Archive for February, 2013

h1

The Windup Girl

February 26, 2013

The Windup GirlThe setting is Bangkok, the capital of the Thai Kingdom, one of not so many surviving countries from the apocalypse. The sea level is rising, crops were destroyed by genetically modified plant disease and pest. And Thai survived because of the visionary leadership of Her Royalty. The story is told from four POV: an undercover company agent sent to Thailand to uncover the secret of Thailand reserve of gene, a Malaysian Chinese refugee who left his country because of religious riots, a Thai environmental police enforcer, and finally a windup girl, a genetically modified human.

I think I want to explain a little bit about the word “windup”. “Windup” is an action that you do when you turn the spring to power a clock, like the key that you turn for a windup toys. Windup girl is a nickname because of the movement she made, which is like a windup toys, a tick-tock movement. They are created that way.

The detail in this novel is very engaging. The writer’s imagination of the post-peak-oil world is very vivid. Coal and gas are extremely rare. The only form of energy that you can depend on is muscle power. The author shows you the world from the POV characters slowly, without giving you too much information dump. The story is told in a very personal way, not from a bird eye view. So you will have to create your own picture of the world, then finally you realize the kind of world they are living in.

The plot is quite complex, you have lots of intrigue, one character played against another character. There are no real protagonist and antagonist. Everyone is for their own agenda and survival. And all of their fate is tangled in the middle of this creature, the windup girl. Finally, what this novel all about, is survival. We all fight to survive, in our own way, in our own term.

I am also impressed by the usage of many language in this book. You have Thais, Chinese, even Malay. The author used the word: kopi, nasi goreng, and rambutan. Actually rambutan has a very important plot point is this novel. The author is really doing his homework .

Finally, this novel is important because it is a front runner of a new apocalyptic and dystopian theme. We are going to see more sci-fi novels in this theme in the future. The nuclear war scare are pretty much behind us. Now we have environmental problem, energy crisis, terrorism, maybe an impending religious war, at least in small scale. It is beautifully (or scarily) captured by the author.

There is one thing that I love most about this novel: the political statement of the writer. In this novel, the Thai government violated the international law of intellectual right to the people. Go to hell with the patent law, if they keep people poor and dying, because they do not have enough money to access genetically enhance crops or medicine.

Final verdict: a strong 4 star. I am still not drag into the story. Lack the final zest

h1

Among Others

February 19, 2013

Among OthersYou might find this book in fantasy rack in bookstore. But for me, it is more than a mere fantasy books. Some reviewers classify this book as “magical realism”, it rings some truth in my opinion. It is a book about growing up, psychology and the love of sci-fi.

At the face value, this book is a journal of a-15-years-old girl, who happened to study at an elite boarding school. Her background as a Welsh (among other English student) as well as her crippled leg makes her living there “special”. Since she was young, she can see fairies and communicates with them. She can also perform magic guided by the fairies.

“Magic” in this book is unique. It is not the kind of magic that you see in common fantasy books. As I said in the beginning, magic in this book looks “real”; sometimes it is not easy to draw a fine line bordering magic and real life. As stated in this book, it is not easy to believe in magic, because it is so easy to disprove it. You can say that it is merely coincidence, or simply science. It is all in the eyes of beholder.

On the other hand, it is also not easy to draw a line whether this book is a fantasy book or a literature (I myself do not like to classify books as literature or not. Books are books. Fictions are fictions.) You can see it as a fantasy book, but you can see it also a psychological book, telling the inner struggle of a teenager trying to cope with her difficult life, a mental mother and loosing a sibling through car accident. Those makes this books so rich that you can read it several times, and it will give you different feel and interpretation. I think, this is why this book won a lot of awards.

As a huge fans of sci-fi and fantasy books, I identify myself a lot with the protagonist character in this book. I get myself completely hooked! So I might be biased in reviewing this book.

I find this book best described as a tribute to all science fiction and fantasy author. (Just like the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a tribute to film making.) And by the end it is her love of books that save her life.

A solid 4 star, and for science fiction lover, a 5 star.

P.S. : By the end of this book, I guarantee you that you are going to have a list of to-read books in science fiction and fantasy genre.

h1

Lord Valentine’s Castle

February 9, 2013

Lord Valentine's Castle (Majipoor, #1)Lord Valentine’s Castle is not one of Silverberg’s best. Reading this book is just like watching a PG-13 movies for a supposed Rated movies.

First, the story is so simple. A rightful king, trying to regain his rightful throne from his usurper. Throughout his journey to become a king, he gathered friends and loyalists, later become his most trustful servants. Simple. Less than one paragraph. It might work for a story written for RPG or adventure computer game, but for a novel? Na…

The plot is simple. Only the beginning part is interesting. But once it is clear that this is all about an exiled king trying to regain his throne, the plot is a bore. It is truly like playing an RPG computer game. The hero gathered companions during his quest, a human female consort and male followers, a giant, a wizard, some aliens, in and off-planet, and then later some other followers. He traveled from one exotic location to another location. Having to solve puzzles and problems before he can advance into another location (should I say stage?) Sounds like an adventure game right? Fortunately, Silverberg knows how to write. Even though the plot is crumbling apart, his writing is still readable.

Secondly, the genre. I don’t know why some classify this book into sci-fi genre. It is not a sci-fi novel. You can easily change the race of aliens in this book into dwarves, elves, throlls, gnomes, goblins, or whatever magical creature that you like, without affecting the story at all. It is a fantasy book. By introducing some aliens in this book does not make it a sci-fi book.

If you want to classify it as a sci-fi book, it is a bad sci-fi. How could the author explains a giant terrestrial planet, governed by a central figure, a king (or Coronal in the story), with only medieval technology. The city is populated up to tens of millions! It is impossible for populations that big to live in a huge city without proper technology. Surely they cannot depends on mounts to move from one point to another, not to mention how they move the commodities (unless you use some extraordinary magic, which is not the case in this book). And the population of the planet surpass ten billions! How to feed all of those people without technology? It is just not sustainable.

Verdict: two is enough.

h1

The Black Prism

February 5, 2013

The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)A superb book, a very promising beginning from a new author. I haven’t read his first series (The Night Angel Trilogy), this is the first book of his second series, The Light Bringer.

The story is set in an unknown world, where magic is “technology”. Every means of life is conducted through magic, like engineering nowadays. And main character is Kip, a nobody, until he finds out that he is actually a pivot point of a monumental change in his realm.

The magic system in original; it is based on seven spectrum of light. Each spectrum has its own usefulness, and its own tendency. The author did not rush to tell everything in the beginning, he took his time by unraveling it bit by bit, to let us figure out by ourselves. The world design is good, but not as good a the magic system. And the story revolves mainly on the Prism figure, much like the Pope, the Pontiff, equivalent of our world. He does not have the executive power, but still highly regarded by the people, because he is the intercessor between the people and Orloham (the God).

The character design is good, even though not very exceptional. But I like especially the main character, Kip. His character grew through out the book, from a bullied boy, into a war hero, without straining our credulity too much.

The best part of the book, I think is the plot. It has lots of twist and turn. It keeps you guessing until the end. And in the end, you are still not sure, which make the whole story very interesting, without falling into absurdity. The weak part, it has some repetitions. If the editor can cut that out, it will be much better.

Anyhow, Brent Weeks is, I think, one of the best young fantasy writer. Given time, he can be a very good fantasy writer in our era.

I will give this book a 4.5. Not yet a five. It still lack the “eery” or “grandeur” or you might say “goose-bump”. He already reach that actually in the final part of this book, during the battle scene. Believe me, the battle is REALLY GOOD! Read it by yourself, I am not going to give any spoiler! But the beginning still lack of something. It should be opened with a drum and trumpet, or a very eery omen, for a story this good.