I acknowledge it’s unfair of me to review Dan Simmons’ entire Hyperion Cantos together because it’s a long, complex journey with highs and lows in terms of both narrative drama and writing quality. In many ways, it’s less a four-book series, and more a duology of duologies. Unfortunately, the first two books are far superior than the latter two, which mainly serve to button up the universe. If these books interest you at all, I might recommend reading only the first two; however, the Endymion books might compel you, and you might find yourself beginning to resent them and questioning whether it was worth beginning the series in the first place.
Before I picked up Neverwhere, I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I went for Neverwhere because American Gods seemed like too much of a commitment (but I’ll get to it), and it intrigued me as an archetypal urban fantasy novel, a genre I’m trying to get more into.
Everyone seems to love Neverwhere. It seems to occupy a space of underground reverence (no, that’s not a pun). All of my friends on Goodreads have given it five stars, and nobody will dare utter a bad word about it.
So I will. I’m sorry to say I thought Neverwhere was just okay.
I’ll probably keep this much shorter than most reviews. Andy Weir’s follow-up to his mandatory-reading sci-fi novel The Martian is just okay. And you know what? That’s okay. It would be unrealistic to expect any human being to replicate the utter brilliance of a novel like The Martian. Its shadow is long, and its influence is broad. Not even Barry Bonds hit a home run every time he came to the plate, and he was on drugs.
There are many arguments to make for Artemis, and if we didn’t already know what Weir was capable of with The Martian, Artemis would be a standout novel in its own right. The world-building is utterly fascinating. The science is authentic but never exhausting. And Artemis still contains Weir’s nerdy, amazingly fun wit, not to mention the atmospheric charm that we’re reading something written by a guy who legitimately loves the playground he’s playing on.
Where Artemis falters is, perhaps, in something Weir took for granted with The Martian. The premise of The Martian is so immediately gut-wrenching: Astronaut Mark Watney is caught in a storm during an emergency evacuation, and his team, thinking he is dead, leaves him behind. But Mark is not dead. He is alive, and he must survive until his rescue.
In many ways, The Martian is an inferior story. It’s clearly a premise intended for Weir to play with survival scenarios on Mars. Those are fascinating in their own right, but they are not a narrative.
PULLING STRINGS is easily one of my favorite novels of 2017. Not only is it smart and meaningful, but it’s also fun as hell. It is a novel in that place where genre fiction and literary fiction blend, a novel you might see a literature professor and his or her student run into each other and discover they have something in common.
The synopsis goes something like this: Agent Colt has a psychic ability to fire kinetic mind bullets from her fingers. She’s a legend at the Department of Scientific Investigation (which doesn’t exist … but it could!), and she has led a storied career that the new recruits talk about in hushed tones. Now, however, she’s approaching retirement, working a cushy detail out of a field office in Middle America. It’s boring compared to her heyday. Then a new case comes in, and she thinks it could be her swan song. Little does she know the target she’s hunting is the most dangerous psychic she’s ever encountered.
Generally speaking, whenever someone says, “the book was better,” about a book-to-film adaptation, I feel the need to punch them in the throat. I could go on a long digression here about my feelings of film adaptations, the different camps of people wanting them to be faithful, and creative freedoms of artists as well as the nature of truth, but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, The Girl With All The Gifts film adaptation gets it both wrong and right in really fascinating ways.
I loved Autumn Moon. In a genre where there just aren’t that many good stories, it shines as an example of the werewolf tale’s potential. Autumn Moon demonstrates how to tell a deeply human werewolf story in a fascinating, alluring world rich with mythos and intrigue.
I Am The Night does something else entirely.
Rooted in the Autumn Moon framework, I Am The Night continues the narrative of Drake Burroughs, but like Drake, the novel’s nature has evolved. This one puts Drake in the spotlight and focuses on his struggles in the aftermath of the first book.
Drake has changed, and the core of Slade Grayson’s storytelling has changed, too.
Ashton Kutcher once said the only reason he works out is in case the zombie apocalypse happens and he needs to save his loved ones. Far too many zombie story protagonists seem prepared for it. While the main character in The Reaper Virus does have some resources that give him an advantage for survival, he isn’t one of those people. In Walking Dead terms, he has more in common with Eugene than Rick or Darryl, but the truth is he’s just an ordinary guy who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, a classic setup.
The story begins with a preface from Nathan, the main character who shares the author’s name. In this preface, the story presents one of the coolest promises I’ve ever read:
“I ask that you judge me for who I am and what I fought for, not what I’ve done.”
Concept: Everything from Western fairy tales, fables, and myths is real. The powers of good and evil, light and dark, are locked in an eternal struggle that goes all the way back to the beginning of time. A modern day woman finds herself wrapped up in the war as she discovers she has the power of influence, to command the light and the dark, but the other side of that coin is she has become a target.
Execution: Do nothing that is obvious. Subvert expectations time and again. Build a rich, alluring world that incorporates fantastical elements of old Anglo-Saxon cultures to modern urban contemporaries. Create unique characters based on familiar ideas. Entertain. Stimulate the intellect. Cut the fat and reject nonsense. Tell a simple, powerful story that’s never been told before.
My experience in reading Frightfully Ever After by Nick DeWolf had a recurring theme, which was to be continually impressed by how incredibly imaginative it is. Originality and creativity are planted firmly in the driver’s seat. In trying to analyze the experience, I kept thinking of words like “alluring,” “captivating,” and “immersive.” I’ll no doubt use those words multiple times as I write this.
Though not a tome—and by fantasy standards, it’s relatively short—it secretes imagination. Cracking this book open, breaking its spine for the first time, I had to wonder if this thing was bound in the bone marrow of Beowulf or Edgar Allan Poe.
I’m sitting here at my desk, and instead of working on moving my WIPs to the “Ready for Humiliation” folder, I’m staring at my bookshelf. I’m gazing at the spines of Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, and I’m thinking about reading them again.
I recently finished the third book, The City of Mirrors, and it’s one of few trilogies that I can legitimately, honestly say I loved. It has everything (well, many things) I look for in fiction: a fantastical, alluring world; rich mythology; risky storytelling; deep characters; solid writing that is at times literary; complexity in just about everything. In a word: depth.
I loved it, but I’m not thinking about reading it again only because of how I felt about it. You see, The Passage is one of the only trilogies or series I bought into immediately. I can’t recall any others that I picked up before they were all completely written. And Justin Cronin isn’t cranking out a new novel every quarter. He’s putting three or four years of his life into a book, and that’s a lot of time for a reader between books. But it’s part of the reason they are so good.
I’m increasingly of the mind that good fiction cannot be rushed out the door, that authors need to live in their worlds and with their characters to truly grant them the substance they need to create meaning and allow readers to leave and take with them whatever it is they find there in those pages.
Granted, I know plenty of authors who put out really good work annually and semi-annually. Those people are freaks.