd. However, this recurring factor is at least not constant and can be overlooked when it occurs.

That being said, I appreciated the inner monologue of the main character, I appreciated the suspenseful tone of the story, and I enjoyed the process through which the author made the big reveals.  So, presentation gets the glory here.

I wonder about the gore-level; it is slightly heavier than a lot of novels that I have read, so the fact that this is a young adult novel makes it surprising.  On the other hand, the gore, is relevant to the storyline.  Most of it (not all, mind you) seems relatively reasonable to the plot of the novel.  Ultimately, this novel focuses on how the characters must survive.  I do not think that is a spoiler. Survival is not uncommon a theme. Survival is also, generally, messy. But not all young adults – or adults, for that matter – want to read such tense and messy entertainments.

There are a couple elements that I dislike about the novel. However, per the author’s request, I will not share them. I feel his request, while sensible, also reduces negative comments as-well-as general spoilers. Thankfully, the elements I disliked are not large enough to ruin the novel. However, let it be stated now that a lot is on the line with book two. The bar is set high for the second novel in the series and if the author fails to carry through, it really will make this first novel seem much worse.

4 stars

Deep Storm

Deep StormI finished Deep Storm by Lincoln Child today. It was first published in 2007. This is the first novel I have read by Child, though I think I own a couple of other ones.  Overall, I was not impressed by this novel.  Also, since it is not at all Child’s first published work, it is also difficult to be very giving in the rating. In case you do not know, this novel is a techno-thriller/adventure-pulp story – it also is science fiction. But the science fiction is a little different than, say, Star Wars-style.

Overall, I feel this novel is lazy in some places.  The novel came across to me as if the author wanted to write a techno-thriller – a topic that he does know a lot about – but the story aspects he just threw together a bit carelessly. The story takes place on and very much under an oil rig in the North Atlantic.  On a routine drill, weird signals and malfunctions occur.  The Navy is somehow made aware and scientists, both military and civilian, are called in. A huge cutting-edge facility is built on the surface of the ocean floor deep below the oil rig. Efforts to continue research are made.  Until crew start getting ill.  Dr. Peter Crane is summoned by the chief civilian scientist to come aboard this confidential mission and help determine what is making the crew ill.  Part of the reason Crane agrees to the whole thing is that the scientists entice him with the cryptic talk of what they found below the sea. For the first half of the novel, there are many hints to Crane and the reader that it is actually Atlantis.  Honestly, I would have preferred if it were Atlantis rather than the alien route that the storyline took.

Crane does not get a warm welcome. There is friction between the civilian scientists and the military presence. Furthermore, the medical cases are all distinct and Crane is given a frustrating amount of resistance in his attempts to find answers. Crane is an ex-Navy doctor with submarine experience so he, supposedly, pulls on some of that to assist in dealing with matters in the Deep Storm Facility.

The leader of the whole expedition is Admiral Spartan – that’s Richard Ulysses Spartan. I cannot even believe an author would attempt such a heavy-handed name. As I mentioned earlier, there is an effort to make Deep Storm about Atlantis – and then there is a big reveal in a different direction.  Using these monstrous Greek names is not witty, its obnoxious.

Anyway, there are several issues I have with the novel. One of them is the main character, Peter Crane.  For at least two-thirds of the novel, Crane is really quite useless. He bumbles around doing nothing and being daft – merely existing as a focal point for the author to tell the story. I mean, he just gets lost in corridors and keeps asking the same questions. I find it difficult to say he was even necessary to the story, which is odd because he is the main character!  He does not have much development, nor does he have much depth [pun!].  Crane is exactly what he is when we first meet him, with no hidden complexities. He might be a good doctor, but as detective he is a bum.

Secondly, there is a really quick chapter (just a few pages) wherein one of the original characters on page one returns and there is a cameo of a character named Wallace and an explosive interchange between the two.  We next meet Wallace aboard the rig, we do not know how he got there. Throughout the rest of the novel his motivations remain hidden, although while previously he seemed like a leader, in future segments he seems just like a goon. Its not great storytelling.

Another issue is with the character Hui Ping – she is a scientist. We have already been told that the Facility has hired only the top-notch scientists. Yet she does not know what a Faraday screen is. Aliens and technology are believable – but not a scientist not knowing what a Faraday screen is. The author makes sure to utilize this character several times: her knowledge of the layout of the facility is integral to the story and her awesome ability to do forensic computer things is vital as well.  She is also able to recognize patterns in data and analyze binary code. The whole lack of Faraday screen knowledge killed this character for me, though. Lazy writing, I guess.

Further, I think the layout and geography of the underwater facility ought to have been presented with a map or a quick schematic. After awhile, though Dr. Crane kept telling us what floor he was on, I lost track of what it all meant. When authors constantly remind you about location, I want location to be important and significant, not just filler.

Suffice to say, its adventure-pulp. There is a mystery and several bad guys and it is a techno-thriller. However, it is not the best effort by an author. Frankly, I was somewhat bored.

2 stars

Second Foundation

Second Foundation Youll cover

Second Foundation – I. Asimov; 1991 (Cover: Stephen Youll)

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov is the third novel in the Foundation trilogy. It was first published in 1953; I read the Bantam 1991 edition. I read the first novel in the trilogy, Foundation, in January of 2012.  I read the next in the series in August of that same year. Unfortunately, I failed to return to this series until now in 2017. I gave both of the previous novels four stars in my rating/review and I think this novel will also get the same.  It was a bit of a struggle to read this one, because Asimov has a very distinctive writing style that does not lend itself, in my opinion, to brisk reading.  I think this is at the core of the reasons why many readers dislike the Foundation series and rate them lower than other novels.

Asimov was an intelligent fellow. Fiercely intelligent, even. I do not think that this can be disputed whatsoever.  His science fiction is also creative – full of big ideas.  Asimov also stuffs the presentation of all his big ideas with logic. I believe when he sat down to write his novels, he did not go about it by writing:  and then the character did this.  No, I believe Asimov did say that the character did some action – and then Asimov considered why this character did the action.  Asimov’s intellect does not seem to tolerate random and empty things.  Unfortunately, in contemporary society, I find a lot of people who accept prima facie anything and everything. Many times, their interest is very superficial. Asimov does not strike me as a writer who will just write stuff for the sake of word count.

Asimov’s considerations of things (which sometimes make it onto the pages and sometimes hide in the background – barely discernible) made his writing very much his own.  I found many reviews and comments on his novels wherein the readers complain about how “slow” his writing is. Or how the characters are “wooden.” Or how the novels are so “boring” that they could not finish reading them.  Maybe these reviewers are not the most articulate in describing what they experience when they read Asimov, but I can understand where they are coming from.  There is a perfect example in Second Foundation of this sort of writing. Chapters five and six of the novel (pgs. 64 – 96 in my edition) are exactly what readers complain about regarding Asimov’s writing.

In all honesty, I stalled out in my reading during these chapters. I think I re-read these pages nightly for a week because they kept putting me to sleep. Literally. It is indeed boring writing and it seems repetitive and it did take some effort to push through. Are these chapters integral to the overall story (both in this novel and in the series)? Yes, I think they are and so would be very against excising them at all. Could these chapters have been shortened or otherwise edited to make them less tedious?  I am not sure.  I think to do so would be to lose the very Asimovian aspect of the whole series.  I would not care to do that to the author or his works.  Honest to goodness, once I marched through these pages, the novel picked up pace and it was very good the rest of the way.

What the heck goes on in those pages? Asimov has several characters confront each other and they converse back and forth about what happened and why it happened and what the possibilities are. Who is lying? Who has incomplete knowledge of the subject? Who is being fooled? What are the intentions behind these matters?  In other words, Asimov is digging into the characters’ minds to root out the purposes in their actions. He is logically arguing among them. And he is also showing all the likely possibilities that the storyline could follow.  From this standpoint, it really is not bad. However, considering the pacing and style in a novel, it is quite numbing. Readers who make the effort and want to care and understand Asimov, will appreciate what he does when he writes segments like that. Readers who just want to be entertained probably will not pull much from such sections.

In this novel I really like Darell and Arcadia. They are awesome – in their own way. I want their continuing adventures, so to speak. I want to get to know them and have their backstories with all the nuances in good fiction. However, this is another aspect of Asimov’s writing.   It seems he is so potent a personality himself that his characters tend to all seem flat and cardboard – wooden, if you will. So many readers complain about the lack of “character development” in Asimov’s novels. But in my opinion, this does not precisely state what happens. I think that all of Asimov’s characters are all very flat and similar – because he, himself, shows through so strongly in all of them.  There is something subtle and familiar about all the characters – even though, on the surface, they are totally different.  I am willing to bet Asimov, when he wrote, often asked himself something like:  now, what would I do if I were this character? And then took his response into consideration when writing the story.

Overall, this is an excellent ending to the trilogy. I can see so many places where this series could be expanded and developed and re-examined. The big idea of it is so awesome, I think the novels all get four stars just because they present it. Sure, there are valid complaints about Asimov’s writing style throughout, but at the end of the day, the novels are very much Asimov’s novels and not something churned out by machine or a “novel generator.”

4 stars

The Man Who Japed

The Man Who JapedAfter reading a couple “young adult” novels and a couple of mysteries, I hopped back into vintage science fiction with Philip K. Dick’s The Man Who Japed.  It was first published in 1956. It is the ninth PKD novel that I have read.  Straightaway, let me share that I give this novel three stars.  This is not unusual – this seems to be my standard rating for a PKD novel. However, I do think that although this novel contains all of the “standard” PKD elements, it is not one of his finest works. Still, it is worth reading and I do recommend it to most readers.

All of the elements that make PKD novels “PKD Novels” are included in this one.  Because this is one of his earlier works, I think that maybe some of the elements are a bit messier and choppy than in some of his truly excellent novels.  Frankly, though the reader of PKD should be comfortable with his in media res action thrillers, this one did seem even more challenging for the reader to get a foothold.  I think I was well into chapter six or seven before I was feeling much of the story.

The thing is, it is difficult to read PKD without knowing something about the novels. I knew something of what this novel was about because this is 2016 and there is an Internet and I read a lot. By this I mean:  yeah, I knew the basic broad strokes here.  However, I did try to imagine a reader approaching this novel without that knowledge and I do think they would not get very far with it or it would frustrate them a little too much. Needless to say, I think this, early work or not, should not be one of the first novels a reader reads of this author.

The novel is set in 2114 and the main character is Allen Purcell, a late-20s administrator in a corporation designed to produce propaganda for the Committee.  Society, after a terrible worldwide war, has fallen to a totalitarian state as directed by a South African military general named Streiter. Streiter assumed control of society by enacting “Moral Reclamation” policies.  These policies are basically forms of Puritanical reduction. The totalitarian government operates mass surveillance and, through propaganda and coercion, enforces an oppressive moral code.  In 2114, the government is led by a descendant of Streiter, Ida Pease Hoyt.

Elements of PKD that readers should recognize: Purcell’s life is nearly totally demolished and deconstructed.  He is backed into situations in which there is no escape or option. PKD was merciful because in this novel, Purcell manages to keep his wife.  Purcell fights against the current government by subversive actions and mild disobedience.  But he is no saintly hero.  It seems his rôle is almost coincidence.

Another element is that of the oppressive and ever-intrusive government.  PKD is forever afraid and suspicious of who the government really is and what their actions are.  It is really very strong in this novel and it does parallel the Orwell novel 1984. Still, the novel ends with hope for the citizens regarding this totalitarian government.  Not jaded and bitter PKD – yet.

The other major element is that of psychology/psychoanalysis. PKD’s obsession with this field is apparent here in the form of spoofs and satire.  In fact, he is extremely obnoxious with his handling of this sphere in this novel.  As I alluded to earlier, I feel like the key elements are in this novel, as in his later works, but the writing itself is smoothed and refined in those later ones.

Now, some websites (including the publisher’s) consider this a “light-hearted” or amusing read.  Well, there are satirical elements, I suppose. But this is not a comedy.  And if the reader is laughing it is a rueful sarcastic sort of laugh, I think.  Dark humor, I guess. It is lightweight because it is a fast read and there is not a lot of heavy pontificating.  But in PKD there never is.  Purcell’s actions are subversive and taken as mockery – japing – but it is not necessarily amusing. Extremely absurd sometimes, but I do not think “humorous.”

My favorite part of the novel – and one that I wish was expanded or developed a wee bit more – was when Purcell visits Hokkaido in chapter nine.  It is really interesting and I was rather curious about the relics from the pre-war time that were bandied about. Ulysses by James Joyce is one of them, for anyone interested in knowing.

It is a silly thing to say that some of this novel was a little difficult to follow along. I mean, its a PKD novel. However, I guess, I mean that the writing is not as polished and snazzy as I am used to from the author. This is a good novel for all those loving dystopian societies, for those who love Orwell, for those who like satire and characters who are crushed by the unseen Establishment.  But it is not the best of that subgenre and it is not the best of PKD. Nevertheless, readers and writers could get quite metafictional about all of this – and I am surprised it has not yet been attempted (to my knowledge.) I mean, it could be japed. And circle back.

3 stars

Steelheart

SteelheartSteelheart by Brandon Sanderson was first published in 2013.  It is the first (of three) novel in Sanderson’s The Reckoners series for so-called young adult readers.  Having recently read another famous “young adult” novel, I decided to zip through a second while I was at it and this Sanderson book has been on the list for quite some time. I had heard good things about it and I figured after the recent disappointing read, my expectations were pretty low.

Frankly, this one was better than I ever expected. I got the copy on the clearance shelf at the local (ONLY!) bookstore. I really enjoyed this novel because it is one of those action-packed, tension-dripping, pulse-pounding stories that make for fun reads and easy movie-making. It is a  futuristic dystopian novel told from the viewpoint of David Charleston – the eighteen year old main character. (I wondered if Sanderson selected “Charleston” as a nod to the late Robert Jordan.)

“Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary people extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. Epics are no friends of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man, you must crush his will.”

In a city bank, young David witnesses an attack on Chicago by a superpowered humanoid named “Steelheart.”  David’s father is killed in the attack.  Ten years later, David is looking for revenge.  Ever since the event at the bank, the world has fallen into pseudo-states ruled by a loose grouping of epics. Epics are specially powered people – who universally seem to use their powers as license to abuse and manipulate the non-powered normal citizens.  Naturally, a dystopian society develops.

What is good about all of this?  I really appreciated the creativity and effort that Sanderson put into the diverse and unique characteristics of all of the epics. I am really impressed with the hierarchies and levels of these powered individuals.  I know that Marvel Comics and DC Comics have a long history of scores of creators working to devise and analyze their pantheons of characters, so having as many as developed as Sanderson does is neat.

Of course the comparison with superheroes/supervillians is inevitable. If readers dislike this category of fiction, then they will probably not love this series. However, for anyone who likes the superpowered world of comics – but wants to read something other than graphic novels/comics – this is a really fun read.  And, at the end of the day, everyone (yes, even you!) is a fan of Batman and Superman, Spider-Man and Thor. It is okay, I promise not to give away your daytime alter ego: “literary fiction” reader. *wink*

David, however, is such a charming and realistic character that I could not help rooting for him. Sanderson nails the teenage-kid-who-wants-to-fit-in stereotype. David is no weak sap, though. He is a dedicated hard worker – even if he has the most comical difficulty with metaphors.  We get a lot of inner monologue from David – but it is not droning and hapless. His interactions with all of the other characters is extremely well done and his motivations are reasonable and consistent.

Also, one of the better aspects of the novel is how Sanderson allows the characters to question what they are doing and how they are doing it. This novel is about the resistance fighting the established tyrant.  It is a dystopia – people work in factories, live underground, and supplies are limited. Yes, this is all a very VERY well-tread plot.  However, along the way the characters question if what they are doing is, ultimately, a benefit to society. The characters do question their motives and their actions. David develops a more nuanced and significant view of his world throughout the novel.

David does seem to have a slight preoccupation with guns. Throughout the novel he talks about them and identifies them and debates their various components. A number of readers have expressed their dislike of this aspect.  They suggest that David (Sanderson?) has too much “gun-love” in the story.  Well, he is an eighteen year old kid on a revenge mission in a dystopia wherein he is fighting with the Resistance forces.  He is not going to talk about bonbons or potpourri, right?  David also discusses the tech pieces that the characters utilize. Much of the gun talk is in the same vein – tools to be used.

Even though the storyline is generally familiar, there is a lot of suspense and intense action that make the story a fun and exciting read. Impressively so, actually.  I mean, David’s improvisations, the Reckoner’s plans and schemes, the characters and their foibles, all occur with a natural pacing inside a huge action thriller. There is not a lot of heavy literature here, but I think the majority of readers will enjoy this one. Yeah, I’m reading book 2!

4 stars

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