Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More on George R. R. Martin

First off, if you haven't already, go and read my rambling post about Martin I did earlier this year.

Back? Good.

Well folks, despite my passion and absolute conviction for not wanting to read Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire, I gave in, and read the first three books. Yes yes, get your gloating out of the way, but let me at least give you some semblance of an explanation. I watched, re-watched, and then watched the first two seasons of the HBO series and on a whim downloaded the audio book of A Game of Thrones. Really, it was the audio book that did me in, it was so good. Now I'm not talking about the story here, I'm talking about the brilliant reading of Roy Dotrice. In fact here's this:

Isn't that fantastic? Seriously. I'm not too familiar with audio books, I've listened to I Am Legend and one or two others in my time, but this is the first one that really captured me. I certainly read faster than the audio book, but I actually chose to listen instead of reading to myself and, indeed, I didn't even listen to the radio in my car during the time I was listening/reading to the series.

In any case, there's one other important factor to consider before I get into the meat of this post: I stopped at book three. This is because of the HBO series, I will continue to watch the show, but I know if I get too far ahead I won't be able to experience it to the fullest. I must also say, that HBO did a hell of a job, yes they did change this or that, and yes it doesn't follow the books exactly, but I think it's certainly one of the best out there especially with the last jaunt in epic fantasy that television tried to adapt: Terry Goodkinds The Sword of Truth. Gah, don't even get me started on that piece of work.

The result of this little journey for me is that my feelings really haven't changed all that much. Martin is a fantastic storyteller, but he ruins it with the episodic nature of his style and even with a brilliant narration by Dotrice, I could not get past the feeling that he just didn't think us readers would understand. It could be that that's how he needs to keep track of things, but I highly doubt it considering his brilliant short stories and other works. Aside from that, though, they were everything I imagined they would be. They filled out story lines and drew a much richer picture than any visual medium could have, indeed, the show feels more complete and the feeling of a vague sense of inside jokes is gone now that I understand the characters storylines and histories better.

All that being said, some of his actual writing quirks were highly irritating. I won't go into all of them because it's been a couple months since I finished and honestly they're all pretty minor, but the one that really bothered me while reading was his use (and over use) of  "Ser". At first I thought "okay, this is a more historically accurate term and he's just bludgeoning us with his knowledge and pointing out our error in using 'Sir'". But no, my friends, he really is just using it to show off and actually he's using it incorrectly as far as I'm concerned. While the honorific "Ser" is indeed a Middle English term, it was only used in place of "Sir" as a gender neutral alternative. Looking at the etymology of "Sir" we see that it is a shortened version of "Sire" in which case "Ser" just doesn't work. But, lets give him a pass on that and focus in on the fact that it is used as a gender neutral alternative; reading the books one of the things that stood out to me was his lack of female knights which would be an appropriate usage of the term, indeed if he was trying to avoid the whole "only men can be Sir" feminist trap, why on earth did he make his female have less social standing than the male characters? Is it because that's more historically accurate? Sure, but then why even bother with the gender neutral word "Ser"? Because he wanted to be a pretentious asshat, that's why. I certainly understand the usage if you're going to make your male and female characters equal, but it's utterly useless if you're not and only serves to jar the reader every time Ser so and so comes up, which is rather often. He could have pulled off the use of Ser had he really wanted to, which is the frustrating part. His female characters are strong, coniving, and every bit as powerful as their male counterparts, but any powerful woman was dubbed a Lady and the closest we come to a female knight is Brienne of Tarth and Martin makes sure we know on every other page that she is most certainly not a knight and thus will never be called Ser.

Blah. Like I said there were a few things that bothered me, the most jarring of which was Ser and of course the writing style, but all that being said it is an amazing series and well worth the read. Just don't get your hopes up that the next book will be out any time soon and instead just enjoy the HBO series.

Oh I guess I should mention one thing everyone else seems to be bothered by which is his killing off of characters. Meh, Martin wrote (is writing) a highly realistic world and doesn't baby his main characters which seems to bother a lot of people. Generally in a fantasy novel, the main characters are immune to the hardships of everyone else, not so in Martin's world, and honestly, that's good. It's refreshing to fear for your favorite character and while some deaths are far from glorious, the fact that people can die from disease, a stray arrow, or just dumb luck adds a little something to his story. Sure, it's not for everyone, but it's always good to remember that the medieval times were far from easy, even for kings and heroes.

So while I won't recommend people go out and read the books, they are something to keep your eye on and if the show is not enough, check 'em out to fill in some backstory, but be wary, he's old.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Year Five

Well it's certainly been an..interesting year. A lot has happened, things have changed, and life goes on I guess. In any case, a lot of reading was done and some excellent new authors were found. Joe Abercrombie was every bit as fantastic as he was rumored to be, Scott Lynch drew me in to a fantastic world of intrigue, corruption, and mayhem, and hot damn I read some fascinating non-fictions this year. I'll certainly write about a few of these and link back to the ones I've already written about, but for now we'll leave it as is, at a solid 50 books this year.

As always, if you're curious about any specific titles, hit me up!
  • Sasquatch by Jeff Meldrum
  • Seed by Rob Ziegler
  • Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling
  • The White Road by Lynn Flewelling
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
  • Brute Orbits by George Zebrowski
  • The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
  • Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card
  • Before They are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
  • Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
  • The 10,000 Year Leap by Gregory Cochran & Henry Harpending
  • Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene
  • The Red Queen by Matt Ridley
  • A Crown Imperiled by Raymond E. Feist
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • Collapse by Jared Diamond
  • Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham
  • The Face of the Waters by Robert Silverberg
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Wells of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Third Gate by Lincoln Child
  • Hero of the Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  • Amped by Daniel H. Wilson
  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 
  • Redshirts by John Scalzi
  • The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice
  • Violin by Anne Rice
  • Prism of the Night by Katherine Ramsland
  • Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
  • Libriomancer by Jim Hines
  • Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
  • A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
  • A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
  • The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
  • The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks
  • Moxyland by Lauren Buekes
  • Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • On Disobedience by Eric Fromm
  • Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
  • Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner
  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  • Have Space Suit - Will Travel  by Robert Heinlein
Total (Nov. 19th, 2011 - Nov. 19th, 2012): 50 

Grand Total (Nov. 19th, 2007 - Nov. 19th, 2012): 248

Thursday, October 11, 2012


It seems that my bibliophilic ways have at last lead me to the social network for books: goodreads. That being said, I have been aware of goodreads now for quite a while, but between my own massive database and organization structure I haven't been all that interesting in signing up. Having worked at B&N for a while now (and Borders for 4 and a half years before that) I've come into meeting a whole host of different authors  from George R. R. Martin to Brandon Sanderson to a dude that was convinced he had caught a Chupacabra. As such I've also become more and more interested in the people behind my favorite books which then led me to contacting Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, and holding a fascinating conversation with Melinda Snodgrass and Ian Tregillis. One of the things many of these authors have in common is goodreads accounts, sure they update mostly the same things on Facebook, but I soon realized that Rothfuss, while posting many of his reviews on his amazing blog, he more on his account at GR.

As such, I now have an account and far from being the cumbersome interface I thought it was, it's a rather interesting and well thought out design. Indeed, while I will continue to post longer more thorough reviews here, I have started to post comments and thoughts while I've been reading in their status system. This is neat because 70 pages in I might experience something worth mentioning, but if the book is 600+ pages it may not end up in the final review. Plus it has been interesting to see how my thoughts and ideas about the book change as I read. The other thing is that it's kick started me back into actually writing blogs, for a while there I was lacking motivation, but for whatever reason, writing up some shorter book reviews over there has inspired me! We shall of course see how long that lasts, but in any case go check out my goodreads account and expect some more stuff up here as well! Also reviews and such that I do here will be longer and have more details, for what that's worth anyway.

Next time I shall talk about my lovely experience at Albuquerque's very own literary convention Bubonicon. Also I shall offer up some more thoughts on Mr. Martin after actually reading the first three books, so look forward to that as well.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I'd like to introduce you all to a book that blew me away earlier this month, it was a chance meeting for me, as many such fantastic books go, and I am unbelievably thankful that I spotted this book sitting on a table at my work. Picture yourself wandering a misty street in San Francisco when a tinkle of a bell and the shutting of a door catches your attention. It being late you may wonder what on earth could be open and that's when you spot the lettering engraved on the door "Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore". Being naturally curious, you of course cannot resist going in and finding out about this little shop and as you open the door you see the most extraordinary sight, a seemingly endless number of shelves full of book going not only into the store, but up as far as you can see. After jumping into this book and consequently finishing it in a night, I can only dream of one day finding a bookstore even remotely like Penumbras; the mystery, the intrigue, and the fascinating adventures that can unfold from a place like that are infinite. The story, characters, and plot were so remarkable that I just could not put it down and it was one of the most fun I've had reading in a long, long time. 

First off let me say this is a book for book lovers. Secondly this is a book for tech lovers, and unless you have a solid balance of the two, it may be hard to truly enjoy both aspects. Instead of the standard gloom and doom and death to books scenarios that are popping up in more tech oriented books, Sloan manages to paint an almost optimistic picture of what is to come. A combination that throws open the doors of possibility and a future that I would readily live in. Another thing I should mention is that this is not science fiction nor is it even set in the future, it just has a quality about it that makes you look at the world around you in a completely different light. From how we use our phones to the latest tablets coming out, my perspective has shifted entirely. 

Since this is still somewhat a mystery based novel, going into too much detail is dangerous, but suffice to say if you are a bookworm who can't put down their smartphone this is the book for you. There's a splash of romance, a dash of intrigue, a heavy dose of mystery, and top it all off with some wry humor and a fascinating set of characters which all combine to make Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore one of my top picks for the year thus far. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Well, well, well, remember back in April of 2010 when I was absolutely gushing about a book called The Shadow of the Wind? Well a fairly decent sequel called The Angel's Game came out not too long after, and most recently a third installment of the semi-series has come out entitled, as you might have already guessed, The Prisoner of Heaven. I did a quick review of it on my brand spanking new Goodreads account and figured I'd post it up here with a couple additions.

This book is a perfect example of what is wrong with the publishing world. Zafon's first book, The Shadow of the Wind is one of my all time favorites. Ever. The second book The Angel's Game is well up there on my list, so when I saw The Prisoner of Heaven on display, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, it is very clear that Zafon was under time pressure from the publisher on this book, enough so that the story was irreversibly ruined. 

You see, Zafon is a master of prose, character, and theme. Indeed I would just say that Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a master storyteller in general, but he is also one that needs time to polish and work his product. The only problem is that because of the HUGE success of his other two books, the publisher (who's biggest concern is for money and not story) wanted a third book yesterday, not tomorrow, not next week, out with it! Some authors fight this or have a brilliant agent and publishing team behind them that believes in story rather than speed, not so with Zafon. Don't get me wrong, this book is still well written and at times brilliant, but in the end it is unfinished. This book is short, a mere 279 pages, compared to a solid 587 pages for The Shadow of the Wind and 531 pages in The Angels Game. What this tells me as a reader is that Zafon wasn't even close to done and it shows. Where this book ends feels like the mid point of a longer book, it isn't really a conclusion, things aren't really tied together, but it was close enough to cut it off and call it "done". 

I did enjoy The Prisoner of Heaven, but the rushed style, short story, and at times sloppy writing tells me that this once great author has been screwed by his publisher. Had this book had another year or even six months of work it would have been another shining example from one of the best writers of the 21st century. Instead we are left with a deep sense of betrayal at an incomplete story put out merely to make as much money as possible. Hopefully in the future Zafon is given the time necessary to produce books to his full potential and not merely for the quick cash. We will see I suppose.

One of the additions I want to make to this is Zafon's loose idea of a series: 

The Prisoner of Heaven is part of a cycle of novels set in the literary universe of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books of which The Shadow of the Wind and The angel's Game are the two first installments  Although each work within the cycle presents an independent, self-contained tale, they are all connected through characters and storylines, creating thematic and narrative links. 
Each individual installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series can be read in any order, enabling the reader to explore the labyrinth of stories along different paths which, when woven together, lead into the heart of the narrative.

The last bit there is the interesting part and something that I realize as I was reading the novel. You really can read them in any order because they are so loosely tied together that even some of the references made about the previous two, just seem like back story rather than direct inside jokes. With that in mind while I was reading it it was interesting to try and look at the book as something completely new and unique, from that point of view it was masterfully thought out and brilliantly written. No other author, that I've read anyway, has been able to write a "series" and not make the readers experience  completely dependent on the other books to truly enjoy the novel. Indeed, it is quite amazing that he was able to pull this off with how rushed the rest of the novel was and actually makes me way more sad for the potential this book had had the industry not infected the author.