Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Consider Phlebas

Title: Consider Phlebas
Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture, book 1
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1987

Recommendation: A solid science fiction epic that will keep you hanging onto every word.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: Horza is one of a dying species of Changers, a people who are able to alter their appearance in any way they want. He is fighting on the side of Idirans in the Idiran-Culture war, but his path to fulfill a mission on the Planet of the Dead isn't short or easy.

Reactions: This is the second book I've read by Iain Banks -- the other being Against a Dark Background -- and I enjoyed this book thoroughly. Banks certainly doesn't lack in imagination or the writing skill. From start to finish this space opera is one big thrill, well written and entertaining.

One of the somewhat shocking aspects of this book is the sheer number of ways the main hero manages to get in trouble and the rather graphic violence that ensues. I admire the creativity of all the different ways Horza manages to be tortured beginning from page 1 and progressing in various ways from there. The violence is well justified in the plot of the novel and overall it didn't bother me, but I can imagine some readers may find this a little too graphic for them.

The plot of the book is very well done. It's a pretty hefty book at over 500 pages and Banks doesn't skimp on details and world building. At the same time, it's packed with action and I stayed up rather late finishing the book, unable to stop. The novel concludes with a historical overview of the era that the book is set in and details what happened to the various characters after the book end. I really liked this as a way of ending the story.

My least favorite aspect of the book was probably the romance subplots of the book. They felt somewhat forced and some of them didn't feel very believable especially towards the end of the story. The characters themselves are well-written and unique though not always likable.

All in all it was a very good fast-paced read and I am certainly planning on picking up more books by this author in the future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ship Breaker

Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: YA, Science Fiction
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Top notch dystopian science fiction with a great protagonist.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Nailer works on the light crew, which means he gets to climb through ducts in an old oil tanker and collect the unused wiring. It's hard work, but he is better off than many others living on the shore and struggling to survive. However, one large coastal storm will change Nailer's life.

Reactions: I have heard many good things about Ship Breaker and was looking forward to the book since I enjoyed The Windup Girl a whole lot. There are some similarities between the two. One is the dystopian future with large corporations taking control, widespread poverty, and climate change. Also there are some rather grim scenes in Ship Breaker. But at the same time, this is not a depressing book, there's hope in it, and that makes the reading it enjoyable.

Nailer is a teenage boy and the main protagonist who gets the readers' sympathies early in the book. He is resourceful, lucky, and surprisingly very upstanding for his environment. Nailer's struggles in the book are easy to relate to and his mix of naivete and shrewdness makes him a very layered hero.

The book itself kept pace very well, there's plenty of action, but enough exposition to bring out the world and the characters as well. The language in the book is intended for younger audience, but the writing doesn't compromise -- it's well-written and readable. Few authors are able to hit the balance so well. One element I found surprising was that the book ended much faster than I expected. On e-book the progress in the book is less obvious and I was actually a bit surprised when the book ended. I really wish it had been longer.

All in all, Ship Breaker really lived up to its hype and I will be eagerly awaiting more books by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Series: A Flavia de Luce Novel, book 1
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2009

Recommendation: An entertaining mystery novel with a young detective.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Flavia de Luce is an 11 year old girl, who is the youngest of 3 sisters living in an old English estate with their Colonel father. Flavia's life gets a lot more exciting when she finds a dead man in her garden one early morning and her father is arrested for murder. Can she find out who the real killer is?

Reactions: I picked up this book based on Carl's glowing review. And it certainly sounded like I book I could very much enjoy. Overall, it turned out to be a pretty good read, but it didn't quite win me over the way I had hoped.

I think the main thing I disliked about the book is the 1st person narration. We see everything from Flavia's point of view and from the very beginning it's quite clear that she is a flawed narrator in the way she perceives the events. It's pretty clever to give us the story from her point of view, but I just found the narration somewhat frustrating. Some of the conclusions seem quite obvious to me for a long time before a lightbulb goes off in Flavia's head. And possibly that's quite realistic given her age, but I found myself fidgeting when she starts explaining what she just figured out and I already know it as the reader. Not to say that there weren't any surprises in the mystery, I didn't seem them all coming, but some things just went a bit slowly.

On the other hand, the supporting character set and their relationships with Flavia are very well done and very amusing. From her rivalry with her two sisters, to Inspector Hewitt investigating the case, to Dogger who gets "episodes" after the war, I thought the background characters came alive quite well and I enjoyed reading about them very much. Here's a small snippet from Inspector Hewitt talking to Flavia:
"I shall brook no frivolity. A man is dead and it is my duty to discover the why, the when, the how, and the who. And when I have done that, it is my further duty to explain it to the Crown. That means King George the Sixth, and King George the Sixth is not a frivolous man. Do I make myself clear?"
The language itself is pretty interesting in the book. Sometimes it distracted me from the story a bit, but mostly I enjoyed the descriptions. For example,
In the heyday of the motor showroom, it had been the garage where autos had their oil and tires changed, their axles lubricated, and other intimate underside adjustments seen to.
So all in all, it was a good read even though I didn't quite connect to the main character the way I expected to. There are more books coming out in the series and I'll certainly think about picking up another mystery by Alan Bradley.

March Recap

I didn't get to read nearly as much in March as I had hoped. My vacation plans had to be canceled and I found myself rather busy at work. Nevertheless, the two books that I did finish were both very enjoyable. The first was Old Man's War by John Scalzi, which surprised me with how enjoyable it was despite the fact that I was at first skeptical about the plot.

The second one was the much awaited Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I was disappointed in that I couldn't manage to meet Patrick Rothfuss during his book release tour, but the book itself met my already high expectations and more. I managed to make the reading experience last and it made for many-a-night of enjoyable reading. So overall, I am very pleased with this month.