Doomsday Book (CBR8 #34)

This review will be the definition of spoiler free, come see us over at the Cannonball Read June 1 to talk details.

I am, as they say, perplexed by this book. It was like a roller coaster ride. At the beginning, I felt like this:

There was a great wide world of story ahead and it was all for me. Historians! In the near future! Using the scientific method and time travel!

But then, I spent a lot of time waiting for thins to start happening.

And that was not the most pleasant experience, really. I went the audio route for this one, since I knew I would be under a bit of a time crunch and I could listen at 1.25-1.5 speed depending and that would help. It did, but listening to all the pieces be set up on the board while knowing that there was still 20+ hours of audio left me wondering what all the fuss was about, because you good people had already started rolling in the 4 and 5 star reviews.

And then things got going, and I understood.

There are so many layers, so much context, so much world building built it that you have to wait, and then you start to have fun, but there’s also that moment when the doom is coming (which by the way the blurb for the book spoiled for me, not that it isn’t telegraphed a mile away) that I actively stopped reading because I didn’t want to read what I knew was about to happen. It was too much, both for the characters and for me.

This book lives and dies by its characters, and they are good. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to think.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

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Golden Son (CBR8 #4)

I started my adventure with the Red Rising books last year because both Red Rising and Golden Son had received enthusiastic reviews from Alexis, scootsa1000, and narfna. Red Rising also checked off a box for me in the 2015 Read Harder challenge, as Brown wrote the book before he was 25. With the third and final book in the series being published next month, I figured it was time to get my act together and read Golden Son in order to be ready.

I have A LOT of thoughts about the second half of this book (as Ale and crystalclear can attest to since I’ve been yammering at them over the past few days. But, in order to talk about that stuff, let’s get some boilerplate out of the way. Here’s a synopsis from Goodreads (which leaves plenty vague for those of you who have yet to read either book):

Debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation. Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within. A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart.”

Now that we have that out of the way, the front half of Golden Son is setting up what occurred in the two years between the end of Red Rising and the beginning of this book. Darrow and the rest of those we met in the first book, and who survived it, are now part of the larger society of the Golds and are the Peerless Scarred (because of the literal scars on their bodies following the Institute). We find Darrow at low ebb of his social climb and goal of infiltrating the Golds on the orders of Ares, a terrorist of sorts hell bent on bringing down the brutal rule of the Golds and making all classes (or more accurately, colors) equal after hundreds of years of striation.

The plot advances along at a normal pace, and then about halfway through literally all hell breaks loose and Brown just pushes more plot into 250 pages than I remember seeing in QUITE a long time (and I just read Outlander. And it’s good. But it’s also a bit of a slog. More people are brought into Darrow’s inner circle, more friends are sacrificed in any number of battles (Brown is up there with GRRM in the killing of your darlings) that rage as Darrow orchestrates ever increasing battles and wars with the goal of ultimate civil war, and we watch a character struggle with the fact that he must become what he wishes to break down if he is going to succeed at all.

But this is also the book where I was able to pinpoint why I had not gotten into sci-fi in the past. Its not the science, I love the science. I also love the speculation based on history (which Brown excels at). It’s the battle minutia which seems to be an ever present part of many series. I really, honestly and truly, don’t care about what type of gun/ship/weapon/what have you is going to be deployed against your enemy du jour and I certainly don’t need 5 pages describing to me in detail the ship/pod/doohickey that you are going to be using. In his Acknowledgements Brown alludes to his inspiration – Tolkien. Yes, I see it. And once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. I have always felt that Tolkien overwrote his books, and Brown is guilty of the same. I can see his working of craft in the writing. It’s plain as day, and I wish it were a little more nuanced, a little less IN MY FACE.

But there is also so much that Brown gets right in these books.  His focus on the machinations of politics and society, the true meanings and cost of love, loyalty, and friendship all build to a crescendo and then if this were a piece of music the final chapter would have a loud crash cymbal and then silence. Because those final pages are where Brown won me back, and this book went from being a very good 3.5 to a solid 4 star book. While there was A LOT of foreshadowing that left very few surprises in a chapter which resets EVERYTHING, Brown placed the reader in a place of not knowing what the next book could possibly bring. There are some things which are laid out, but we do not know how the chips will fall, at least not completely.

TEAM SEVRO FOREVER.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Red Rising (CBR7 #71)

On the cover of the copy of this book I read the quote says “Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow.” Normally this would give me pause. While I’ve not read Ender’s Game, I know it and to a possibly lesser extent, The Hunger Games are tall measuring sticks. I have relegated lesser reviewed books to the proverbial dustbin for attempting these heights and not succeeding.  How would this character stack up? And do I want him to? Does it really matter?

I had also broken my unspoken rule of not researching too heavily either a book or its author before jumping in. Back in January there was a really good conversation on Alexis’s review of both Red Rising and Golden Son about what defines YA v. Adult, I dove down the rabbit hole about the author and the work. As an FYI I definitely place this book as Adult genre fiction which may be enjoyed by the younger set. I think the marketing department was trying to latch onto press from the new Ender and Hunger Games movies which were on their way when this was originally published. I was also attempting to figure out if Red Rising would fulfill my Read Harder Task of a book written by someone before they were 25 (I decided it did as it was published January 2014 and he turned 25 in 2013). Needless to say, I had some definite expectations about what to expect. The book lived up to them, and it turned out not to matter one iota that in many ways Darrow is a mosaic of other heroes, because Brown wrote a unique view on an already travelled path.

Without spoiling too much of the plot for you, Darrow is a Red and his people are working deep in mines under the surface of Mars in order to harvest essential gases to lead to the eventual terraforming of Mars so that civilization can leave the dying Earth. Life is hard, and short, but it’s all worth it to save their species.  Except, that it’s all a lie. Or it is now. Mars has already been terraformed for hundreds of years and the Reds have been kept enslaved by the ruling Golds. Events will turn Darrow from the HellDiver of his mining crew into a force destined to take down the Golds, but is it even possible?

We don’t know yet, but that’s what books two and three are for. I loved the level of world building in this book. Brown sets himself the goal of setting up three distinct worlds for Darrow to inhabit, as well as explaining to the reader the new social hierarchy that exists a thousand or more years in our future. He succeeds at this goal. The good news for author and reader alike is that by hewing closely to Roman lore, and having that the callback the Golds use to craft their societal level, there is already a quick reference available. I was not overly familiar with Roman gods, but I could piece things together in the subtext and that kept me moving with the story.

But the characterization suffered. That could be at the hands of the world building, or it could be a case of Brown’s relative youth. But I think it’s really a problem of having our POV character so conflicted about his own humanity that he was having trouble understanding his new peers in the later parts of the book, and we are not afforded much time, relatively speaking, with the lowReds.

I’m comfortably rating this book 4 stars. Sure there were some issues, but nothing that took me out of the narrative. The pacing wasn’t great for me (the midsection felt like it went on and on), but I kept happily coming back wanting to know more about Darrow, this world, and where we were headed.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Martian (CBR7 #57)

I have a crush on Mark Watney. I feel like I need to get that out of the way. Also, why aren’t we worshipping duct tape? Okay, moving on.

If asked, I would not consider myself a big fantasy or sci-fi reader, but that is obviously changing if you take a look at my last several books. I have figured out why I have shied away from these works in the past – more often than not they are about plot, plot, plot and not about characters. I am ALWAYS more interested in the character than I am about the action. Don’t give me a trope or a cypher, give me a person. What Andy Weir has given us character loving sci-fi readers with The Martian is a character we can root for and love, and hope to have friends like (seriously, I would totally date Mark Watney were he a real person and not a fictional character) while simultaneously giving us huge amounts of plot to read through and wonder how our characters are ever going to get through it. It’s a tough balance, and most of the time Weir nails it.

The Martian is one of the most reviewed books around the Cannonball Read, and I won’t waste your time with a big plot description, mostly because this book is a very good example of its best to go in knowing very little. Suffice it to say that our mechanical engineer/botanist astronaut finds himself injured and alone on Mars following his presumed death (his bio readouts went to zero and his crew say him stabbed by flying metal) and his crews forced evacuation from Mars. He has some supplies, but not nearly enough to survive the years it would take for rescue, that is, if anyone knew he was alive or he had any way to communicate that fact to Earth.

Without veering into spoiler land, there are a handful of things that are keeping this book rounded down to a 4 star instead of up to a 5 star (although, the last page and  half almost had me making the change). There is a lot of science (as there should be) and while Weir does a great job of having Watney break things down into understandable phrasing (for example: One kilowatt-hour per sol is… it can be anything… I’ll call it a “pirate-ninja”). But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find myself skimming the explanations of how Mark solved things, or didn’t. Also, the other characters that exist are not as finely drawn as Watney (it would be nearly impossible to do so, honestly) but I was often left cold with them. So we’re going with a 4.5 rating.

I am however cautiously optimistic about the movie. Just saying.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.