These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Moving Mars

Moving Mars: A Novel by Greg Bear

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

February 5, 2002

"Moving Mars" by Greg Bear features a cool concept, moving the entire planet of Mars to a new star system, but the execution produced only average results.

This is told in first-person through Casseia Majumdar, who starts as a confused college student and becomes the second president of Mars. The problem is that Casseia is about as interesting as I am, which is to say not at all. It is refreshing not to have a female lead that comes off as a butch superwoman, but Casseia does not come off as someone who is strong enough to run your corner convenience store, let alone an entire planet. Most annoying is that Bear glosses over most of Casseia's development from a confused young woman to a mover-and-shaker on Mars. She comes back from a failed diplomatic mission to Earth, falls in love, and next thing you know she's stumping with her mother-in-law to form a democratic government on Mars. The transition is so quick that it really is not believable to me, hence I could not buy into her becoming this awesome authority figure who decides to move an entire planet to save it from an aggressive Earth.

This problem could have been solved by eliminating the first quarter of the book, which focuses on a student riot at Casseia's school. The riot does nothing to advance the plot, and its only long-term effect is to introduce Casseia to Charles Franklin, the brilliant physicist who comes up with the method of moving Mars. This could have been achieved in another way that would have left more pages to devote to Casseia transitioning from confused twentysomething to influential figure.

"Moving Mars" is built on some heavy-duty science, which I don't understand and so am a bit skeptical of. I'll leave it to others who have a stronger physics background to determine if "descriptor theory" would actually work, but I find it hard to believe, even after the long, complicated discussions about it featured in the book.

Overall, this book was not a total sleeper, it picked up in the last 200 pages or so, but it was not a real page-turner either. It is incredibly average, I won't recommend it, but I wouldn't say to avoid it either. Read it if you have nothing better to do.

Wherein I Give "Ascending" the Thumbs-Down

Ascending by James Alan Gardner

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful:

January 15, 2002

I've generally given Gardner's Festina Ramos books high marks, his previous work "Hunted" I gave 5 stars. Overall, Gardner's books have been action-packed quick reads, even if some aspects of the story are unbelievable. "Ascending" however, never really got going and did little to hold my interest.

For starters, the narrator, Oar, is really annoying to read for 350+ pages. Her childish prose would be acceptable for a chapter or two, but a whole book becomes tiresome.

The book never excited me, but there was a decent pay-off at the end with sufficient action to not be a complete let-down. However, that ending was completely rushed. That was a negative, but at the same time, I wouldn't want to read a 500-page by Oar, it would probably be too tedious to finish.

This is my least-favorite of Gardner's books besides "Commitment Hour" which is more of a spin-off. I was really disappointed because "Hunted" was an awesome book that I literally couldn't put down, but "Ascending" didn't come close to filling its shoes. In my opinion, this is in part because Gardner has pumped out one of these books a year since 1997, he should probably take a year off to refresh his persepctive a little. Unfortunately, at the end the mysterious Pollisand remarks that he'll see Festina & Oar real soon, which can only mean that next winter another adventure will be on the shelves. Let's all hope it's better.

I said this recently about, "Shadow of the Hegemon" by Orson Scott Card, but it bears repeating. If you're a fan of the Ramos series, read "Ascending" just so you don't get lost, but rent it from the library, buy it used, or borrow it from a friend, because it isn't worth [the money].

Shadow of the Hegemon

Shadow of the Hegemon (Ender, Book 6) by Orson Scott Card

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful:

January 6, 2002

"Shadow of the Hegemon" follows up "Ender's Shadow" but lacks any emotional intensity or dramatic action to make it even an interesting read. Card's characters go through the motions of the plot like a bunch of robots, there's nothing interesting about established characters like Bean, Achilles, Petra, or Peter Wiggin and nothing interesting about any new characters either. The reader learns nothing new about anyone, which ultimately leads to losing interest int he story and its characters.

Card prides himself on his knowledge of military and political history and that's just how this books comes off: a dull retelling of a history that has yet to be. He describes a game of Risk where the armies of India tire themselves out trying to conquer Southeast Asia and are in turn conquered by China, which could have been avoided if only India could have drawn a third cannon card to get more armies on the board.

In short, if you've read Card's other Ender/Bean books then I suggest you read this just so you aren't lost, but buy a used copy, borrow it from the library, or get it from a friend. ...

Also, in light of recent world events, I suggest avoiding the Afterword of the book where Card blasts the "immoral" attack on Afghanistan by the U.S. in 1998 and describes just why America "is a nation in decline". "Shadow of the Hegemon" does little enough to endear you to Orson Scott Card, but his opinions in the Afterword will make you like him even less so.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

December 18, 2001

I think I was having a bad day when I wrote my original review. So, after rereading the book, I'm back to rewrite my review. Probably no one but me will ever see it, but no matter. To start with, after reading quite a few Pulitzer winners, "Kavalier & Clay" was more than worthy of the honor. It is, in my humble opinion, the most original, satisfying, and well-written of any of the Pulitzer winners I have read.

The story naturally follows Josef (Joe) Kavalier and Samuel Klayman (Sammy Clay) as they achieve fame and glory during the "Golden Age" of comic books in the years before WWII. When the war breaks out, Joe goes off to fight in it, leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend, whom Sammy--a closet homosexual--marries. Joe comes back 12 years later, befriending his son and after a Senate hearing exposes Sammy's lifestyle, he leaves Joe and his wife Rosa behind.

The story is mostly good and the writing is superb. Both times I've read this book, I wanted to keep reading and reading; it just sucked me in. Chabon's writing style is at times a little overblown--sometimes I wish he would just get to the point already!--and ranges from witty to philosophical. The dialogue is sharp and the characters (while maybe a little warmed-over from Chabon's other novels) are well-rounded. That all said, a few things bothered me.

For me, the story falls apart after Joe goes off to war. My first question was that if Joe wanted to kill Nazis, why did he join the NAVY? Wouldn't the Army, Marines, or Army Air Corps better served his need for vengeance? Maybe he wanted to sink U-boats like the one that torpedoed the ship carrying his brother. Another minor question was why Joe rented space in the Empire State Building to live after he returns to New York. Wouldn't it have been cheaper (and less risk of eviction) to rent an apartment in the city somewhere?

The big question, the one that really bothers me is why Rosa married Sammy. The impression I got is that Rosa is a strong, independent woman, not the sort who would care if people would whisper about her being a single mother behind her back. Besides, she could have just said the father died in the war (which was almost true), which I doubt was a situation unique to her. To me, though, she seemed like the kind of person who would say, "my son doesn't need two parents, I can love him enough for both". Sammy and her father still could have helped raise Joe & Rosa's son. Maybe my impression of the character is wrong, or maybe Sammy convinced her to marry him because he didn't want the child to grow up without a father like he did. The problem is that WE DON'T KNOW because the marriage proposal is not detailed in the book, so we're left to draw our own conclusions. I think this is an issue central to the story (or at least the last third or so of it) and if I feel it's contrived by the author as a convenient plot device, that tarnishes my enjoyment of the book.

To be honest, I didn't like the last third or so as much as the first two-thirds, where Sammy and Joe are building the Escapist character (among others) while being cheated out of the money that's rightfully theirs by the greedy publisher. Everything after the war seems like a soap opera. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but it reminds of the movie, "Legends of the Fall" where Brad Pitt's character goes off after WWI and returns home years later to find his girl has married his brother. With the questions I mentioned earlier, I really couldn't enjoy this phase of the book much. And like "The Cider House Rules", I hate those disorienting big time shifts.

All that aside, the whole book is still much better than most everything else. I highly recommend escaping into Chabon's wonderful world.

Ender's Shadow

Ender's Shadow (Ender, Book 5) by Orson Scott Card

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

October 17, 2001

This book is an interesting idea: take a popular book like Ender's Game and then retell the entire story through the point of view of another character, Bean. It seems odd because we never did learn anything about Bean in Ender's Game (except that he was small and kind of mouthy), but that does make everything seem fresh.

Ender's Shadow follows Bean's story from the toilet of an organ farm to the streets of Rotterdam to the final apocalyptic battle to defeat the Buggers. Bean, in my mind, is actually a better character than Ender Wiggin. Ender was always seeming to whine about his fortune in life: his brother, leaving his family, the constant grinding of the Battle School. Bean, on the other hand, because he was hardened on the mean streets, pretty much takes life as it is, without moping around. Bean ends up as the second-stringer to Ender, solely because his small size and obvious youth make it hard for him to get respect (a Rodney Dangerfield complex) to be able to lead fleets in battle.

The largest problem with this book, which I noticed in Ender's Game, is that Bean is not Ender's friend or right-hand man, in fact he's largely ignored by Ender. The issue with that is that in Ender's Game, Bean does almost nothing, but now in Ender's Shadow, he's this important supergenius who is behind a lot of the events of Ender's Game, including the creation of Ender's army at Battle School. It seems to me like Card is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and while I largely didn't mind that since the point of view of Ender's Game was mostly Ender Wiggin, which inhibited finding out about other characters, it does make me think that a lot of Ender's Shadow is just forced.

Another problem is that like Ender's Game, the ending of Ender's Shadow is also rushed. As soon as Ender leaves the Battle School, we get very little detail about what happens to Bean the final 8 days he spends at the school, and his experiences at Tactical/Command school are similarly rushed. After there is so much detail about Bean's early days, it's disappointing that the conclusion is so quickly brought to a close.

I'm sure there's probably a big debate somewhere about which book is better, Ender's Game or Ender's Shadow. I preferred Shadow, because I liked Bean better than Ender, not just because he seemed less whiny, but also that he didn't become some weird mystic at the end. I'd recommend reading both and see which you prefer.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

October 9, 2001

As the author himself says, some people really like this book, others loathe it. I think those who hate it are the naive who just can't understand why the government would turn a brilliant child into a killer. But you have to understand that the humans aren't sure when the "buggers" will be back to try for the hat trick at destroying humanity, they can't wait the 20-30 years it would take for a Caesar or Napoleon to develop on his own, so they push his latent brilliance, molding it into the genius they need to win the war for good.

Overall, I thought the book was good. Ender is a sympathetic character, he doesn't want to kill, but is forced to keep doing it. Until the end when he winds up nearly going insane from his internal conflict. The rest of the characters are scantily described, but that's because the focus of the book, Ender, is usually isolated from everyone else so that we can't get to know them.

There are a few things that keep this book from being the "greatness" others call it. One, there's a little sloppy writing concerning the point of view. The story primarily is focused through Ender, but there are times when in the middle of a scene it seems to drift to someone else a bit. This is something I've noticed because people say I have a tendency to do that myself. In particular there is a whole chapter in the middle focusing on Ender's older brother and sister back home on Earth and their scheme to rule the world.

Second, the end of the book wraps up much too quickly. After Ender wins the war, there's a real thumbnail sketch of WWIII (which lasts about 5 days), and how Ender and his sister go to a former bugger colony, where Ender finds a hidden message from the buggers and sets forth to repopulate some unsuspecting planet with them. Eight years of action is summarized in about 20 pages. Card wrote sequels, so I don't see why he rushed the ending here so much.

This is a good book, but because of those problems, it fails to become a great book. It's still well worth the read, though.

Marooned in Realtime

Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

September 19, 2001

"Marooned" is a decent sci-mystery book, not really great, but it moves along well enough to be a good read.

Short summary: one of the most prominent of the last survivors of humanity is murdered and former cop Wil Brierson is put on the case. Ultimately there's a huge conspiracy to co-opt and destroy the tiny human colony, which Brierson and his allies unravel.

The story itself is pretty bland, but the background technology and concepts are more interesting. The reason that most of humanity disappears is unknown, but some people managed to unwittingly survive by putting themselves in stasis bubbles called "bobbles". More than a mystery, this also provides a sociological look at how to rebuild a fallen civilization.

Overall, like I said, it's not great, but it's good. "Marooned" is worth the money.

P.S. - If you like sci-mystery, check out "The Icarus Hunt" by Timothy Zahn, the science end may not be as great, but I thought the mystery end was better.

A Deepness in the Sky

A Deepness in the Sky (Zones of Thought) by Vernor Vinge

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:

July 6, 2001

I had pretty much finished "A Fire Upon the Deep" and since I liked it I decided to give its prequel "A Deepness in the Sky" a try. I was not disappointed.

Anyone who read Fire Upon the Deep knows that a direct sequel was pretty tough (with all of the main characters being either stranded or killed by the end), but a prequel provided quite a bit of insight into Pham Nuwen, one of "Fire"'s central characters.

Much like Fire Upon the Deep, this book is long, but it isn't tedious. There are quite a few characters which are followed for roughly 40 years, but the people are not so spread out and disconnected that the author or reader gets lost of confused about who and where people are. The beginning is slow going, but eventually I was drawn into the web of intrigue being spun by Vinge. To put it succinctly, if you liked Fire Upon the Deep, you'll like this book too.

The fundamental flaw, though, with both of Vinge's books (moreso this latest work) is that he assumes that all cultures inevitably develop the same way. No matter how alien the race is they will all develop radio, computers, nuclear weapons, etc. In essence, all alien races will become like humans, as we see in this book with the "Spiders". When we first meet the Spiders they are already much like humans with cars and radio, but in time they become even more human with their own Arms/Space Race, computer networks, nuclear weapons, even a form of television. I can understand that a lot of this was to accomodate the story, but honestly I think that any alien race will be just that, alien, and won't necessarily follow the same path of development that we have on Earth. That is the biggest drawback to this story, but it is easily ignored.

The end of "Deepness" leaves more than enough room open for another prequel, where we can learn all about the last years of Pham Nuwen's life before he is inevitably killed until being resurrected many, many years later.

Overall, Deepness in the Sky is intimidating in size, but the deeper you delve into the book, the more you will enjoy it.

A Fire Upon The Deep

A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) by Vernor Vinge

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

June 14, 2001

Honestly, I don't know why I liked this book, but I did. For a 600 page book, it moved quickly, and for the most part I liked the characters from the dog-like "Tines" to the living-plant Skroderiders, to you average humans.

I guess the reason why I liked this book was because the two books I'd read before it were, while shorter, quite long and quite dull. Read my review of "Destiny's Road" by Larry Niven, and while I think my review was too nasty to be posted, The "Reality Dysfunction" by Peter Hamilton was not good either, in my opinion. Both those books were tediously slow, I hated the characters, and in Hamilton's case he had so many characters he just lost track of them during the story. Vinge, on the other hand, has a manageable number of characters, each with enough personality so that I, as the reader, can like the good guys and dislike the bad guys. The story starts a little slow, but gains speed until the conclusion.

Overall, I liked the book, but this whole "Zone" concept kept nagging at me. I can understand why closer to the center of a galaxy, faster-than-light travel might not work, since there are more stars producing gravity, more mass, etc., but why don't computers work as well? I guess I never took enough science classes to understand why technology becomes dumber the closer to the center one gets. It's like, if I put my computer and put it in a submarine and go to the bottom of the ocean it runs at 1/4 the speed and can only play Pong, why would that be the case? Is it just the way computers in the "Beyond" are designed, that the technology they use is disrupted by more mass, gravity, or whatever? I don't know, and the author never explained, which kind of ticked me off since it was so integral to the plot. I can hardly complain too much, though, as a writer I try to avoid scientific technobabble as much as I can because it doesn't interest me much, so I can't really fault Vinge if he's somewhat the same on that front.

There are a few other things I didn't like. For instance, the names used to reference characters sometimes changed, like in one sentence Pham Nuwen is referred to as Pham, the next he's "Nuwen", and the next he's "Pham Nuwen". It was the same for some of the other characters, especially the "Tines". Maybe that's not technically wrong, but it was kind of annoying to me. Most of all, I didn't like that Vinge cheats the readers of reading about the final climactic battles. Right after the heroic rescue of a captured human and Tine, the story picks up after the battle, which was a little disappointing to me, but I could see the necessity of it.

Overall, this is classic "space opera" (how I loathe that term as both a reader and writer!), but the end has a twist in that it doesn't end all Happily Ever After. It may be long, but it's worth the read, even if I can't fully explain what my fondness for this book was. This one is already a classic in its own right, and if you haven't read it, put it on your list.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Reality Dysfunction Part 2: Expansion

The Reality Dysfunction Part 2: Expansion by Peter F. Hamilton

5 of 13 people found the following review helpful:

September 4, 2001

I see no reason why people actually like these books. Is it because of the characters who all have the morality of drunken frat boys at spring break? Is it the tangled web of characters and plots that you need a score card to keep track of? Or is it just Hamilton's masterful way of spinning a long-winded, cheesy yarn?

Sorry to anyone who, like me, thought this series had merit, but you would be sorely mistaken. First, and foremost in my mind, is that the editor completely dropped the ball on these books. There are so many plots and characters running around that the author clearly loses track of them. Remember the voidhawk captain Syrinx from part 1? Oh yeah, she appears for one scene. What about Quinn Dexter, the Satanist who started this fiasco? One scene about 480 pages in is all he gets. Then of course there are the "possessed" who are taking over some Edenist habitat and a couple of planets, but they drop out of the picture for the last 100 or so pages. Hamilton has no concept of smooth storytelling, it's all bits and pieces, nothing comes together, and like the first part, the second part of The Reality Dysfunction ends so abruptly that you'll probably run to the bookstore to make sure that every copy is like that.

Another thing that really annoys me about Hamilton's style is that all along the way we get these wonderful history lessons about every stinking rock in the "Confederation". I'm sorry, but I as the reader simply do not care about why or when or how some navy base was created, it has no relevence to me. After a while I just started to flip past these scenes, and found myself not the least bit confused. Like I said about the first book, if you cut out most of the gratuitous sex scenes, and these history lessons, there would be no need for two parts.

There's also a lot of stuff that the only word to describe it is cheesy. One guy gets chased by a mixture of Viking boats, triemes, and (of all things) a pirate ship! At the end is a climactic battle between 27th Century cyborgs and medieval knights. Best of all, there's a scene right out of The Exorcist where Father Horst banishes one of the possessed by reading the ritual exorcism prayer and waving his crucifix and Bible around. And representing the possessed we have an Irishman from the 1920s, a Nazi soldier, and an Australian who died during the Vietnam War, plus the wonderful promise that guys like Custer, Stalin, and Hitler are just itching to make their way back to the other side. Why is that cheesy? Maybe to most people it isn't, but to me when you start throwing around all of these 20th Century references A) it shows a lack of creativity and B) it makes it sound like the 20th Century was the most important time in human history (which it may be news to you, but it wasn't).

Remember what I said about characters? You probably think I'm exaggerating, but not really. We find out along the way in this masterpiece that our resident "hero" Joshua Calvert has gotten not one, but two different girls pregnant, hoo-ray! Most of the main characters are so loose that you start to wonder after a while exactly how all these souls from Hell taking over people will make things much different. Heck, it might be an improvement.

So maybe by now you've seen my review and all these glowing ones and you must think I'm all wet. Maybe, but I thought I'd like these books and so far have found really no redeeming qualities in them at all. Most books I can at least find something good to say, but not for these. They're long and disorganized, lacking decent characters, dialogue, or a well-planned story. You can believe all the rosy reviews and buy these books, but if you think you're getting quality literature, you will be sorely mistaken as I was. As for myself, this is as far as I go with this series, I can't take any more of it.

The Reality Dysfunction Part I: Emergence

The Reality Dysfunction Part I: Emergence by Peter F. Hamilton

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

June 1, 2001

The title of this review sums it up. I was not impressed at all by this book. It was a long, rambling 586 pages that ended almost completely arbitrarily. The big suspense-filled (please note the sarcasm) ending is about one paragraph that loosely suggests that whatever the evil thing is that has been unleashed, it's starting to spread. Honestly, Hamilton does not build up any sort of drama that makes me want to read the next one, especially if it's another almost 600 pages.

The worst thing about this book is the "hero" Joshua Calvert. Maybe Joshua Pervert would be a more apt name since he is "with" just about every female character he runs into. This guy has not a shred of moral fiber and after a while he just becomes a sad caricature.

I also loved how people just vanished from the storyline. There's a priest, Horst Elwes, and a little girl named Jay in the story pretty regularly for the first half of the book, but come the second half they just disappear. I, as the reader, have no idea if they lived or died because Hamilton doesn't bother to check in with them later on. The same for Ione Saldana the "Lord of Ruin". I expected that the computer Josh uncovers early in the book would have some kind of dire warning about the terrible evil unleashed, but apparently Hamilton didn't have time for that either.

Honestly, not to push the decency standards here, but if Hamilton cuts out 2/3 of the gratuitous, pointless sex scenes, he wouldn't need a SECOND book.

There were, surprisingly, a few good things about the book. I liked the "Edenists" and "Adamist" thing where Edenists use all sorts of genetic tampering to give them telepathy, etc. while the Adamists use little nanoimplants to do almost the same things. The Edenist ships, "voidhawks" and "blackhawks", and how the ship has a personality that relates to the ship's captain is pretty interesting. I'm sure that there will be more about those in the next ramble.

Apparently a lot of other people liked this book, I didn't. Maybe I'm being too prudish about the gratuitous sex scenes, but I thought that 99% had no point or purpose and added nothing to story and detracted from being able to like the main character or being able to see him as any kind of heroic-type figure. To any parents, don't let your kids read this book, it's too advanced for them.

I'll probably give the second one a try eventually, but I doubt it will impress me much more than the first.

Destiny's Road

Destiny's Road by Larry Niven

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful:

May 6, 2001

Destiny's Road is without a doubt one of the most boring books I have ever read. When I bought this book, I thought that it was about a young man who explores this mysterious road, finds out its secrets, and matures and grows as a person along the way. Instead, what I got was a 432-page ramble that lacked any sort of direction and purpose. Our hero, Jemmy Bloocher-Tim Hann-Tim Bednacourt-Jeremy Bloocher-Jeremy Hearst/Winslow, kills a man by accident, eventually flees to the Road created long ago by a colonizing space shuttle, and then settles down and marries a woman at the first town he runs across.

Jemmy/Tim/Jeremy has no interest in exploring the road, or uncovering any secrets. He only leaves the first town he came across after the town traded him to a merchant caravan for some knives, then after about a year of living with the caravan and joining a jailbreak from a colony workfarm, he eventually settles down with another wife for 27 years. Only then does he uncover the "secrets" of the Road, purely by accident of course. And what is the "secret"? That one part of the planet is hoarding "speckles", a plant that contains the potassium humans need to survive, from the other part of the colony, using it to control those without the speckles. At the end, our "hero" decides that he'll be Johnny Speckleseed, sowing some of the plants across the colony to break the stranglehold on the speckles.

This book, much like Jemmy/Tim/Jeremy's journey across Destiny, lacked any sort of real purpose. This book didn't need to be 432 pages, it didn't even need to be 2 pages, the author gave the reader no reason to keep reading. The Road's secret turned out to be no big deal, so one part of the colony is withholding technology and speckles? That was the groundshaking discovery I read through 400 pages for?

Honestly, the only purpose in this book was for Niven to show off his "skills" at creating intricate alien worlds, which he did with great effectiveness. That was not the problem, the problem was there was no story to go with this intricate alien world.

The big problem with the story, to me, is that it's been 250 years since this colony started and absolutely no contact with Earth. So we here on Earth send out a colonizing party and never send another expedition, or even a probe to check on them? The point of colonization is to create something valuable, primarily new markets for trade, no one colonizes just for the heck of it. Even if the rulers back on Earth think that the colony went belly-up, why wouldn't they send some kind of unmanned mission or a probe? That just doesn't make sense.

My advice is to cross this book off of your to-read list, and avoid any future sequels. It is too long, too dull to waste your time on.

Batman: No Man's Land

Batman: No Man's Land by Greg Rucka

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

April 13, 2001

I'm not a fan of the Batman comics, or comics in general. But I have always liked the Batman character, from the campy old TV show to the movies. There's something about a guy who runs around at night beating up bad guys and saving the world, all without farfetched super powers, that is so appealing in a world where justice seems so tainted.

Anyway, a few years ago I read the "Knightfall" novelization by Dennis O'Neal and I generally enjoyed it. So I figured I would give "No Man's Land" a try. While not what I would consider to be true "literature" (the concept that the US government would simply write off Gotham as opposed to rebuilding it after the earthquake is hard to believe), it exceeded my expectations. No Man's Land is an exciting read and what Rucka does that the TV show and movies fail in, is to humanize everyone from Batman to Two-Face to Commissioner Gordon (who is an actual cop instead of the oaf he is portrayed as in the movies). So along with a lot of action, we get to see Batman wrestling with his conscience about how to save what's left of Gotham (especially after his first attempt fails miserably), Two-Face is torn between his lust for vengeance and his lust for Detective Renee Montoya, and Commissioner Gordon struggles to maintain order without taking innocent lives.

Best of all, if you've never even lifted a Batman comic you can still understand this. Unfamiliar characters from TV or movies like Nightwing, Oracle, and the Huntress are all quickly explained so that the reader gets brought up to speed on the universe of the comics vs. what they've seen in the movies or on TV. So it's easy to sit back and enjoy the ride without a lot of confusion.

If there are any knocks on this book, it's A) that it's soooo long and B) it gets very episodic at parts. The story flow gets a little choppy as various little episodes unfold, but this book has enough action that it will keep you turning the pages until the end.


Vigilant by James Alan Gardner

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

April 8, 2001

The title pretty much says it all. A good book, but not really great. It didn't really grab me by the nose and make me want to keep reading, but it wans't hard on the eyes either.

A major flaw with the book is that our narrator, Faye Smallwood, has this peculiar accent that really becomes distracting. She has this way of linking words with hyphens or slashes, or just making up words, it really gets irritating after 372 pages. It seems like a small thing, but it got under my skin after a while.

Another flaw is that there is really no big payoff at the end. There's action throughout the book, but for an action book, the "final confrontation" was pretty lame. A couple of shots of acid, a melting bridge, and we're done. Maybe I'm being picky, but I thought there should be more there to make it worth putting up with the narrator's annoying voice.

Like all of Gardner's books there is little of hard substance, but the books are all fun reads. So if you want a good SF adventure, I'd recommend all of Gardner's books, except maybe Commitment Hour, they'll keep you occupied without stupefying you.

So, to sum it up, if you have nothing to read, check out Vigilant, it's worth the money you pay (especially if you buy it used).

Commitment Hour

Commitment Hour by James Alan Gardner

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

April 6, 2001

Much like Gardner's other books, I read Commitment Hour very quickly. This time, though, not because I wanted to, but because I was ill. Like many other books, Commitment Hour poses an interesting question, "what if you could choose to be male, female, or both?" Unfortunately, weak characters and a dull story really do little to turn that question into a decent novel.

Male, female, or both, our hero(ine) Fullin is remarkably uninteresting. He/she is whiny, prissy, naive, and a total clod and his girl/boyfriend Cappie is little better. The "Spark Lord" Rashid is a cartoonish charicature, and none of the other characters are interesting enough to make the reader cheer for anyone.

The entire story is spent taking the reader through the tangled web of nature spirits and the tyrannical "Patriarch" that make up the very small world of Tobler Cove. Eventually we find out that Tobler Cove is really just a high-tech sociology experiment to bridge the gender gap.

Unlike Gardner's other books, Commitment Hour is a dull read, and unless you're virtually bed-ridden like myself, it won't keep you hooked. Commitment Hour has an interesting premise but a weak story. Read Gardner's other books, but skip this one.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Hunted by James Alan Gardner

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

March 25, 2001

There are some books you just want to read, read, read until you get to the end because they're just that good, this was one of those books. Much like Expendable, this is a first-person yarn, and like any good first-person story it has a narrator that the reader can enjoy listening to for 400+ pages. In this story, our narrator Edward York starts out as a Forrest Gump kind of character, a little slow, but also very disarming because he's so kind and gentle. Slowly York becomes tangled in a huge web of deceit and treachery, but is able to save the day with a little help from his friends. Those friends include old favorites like Phylar Tobit and of course Festina Ramos.

Hunted is an exciting, action-packed book with riveting plot twists and great characters. For hardcore SF readers this might not be serious enough or have enough scientific mumbo-jumbo, and maybe some of the plot twists are rather predictable, but this is just an exciting, entertaining read.

After reading Expendable and Hunted, I'm definitely going to pick up the rest of Gardner's books in this series, I'd recommend you do the same. Since there are no immortal see-through people and no choppy subheadings, I can feel good about giving this book five stars.


Expendable by James Alan Gardner

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

March 19, 2001

I bought this book because the concept intrigued me, but I just naturally assumed that it would be one of those books where the concept is better than the writing. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. Expendable is an exciting book that kept me turning page after page until the end and left me thirsting for more.

The key to this book is the key to any first-person yarn, that we enjoy listening to the narrator. Our narrator, Festina Ramos is a woman forced into an almost meaningless life of landing on planets until she is killed, all because of a birthmark on her face. Ramos, however, does not spend the whole book mired in self-pity about her lot in life. She's tortured by her demons, but always presses on, and that makes her respectable in my opinion, and so it was easy to charge through 335 pages in a couple of days.

Some say the plot is thin with plenty of holes, but I didn't see it that way. It was a tight adventure story that didn't take itself too seriously. There were no long lectures about physics and temporal mechanics, just a decent novel fueled by adventure, action, and mystery.

A couple of points that did annoy me: 1. The way that each chapter had different sections with subheadings really made the narration seem choppy.

2. Is there some kind of unhealthy obsession that makes SF writers in Canada write about immortal people made of glass? This is the third straight book I've read featuring immortal see-through people. The first two were "FlashForward" and "Starplex" by Canadian SF author Robert Sawyer, so it just seems like there has to be some kind of connection. In Sawyer's books, the immortal see-through people thing was an irritating tangent, but in Expendable, the transparent woman named Oar adds some humor and a kind of tragic element to the story.

Overall, Expendable is a very enjoyable book, I was pleasantly surprised and very disappointed that I spent so little on a beat-up used copy of it. For a good read that's not overly taxing on your brain and very entertaining, I highly recommend this book.


Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

March 11, 2001

Most of Starplex is a very dull read, packed with dense physics discussions that become tedious for the science-impaired. The book picks up in the last 100 pages, but it was never an edge-of-your-seat read, and I never really cared about any of the characters. The entire thing was like an episode of Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5, only with more scientific mumbo-jumbo. What was the most farfetched moment of the book is when a little shuttle thing launched from Starplex takes out a huge battle cruiser with a geological laser that miraculous hits some fuel storage tank and POOF! goes the bad guy ship.

What's interesting is that if you read Starplex and then read "FlashForward" by Sawyer, you can see where he plagiarizes himself. Both novels feature a balding, middle-aged Canadian who will potentially receive the magic potion for immortality and live out the rest of time in some kind of mechanical body. I didn't like that element in either book, it seems completely rediculous for one novel, let alone two.

Overall, Starplex is not a bad book, but it's not great either. And if you need a cure for insomnia, just read the first first chapters and you'll drift right off into dreamland.


Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

March 4, 2001

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer is overall a pretty interesting book, and it might have been great, except for a couple of flaws.

First off, there's way too much physics in this book. I had two physics classes in college and had no interest to take more, so after a while all of the physics and quantum mechanics, and whatever else, really got tiresome. It distracted me from the story, that classic story of whether a person's fate can be avoided.

Secondly, the ending was weird, it totally threw me. Out of nowhere the main character gets offered the immortality syrum, it just didn't make any sense with the rest of the story.

Other than those flaws, this book is good enough. Maybe not a "thriller", but it's interesting.

Animal House Saves the Universe

The Engines of Dawn by Paul Cook

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:

March 1, 2001

In the Engines of Dawn by Paul Cook, frat boy-cum-physics-instructor Ben Bennett and his three drop-out buddies liberate humanity from the evil aliens slowly, methodically, sapping all humans of their intelligence and sex drive.

I'd give the actual story concept at least 3 stars, but the execution is terrible. For some reason, Cook has to give every character a complete dossier after mentioning their name. For instance: Bob Jones, a large, muscular, redheaded man, turned on the lights. Childish sexual innuendo is all over the place, really distracting from the seriousness of the story.

Don't get me wrong, this book can be entertaining, in that cheesy, late night B-movie kind of way, but if you want thought-provoking literature, don't waste any time with the Engines of Dawn.