September 3, 2008

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

The plot is good. The characters are wonderful. But the language is what really makes this book stand out. The characters speak a dialect that's entirely understandable and rings true, while also distinctively reflecting a postapocalyptic Earth with vampires and demons and magic and such. It's also a book in which it seems entirely natural for a dessert to be named "Sunshine's Eschatology."

I borrowed this from a friend, but I'll definitely need a copy of my own.

Posted by Shmuel at 9:32 PM

August 27, 2008

The Changing Land, by Roger Zelazny

This book answers the question "If Roger Zelazny had tried his hand at a pulp swords-and-sorcery novel, what would it look like?"

(Reposted from Goodreads, where I gave it two stars out of five.)

Posted by Shmuel at 9:11 PM

August 21, 2008

The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, by Tim Pratt

Lots of fun, well written. Sadly, the final showdown doesn't quite hold up, and that's the scene the entire book builds toward. But a good read anyway.

(Four stars out of five.)

Posted by Shmuel at 9:20 PM

May 10, 2008

The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper

A novel of predestination. So, so, so contrived. Hardly a chapter goes by without a deus ex machina. The only character who actually gets to make a decision does so out of our viewing, and even that decision is pretty much portrayed as being inevitable. And let's not get into the us vs. them moral code...

About the only saving grace is the book's strong sense of place, being rooted very firmly in England. And maybe the language, though frankly that's just a bit overdone.

Posted by Shmuel at 4:26 PM

May 21, 2003

National Lampoon's Doon, by Ellis Weiner

After reading the Barry Trotter parody, I was wondering whether perhaps my standards were too high. Sure, it wasn't Bored of the Rings, but the granddaddy of all fantasy parodies did have the advantage of being first. Possibly I'd even built it up too much.

And then I read this book, a parody of Frank Herbert's Dune, and realized that, no, there really was a difference between a good parody and a lame attempt. Mind you, Doon is no Bored of the Rings either.

It's better.

This is a lighter and faster read than its predecessor, which makes it all the more impressive how well it sends up Herbert's classic. This is a world in which the ecology features giant pretzels and beer... and granting the plausibility of animate pretzels, the whole thing actually makes sense, and does a neat job of playing off the ecology and plot of the original work. Still, every time it starts to seem as if the parody is a bit too pat, Weiner pivots around and unexpectedly challenges the reader's expectations. He also does a lovely job of satirizing Herbert's stylistic excesses, including the portentious interior monologues. For that matter, the Hebrew and Arabic word derivations of the original are here replaced with Yiddish and Variety-speak.

This is sadly out of print, but affordable copies can be found on Bookfinder.Com. If you haven't read Dune, don't bother; otherwise, it has my recommendation.

Posted by Shmuel at 7:07 PM

March 27, 2003

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The book is better than the movie.

Much, much, much better. And you should know that I love the movie. The book just has so much more character to it; there are layers upon layers of author and editorial notes that tell a story of their own. You can't quite distinguish reality from the fiction, and that's one of the points of the book. There's also background and history and context like you wouldn't believe. Ever wondered WHY Fezzik had a holocaust cloak? Read the book.

Just read it. I was lucky enough to read this in high school as an assignment. Part of one of my exams was to write a "reunion scene" for the end of the book - I still think it was one of the best things I ever wrote.

Read it and enjoy.

Posted by Erin at 1:02 PM

February 23, 2003

Sir Apropos of Nothing, by Peter David

Eh. A mediocre read, not as clever as it thinks it is. I'll probably read the inevitable sequel, but without much enthusiasm. Peter David's done better.

Posted by Shmuel at 7:38 PM

February 11, 2003

Amber 5: The Courts of Chaos, by Roger Zelazny

A disappointing finish to the original 5-book Amber series, one that leaves way too much open at the end. I think I said this earlier, but I'll say it again: Zelazny never should have been given this much room to play with in the first place.

On the bright side, I can now confidently insist that Lord of Light is his masterpiece, without having to worry about Amber being in the running. Because it's not even close.

Posted by Shmuel at 1:20 AM

February 9, 2003

Young Wizards 6: A Wizard Alone, by Diane Duane

The unresolved stuff from Book 5 continues to be unresolved, but this is not a problem, as it seems reasonable to assume that matters will come to a head in Book 7 or beyond. Once again, Duane changes lots of the rules to fit her present purposes... or, to put it in the terms of the book, she alters the kernel of Kit and Nita's universe whenever convenient.

But I'm just nitpicking. It's a good book and I liked it.

Posted by Shmuel at 8:44 AM

February 2, 2003

Enchanted Forest 2-4: Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede

These are by no means bad, but they're not as good as the first book in the series. The author never really earns the right to use the soapsuds trick as extensively as she does in these books; when it comes in at the end of the first book, it works on a temporary basis, but for it to be used this much, I'd expect some stronger limitations, or at least a better explanation, neither of which happen. More importantly, I was frustrated by the way Cimorene's character is dumbed down in the middle two books, apparently in order to give the newer characters a chance to shine. That said, book 4 is the second-best of the series, so it does end on an upswing.

Posted by Shmuel at 1:14 AM

January 26, 2003

Enchanted Forest 1: Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede

Very charming and delightful. I love books that take on fairy tales with a feminist sensibility, and this is a very good example of that genre. The writing style is reminiscent of Mary Anne's at times, or perhaps vice-versa.

As an aside, if I were the author, I'd want the head of whoever wrote the cover blurb on the edition I borrowed. It's an entirely inaccurate misrepresentation of what's inside.

Posted by Shmuel at 1:08 AM

January 23, 2003

Amber 4: The Hand of Oberon, by Roger Zelazny

Then again, this is Zelazny we're talking about; his modus operandi is to keep information from the reader at the outset, revealing important pieces of the puzzle only at the end, so that the reader can then go back to the start and see what had been going on in the first place. I think five books may have been too much space to allow him, frankly, but I'll reserve my judgment until I get my hands on Book 5. As for this installment, things are finally coming together. The revelation at the end was visible a mile away, but I'll take that as having been intentional.

Posted by Shmuel at 1:05 AM

January 22, 2003

Amber 3: Sign of the Unicorn, by Roger Zelazny

I begin to tire of the dei ex machina (Elaine? Is that the right plural?), but otherwise Amber Book 3 ain't bad.

Posted by Shmuel at 1:05 AM

January 21, 2003

Amber 2: The Guns of Avalon, by Roger Zelazny

The second book of the Amber series, which I'm finally getting around to reading only now, despite having been a Zelazny fan for years. A bit episodic and verging on overwrought, but good.

Posted by Shmuel at 1:00 AM

January 14, 2003

Young Wizards 5: The Wizard's Dilemma, by Diane Duane

I have a few minor quibbles (Duane tends to redefine the rules in every book, which comes across as owing more to expedience than reflecting a more sophisticated outlook), and one major one that might not be a problem at all, if it's addressed in Book 6. (A major plotline from the first half of the book is abruptly dropped, with no payoff of any sort.) But all of that aside, this was a good installment of a good series, and I'm looking forward to reading the next one.

Posted by Shmuel at 12:59 AM