Archive for June, 2013

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Tarnsman of Gor

June 26, 2013

Tarnsman of Gor (Gor, #1)I stumble on this old book accidentally. It is only about 200 pages, so I think I can make it a quick read.

I do not expect a great deal of fantasy reading from this book. At best I think it is just some pulp fiction, so I begin without high expectation. And actually it surpass my expectation. It is a standard fantasy. Consider that it is first published in 1967, maybe it is quite OK at that time.

The storyline starts from a modern world, and than by some magic high-tech, the main characters is transported to an alternate world, call Counter-Earth, a medieval world with knights and kings. The writer spends lots of pages on the description of the world and culture, and even some reference to the language. Even though it is below par compared to modern standard (which has been set pretty high by writers like George R.R. Martin), I think it is quite decent, even at some points can be quite boring.

The world building is quite OK, a “C”. The author seems to try hard to design a genuine world, with its unique animal and religion. What I don’t like from this novel is the plot and the characters. By using nowadays term, the male main character resembles a Garry Stu of YA novels. Too strong, too handsome, and too lucky! And the women characters are too unimportant and too submissive. Which gives me no characters that I like to follow. The plot is also quite boring, typical type of quest without plot twist. The hero sets on a quest, finds companion along the way, had several set back, but eventually wins. That’s all. Done. Boring.

I want to give it a ONE star actually, but since it is published in 1967, I think I can give it a benefit of doubt by giving an extra star.

End note:
I am quite surprise while checking Goodreads review on this book. Some readers classify the book under BDSM, what the @#$%! Until I check the new cover of the book, published in 2007, Kindle edition. This is the piece of the evidence:
Tarnsman of Gor (Gor, #1)
Judge by yourself…

PS: there are NO BDSM in this novel. Barely having a slave chain in collar does not make it a BDSM novel. It is a straight fantasy novel, through and through. But I cannot guarantee that for the entire series.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora

June 19, 2013

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)I was delighted to be introduced to this gem in fantasy literature. The story is fresh, unlike other fantasy novels which are overcrowded with wizards, spells, and swords. This one is about thieves, lies and revenges. With the center figure, enter, Locke Lamora, the Master Thief, and also happened to be a Gentleman. Therefore, the group of thief is called the Gentleman Bastard.

The novel begins with an orphanage run by a Fagin type persona. Many people compare it with Oliver Twist, but I would say that Mr. Lynch has his own originality. By just using a shepherd in a story line does not make you plagiarizing the Bible, right?

The novel is told by alternating the present and the past, in interlude. Some part of the interlude serves as a background, reminder or explanation of the present act. I find it quiet interesting, and sometime I am even more interested in the background than the main story. You might said the interlude sometimes steals the act. I care more for the characters in the interlude than in the act.

The writing is indeed light and entertaining. The dialogue is witty and charming. It is just Mr. Lynch used, ah…, too frequently that it looses its effect of dramatic. The jokes and punch lines are fresh, many of them are quotable. My personal favorite is the invocation while dining:

“I only steal because my dear old family needs the money to live!”
“Liar!”
“I only steal because this wicked world won’t let me work an honest trade!”
“LIAR!”
“I only steal, because I’ve temporarily fallen in with bad company.”
“LIAR!”
“I only steal because it’s heaps of fucking fun!”
“BASTARD!”

Why I just give it a FOUR STAR? The finale is not as glorious as I expected. The scene of Mr. Lamora drowned in horse-piss is already the climax. After that it is downhill, even though still plot twisting.

Just my last comment, killing Jean while saving Bug I think would make the story more dramatic. Just my two cents.

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Night Conversations with Cardinal Martini: The Relevance of the Church for Tomorrow

June 12, 2013

Night Conversations with Cardinal Martini: The Relevance of the Church for TomorrowToo bad he is not among us anymore. Cardinal Martini is one of the most progressive church leader in contemporary history. He is one of the contender to become the Pope, or papabile, until his health declined. Many of his thought, as shown in this interview, is way ahead of his time. As he said, the Catholic Church is 200 years lagging behind. If the church does not change, it might loose its relevance to this post-modern world.

The church indeed need to address to certain issue: sexuality, celibate life of the cleric, birth control, atheism and many things which are brought by this modern world. It is a bit difficult if the church still clings to its centuries old dogma.

The book is written in form of Q&A, asked by youngsters. Too bad, it is not clear to see which question was answered by Cardinal Martini, and which one by Georg Sporschill, so I cannot see which one is Cardinal Martini’s personal opinion. There are some repetitive tone also throughout the book. And since it is asked by youngsters, it certainly missed some other important issue. That’s why I give this book only 3 stars. If it is better edited, and answer some other issue, I will no doubt give it a 4 or even 5 stars. But do not let my 3 star let you down. It is still one of the best book on religion. Especially since it is the interview of one of the leading thinker of the catholic church. RIP, Cardinal Martini. Your voice will not die out.

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The Etched City

June 5, 2013

The Etched CityIt is very difficult to write a review a book which has so many layers. You have story within story and character within character. The style is literary, and you have a lot of debates about characters, psychology, philosophy, theology, and art! All of these makes the book an extremely rich book. I doubt I can digest it in one reading; in one sitting is just impossible. I definitely will reread the book after sometime, to get a fresh outlook and a new insight.

The first part (out of three) of the book is the introduction of the main characters, which is easy to read because it is a single layer. The main characters are Rauel, a talented street-surgeon, and Gwynn, an ex-revolutionary-turned-hired-gunslinger. Both of them are remnants of a fail revolutionary attempt. Together, they plan to have a new life, while surviving from the past that is always catching up on them.

The second and third part is the main story, telling about their lives in the city of Ashamoil, a refuge after running away. I like the description of the city. It is a blend between a wild west world and an Arabian setting. The description of the city is just beautiful (mind you, it is the description that is beautiful, not the city!)

I admit it that it is not an easy read. Some readers point out the lack of plot, which is true. But it is not the plot that you should look for in this novel. The plot is just a device for the characters. The plot is just events to mold the character, a tool by the author to show the “transmutation” of the character. You do not read this novel to find the conclusion of the story, to find the good guy defeating the bad guy. You are not going to find it out here. But you are invited to witness the Great Alchemy, quoted here:

“Could your god and this infernal be called enemies, then?””It is more complicated than that. God knew what was going to happen, of course. The divine has a plan for the infernal. Because all is of God and nothing of God can truly be destroyed, the infernal must instead be transmuted. It must realise its error, comprehend the illogicality of its existence, and choose to become part of the divine. When all is converted, the erroneous potential will no longer exist. Perfection will be achieved. We are all subjects, substances, in this greatest alchemy, the Great Work of God.”

You are going to see a heated theological debate, between an atheist, impersonated by Gwynn, and the believer, impersonated by the Reverend. However, unlike what we do in theological debate in the real world, they remain civil and friendly to each other, which is a good think. I can quote one line in here:

“Think of a potter taking a misshapen bowl from his wheel and pounding it back into the tub of clay. A soul suffers while it is being pounded in this way, and suffers until it ceases to be. You are pounded down, and that which was you gets into something else. God tries again, and tries until the Work is complete. Meanwhile you, my son, are long gone.”

The most difficult part of this novel is the relationship between Gwynn and the artist, Bethine Constanzin. The world created by their relation is surreal, depicted by the engraving of the artist. She is his lover, but also, I think, her temptress. Gwynn see herself also like a catalyst, the one who ignite the transmutation in his character, even though she denied it.

While the character of Gwynn is troublesome for the readers, Raule is the setting of a moral standard. It is a character that you can rely on, even though she is helpless of the situation that she cannot change.

Another thing that I like about the novel is the low level of magic involved. Nowadays, too many fantasy authors use magic as the ultimate weapon to solve the plot. The magic in this book is kept at the minimum, just to serve some characters. Another thing that is interesting also, is the lack of romance interest between the main characters! It is refreshing because almost all fantasy (especially the YA) includes romance as the main ingredient. There are already too many romance that it is inflated.

I spend about a month to finish reading it. I stop here and there, just to meditate about it, and it is worthwhile. And the amazing thing is that this novel is the FIRST novel by K.J. Bishop! It is just mind blowing that she can write this good. She is definitely in my watch-list. Mam, consider me your new fan.

And this quote is my own personal favorite:

“Tobacco Will Slowly and Surely Kill You.” And so will time, Gwynn thought. But if you want the job done quickly, professionals recommend bullet.

(I am not a smoker, and I hate smokers. But still, the quote is stunning.)

So, as my last words, just to paraphrase the question ask by Beth to Gwynn:

“So, what are you, death or devil?”

A 4.5 star! After rereading I might give it a 5 star in the future.