Thursday, October 25, 2012

11/22/63, by Stephen King

I have not read many books by Stephen King--he is too good at writing scary stuff for me--but I try to read the World Fantasy Award nominees each year, and 11/22/63 is one.  And I'm sure glad I did, it is one of the best books I have read this year.

The book has a few gory moments, but it is mostly a very sophisticated, and of course beautifully written, time travel story.  Our protagonist, Jake Epping, is offered an opportunity to go back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  King succinctly and cleverly describes the possible rules and inconsistencies the first discoverer of the "rabbit hole" back to 1958, the owner of the diner where it manifests, has noted.  Things one brings back persist, and one seems to be able to bring the same thing back over and over.  Otherwise, events appear to reset to their normal course each time one goes back.  But there's someone at the entrance, a messed up drunk, who seems aware of what's happening...

The characters are vividly real and I was engaged every minute I was reading it.  Finished an 850 page book in two weeks, which is fast for me.  And I learned quite a bit about the time period and the Kennedy assassination, which made it very worthwhile.  In the afterword, King comments on how ugly Dallas was in 1963.  "Confederate flags flew right side up, and American flags upside down".  He reflects on the parallels between then and now, as forces of ignorance, intolerance and prejudice gain strength. 

This book is a great bit of storytelling and a good window on history.  Well worth sitting down for a read, and many copies are available at your public library.  Four stars here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Way of Cross and Dragon, by George R. R. Martin

I have gone back to my favorite free SF source, Free SF Online, to take in an award winner while waiting for a book from the library.  The Way of Cross and Dragon is a Hugo winner from 1980 that was added to the site while I've been away reading the Song of Ice and Fire.  It was interesting to read a story from Martin that references dragons, but has nothing at all to do with Westeros.

This is instead a story of alternative religions.  An inquisitor is sent forth to deal with an apostate believer who has invented a history and sainthood for Judas Iscariot.  Not the first attempt to revive Judas' reputation--certainly The Last Temptation of Christ tried.  It's pretty predictable, the inquisitor himself has doubts, but in the end there is a nice twist.  It is very representative of Martin's work, solid but not really adventurous.  I liked it well enough, you will too.  3 stars.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

George R. R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

So, now that I have finished A Dance With Dragons I am up to date on the Song of Ice and Fire.  It's been a summer-long project that has stretched into Fall--guess I'm not a fast reader.  My perspective is a little different in that I have swallowed the whole thing in one sitting, as opposed to reading the series over 15 years as some have done. 

I confess to being slightly relieved at having finished the series to this point.  Not that it wasn't entertaining, it certainly was.  The craftsmanship in this work is excellent, second to none.  It's a comfortable read, knowing that the author is keeping careful track of 1000 plus characters and taking the time (five years, in this case) to sort out the plot.

What may be tiring me a bit is that it is very much beginning to feel like a soap opera.  Soap operas can be very entertaining in their subplots.  Will Tyrion ever find happiness, or at least Tysha?  Are the Starks truly crushed now that Jon Snow is slain and the children have gone to ground?  Will Daenarys Targaryen get her act together, or will her brother take the lead, or what?  Would we actually want any of these families to prevail?

But fantasies aren't soap operas, at least not the ones I like.  They build toward something.  Rather the opposite of The Wheel of Time, where one knows exactly where the whole thing is headed.  Maybe too much the opposite, but the Lord of the Rings wasn't.  Nor was Harry Potter.  This series aims for comparison to the above, at least in popularity, so the comparison is fair.  The Hundred Years' War was actually 127 years long, all told, and this series takes a lot from it.  It's Westeros Lives of the Rich and Famous, and like life it goes on.

We do get some hints in this volume about the price of progress--perhaps Valyria was too advanced, and discovered something that brought about the Doom.  That's very Fantasy.  They seem to have invented Cyvasse, or chess, in this book.  It's a good read, but I'm not as anxious as some for the next one.  I can wait.

I took advantage of an e-reader glitch to read this as an e-book from my local library.  Simply loaded it to my old Kindle and turned off the wireless, and had as much time as I needed to complete it.  Since I could not renew this was the only way a library loan was practical.  We'll see if they ever close that.

Give this one three stars, like the rest.