Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Redemption of Althalus – Book Review

Author – David & Leigh Eddings

A review of The Redemption of Althalus

I’ve become a reader of David Eddings recently, dating back to last spring 2012.  I read ‘The Tamuli’ which was a splendid welcoming into the fantasy realm.  I’m not an avid fantasy reader but I do pick and choose the times I’ll skip over to that world, in this case ‘The Redemption of Althalus’.  My expectation was high for this book and I don’t make a habit of doing that when I start a read.  As I read and read I began to realize that this stand alone felt like a series crammed into one book.  It’s not a terrible story but there was enough I didn’t like to keep it on the shelf for years to come.  Well I may take it off every now and then considering the cover art is actually pretty cool to look at.

Technically you can interpret the title of the book as being correct but I have my own thoughts on it.  Althalus did live a thief’s life to the letter before he was corralled into service by a higher being.  However his character to me was likable at the beginning and didn’t really seem evil or of a rotten nature.  Yes it did state he’d murder if the price was right but I doubt he did it often enough to be that dastardly.  My point is, to be redeemed; it would be deeper for his character if he really had done some very awful things in his past or present.  It didn’t strike me as a true redemption, now if Ghend, the antagonist, had changed his ways that would be of much more grand significance.  Again the title does work but a horrible history on Althalus might merit more emotion for him.  He ended up lying, cheating and stealing all the way to the end anyway so did he really redeem himself?

Evil stood no chance, none
Ghend is the rival to Althalus but never comes close to challenging him.  The house where Dweia, the most annoying character in the book, lives uses the ability to cheat at every turn, whether it’s screwing with the enemies mind to make them forgetful, traveling around the world in mere seconds with the use of doors or using a book to gain leverage 100% of the time evil can’t even compete.  To make a classic struggle revolving around good and evil you’d think evil would win a few battles at the very least.  It doesn’t happen, it almost did once but it didn’t.  The character Eliar from Althalus’ squad gets whacked in the head with an axe at a critical juncture in the story but survives somehow with the aid of magical surgery.  His death would have been staggering at that point since he was the operator of the doors that good used.  I wanted him to die.

                Evil was also cursed with morons, I believe every member of evil had some sort of mental setback in their brain.  Ghend had been around a very long time and could have been much more powerful than Althalus ever could have been but the evil master Daeva apparently didn’t like to train his minions.  Dweia said as much in the actual story.  I mean what is the point of evil to start an uprising if you’re not even going to really try?  In the end Dweia may not have been evil but she controlled good to do her bidding no matter what.  She was basically a puppeteer.  Also, how many times did she call Althalus pet?  That drove me crazy, hated it. 

The Good
I’ve hit the book hard so far but I did enjoy the beginning of the book (pre-Dweia) and the parts when Althalus was recruiting his fellowship.  I also will put Bheid, a holy man, as one of the better spots in the story.  He at one point killed a member of evil to avenge the loss of a young man he was grooming to become a priest of some sort.  Emotion actually filled the pages as he failed his vow and lost will to go on.  It’s not a moment set on a peak that oversees the rest of the story but it was interesting.  Bheid was a somewhat unstable character so it shook things up a little.

Wrap up  
The characters didn’t have enough to them to make you want them to succeed or continue living.  The side of evil barely had their point of view shown and when it did you’d swear Daeva was just Dweia with a mask on controlling them as well.  If you like female characters controlling males by way of verbal commands then you’d probably find this book delightful.  The high headed Dweia and her ‘I’m perfect and will always be right’ attitude is too much for me.  I could express more folly but if you’re making a decision to read this I hoped I helped.  It’s not a place I’d recommend for new Eddings readers while Eddings purists might say I’m just full of it which is fine.  Read in good health. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Martian Chronicles – The Illustrated Man – The Golden Apples of the Sun – Book Review

Author – Ray Bradbury

A review of The Martian Chronicles – The Illustrated Man – The Golden Apples of the Sun

The three titles packed together in this thick book are the first I’ve read of Mr. Bradbury.  The cover art caught my eye and the top title ‘The Martian Chronicles’ to be interesting for a soul such as mine that has a tendency to devour science fiction.  I read ‘The Martian Chronicles’ in a moderate time and was at first struggling to adjust to a series of short stories that it actually was.  As I read it wasn’t long before I enjoyed reading what a 1950s author thought of space travel and its Martian implications.  I moved onto ‘The Illustrated Man’ but within four of those short stories I promptly tossed in back onto the shelf to accumulate a mini mountain of dust.  I had grown tired of short stories in my early time being a full time reader; I had and still do much to learn about reading.  It takes time and brain pain sometimes to read but later I’d learn that completing any book is an experience you can grab a hold of in times where you may otherwise feel regretful of how life is going.

                The book stared at me for months as I distanced myself from books until I finally obstructed it’s vision of me by leaving my closet door open against the bookshelf, quite an evil deed.  This new year of 2013 emerged from the future as I had already been dragged back into the world of my mind.  Books have a way of bringing you back if you leave the door open but a crack.  It took about nine months since I last read this collection of Mr. Bradbury’s but I had a whole new appreciation for the stories.  It felt to me as I read each story, as fast as my fingers could turn the pages that each story was like viewing a photo album.  A photo album shows you a certain time, place and experience within it much the way I accepted each short story having its own tale.  If you don’t prefer short stories then it’ll be a chore to read any of this. 

Short Stories
When I first began reading these stories in ‘The Martian Chronicles’ I had never read short stories much and was very accustomed to reading novels, my lack of reading prowess failed me.  In my early era of reading I’ve grown fond of single story novels not that I limit myself to said books now but when I began Bradbury’s short stories I hated being sucked into a ten page group of intrigue only to have it come to an end.  In reading a book such as this I recommend coming to terms that it’s meant to be short.  That probably seems obvious but I overlooked it and it tormented me.  The stories can end quickly and sometimes leaving you scratching your head but the upside is a new one can begin right after.  The majority of the stories are fantastic for a science fiction mind however anybody could find a story or two to admire.  I came back to this behemoth of a book due in large part that I found myself writing short stories and rather enjoying it, figure that one.  My perception has changed about this book and for the greater good of my soul.

The Martian Chronicles
There are some interesting views on what Mars could be used for in mankind’s future and Bradbury brings to light many of them.  I would rather avoid opening the book for you and telling you what this brilliant author concocted oh so many years ago so I won’t.  I will say it’s well written which is what readers want to know.  The idea of space travel, particularly to other planets, is unknown to us.  We know we can go to space but what is Mars like or Venus?  How many other galaxies are there, truly?  The stories in this book whip up some notions of what it is by planting that seed.  Whenever I hear the word Mars now my mind twists and turns to recall a story from this book as my base understanding of the planet, how many other books claim that?  One story I’d recommend is ‘The Earth Men’. 

The Illustrated Man
The stories within this book differ on topic and aren’t limited to space travel or Mars.  A witch tattoos a man with some questionable ink thus showing whoever casts eyes upon him to see a most unsettling story.  I like the idea of this main story that starts and concludes this book.  ‘The Long Rain’ is one of my favorites but there are many that succeed.  The stories jump around a bit topic wise so you’re not set on any one area.

The Golden Apples of the Sun
In my mind I thought this would be a slow struggling read.  It happens to us all from time to time right?  Before we begin a book we have that intuition that it’s going to be lackluster or a failure.  My brain chose this one but it was wrong again, surprise.  It does start off uninteresting with some of the stories ending before you really understand what was going on.  It does pick up and before you know it your fingers are working then begging for a massage.  Some that I liked, ‘The Murderer’, ‘Sun and Shadow’, ‘R is for Rocket’, ‘Frost and Ice’ and ‘Chrysalis’.  There are plenty more that really entertain and if I had to pick one of these it would be ‘Frost and Ice’.  Out of the three books here I’d save this one for last so you’re guaranteed a satisfactory conclusion to your read.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Understanding China – Book Review

Author – John Bryan Starr

A review of Understanding China

I haven’t read much outside of novels but wanted to in choosing Understand China.  In picking something to read you must let whatever topic of interest floats and stays within you to direct your course.  I purchased this book in May of 2011 and was a bit slow on reading it all the way through.  I desired to learn about a country I knew little about, other than what you hear word of mouth which can be as reliable as Wikipedia.  As the final page turned I was left with knowledge that put a few more wrinkles in my brain.

What’s it about?
The book consists of the Chinese economy, its geography, history and politics.  I’m not into politics and although it states on the front cover that the book contains information on it I have no one to blame but myself.  I found those sections a bit more grinding to go through but it wasn’t as awful as I assumed it would be.  The geography doesn’t have as much content as the other three main topics.

Chapters I enjoyed
The first two chapters focused on geography and history which kept my interest easily.  Discovering China’s population growth wasn’t always so far up in numbers as I assumed it was throughout history.  It occurred in later dynasties and the country’s population until then was moderate and more in tune with the rest of the world.  The severe lack of arable land also was fascinating to learn about as I again assumed since the country had size it had plenty of farmland.  The effect Taiwan has on China was also more of what I didn’t know.  It goes to lengths describing how Taiwan seeks to break away from China but that’s never going to happen.

Wrap Up
If you want to simply learn about something, in this case China, decide what it will be and go for it.  Nobody is holding you back and if China is that thing then this is a great book to start off with.  The politics slow it down unless that’s your thing then you’ll discover much to delight you.  I’d recommend chapters 1,2,13 and 16 as high points.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wizard and Glass – Book Review

Author – Stephen King

A review of Wizard and Glass

I’ve read the first four of the dark tower series now with three to go and must say this one rivals as my favorite.  This series is all I’ve read of King’s work, except for On Writing, and I admire his style.  All I knew of King before I read these books was the less-than-stellar movies that spawned from his writing.  It’s probably attributed to my non interest in horror type material.  Movies aside I’ll get to the book Wizard and Glass.

Blaine the train
The ending to the previous book left me interested as to what riddle Roland and company would come up with to stump this pious train.  I was left disappointed when Eddie and his uncreative riddles drove Blaine into a cliché overload.  Until that point I thought it started well.

The story of Roland
By far and away my favorite section of the book.  Back story is my weakness and it’s done amazingly.  The characters of Cuthbert, Alain, Susan, Jonas and Cordelia to name a few are far more interesting to read about than what we’ve been mainly exposed to thus far in the series.  I wasn’t sold on the series yet and still may not be since I’m guessing there won’t be a sizable chunk of Roland’s past to feast on.  His quest for the dark tower leading to the death of his love Susan while the deception of that witch Rhea, he failed to finish off, led to his mother’s death gets a hold of you.  It’s satisfactory to know what has made Roland who he is at long last.  I hope there is more to come as I’d rather read about Cuthbert and Alain over Eddie and Susannah any day.

The shoes and Wizard of Oz segments to wrap the book up are silly.  I was hoping for something unique or different but get a telling of a movie I never liked growing up incorporated into a book I was very much into.  My favorite version of the Wizard of Oz is done in Futurama.

Wrap up
Despite an intro and ending that I didn’t care much for this book delivers thanks in large part to Roland’s history revealed.  I’m not as interested in what the dark tower is as to how fascinated by the character Roland I am.  Fortunately that should be enough for me to move along in the series just to see what happens to Roland.  King really has created an awesome character in him that powers this series.  With characters like Eddie and Susannah I suppose he would need to or I’m not confident I’d want to continue.