Thursday, February 25, 2016

Review: Reamde

Reamde Reamde by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my two favourite Stephenson novels to date.

Snow Crash was awesome, but it was awesome in a slightly comic-booky way. I don't mean that to be an insult in any way; I like a well-done comic. But the style I mean is just that the characters are generally a bit exaggerated and larger-than-life. Everything is in high contrast; more artistic than realistic.

In Stephenson's later books (all of which I quite liked) he goes for a more realistic style, but loses some of the focus on story. He's constantly wandering off into genuinely quite interesting side junkets that don't really seem to have a lot to do with the main plot. And since they are interesting, you don't really mind as such, but the books just end up a little unfocussed.

In Reamde, he gives us, in my opinion, the best of both worlds. Realistic characters mixed with believable but still somewhat larger-than-life characters, like the crazy writers, or the Russian mercenary, or the eccentric video games billionaire with a history of drug running. Their quirky characters make them seem exaggerated, but the details make them still feel real. Likewise with Stephenson's tendency for side-stories in incredible detail; in this 1,000-odd page book they're definitely still there, but this time he has better-harnessed them to the central story. They feel less like distractions and more like relevant back-story.

The plot starts with a WoW-style computer game, and a ransomware scam to make money off of it. Starts, I say, because it quickly evolves into something else altogether, which I will not spoil. I'll say this about the pacing; it feels as if this was actually a trilogy compressed under one cover. There's a story, with a clear climax, which leads to the buildup of a second story, with a (perhaps slightly less-clear) climax, which leads into the final buildup and end. This is not one of those rambling tomes that thrashes around aimlessly for 800 pages before cramming all the action into the last 100. (I want to say "Wheel-of-Time-like", because I know Jordan was famous for that sort of thing, but as I've never actually read them myself that seems unfair...)

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: Exile

Exile Exile by Aaron Allston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Light, but interesting enough. Jacen is already in the broody-boring stage of his decent to "the dark", but Ben is the interesting character here. It's a shame we don't get more of him.

The publisher should die in a fire composed of a pile of their own books, which magically cannot be extinguished without placing them all in order. There is no indication, anywhere on this book, as to what part of the series it might be. I had thought I was reading book 2, and all the callbacks to earlier events I just took to be Expanded Universe baggage. No, this is actually book 4 (and no, I have not read any of the others.

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Review: Dream London

Dream London Dream London by Tony Ballantyne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cool concept. I rounded down half a star instead of up because the relentlessly misogynistic world it's set in irked me. This is not to say the _author_ comes across that way - there were several strong and interesting women characters in the book - but the magic of the Faerie (or whatever) seems to have bent everything such that all men were forced to become bastards and all women whores. And while this is adequately explained by the story, which as I say I quite enjoyed, it still got tiring to read.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: The Rise of Darth Vader

The Rise of Darth Vader The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. Annakin really is just a whiny little kid. It's annoying to hear that voice coming out of Vader's mask.

Luceno continues his occasional habit from the first book, of referring "back" to things that haven't been mentioned yet. He introduces an interesting new character, but the plot doesn't really go anywhere.

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Review: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't remember the movie well enough to comment on how the book might differ (I'd probably go watch it again if they weren't charging $20 to see a 10-year-old picture...) But one of the things this book does quite well it take scenes that _feel_ like silly action sequences from a film, and explain them in a way that keeps the book from being slapstick. That's not really even criticism of the movie; films and books are just different stylistically, so things that play fine in what is essentially an action flick, risk becoming ridiculous when written down. Here instead we get some rather arch scenes where Dooku deliberately leads our heroes on a merry chase through his robot-filled ship - being careful not to lose them before they can fall into his trap, and scoffing at their foolishness the whole time. It was well done.

Well-enough done, in fact, that it makes the first part of the story quite believable. Which makes it all the more jarring when our hero suddenly starts murdering children for no readily explicable reason.

Seriously, the best bit of this book is that it makes loyalty into Annakin's "fatal flaw"... but that doesn't really line up well with his loyalty to a father figure he sees occasionally overpowering his loyalty to his wife and to his teacher and day-to-day companion in battle. I know the author was stuck with the basic plotline he was given, but it just doesn't make any sense, and nothing here really helps with that.

The other thing that is striking in this book is just how clear it becomes that everything in all 3 prequel movies is meaningless. Basically just Palpatine playing solitaire with himself. He completely controls the Separatists, _and_ he apparently controls a super-majority in the Galactic Senate that allows him to do pretty much whatever he wants, _and_ he tells the Jedi what to do. He is all 3 sides. Everyone trusts and loves him, to the point that they think it's the end of the world when he gets kidnapped by his own guys. We in the audience are the only ones who know he's evil, and that jarring difference between what we know and how _everyone_ acts makes it really hard for us to empathise with any of the characters in this story. Either they feel like idiots, or else Palpatine is somehow controlling them with the Force, which would just confirm that Palpatine could do anything he wanted at any time, and all of this war thing is just him playing with himself.

I want to give the first half of the book, where Stover does an excellent job of transferring the film to words, 4 stars. But I want to give the last half, where he gets railroaded by the movie's silly plot, 2 stars. Call it 3 and split the difference I guess.

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