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.
That is all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008



by Dan Simmons

(4/5 stars)

I can honestly say it took me seven years to read this book. Not because it's extremely long--though at 482 pages it's not short either--or because it wasn't interesting--once I started reading I could hardly put it down. The problem was I originally bought the book, but before I could get around to reading it I moved and the book was in a box that was misplaced for four of those seven years. After the box was found I just didn't get around to reading it, in part because my reading tastes had changed away from sci-fi and in part because I worried this would be one of those dull "hard" science-fiction novels that spend more time on discussion of astrophysics than characters or story. I could not have been more wrong.

Nothing much actually happens in the actual story of "Hyperion." Seven different people from around the galaxy--known as the Hegemony of Man--are brought together by the mysterious Church of the Shrike for a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs on the backwater world of Hyperion. Other than what appears to be a murder of one pilgrim, there's not much else involved other than travel arrangements.

The far more interesting part of the book are the stories within the stories. "Hyperion" is a sci-fi update of the classic "Canterbury Tales" where each of the six remaining pilgrims tells their story to the others of why they're on the pilgrimage. The Catholic priest Hoyt needs to get there before he dies from something that happened last time he was on the planet, the warrior Kassad needs to go there because of an encounter with a mysterious woman, the poet Silenius because the strange planet is the muse for his greatest work, the "Wandering Jew" Sol Weintaub to save his baby daughter, the detective Brawne to complete a case she took up, and the Consul, well, I won't spoil that surprise.

The mystery of what everyone wants and what exactly is going on with the Time Tombs and the mysterious creature known as The Shrike makes it hard to put the book down even though not a lot is happening. There are hints of a destuctive war to come, but that's saved for the sequel. I was disappointed after seven years to find out I need to buy the sequel to find out what happens to the pilgrims; I know it won't take seven years to read that.

My only real complaints are first some of the descriptions are a bit purple, especially the erotic encounter between Kassad and the mystery woman. Also, I wasn't happy with the order of the tales. Especially Weintraub's being in the middle of the book. It's such a great emotional tearjerker story that it should have been placed second-to-last in front of the Consul's nearly as emotional tearjerker story. Putting the hardboiled detective story of Brawne between the two takes away some of the flow. Still, maybe that was to keep with the form of "Canterbury Tales"; I wouldn't know because I've never read it.

In any case, even if you're not an avid sci-fi reader this is still a great book. You'll probably be a little confused about what a "farcaster" or a "Hawking drive" or a "fatline" is or how a "time-debt" works, but so was I and I've read a bit of sci-fi. Beyond that, the stories and characters are so classic to appeal to every reader.

That is all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Discworld: Volumes 1-6

Discworld: Volumes 1-6

By Terry Pratchett

I recently bought most of Pratchett’s Discworld series off Ebay and began reading them in more-or-less chronological order, instead of the hit-or-miss order in which I read six other ones. The first six books come in at about 250 pages or less and that’s with easy-to-read print, so it doesn’t take look to read--I read half of one in two hours at a Starbucks. It seems most economical then to just review these first six all in a bunch instead of one-at-a-time.

The Color of Magic (Or Colour of Magic if you prefer the UK spelling): This is the first Discworld novel, published originally in 1983. I doubt Pratchett thought he’d still be writing the series 25 years later. This first novel serves mostly as a send-up of fantasy epics like “Lord of the Rings” and such and lays out the unusual geography of the Discworld, that being a flat world carried by four elephants on the back of a huge space turtle. The novel deals with Rincewind, a dropout of the Unseen University for wizards, who knows only one magic spell and makes a living on the streets of grubby Ankh-Morpork as best he can. When he is employed by a rich tourist from the far-off Golden Empire, Rincewind thinks he’ll make a quick buck. Little does the cowardly would-be wizard know that he’s gotten himself entangled in a quest that will take him to (and over) the edges of the Disc.

As I said, this largely lays out the geography of the world, with lots of explanations of how the Disc and its various societies, gods, and so forth work. (This includes the “color of magic” to which the title refers; that color is octarine, an eighth primary color.) On its own it’s an amusing novel, though not great. Having read future installments of the series, everything seems a bit off in this first installment. It’s like watching season 20 of “The Simpsons” and then going back to watch an episode of season 1 where the voices of some characters (notably Homer) aren’t quite right. Had I started with this one, I’m not sure I’d have been keen to read 30 more. (3 stars)

The Light Fantastic: This is a direct sequel to “The Color of Magic” and possibly the only direct sequel in the series, though if I’m wrong I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. Anyway, Rincewind thought he was through with crazy adventures, but an even crazier adventure beckons as the great space turtle seems to be on a collision course with a sun. It just might be the one spell Rincewind knows can actually help save the entire Discworld.

Like “The Color of Magic” before it, this one is good, but not great. I think Pratchett had begun the process of settling in more to creating a series instead of just one book. It’s still an amusing read if you have a couple hours to spare. (3 stars)

Equal Rites: This is the first Discworld novel to expand the universe outside of Rincewind. In this case the story revolves around a witch named Granny Weatherwax, who lives in the isolated Ramtop Mountains. On general principles Granny doesn’t like associating with non-witches, but finds herself becoming a mentor and guardian to a little girl named Esk, who seems destined to become a wizard. Just one problem: there’s never been a female wizard before.

There was some good potential for this story in the beginning, but the end never really lived up to it. For one thing, the story focuses itself on too narrow a timeframe, so that we don’t really get to see much of Esk’s challenges in trying to become a witch or her relationship to Simon. That they haven’t reappeared to headline any of the other 30 books probably says something about the author’s detachment to them. On a positive note, though, getting away from Rincewind allowed more of the Discworld universe to evolve. None of the Discworld books are probably essential reading, but this one even less so. (2 stars)

Mort: This is the first Discworld novel that focuses on DEATH as a main character. He appears in most every novel, at least in a cameo, but this novel really fleshes out (bad pun since he hasn’t got any flesh) Death’s world. Death becomes fascinated with humanity and so decides to experiment with human pleasures like drinking and eating, though fortunately not that other human pleasure. Meanwhile, he recruits a young man named Mort to cover for him. When Mort falls in love with one of his victims, the consequences are dire.

Maybe it’s terribly morbid, but DEATH is probably my favorite character in the series to this point. (Second is the Librarian, an orangutan who answers everything with a hearty “Ook.”) I’m pretty sure this laid the groundwork for the Susan character featured in future novels in the series, though I haven’t got to that point yet. Anyway, on its own I liked this novel, though not as much as the later “Reaper Man” that also focuses heavily on DEATH. Still, I’d have to say that of the first group it’s the one I liked best. (4 stars)

Sourcery: After two books Rincewind returns and once more the cowardly non-magical wizard has to save the universe. This time it’s not a collision with a sun about to put an end to the world, but a powerful ten-year-old sourcerer, so called because he serves as a “source” for raw magic—it’s a little complicated. A magic war breaks out among the wizards that threatens to destroy the fabric of reality unless Rincewind can save the day. (So everyone is pretty screwed.)

The Discworld universe continues to evolve with this book, especially the wizards. Rincewind is probably at his best of the three he’s featured in at this point and is forced with a real issue other than survival when he has to take sides against his fellow wizards. The only flaw is at the end some of the characters were left with little to do but stand around and watch the fireworks, so to speak. That’s a little slack storytelling. (3 stars)

Wyrd Sisters: This is the last of the six I’ve read and this time we’re back to Granny Weatherwax last featured in “Equal Rites.” Granny’s got a couple new friends to form a coven—of sorts—that soon finds itself embroiled in political strife involving the assassination of a king and his newborn successor. Much of the story is modeled after works of Shakespeare like “Macbeth” and “Hamlet,” which would probably be more humorous to me if I’d read (or watched) much Shakespeare.

I can’t say I’m overly fond of the Granny Weatherwax character, but I think if you like “Wicked” (the Gregory Maguire book or the musical) you’ll probably enjoy Pratchett’s less-than-fanciful account of witches—and it’s worth noting this came along seven years before Maguire’s book. As I said above, if I knew about Shakespeare I’d have liked it more, but that’s my fault not the book’s. (4 stars)

I got myself a big box of Discworld books for Christmas, so after the holidays I’ll get into that and post some more reviews when and if I feel like it.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008



(A Discworld Novel)

by Terry Pratchett

(4/5 stars)

In the fictional Discworld, which is carried by four elephants atop a giant turtle floating through space, what we would consider Christmas is known as Hogwatch. The jolly, bearded fat man in the red suit we would associate with Santa Claus is known as the Hogfather and drives a team of four boars instead of eight reindeer. This year, though, something has gone amiss--mainly the Hogfather himself--and so if the Hogfather looks as if he's lost a lot of weight it's because Death is standing in for him.

The plot itself for "Hogfather" sounds like one of those cheesy Christmas specials we used to see more of on television like "The Flintstones Save Christmas" or "Ernest Saves Christmas" or even "The Santa Clause" where some ordinary klutz has to fill in for Santa and bring toys and cheer to the good little boys and girls. But things are never that simple or straightforward in the Discworld. While the Grim Reaper is filling the Hogfather's boots, his "granddaughter" Susan goes in search of the Hogfather, which ultimately involves assassins and The Tooth Fairy. Meanwhile, at Unseen University, the school for wizards, strange things are happening like gods and fairies appearing out of thin air. (It makes slightly more sense when you read the book.)

The story centers not so much on "saving Christmas, er, Hogwatch" as on the nature of belief and how it changes over time. In particular is the concept of old gods serving new purposes. If you look back through history you can compare the roles of old gods like Zeus or Odin with the Christian God (or Jesus) or Hindu gods, and so forth. No matter the society or the religion humans have always had a need for belief in something, even if it's something ridiculous like a jolly fat man and a team of flying hogs.

There's a good moral as well in the story of Death learning to be Santa, er, Hogfather in that Christmas, er, Hogwatch doesn't always mean getting everything you want. Even as children a little disappointment is necessary to help us mature into adults. (You've seen what happens to people who get everything they want growing up with the Paris Hiltons of the world.)

So really what could have in lesser hands been rendered into a cheap, sappy Christmas special has been given far more meaning by Mr. Pratchett. Not to mention the book is hilarious and a breeze to read. Some of the things near the end were a little confusing, but overall this was a great read for the holidays.

I bought the British miniseries of this off the Amazon Black Friday sale; I hear the miniseries sticks pretty close to the book, which would be a good thing. Once it arrives I'll have to find out.

That is all.