Review: The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a hunch that Pratchett’s sort of funny wouldn’t work for me, but I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I was curious.

Well, it’s not for me. I really just don’t get silly humor. While others are laughing I’m still working through the contradictions present in the premise of the joke. I didn’t laugh, not once. However, I can totally see how fans of that kind of absurdity would fall in love with the series.

Without the laughs, there wasn’t much else to pull me forward. The silly plot meandered like silly plots do, and the characters made fools of themselves like those sorts of characters do. I don’t know, I had to drag myself across every page until I reach THE END. Then, I apparently had to do some more dragging. 😉

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Review: Julia Wiles and the Amulet of Dreams

Julia Wiles and the Amulet of Dreams
Julia Wiles and the Amulet of Dreams by L.C. Alex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m in a bit of a tricky spot. You see, I read a lot and review often, but I’ve never written a review for a book authored by someone I know personally. No matter how much one enjoys the book, there’s no way to really remain objective. To even try feels a bit false to me. So, I’m going to depart from my usual approach and instead just concentrate on what one can expect from Julia Wiles and the Amulet of Dreams.

There’s a dreamlike quality to much of the narrative. True, some of the it actually takes place in the dream world, but that’s not what I mean. Rather, the descriptions are intense and the actions amplified, like primary colors on a black canvas. All is rich and bold and often packaged in a metaphor. Characters rarely say anything, they exclaim, snap, croak, and gesticulate. You can hear it too in the voice of the omnipotent narrator.

It’s also not your average story. Speculative fiction covers it, but the novel is almost experimental at times, both in format and subject matter. Expect interplay between the world of dreams and what seems like a variant of our own world. And, don’t be surprised when original creatures in a fantasy-like setting get involved in a discussion about DNA.

In terms of world-building, the book is heavily peopled, and the author devotes real attention to the complex social structures of Zabel. I suspect that some of it may wash over the heads of a few readers, mostly because it’s all new. The experience is not dissimilar to finding oneself in an unfamiliar country without the aid of Google Translate. It’s all foreign, so even the simple stuff can overwhelm.

So, don’t just spend time with the reviews. I urge you to check out the sample of L.C. Alex’s novel on Smashwords. And, it’s difficult for new releases from indie authors to gather steam, so please be sure to leave your own review of Julia Wiles and the Amulet of Dreams.

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Review: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t cry until a day after I finished reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It hit me while I was mulling over the ending. If you finish this sentence you’ll read a spoiler. Shukhov had a pretty good day. Here’s the final paragraph:

“Shukhov went to sleep fully content. He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent his squad to the settlement; he’d swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he’d smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he’d earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he’d bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill. He’d got over it. A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day. There were three thousand six hundred and fiftythree days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days. The three extra days were for leap years.”

What a brilliant choice. If the author picked a bad day, I don’t think I could have grasped exactly how Shukhov suffered, but a good day… that’s what I read? I couldn’t possibly recommend the novel more highly.

The writing itself is beautiful and never dull, a remarkable feat considering the cold and gray-washed hell Solzhenitsyn depicts. I think you should read it. You could read for the author’s rare understanding of human nature. Or, maybe read to screw your own world-weary head back on straight. Hell, you could even pick it up just for the quotable gems scattered throughout.

“The days rolled by in the camp–they were over before you could say “knife.” But the years, they never rolled by; they never moved by a second.”

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“The belly is a demon. It doesn’t remember how well you treated it yesterday; it’ll cry out for more tomorrow.”

― Aleksandr SolzhenitsynOne Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich


Rating: The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Review: The Trial

The Trial
The Trial by Franz Kafka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Consider this review a confession. Kafka’s narrative feels like my own. I’m not bragging — if a straight story more closely matches your experience, you’re probably better off than I. Many reviewers have described the world of The Trial as nightmarish or surreal. Sometimes that’s true. But, for the most part, I found it familiar and comfortable.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve spent most of my life bewildered by the world I keep waking up into each day. I do function, brush my teeth, smile politely, and all of that. Yet despite appearances, I’m barely able to piece together the narrative. For me it’s all been a series of loosely connected images.

I once expected that adulthood would bring some clarity, but it’s only afforded me a better view of a labyrinth. My memories are disjointed. They play back like a flip book with missing pages. Your average child has a better grasp of society’s mores and motivations. I can study them, but they never internalize. The spiritual longings that pin others or set them free are totally lost on me — I’ve tried. I’m too conscious of my own existence to be anything but a passenger in my own body. What kind of screwed up alien world did I end up in?

I don’t really expect that my experiences are very different than yours or anyone’s. Lots of people read Kafka and feel kinship. But, damn. It feels spot on, doesn’t it? Next I suppose two strangers will interlock their arms with mine and I too will chase some awful, empty end beside a quarry. Sounds about right.

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“Next time I come here,” he said to himself, “I must either bring sweets with me to make them like me or a stick to hit them with.”

― Franz KafkaThe Trial

Review: The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Invisible Man is an idiot. Sure, he’s mad as only a 19th century scientist can be mad, but he’s also an idiot. And, judging by the tale he admits, the man was an idiot well before he injected himself with the serum (one which even made his poor test-cat howl in pain). It’s fun to root for an anti-hero, or even a villain, but I consider competence a requisite for my affections.

I’d read that The Invisible Man was a retelling of Plato’s Gyges of Lydia, where the philosopher considers the morality of a man free from fear of capture or punishment. I didn’t really see that played out in this novel. Every few pages Griffon would be reminded of his vulnerability, of the possibility of capture. He did boast of power, but the reader witnessed the reality of the man’s condition. All I had the opportunity to consider was the morality of a see-through and psychotic outcast.

That said, Wells thoroughly imagined the reality of permanent, body-only invisibility (no clothes) and its effect upon some bizarre kind of savage idiot.

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Review: I, Robot

I, Robot
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I, Robot offers an excellent collection of short stories, all approaching different applications of the Three Laws. I love Asimov’s writing and his ideas, but it’s a short collection, so I was a bit let down by the inclusion of a couple of stories that were mostly bare-bones thought experiments.

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Review: Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Out of the Silent Planet is an excellent title for a science fiction novel, isn’t it? The descriptions were decent too. C.S. Lewis thought up an interesting otherworldly analogue for all things terrestrial, from water to trees. He even spent some real time helping the reader understand the scent of the world, Malacandra. Sadly, everything else had been spread thin. The supporting characters were maniacally two-dimensional, and I felt like the plot had been contrived simply to further the religious allegory. I suppose I may have forgiven the latter if I didn’t find his ideas so distasteful. I don’t think Lewis likes people. I’m not sure what standard he is judging us against (be it an alien or Christian ideal), but it’s nothing suited to the life of man.

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Rating: Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t really love The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I liked it though, and that’s something. Despite all of the unreality and magic, much of the book struck me as memory worship, of the Dandelion Wine variety. That sort of thing has only ever taken me so far.

That said, I really enjoyed approaching the book as an allegory. I can see Gaiman’s antagonists so clearly in my own life, and I don’t just mean the petty and thoughtlessly cruel adults we all encounter. I am referring to the ridiculous grown-up notions and pursuits that sometimes motivate me as well (and I’m not so sure the Hemstocks, or even Tom Bombadil, can save one from oneself). However, at some point the book stopped offering anything thematically new. After that, I bored of the action and sort of waited for things to all sort out.

It also felt enough like a kids book that the more adult content stuck out sore. And there were some truly harsh scenes that I’ll never be old enough to handle. I liked it though, mostly.

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