h1

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.

h1

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.

//

h1

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
h1

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

h1

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
h1

The Short Victorious War

March 26, 2014

2037129This is the weakest link in the series so far.

The clash in Yeltsin Star has started the conflict between Haven Republic and Manticore Kingdom. The Haven Republic, as always, denied any involvement. But nevertheless the tension is rising.

I am actually glad, because in this novel, we know more about what happened in the Havenite side. It brings more balance to the story, now we know what happened at the other side. The admiralty of Manticoran Navy is also troubled by the deployment of the task force. The protection of the allied nation is important, but also keeping the invading force at bay. The decision maker is torn between making a defense of an offense.

In this novel also, a full scale squadron battle is staged. The war is no longer a covert action, but a direct invasion. Unfortunately, the war, despite its bigger scale, fail to grasp the horror of war so well described in the second novel, The Honor of the Queen. This reason alone made me decreased the rating from 4 STARS to 3 STARS.

Don’t let my review disappoint you. There are still a lot of good points. We have a full squadron manoeuvre, some interesting battle tactics (not just from the Manticore side). To be honest, this book is the beginning of the full scale conflict between Haven and Manticore. It is just somehow, the emotional tone is out-scaled by the Grayson-Masadan conflict.

So, only 3 STARS.

Note: I like it that the info dump is separated from the main part of the novel and put at the back, so that it does not disturb the flow of the story.

h1

Twilight in Djakarta

March 19, 2014

Twilight in DjakartaA country just gained its independence after centuries under colonialism. It is like a fledgling bird learning to fly, still practicing its newly gained democracy. The story is set in the heart of this country, Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.

The book was published first in translation. Maybe the current political situation at that time did not allow the book to be published. I admit that the material in this novel is a bit “sensitive”. The original work was only published several years later.

The story is told in three layers, the life of the poor, the middle class, and the upper class, each with its own portrait of Jakarta. The life is rich with love, suffering, betrayal and ambition. Each with its own dream and its own misery. Together they create the mosaic of “the big kampong”, Jakarta.

Even though it is written in 1960s, it makes me realized that nothing changes much. The corruption and nepotism now are still rampant as in the 60s. Old Order (Orde Lama) has been long gone, New Order (Orde Baru) has passed, but the “business” is still going on. It is kind of depressing seeing that this country does not improve after many decades.

But one thing indeed has changes, and it is not for the better. In the book, it is portrayed that Indonesia was still under revolution. There are the main power player at that time, the communists, the Islam, and the nationalist. Now, the communists are long gone, Islam is going on a new revival, and the nationalists are just names. At that time, all the intellectuals were well read. They read Lenin, Marx, Mao, Hemingway, Shakespeare. Now the intellectuals are not as well read as their predecessor. Give me one Indonesian intellectual who are well read in Shakespeare! Our education is indeed going downhill.

But one thing makes this book loose ONE STAR. The translation! It is quite bad that I loose my temper. The translator mistranslates some terms, and makes the conversation boring.

Example:
1. “baju” is mistranslated as jacket. Baju is simply “a dress”
2. “Lu” (slang, means “you”) is not translated. It makes me quite ill feel to read sentence like this: “Don’t lu want to marry me?” What kind of sentence is that? I realize that the translator wants to keep the local favor, but in this case, it doesn’t work.
3. In slang conversation, several words such as “already” is written as ” ‘lready “. I cannot see its purpose except for annoying the readers.

h1

The Honor of the Queen

March 12, 2014

261758This is the second book of Honor Harrington series.

Definitely better than the first novel: On Basilisk Station. Some of my expectations from the first novel are actually answered. The second novel actually brings more stories from the enemy’s side. I certainly are looking forward to seeing Captain Yu and Theisman, two commander from Haven side.

After Basilisk, Captain Harrington is assigned to a new post in a diplomatic mission to Grayson. It looks like an easy task, but something is lurking behind. Grayson’s nemesis, its sister state: Masada, is planning a coup just in time. Harrington will be trapped in the escalation of coup d’etat.

The political situation is also very interesting. Grayson is an extremely patriarchal nation. Woman is seen as nothing but property. Seeing Honor Harrington as a senior officer of a heavy cruiser is like a slap in the face for them. Honor Harrington is indeed challenged by the local political situation. Will she succumb to this unfortunate situation or will she triumph one more time? The political behavior of a fundamentalist state also deserve an attention. It works really well with the plot of the story.

The fighting is indeed more gruesome than the first. Despite they are no land battle, the naval (space) battle is much more brutal. I have not read such a tense description of a battle, as depicted in this novel, for a long time. It is most satisfying as well as emotionally gripping.

Despite the hard science fact is not the main issue in this novel (like most space opera), Weber is consistent with the technological frameworks that he set in the beginning. It works well with all the naval tactics in the battle. This alone shows that he is indeed a good sci-fi writer, unlike most space opera which care about the plot only while abandoning the tech stuff.

The classification of space ship starting to look interesting. We have in this series battle between heavy cruiser, destroyer, battle cruiser and LAC (Light Attack Craft, a small intra system space ship with no hyper capabilities). We can see the difference of capability between those ship. I can only expect a larger campaign, space battle between two opposing fleet in the next book. You got me hook, Mr. Weber.

But unfortunately, somehow this book is still not enough to be listed in my 5 STARS class. It is still missing something “philosophical” for brain crunching, which is my criteria for a 5 STARS. So 4 STARS.

Note:
One thing I don’t really like is the depiction of the Haven Republic. It looks like Weber created Haven as conglomeration of everything that he hates. By using the name of People’s Republic of Haven, it resembles the name of a communist country: People’s Republic of China. But from the story in this book, the Haven Republic looks like more like a fascist, militaristic, and expansionist country, like Nazi German, than a communist. And the naming of the space ship class: Saladin, A Sultan class battle cruiser; is using name from Turkish Sultanate, the Ottoman Empire. So, it shows that he hates communist, fascist, and Islam. I am not a big fan of those either, but I think it’s not wise to do that.

h1

Inferno

March 5, 2014

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Well, it is another adventure of Robert Langdon. (It makes me think, how come this Robert Langdon always included in every doomsday crisis. Since it is only a novel, I am not going to be so picky.) You have exotic places, puzzles, beautiful woman as Robert’s consort, art history, and bizarre individual. It is truly another Robert Langdon series.

Maybe since it is just another Langdon series, it is quite boring since the beginning. Dan Brown is repeating the same formula over and over again. (I have been bored since The Lost Symbol actually). Fortunately, I read this book just to waste time after some heavy reading, and that’s all what I get. Time wasted. If this is your first Dan Brown novel, maybe it is not going to be that boring. Or if you are Dan Brown’s die hard fans who vote for this novel in Goodreads Choice, maybe you are not going to be bored.

There is really nothing to tell from this novel really. I would suggest you read the original Inferno, some secondary book discussing Inferno, art history of Florence, Venice and Istanbul, and I guarantee it is going to be more interesting than this novel.

So why the 3 stars? Well, first, this novel is clearly written for Hollywood. It is fast pace, lots of plot twists, very graphic, and thrilling in many places. Well done on that Mr. Brown. You can get another Hollywood contract.

Two, THIS IS A MAJOR SPOILER, do not read if you have not finish the book by yourself.

I truly loves the ending. Even though Inferno itself is just another second rate thrill ride, the idea behind it is important. The world is indeed overpopulated. I might be a bit biased on this issue, because I myself am a supporter of Malthus. Malthus prophecy is not wrong, it is delayed. What he fail to foresee is the advancement of technology to revolutionize the production of food. But it cannot go forever, because our beloved Earth is FINITE. We can only dismiss Malthus prophecy by migrating to other system, which is still not in sight. I would say that I sympathized, even support the antagonist, Bertrand Zobrist, the crazy geneticist who create a virus to mutate one-third of world population to be sterile, to make the earth population dwindle. It is indeed a thought that needs serious consideration, given that it seems that we are not going to voluntarily reduce earth population by sterilizing ourselves. We still breed like rabbits, especially is third world country. Forced sterilization is indeed a more humane approach to reduce the population if you compare it with war or plague. For this reason alone if give this novel an extra one star.

h1

Last Arguments of Kings

February 26, 2014

Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3)It is not easy to maintain the story of a long sequel. Most writers did good in the beginning, only to loose the steam at the end. This is not the case. Abercrombie succeed in maintaining the plot and keeping the flow of the story interesting. This alone makes the whole series worth 5 stars. It is indeed one of the best fantasy that I ever read.

It is a siege battle all over again, and a much greater scale than the Battle of Dagoska in the second book. The main force is still busy with the overseas campaign. The city garrison will have to do their best to buy some time before the army return. And it is going to be bloody.

At the same time, the campaign in the North is still dragging. Bethod, the King of the North, is as sleek as a seal. He really proves himself as a master strategist. It really takes a drastic measure to capture him, and the cost is extremely high.

But finally, what truly eludes me is the ending. It is not like any ending that I expected. To mention it here will be a major spoiler, you will have to read it by yourself. And it is a satisfying ending for a long series. Not expected, but satisfying with a great after taste. Not all writers can deliver this kind of ending!

Mr. Abercrombie, well done! 5 stars for the whole series.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers