The Road is a post apocalyptic tale of a man and his son walking down a desolate road seeking the ocean, or maybe food, or maybe other people, or probably just death because that’s all that’s left.
The biggest flaw of the book is McCarthy’s artistic sensibilities which make the book difficult to read and overweight at only a couple hundred pages. He refuses to give the two characters names. They are The Man and the The Boy, which gets confusing when they meet other men and boys. There are also no dialogue tags. McCarthy eschews the use of such pedestrian phrases as ‘the man said’ so that the reader can tell who is talking, which becomes moot eventually as every conversation is a variation on the first one, the boy is scared, the man reassures him, the boy is still scared, the man doesn’t listen to him. McCarthy seems to also be above punctuation. When you’re Cormac McCarthy you don’t need to follow the rules.
Using detail to tell story can be a powerful tool, as anybody who has read “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien can testify to. However, McCarthy falls victim to using the detail in such repetition that it becomes unplanned self parody. Each fire that must be lit, each drink of water, even the tying of shoes must be described in detailed, short sentences so that every action could be painstakingly recreated by future generations.
The Road is often used as an example of a literary author dipping his toes into science fiction. If this is the result I’m not sure it’s worth it. McCarthy is blatantly vague about the cause of the apocalyptic collapse, or even of how long it’s been (about as long as the boy is old, which is never stated). Instead of a story about how humanity deals with disaster or the survival of the human race in the face of devastating adversity, or even a metaphorical exploration of the condition of human refugees (which the story is trying hard to be) it comes across as a dry and humorlessly depressing treatise on the hopelessness of life caused by sheer over attention to detail.
Now spoilers, for those who care.
The boy in the book exhausts every conversation, page after page, too scared to explore abandoned houses in case people are there, asking his father not to go looking for food because it’s too dangerous. Then, when his father dies and a crazy wild man hops out of the woods to save him and adopt him he shrugs his shoulders and goes along, suddenly over his fear of strangers now that the man is dead. It felt like an unfair change of character in order to offer a sliver of hope at the end of a story of hopelessness. Which, if the hopelessness that the book spent so much time packing into the open wounds of despair was the point, then it is undermined by this ending. If the point was that you just need to trust people then the lesson falls flat as every other person up to that point in the story has tried to betray or kill them for personal gain.
I can’t really recommend this book if you’re looking for something entertaining or something to teach you about humans or raise questions about human nature. If you like McCarthy’s over indulged ‘artistic’ style then you’ll probably like this one as well.
I don’t do self portraits often. I think this is my second one. I find that the opportunity doesn’t often arise. I don’t really think of it and I don’t usually see clever ways to taking pictures of myself that don’t involve me just setting up a tripod and then using the remote to set off the camera.
I took my children camping. It started raining so we decided to play in the car. The side view mirror presented an interesting opportunity.
The duo that makes up James S. A. Corey has created one of the most exciting series of science fiction books being published today. They’ve successfully mixed real science, space, politics and combat into a stew that’s lightly seasoned with good old fashioned horror.
Caliban’s War is the second story in the The Expanse and picks up nearly a year after the first book ends. The solar system is still in turmoil over the discovery of the alien protomolecule and Mars, Earth and the outer planets are tiptoeing about the edge of the bowl of war. The bowl tips when a Martian marine troop gets attacked and nearly completely destroyed by a protomolecule monster.
The story starts up at that point with the familiar crew of the Rocinante, throwing themselves into the middle of everything when they befriend a botanist whose daughter has been kidnapped from Ganymede on the verge of an economic and ecological collapse. Bobbie Draper — the only surviving marine of the monster attack — finds herself as an adviser to a United Nations representative on Earth and all of them are trying their best to see that the solar system doesn’t erupt into war that would mean the death of millions.
The very real portrayal of humans fighting amongst themselves in the face of extinction is powerfully portrayed, if a touch cynical. In fact, the story and the setting are probably the best recommendations for the novels. The setting feels something like a higher budget version of Babylon Five melded with a surprisingly clairvoyant projection of the future. The setting is probably the most compelling aspect of the story. It feels real in execution and evolution, augmented by the fact that the ships hurtle through space according to actual laws of physics and people spend their lives dealing with the changes in gravity that accompany travel amongst the planets.
The weak point of this book seems to be the characters. There are very strong character developments for each of the individuals in the story that come organically from the evolution of their experiences. However, the characters come across as somewhat drab and unmemorable.
Holden, the only viewpoint character from the first book, has become more cynical and decidedly cruel and has to learn to deal with his own trauma and fears that are changing who he is. However, he comes across as sort of thin and see-through, like a transparent Star Wars hologram that flickers and dies occasionally, or butter that has been scraped over too much bread.
Avasarala is a UN politician of indeterminate political power and position who resembles an elderly grandmother and throws her weight around by swearing at everybody at the most inappropriate times. This could be an interesting choice for a character as she uses the foul mouthed sarcasm as a defense mechanism to help others take her seriously, however it becomes her only distinguishing feature and quickly wears thin as her choice of language becomes so offensive that it is difficult to sympathize with her.
Bobbie Draper is a marine and is only interesting in that she is a female and is enormous enough to scare most people, which is sort of a gender reversal. She does have some traumatic reactions to her experiences which are refreshing to see but it never goes very far before she has moved on and thrown herself into following Avasarala around the solar system while they try to avoid a war that their own allies are all too happy to start.
The other characters are good enough for the roles they play but are not anything special.
The weaknesses are overcome by the strength of the story and writing. This is definitely not a character driven story, as it would quickly fall apart if the characters were the center of import. However, this isn’t a bad thing as the story they are thrown into is interesting enough that following passive, cranky holograms around the solar system doesn’t matter as the adventures, troubles, and sheer terror that they experience is enough to keep the pages turning one after the other until the final explosive, horrifying climax.
Corey doesn’t hold back and the disasters are liberally sprinkled with moments of terrifying revelations interspersed with euphoric heroism.
In Leviathan Wakes the science fiction space opera was told as a noir murder mystery that evolved into a horror story. In Caliban’s War the adventure of space opera is firmly rooted in the grips of a political thriller that is holding hands with an X-Files conspiracy theory.
If you need strong characters to enjoy your fiction then you might have a problem with these books. The characters are not annoying or unrelatable, they’re not even cliché cardboard puppets, they are merely hollow so that they have three dimensions but seem only partially in focus or incompletely present. I don’t know how else to explain how the characters feel without falling back on metaphor. Suffice it to say that the characters are fully realized but not fully present in the book.
The story and setting are worth any number of flaws and the writing is strong enough that it is almost impossible to put down once begun.
Purple flowers are something that I have an irrational fear of. Purpleflowerphobia? I have some pretty severe hay fever when I live in places that have hay. One of the reasons that I love the desert so much is that it is not constantly surrounded by grass and little purple clover flowers shooting invisible spores of misery into the air to poison my life with suffering. That doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a nice purple flower when I see one, as long as I am well medicated on antihistamines and have a long enough lens that I don’t have to get too close.
The bad puns for titles is kind of old already. I know from seeing titles of future books that this doesn’t end here — maybe not ever — but it is a little smarmy, like it’s trying to sell you something. To be fair the bad puns and painful jokes continue through the text of the book so the titles are advertising the contents of these books pretty well.
I’ve been told by multiple people that the Dresden books start getting really good with the fourth one. I’ve been holding out for that as the judgement point for the series. The first three books I found to be lacking in a number of ways. Each one has improved significantly from it’s predecessor, though.
With Summer Knight Butcher has obviously learned a great deal since he started writing and has concocted a slew of situations and conversations that reveal important information just in the knick of time for the coming action, revelation, surprise return of a previously unknown character, and other plot points to not seem pulled from thin air. The trouble with this is the same trouble I get with other long running series where the past of the characters is not planned out from the beginning. Dresden doesn’t wax eloquent about his past very often. This means when Butcher wants to give us a surprise encounter with somebody from his past Dresden mentions that person to one of his acquaintances, one chapter before she shows up in his apartment for some poignant banter and plot progression.
There’s isn’t anything particularly wrong with this tactic for story telling except that Butcher does it so often that the author starts to show through and it begins to look like author tricks instead of organic revelations of past life experiences.
Butcher’s author tricks are not the annoying kind so, while they pull me out of the story while I say “I see what you did there” they don’t make me stop and put the book away (a la Dan Brown).
Dresden and Murphy have one of the few male/female relationships in fiction that is not romantically motivated by either member. This is refreshingly rare in so many ways that it’s hard to believe most of the time. The problem is that Dresden seems to be incapable of describing any female character without talking about body type, and how shapely she is. This is only obvious because very few men get that kind of detail of description. It comes across as sexist and it’s hard to tell if it’s a character flaw of Dresden (since it’s written in the first person) or if Butcher just didn’t realize what he was doing.
All that aside this is a much better book than the previous ones. I enjoyed it more. That’s not to say I loved it but it wasn’t bad enough to make me give up on the series. The plot seems to be more thought out, the mystery more believable and Dresden doesn’t get completely ruined in the first chapter and spend the rest of the book barely scraping by against all odds and summoning just enough power to blast a million vampires to molten death after failing to light a lamp because of his previous drubbing like he did in the others.
I find the fact that he never has any money, never eats, rarely showers and also never charges his clients to be a little too heavy handed on the depressing-life side and leans more toward farcical instead. I suspect that’s a fragment of this urban fantasy showing its noir detective roots, though.
I liked this one more than the last and I will probably read the one that comes after.
I find it perpetually fascinating, and a little bit upsetting, that no matter where you go there is sign of human civilization. On the one hand I love discovering things in the wilderness that are obviously man made but also quite obviously old. It sets off my inner archeologist and I want to know more. How did this truck get here, so far from any passable roads on the side of a mountain? Why was it left? Where is the rest of it? I could spend hours digging around it, poking at the ground for more clues, feeling it, shaking it, seeing what I can find, but alas my hiking group has other people as well and they have already moved on.