Book Review: Endymion

Endymion (Hyperion)

This is the the third book in the series, check out my reviews for the first two books – Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion.

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy, long (just over 500 pages)

Summary
Almost 300 years after the Fall of  Hyperion, we do not know the fate of the Pilgrims, and apparently never will. This story focuses in a young man, Rual Endymion, who, after being convicted of murder, is sent on a quest to rescue a young girl from the Time Tombs, destroy the Pax, stop the TechnoCore, find Earth, and then reunite the old man with the girl to see Earth again.

The story is written from the perspective of Rual, who has already been caught, tried, and sentenced by the Pax. He recounts the story from his imprisonment. The memoir style adventure includes rescuing the girl, escaping Hyperion, and running from the Pax by sailing down the old Hegemony river through multiple worlds, before the book ends half way through their journey.

My Thoughts
The opening page starts with the statement of reasons why not to read this book. Included among them was to find out what happened to the Pilgrims, that is to say, if you want to read a sequel to Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. My first thought was, what the hell? that is exactly why I bought this book, and its sequel. In many ways, this is not really a sequel to those previous books. It is more a completely new story, but that is built in the same world as the prior, but only relates in that the world(galaxy) has changed and it was all due to what happened in the prior books. So, in that way, it is a little frustrating.

However, it is still a great story, once you sift your mind away from the previous books in the Cantos. Like the previous books, it is written with quick, engaging action and solid, relatable characters. While the prior books were an ensemble cast, this one is mostly on Endymion, especially as he serves as the narrator, but there are several other characters on which the book focuses, that are not directly in his orbit. Again, Simmons uses varies story threads, one chapter focusing on Endymion, then the next one of their pursuers, then the next yet another antagonist, then back to him in the next.

Overall, if you like sci-fi you are going to enjoy this book. If you have read the previous two, you could probably pick it up. Simmons writes the book with references to the prior books, but has Endymion or other characters explain bits (or expand and create new aspects that didn’t exist), almost as if they are trying to remember. Even without reading the Cantos so far, this book is one to put on your list, but if you’ve already read them and are familiar with the universe, it is a must read. This particular book leaves too much hanging, leaving feeling a little wanting, but the final book in the series ties (to some extent) it all back together. So, read this one, then finish the Cantos and you’ll have gone through one of the great, especially for how little known, works of far future science fiction out there.

 

 

Book Review: True Grit

True Grit: A Novel

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – East, short

Summary
After the murder of her father, Mattie Ross tracks the culprit to Fort Smith, Arkansas where she enlist the help of the Marshall Rooster Cogburn. He eventually takes the case, after meeting a Texas Ranger who is also chasing the man for various other crimes. After telling her no, the men begrudgingly accept that she will come with them. They head into nearby Indian Territory, where the eventually find the man and others in hiding after a train robbery.

My Thoughts
Portis waste no pages of this short book with writing that isn’t action. The book starts with the murder and then Mattie heading to Fort Smith and doesn’t stop until the final few pages as he concludes the book. Interestingly, the book is written form the perspective of Mattie, who is looking back and telling the story. I think this adds to the quick and action-packed pace.

The three main characters are all unique and compelling, even if they a little cliched. Two movies have been made from this, I’ve seen neither, but know that the Ranger is played by Matt Damon in the most recent one. From the movies where he has tried to be unlikable, I think that fits well. Cogburn is most in line with the grizzled not necessarily lawful anti-hero, while Mattie is more head strong and stubborn. Each character is somewhat iconic in fiction.

In case you were wondering, ‘true grit’, is the term she uses when explaining what she was looking for in a Marshal to track the murderer. It is a compelling story, though the ending felt rushed. There are some of the usual tropes, but there were also a few surprises and twist. Overall, it is a fun, easy book to read, definitely one for the beach/vacation. It is also an American classic, so a novel to put on your list.

Book Review: The Stand

The Stand

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy read; Very Long (1,150-1,200 pages depending on the edition)

Summary
A mysterious flu-like disease sweeps across the country, then the world killing 99.6 percent of the population. While the disease is 100% fatal, not every one contracts it. The story follows a few different people (some before, some after the flu) that all plan to meet up with a 108 year old woman in Nebraska, before moving to Colorado. Others do not follow the woman, but instead the ‘dark man’, and meet in Las Vegas. Those in Vegas plan to destroy those in Boulder, and eventually take over the world. Those in Boulder prepare to make their final stand (get it?).

If you’ve read much Stephen King, you know there will be twist and turns and other weird things, it can be hard to tell where he is going, because he probably wasn’t sure as he was writing it. My version of the book was the ‘complete and uncut’ version that was republished in 1990. The original was released in 1978, but was about 400 pages shorter. You can read his intros to the book for the explanation, though I still found it somewhat strange, as the book is broken into three ‘books’, why not just publish a trilogy?

My Thoughts
Actually, I’ll start with my dad’s thoughts. King is probably his favorite author and he has read all of his books (including the first publication of The Stand), and according to him, it is a toss-up between this book and Salem’s Lot as King’s best. When I asked other King fans about this, they tended to agree or call Salem’s Lot a close winner, so I guess I know what to read next.

Despite the massive size of the book, it really reads quite quickly. Much of the book is dialogue, so the pages aren’t that full. As always, King writes conversations and peoples’ thoughts so well that speed threw most pages. Some people complain that it drags, but I didn’t really feel that, though I felt he was oddly disproportionate to different times and scenes.

I found the story and people to be compelling, especially the early part of the book, post-flu. It kind of reminded me of the TV show ‘Last Man on Earth’, except most of King’s characters are far more intelligent and resourceful. I found myself thinking, that was smart, I’ll have to remember that…just in case. The first few hundred pages will really make you think, and the rest you read quickly with anticipation as to how it will end. If you enjoy Post-Apocalyptic fiction or are a King fan, this is definitely a book to put on your list.

*Spoilers (am I required to do that for a 40 year old book?)
This isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but I read the book in June and people at work started calling in sick, saying they had a summer cold, a phrase I had never heard before. Honestly, I started to get a little paranoid. I have three final thoughts, to of which are critiques, but it it will ruin the ending if you haven’t read it; so, you’ve been warned. First and foremost, the ending with Trashcan Man blowing everyone up is stupid and even worse it is completely unrelated to the guys who walked there. The didn’t need to be there, Trash might have killed everyone regardless of their presence. Other problem also with the ending, it was really stupid that Stu and Fran drive back to Maine. Boulder had just turned the power back on and had doctors and a functioning hospital, but they leave despite having an infant and her being pregnant again. Finally, with chapter with Stu and Tom making their way back to Boulder are some of the best writing and sweet/sad story lines you may ever read. Probably makes up for the other parts I didn’t like. Definitely worth the read.

Book Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion

This is the second book in a series, check out my review of the first book – Hyperion.

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read; fairly long at over 500 pages.

Summary
This is a continuation of the first book, Hyperion, so the story line of the Pilgrims in continued, but there is also the introduction of another main character story line. To avoid spoilers (if that is a think for a book published over 20 years ago), I’ll say the Pilgrims all meet the Shrike, all have their stories (more or less) meet a resolution, and find out that their stories are even more intertwined than they knew.

The additional character is Joseph Severn, a Cybrid for the personality/memory of John Keats. Much of the book takes place from his vantage point. Not only his own story, but he is inexplicably tied to the Pilgrims and view what is happening to them in his dreams. CEO Gladstone puts him up in TC2, so that he can keep her apprised of the Pilgrims.

Severn/Keats and the Pilgrims stories also mix together, as does the Ousters, for a few twist and turns you don’t expect coming, including a few new back stories.

My Thoughts
One quick thought, that I didn’t put together form the first book, but become more apparent in this one, why does the cover art show the Shrike with only two arms?

As for the actual content of the book, as much as I enjoyed it, I have to admit, it wasn’t as good as the first. However, if you’ve read the first, this is still a must read. If you haven’t read the first, go read it, then come read this one. This is still a great work of fiction. He is writing during the early days of the internet, but his future thoughts on what it could be come are frightening and a little ephemeral, and in some parts could best be described as ‘trippy’. Smart phones were more than a decade away when the book was published, but the equivalent he uses, sure sounds like them, especially if we were to lose them now; from page 480

“After seven centuries of existence and at least four centuries where few citizens existed without it, the datasphere…simple ceased to be. Hundreds of thousands of citizens went insane at the moment – shocked into catatonia by the disappearance of senses which had become more important to them than sight or hearing.”

The Pilgrim story conclusions are interesting, though some are unsatisfying, and at Severn is not an interesting character. However, the book touches on some of the wildest ideas of AI and has so many intertwined stories and crazy new back stories, it is well worth the read.

Book Review: Hyperion

Hyperion

My Rating: Must Read

Level: Fairly easy read, long (almost 500 pages) but reads quickly

Summary
This is the first book the the Hyperion Cantos series and centers around the stories of seven ‘pilgrims’ as the travel to the distant world Hyperion and a voyage to meet the Shrike. The story take place 700 years in the future, where we have left Earth after it’s accidental destruction and colonized multiple planets throughout the galaxy.  On the ship, each pilgrim – the priest, the soldier, the poet, the scholar, the starship captain, the detective, and the consul – tales their story.

Each mini-story is incredible and interesting in it’s own right. But it is nothing less than impressive they way Simmons weaves the stories together with histories, biologies, geographies, ecologies, and political back stories of a dozens worlds and scores of peoples. It is an amazing, sprawling, interwoven, epic fantasy.

My Thoughts
I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but I was impressed with this book and honestly shocked that it ins’t more famous. The shear volume and intricacies of the stories and back stories are impressive. I actually found myself staying up late to read and being excited to come back to the book to see what would happen next. I ordered the next book in the series as soon as I was wrapping this one up.

I don’t know how much I should concern myself with spoilers for a nearly 30 year old book, but I’ll just say the pilgrim stories for the priest and scholar were so fascinating to me, that they are worth the price of the book alone. Either one could be it’s own novel, and the concepts Simmons put are great thought experiments.

Of course, the book being so old, there are interesting parts that are oddly anachronistic now, which make them especially funny being projected in the future. For instance, one of the top technologies is the personal fax machine. But his concept of the ‘all-thing’ is basically our modern internet with smart phones, so that was interesting to see. Overall, a great, fun book that is a must read for anyone who likes sci-fi or fantasy, but also for anyone who enjoys thoughtful fiction.

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
My Rating: Put it on your list
Level: Quick and easy read, fairly short.
Summary
Away in the dark near future, there is a still a profession called ‘fireman’, but they don’t save houses from burning (houses are fireproof now), but now they start fires. Not for houses, but for books. The book follows the story of one of these firemen as he starts to question why they are doing what they do, and instead starts saving and hiding books. After he is found out, he becomes the victim of the system he used to be a part of.
My Thoughts
This is a classic of dystopian fiction. The scary thing is, though some elements are over the top, much is too accurate. Bradburry rightly predicts (originally published in 1951) that books won’t be banned by the government or people in the majority for challenging the status quo, but instead, books will be questioned or banned for offending some group or another. We see this happening today, especially with elements of history that people do not like. He also predicted the heavy use of what are basically headphones. I went for a walk this morning and noticed every one of the dozen or so people I saw had headphones in.
As a big book-reader and someone who isn’t paranoid about the government, I see Bradburry’s vision as much more accurate than something like 1984. He was even wrong that the government would actively burn books by the will/request of the people. We don’t have to worry about that now, people just stopped reading them. Hell, people buy digital books, so you can’t even burn them anyway. But it doesn’t matter, in the most recent Pew study (2014) 23% of people hadn’t read a book in the past year. That’s up from 8% in 1978, the first year they asked. The median number of books read a year by American adults is 4. We don’t need to burn book, and the government doesn’t need to ban them. We are doing this to ourselves. We have 100 of channel showing pointless shit on TV and endless ways to stalk people we don’t even like on facebook and twitter, who needs books?
Maybe his most accurate portrayal was related to this. One of the characters in the book, whom the police watch due to being ‘peculiar’, lives in the only house that doesn’t glow blue at night. The family has their lights on and can be seen through the window sitting around talking, everyone else has their lights off and is watching TV, so that only a low, flickering blue color can be seen from the street. Where he is wrong is that no one thinks it odd now, but most people likely never think about it. I know I never did, but now if I walk around at night, I notice all the windows from the back of the houses and some of the bedrooms are dark and flickering blue. It becomes kind of eerie if you look or think about it too much.
 Anyway, over all, the book is a bit over-dramatic at times, well not being dramatic enough in others, due to un-imagined technological change. The concepts are great and the portrayal of why life could be like in this dystopian future is frighteningly accurate at times. I as I said above, it is a classic in the genre, and a book to put on your reading list.

Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

My Rating – If You Are Looking for Something

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary
Arthur Dent is trying to stop bulldozers from demolishing his house when his friend Ford Perfect stops by and convinces him to go to the pub instead. Perfect then finds out that the entire planet Earth is about to be destroyed. Turns out Perfect is a writer for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. This means he was able to save them two of them by catching a lift before the planet was destroyed. They then begin a journey of mishaps and characters, including the Galaxy President.

My Thoughts
This book is extremely popular, but I just couldn’t get quite into it. It is the opening book of a series, but I doubt I will continue on. Adams style is fast paced and laced with jokes and puns. It is entertaining enough, something just didn’t sit right with me. It’s gets a little trippy there towards the end, which belies it’s conception in the late 70s.

As a city planner, I did appreciate the first bulldozer crew telling Dent that there had been a meeting, he must have just missed it, that decided to demolish his home for a highway. The once on board the spaceship, Dent and Perfect are told that Earth is being destroyed for a highway and that there was a meeting they must have missed.

Also, all I could picture for Zaphod Beeblebrox was Zapp Brannigen. So much so that I assumed maybe the latter was based on the former, but apparently not. Perhaps that made it a little more entertaining for me. I’d say if you are looking for something to read, maybe on the beach for at the airport/on the plane, this is probably a good choice. It is short, simple and kind of goofy, and if you end up liking it more than I did, you can look forward to four or five more books.

Book Review: Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe Of Heaven – –  Ursula K. Le Guin

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Moderate read, short

Summary
Sometime in the future a man is caught using someone else’s pharmacy card for access to sleeping pills. He is evaluated and sent to a psychologist and sleep specialist to whom he reveals that he is afraid to dream. He hesitates but eventually admits his fear is due to the fact that his dreams change waking life. Not only does it change real life, but it changes all reality. If he goes to sleep and there are seven billion people in the world and dreams there are now only one billion, for everyone left, there will only have been a billion people for some time.

He essentially creates a parallel reality and new timeline that even changes the people’s past. The twist comes when the doctor becomes aware of the change, due to be present during the dreaming. The man suspects the doctor is using his dreams to change the world and seeks the help of an attorney. The rest of the story is his struggle in the changing world while dealing with the doctor. I’ll leave it there so as not to spoil any of the story.

My Thoughts
This book is crazy, and is probably the only fiction book I’ve ever read that had be flipping back and rereading parts. I found this book so entertaining that I put off catching up on Game of Thrones and stayed up late one night to finish it. As always, there are some unintentionally humorous moments that come from a book written decades ago that takes place in the ‘future’ that is in our current past. There is major fear that in 2002 there would be over seven billion people on earth. This would lead to overcrowding, food shortages, and environmental disaster. There were only three billion people at the time, and almost 40 year prior, it had been two billion, so the idea that we’d more than double in the next 40 was probably inconceivable. Here is an interesting article to get a context on the time in which the book was written – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777609/

Anyone looking for some good fiction to read this summer must get this book. If you are interested in things like dreams or alternate time realities, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

Book Review: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My Rating –Put it on the List

Level – Tough, dense, fairly long

Summary
Rodion (Rody) Románovich Raskolnikov is a poor college student in St. Petersburg  who decides to murder an old pawnbroker with an ax so that he can rob her. Things go awry when someone else is there and he has to kill them both. Though he believes he had the right to kill her, comparing himself to Napoleon, claiming that murder is alright if it serves a higher purpose, he becomes obsessed with his actions.  He goes into a near psychotic state, becoming not entirely sure of what is real and what isn’t.

His friend Razumikhin tries to help him, giving him work to do and visiting him, as well as calling on a doctor to see him. Meanwhile, me is suspected and interviewed about the murder. Additionally, his mother and sister are moving to the area for his sister to marry a wealthy man, all for him. The man will be able to help with pay for school as well as help him get set up with a job. During one of his frantic bouts, he sees a man get run over in the street and follows the crowd as the bring the body home, offering to pay for the funeral. He ends up meeting the man’s daughter, whom he falls in love with.

My Thoughts
Two things made this hard to read for me. For one, as always, I was using the Dover Thrift edition, which might not always be the best translation. Secondly, the Russian naming convention of calling them by first and last name but then alternately calling them by just one name, but a different one from the other two. It took me awhile to figure out Razumikhin and Dmitry Prokofyich Vrazumikhin was just one person.

I have the Dover Thrift (of course) which is the Constance Garnett translation. From what I’ve read, the best is Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation, though it seem a bit harder to find. Many others enjoy this version, newly released Crime and Punishment: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (this is also the version you’ll see if you follow Rodion on Twitter)

(Edit – I came across the naming custom in an article about War & Peace, which is had seen it prior to reading. You can read the whole article, but below are the main highlights)

The common rules are the further:

  • the full three-name form (for instance, Иван Иванович Петров, Ivan Ivanovich Petrov) is used in official documents only. Everyone in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus is supposed to have three names.
  • the form “first name + patronymic” (for instance, Иван Иванович, Ivan Ivanovich):
    • is the feature of official communication (for instance, students in schools and universities call their teachers in the form of “first name + patronymic” only);
    • may convey the speaker’s respect for the recipient. Historically patronymic was the feature of the royal dynasty only (Рюриковичи, Ruerikovichi)
  • the surname only (Петров, Petrov) is used in formal communications, but much more rare. One instance where it is used commonly is by school teachers towards their students. There’s some trend in informal Russian to call a recipient with his/her surname expressing the irony as well.
  • for informal communication two names are usually omitted and only the first name is used (for instance, Иван, Ivan). In the more informal registers, a diminutive(of which several can be formed from one name) is often used. In rural areas the patronymic name only (for instance, Петрович, Petrovich, Ивановна, Ivanovna) is used by aged people for informal communication between themselves, sometimes young people use such form expressing the irony.

The book started off slow, so if you are willing to power through the first 45 pages and cruise on past 70 pages, you’ll be good to go. Probably he most interesting and entertaining sections are his conversations with inspector Porfiry Petrovich. The whole book has many story lines, however almost all revolve around Rodion, so it is not too hard to follow. Towards the end of the book, you can see what is happening, but are still left wondering somewhat, about how everything will tie back together. It is a masterfully written story.

One of the most compelling parts of the book is Rodion’s inner turmoil. In this aspect, the story of his mind is written as almost a psychological thriller. Dostoyevsky also plums the depths of the broken and guilt ridden mind. Rodion is near manic in his despair and belief in himself. It is almost disturbing to read.

Anyone looking to break into Russian Literature, this is definitely a good place to start and a book to put on your list. At around 500 pages it is the shortest of the Russian heavy weights. I certainly plan to continue you on with more, though I’m torn between sticking with Dostoyevsky or moving on to Tolstoy. Either way, check back for a review in the future.