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A Princess of Mars

September 16, 2014

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)If I were younger, I would appreciate this book much better. It has lots of action, scantily clad woman, flying vehicle, sword and laser. What else would you expect? But, I grow up (old), and all these things has lost their magic.

The story is simple. A (brutish) man John Carter, somehow magically transported to Mars. Somehow he has a superpower strength, thanks to the fortunate luck of being born on the surface of higher gravity planet Earth (Mars is about 1/3 of Earth’s gravity). Imagine Clark Kent, but from Earth to Mars. And on planet Mars, he finds a princess in distress, falls in love, and rescue her. Typical knight-in-shining-armor in a fairy tale.

Don’t expect any “science” in this science fiction. It is almost indistinguishable from fantasy books. All the technology is just there without any effort of explanation. What you have is green men on Mars (although not little and with six limbs), with weird plants and animals, without any effort to explain the evolution or ecosystem of Mars.

To defend this book, at least the author tried to make this novel astronomically accurate. There are description on the canals of Mars, the two Moon of Mars which are pretty accurate. The crisis faced by Martian is parallel with the observation from Earth that Mars is barren and the atmosphere is thin.

There is one little hint that the writer is mocking the communal living usually practiced by socialist group. The green men of Mars is depicted as the Spartan-like society, with little familial love. And the conclusion is simple, love conquers all. Simplistic, but maybe that’s all that we need.

The merit of this book is that it is being a classic. At least we know what science fiction looks like in the beginning of 20th century. But only that. Compared to the pinnacle of sci-fi, there are many better books that this one. The book does not offered much compared with any other pulp fiction books.

PS: The mode of travel from Earth to Mars is not explained. But if you are familiar with astral travel, it looks like that. So actually it is not John Carter’s physical body that travels to Mars, but his astral body. In other words, he is just dreaming.

two star

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In Enemy Hands

September 9, 2014

In Enemy Hands (Honor Harrington, #7)This is the weakest link in all this series that I have read, so far. If not by the merit of the ending, or the flow of the story as a whole, I would have give this book a TWO stars.

The title already suggests (so I don’t think that it is a spoiler) that our heroine Lady Harrington will be captured by the enemy. No surprise there. But the important thing is how the story goes.

The beginning is just too slow, too damned slow. nothing really happened. It will be much better if it is cut into half. Honor is back into the regular of Manticoran navy, after the succesfull mission as a commander of a Q-ship (or armed Merchant Ship). Everything is back to normal. And normal is boring.

The love interest story is totally unnecessary. Maybe the author wants to keep that as an investment in a long term, but I think he should cut it to a minimum level. Just give a little hint of it, without telling it in more than one page. It is boring and against the flow of the novel as a whole.

The actual story only begin when Lady Harrington is captured. And the action starts. Luckily the story is good, otherwise it will fail to redeem the rest of the novel. There are plot twists and tragedy. Many things are lost, too many actually, for better or worse. Fortunately, luck is always in her side (otherwise the whole installment will stop, right?)

Final verdict, a THREE, and I am already being nice.

three star

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Frankenstein

September 2, 2014

FrankensteinI just reread of this novel, which I read about twenty years ago. Obviously, there are many new insight gained.

First of all, I think most people will assume this novel as a horror novel, a Gothic monster novel. It made into many horror movies, right? That’s what I thought twenty years ago. But after a careful second reading, I get much more. (I read it in a translation version the first time, and I read the English version for the second time).

The monster in this novel is not just merely a monster which horrifies us. The monster is the monster created by science. The monster is the personification of science goes wrong.

On a deeper reading, Frankenstein story retold the myth of creation. It contained the tension between the creator and the creation. It is a myth told and retold over and over again. You can see it in the Bible’s Genesis, Greek theogony, and many other creation mythologies.

In Genesis, Adam was created by God. Initially he was innocent, until he gain knowledge from the fruit, which open his eyes. The same theme also occurred in Frankenstein. The monster was created by Victor Frankenstein. The monster initially was innocent and virtuous. He became a monster only after being rejected by the society. There is a hint of knowledge by picturing that the monster learned to read, and actually read Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, Volume 1, and The Sorrows of Young Werther. (Wow, this monster is more well-read then I do.) But a bolder reading will see that it is not telling about the creation of Adam, but the creation of Satan. In this case, Satan rebelled against God, just like the monster rebelled against Frankenstein.

The monster decided to wreck havoc his creator’s live, because Frankenstein refused to create a companion for him. It rings a bell again, a parallel with Book of Genesis. Only the difference is that God obliged to Adam’s request, and created Eve for him. It looks like that Frankenstein is crueler than God, even though the ending is pretty much the same, the creation was banished.

As an end note, I would like to ask a question. Is this novel a science fiction? Some would said yes, because it is dealing with a scientific theme when a creation went awry. But some others would said that it is just a horror novel, but a little pinch of science. In Goodreads, more people categorize it as a horror rather than a science fiction. I myself would say that it a literature. It might be categorized as a science fiction, but the ingredient is just not enough. It deals too much on the personality side, that it might be just become a psychological novel. Science fiction nowadays is a bit detached from the personality of the character, but instead focusing on the science itself. So, I will not group it with science fiction, but as a literary books.

So, THREE stars.

three star

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Honor Among Enemies

August 26, 2014

Honor Among Enemies (Honor Harrington, #6)Honor Harrington is back from exile. Although she is reinstated into the Manticoran navy, circumstances does not allow her to be a captain of the list. Thankfully, there is an opening for her to be a merchant escort, due to some changes in situation in Manticoran navy. She is given a Q-ship (an armed merchant ship) to patrol the Silesian sector, a sector rampant with pirates.

So the story goes, she is the leading captain, patrolling the Silesian sector, hunting for pirates. There are no politics, no crazy war development, just pirate hunting.

Fortunately, the side story telling what happened among her crew is interesting. For this mission, she is getting the scrap of the bottom crew, the crew that other captains want to get away with. And she is damned lucky to have all the competent officers with her. With them she can beat this crew into some reliable fighting force.

For the first time in this series, we encounter the Andermani empire, a German speaking star kingdom. Maybe they will play an important role later in the series. It looks like that they are a bit cunning, not exactly black or white. Their strongest point is their spy network. I am looking forward to seeing more of them later.

In the end, she is facing a notorious pirates. The character of this pirate is too one dimensional to be interesting. He is just cruel, that’s it.

The final conflict which I will reveal here is interesting. Harrington again will be tested beyond her limit. With just a Q-ship, she must face a real battleship. The chance is not on her side, and she does not have the best crew with her. Will she survive? Of course, she is the salamander. It is just somehow that she is too lucky to be true. That is the only part that I don’t like in this series.

Verdict, so so, with some interesting parts. THREE stars.

three star

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Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm

August 19, 2014

Household Stories by the Brothers GrimmNot the best book for entertainment or filling your head, eventually. But anyway it is a significant book if you are interested in mythology-fairy tale comparison.

I read this book as an assignment for Coursera. My first impression when joining looking at the lecture and reading this book is that it is oversexed. Everything is too Freudian, which I don’t really like. But again, maybe it is just my personal taste.

For example, the ever-going enmity between between the witch or queen (usually barren with no children) and a maiden is depicting the struggle of virginity and sexual maturity. It is the social mores that in one way holding virginity up-high, but in the end the maiden is forced to enter a marriage life, therefore loosing her virginity.

On my side, I tend to read the story more on the political side rather than sexual. What I see in the text is the struggle of class. Such theme is depicted in “Frog Prince”, which are a struggle between the working class (the frog) and the capital owner (the princess). Or in “Goose Girl”, showing the rebellion of commoners (the lady waiting) against her mistress (the princess).

So in the end, this is the book that you need if you are interested in looking at the symbolism that predates our modern world. For I am more interested in visionary theme, I would rather say that this kind of book is not my cup of tea. 3 STAR is more than enough.

three star

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Flag in Exile

April 23, 2014

77738Lady Harrington is on exile. Not because of her fault of course, but when you do everything straight, it is guaranteed that you are not going to make everybody happy. So, she is on half-pay (meaning she is stripped from the command), and fortunately the there is a chance to fill in her office in Grayson. So, Grayson it is…

Now, she is involved with all the politics of Grayson. Even though the Masadan conflict is over, there is no guarantee at all that she will meet no opposition. Beside holding the office as a steadholder, she is also enlisted in the Grayson Navy (and it is complicated, because she also belongs to the Manticoran Navy). And she is given an admiral rank! The heat is on! The culture in Grayson is as misogynistic as ever, saved for some enlightened people.

I find that the Grayson part of the story is refreshing. Seeing how Weber described the fundamentalist way of thinking (in Grayson) really show us the reality today. When the book is published, the Oklahoma bombing happened. It rings a deeper meaning that what is written as fiction is novel actually happened in our real world.

One more important part in this novel is the ENGINEERING porn! Weber is getting serious with the structural engineering. If you have a slight understanding of mechanical engineering, it is surely interesting to see how the engineers of Grayson work! What a design, what an investigation!

I might be biased in reviewing this novel, because I enjoy the Grayson setting more the Manticoran setting. So I give this novel a 4 STARS.

 four star
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The Lottery

April 17, 2014

This short story is published first in 1948, after the carnage of World War II, and it created havoc! Most of the reactions are dislike! Of course at that time they did not have facebook or goodreads. They simply wrote tho newspapers and magazines to voice their dislike.

Nowadays, I think, this short story will have less impact. First, because several other stories with similar theme are published. Second, the horror of World War II (and Vietnam War, for the case) has been long gone. Iraqi and the war against Taliban is still fresh in the memory, but I think the impact is a bit less compared to the major war.

SPOILER AHEAD!
I guess that the horror of the lottery is related to the drawing of lottery in conscription, when we send young man to die in the battlefield.

Compared to this short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is much stronger. It does not end in the shocking plot, but really gives us food for thought. There is also one horror movie with similar theme,  Population 436, which I think is also better than this short story.

Of course most audience will see the resemblance of this short story with [book:The Hunger Games|2767052]. Just remember, it is much much older than The Hunger Games. Maybe Suzanne Collins is influenced by this, or maybe not.

Despite the original message of this story might be forgotten (irony, irony), the story actually is quite fun to read, especially for grade school reading. My 3 STARS ratings is only for older audience, but children will find this book very interesting.

 three star

 

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Field of Dishonor

April 10, 2014

504369The first official conflict between Haven Republic and Manticore Kingdom is resolved with the victory on the Manticoran side. But the conflict is far from being concluded. The political situation in Haven only exacerbates the situation.

This time, there are no big scale battle fought, but the clandestine war is by no means less cruel, if not even crueler. The enmity between Harrington and Lord Pavel Young becomes worse. The rise of Lady Harrington’s career and the court-martial of Lord Young will tear both of them equally. Despite there are no space battle, actually I feel that this novel is more tense than the third novel: The Short Victorious War. And by all means, it is also better.

The political situation in Manticore Kingdom is also troublesome. Even though Manticore is a kingdom, it is a parliamentary monarchy, like the United Kingdom. The balance of power is delicate, and the majority led by the Centrist and Crown Loyalist is threatened. Compromise must be made. And as always (sigh), Honor Harrington is in the middle of the storm.

On the lighter side, she must get accustomed to her new role in the House of Lords, being a Countess. She is also a Steadholder of Grayson, a foreign nation, which makes thing even more complicated.

There are plenty of “events” in this book to serve as the climax. The road ahead is indeed hard to travel. Later on, as the title of the novel suggested, it will be a field of dishonor for Lady Harrington.

Final verdict: 4 STARS.

four star
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Foundation

April 3, 2014

This book is my first love to science fiction world (well, it has to compete head-to-head with Ender’s Game.

It begins with Hari Seldon, a great psychohistory, or sociologist cum mathematician in nowadays term. By using psychohistory, he predicts that the Empire is actually on decline. Nobody believes him because the Empire is as strong as ever. But Hari Seldon is true, because the law cannot be bent; it is as certain as the law of gravity. Therefore, he is going to tinker with the law by creating a seed of civilization during this dark time, to fasten the dark age, from thirty thousand years to a mere one thousand years. The seed is known as the Foundation.

It has many things that I loved from a science fiction novel. The first one is the idea. Imagine that you CAN PREDICT THE FUTURE (!) given you have enough data, which is ±75 billions of population, and you know the law governing the relation between human being. That is the wet dream (and holy grail) of any social scientist! It is far fetch from the truth of course, because one thing that made us human so unpredictable is the feedback loop. A stone is not being aware that it is being studied, so it will stay the same. But a human being KNOW that s/he is being studied, so s/he can give a different feedback, which mess all the result of the probing. Asimov beautifully overcame this complexity by removing the obstacle. To make the science of psychohistory reliable, he only need to remove all the “psychologist” so that the entire population of the Foundation is not being aware of the study.

The second is the progress of history itself. Asimov admitted openly that he was inspired by the book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But still, he is quite genuine in plotting the future history of the Foundation. I am dying to find out about the next Seldon crisis. It shocking and unpredictable. That is what this novel so interesting, even though the writing is quite dry, and there are almost no character development. That is perfectly OK, because the plot is not about the character! Caring about the character development is like caring about the fate of one drop of water while forgetting about the ocean!

Enough said, 5 stars.

five star

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Prince of Thorns

April 2, 2014

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Well, maybe it is not so bad, but somehow I am in the mood for ravaging this novel.

Since the era of A Game of Thrones, after the era of The Lord of the Rings, the world of fantasy indeed has changed. The fantasy world became darker and more violent. We have several good ones: The Black Company (this one predates Game of Thrones), The Blade Itself, Gardens of the Moon, and The Lies of Locke Lamora. The defining line between the good guy and the bad guy is not so clear. Especially after the Game of Thrones HBO series became so popular, it looks like many fantasy writers will try to copy this kind of theme. Including this one.

Since the beginning of the novel, we are served with endless (and mindless violence). I don’t mind violence; the books listed above are among my favorite. But mindless violence does not serve me well. It is violence for the sake of violence, not for the sake of the plot or character building. There are almost no loveable character in this novel (except the Nuban).

The alternating between the current and the event four years earlier also does not serve the plot well. It is disrupting the flow of the story. I don’t mind a flash back, but the flash back used in this one does not amplify the story at all.

But I think the worst part is the world building. This is supposed to be the high point of this novel, because it looks like that the author worked so hard to make the world in this novel resembles our real world, after a nuclear holocaust, using his term the Day of a Thousand Sun, thousands of years after that. And yet, it failed. The writer should learned from A Canticle for Leibowitz. The world after the nuclear war in this novel is believable. It does not directly fall into a medieval world, but more like a Mad Max world. The writer should also learn from The Shadow of the Torturer. The allusions made in Gene Wolfe novel is witty, which require the best of mind to digest. In Prince of Thorns, the allusion is too direct. And the repeating reference to the classics such as Plato is not believable. Believe me, if our civilization fails, Plato (and all other classics) will be the first to disappear. It is proven already in our dark age in Europe, Plato and all of the Greek classics are saved only because it survived in the Arab world, in Arabic translation. Or some in the hand of the secluded monks, which actually resembles the plot in A Canticle for Leibowitz. In Prince of Thorn, it is just unbelievable. If they still read Plato, the civilization is still intact. It is much better if the writer simply made the world out of nowhere, without linking it to our future world.

I almost stopped reading this novel, if not for you, my reviewer readers (ha!) I might give this book a bit the benefit of doubt, and try (very hard) to finish this book, because I will only review the book that I finished reading.

Surely the author can write, but he simply wasted his talent in this novel. And for me this is the end of this series. There is no way I want to repeat the experience of reading this novel.

ONE STAR it is.

one star
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