Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

This could have been an excellent novel. The story begins with a strange electrical storm that causes all electrical devices -- radios, cars, televisions, telephones, appliances, computers etc. -- to stop working. In the ensuing chaos, a group of survivors in Oregon begin to adapt to the new "medieval" reality, as they adjust to a world in which modern civilization has collapsed.

While some people are seeking to create farming collectives to survive, others decide to raise armies in order to take control off the  newly formed farms. These parallel developments lead inexorably to conflict and at times a captivating tale.

Unfortunately, Stirling couldn't help but fall in love with his own book, with the result that the reader is inundated with a tonne of unnecessary information. One of my favourite science fiction writers uses a technique called, "killing your babies." In effect, this technique teachers writers how to eliminate parts of a story that do not assist in advancing the narrative, but which the writer has difficulty in letting go because they have become so enamoured with their characters. Stirling should have used this technique in this book, and this novel is filled with a ton of screaming "babies" that should have been edited out from this book.

In a nutshell, this otherwise excellent story is undermined by countless pages of unnecessary description and rambling scenes. Far too often the reader has to plough through extraneous pages that should have been edited out. In fact, by the end of the book, finishing this novel had become painful as I was thoroughly bored with the book. Which is a shame, as this story had the makings of an excellent tale.

2 out of 5 stars

Rasl: The Drift by Jeff Smith

A bruised, beaten man stumbles across a desert, as the boiling sun hovers overhead. Mumbling about the "drift", the man suddenly appears on a window ledge of an an apartment. We then discover that the man is an art thief, as he breaks into the apartment to steal a Picasso painting. As the story unfolds, we learn that the man is called Rasl, and that the "drift" is a way to travel between parallel worlds.

Being the opening volume of a comic book series, the reader is left with a flood of questions: Where did Rasl come from? Why is he being chased by a strange looking man who is following him from parallel universe to parallel universe? Who is Rasl working for? This opening graphic novel does not answer these questions, but it's intriguing story line does leave the reader with the desire to pick up subsequent issues in order to find out what the answers are.

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This science fiction classic is a brilliant book. When the story opens, we are introduced to Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged man who is about to undergo an operation to increase his intelligence. As the novel progresses, we watch Charlie make remarkable progress in a very short period of time, as his experimental treatment leads him to a genius-level IQ.

His increased intelligence, however, comes at a steep price, as he quickly discovers that many of his so called "friends" from his earlier life where in reality making fun of his mental handicap, while the doctors who are responsible for his treatment see him as a mere human version of Algernon, the laboratory mouse that was first experimented on before the human trial. Amidst this existential angst, Charlie discovers the mysterious of love, the uncertainty of being human, and -- by the end of the book -- utter fear as he learns that his newfound intelligence is destined to dwindle away.

This book is a stunning literary work that deserves its title as a modern classic. With an innovative style and unforgettable characters, Daniel Keys has created a story that readers won't soon forget. This book is a great read for anybody who loves literature, not just science fiction fans.

5 out of 5 stars