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andymccoy

Ecletic Reader

I'll read just about anything that might be interesting and love to learn about new things.

Etruscans: Beloved of the Gods

Etruscans: Beloved of the Gods - Morgan Llywelyn, Michael Scott This was a hard review considering the I generally like Morgan Llywelyn's books. However, this did not live up to the standard she has consistently delivered in other titles. The best description of this book is shallow. There is not much information on the culture of the Etruscans (besides the focus on the Dying) and little actual description for the Teutmetians or the Romans. The Ais are little more than a plot device, with only one of the Ais getting more than a brief cameo (and even this role is lacking). The story is neither original nor is it much more than a partly fleshed out outline. The story rushes through plot points like it's hitting a checklist rather than showing readers a glimpse of the world. Outside of the disappointing story I was also a little annoyed with the viewpoint of the story. While the whole of the story seems to be told in the 2nd person, sometimes the character's viewpoint would switch from paragraph to paragraph, or even mid-paragraph. This made it difficult to tell when a description was based on a external character's perception or the internal thoughts of the character. On the plus side, this is a quick read with short chapters and it is easy to follow the story.

Ubik

Ubik - Philip K. Dick Amazing story. An interesting blend of science fiction and horror. Enter an alternate world where, by 1992, the countries we know have largely been replaced. Individuals with psionic abilities (telepaths, precogs, and animators (which I can only assume allows the reanimation of dead tissue)) pose a threat. Not a threat to world peace, but to the running of corporations and individual privacy. Luckily, the development of these psionics has been mirrored by the development of "inertials;" individuals with the ability to nullify a psionic's ability. There is no grand conflict between these groups, though it is clear that the man employing the vast majority of psionics would like to eliminate the inertials. When a scheme to damage the most effective inertial company is completed, we enter a story where we cannot be sure what is reality and what is the unreality of "half-life;" a state between death and life which can be maintained through a cryogenic process. The leader of the inertials may be dead or alive, while the fate of his team is equally unclear. All that can be determined is that they exist in a separate, though connecting, reality. The world regresses and the inertials appear to be picked off on by one, with the only hope of salvation existing through the mysterious product Ubik.

I had difficulty putting this story down, mainly because every time I thought I knew what was happening a curve ball was thrown my way. Of the Dick novels I have read, this was the one that best used the potential available from the set-up.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick, Robert Zelazny This was an interesting read and raised interesting questions as to what humanity and life means. It was a little short and could have used with a more intricate story. All in all it was very satisfying.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Philip K. Dick It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that interesting either. I read this immediately after The Man in the High Castle, so the question of "what is real?" was already a central theme. This book didn't seem to add much to that beyond a spiritual detour. Beyond that, most of the characters have little investment since they are mostly two dimensional. The story opened some great possibilities, and the rating I gave is for that. However, it seemed to fall short of its potential.

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick This alternate history is very well imagined and the narrative device of revealing bits of the world through somewhat intertwined character perspectives is interesting. The story almost overlooks the complexity of this new world to tell a mere story of several characters during a short period of time. The mirroring of the alternate history with an in-story novel of an alternate history adds to the analysis of what is real or authentic and what isn't.

In Search of Ireland's Heroes: The Story of the Irish from the English Invasion to the Present Day

In Search of Ireland's Heroes: The Story of the Irish from the English Invasion to the Present Day - Carmel McCaffrey A great introduction to Irish history from the time of English colonization. More interesting than the history is the lessons it should have taught most western colonial powers. Invading and occupying foreign country with no understanding of the culture, a belief in the superiority of your own culture, and the forcible removal of indigenous people from land that is then granted to foreigners. This is the story of colonialism and neo-colonialism. The Romans did it, the British did it, the French and Italians did it, and now America is practicing its own version of it. Unsurprisingly, it always ends in violence, and generally for similar reasons. Failing to truly understand circumstances as they are is always a recipe for atrocity, conflict, and eventual failure.

A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light - Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson This was the ending this series needed. Everything came to a rather satisfying conclusion, and this book clearly made up for the lack of events in several of the previous installments. The battles were well described and the story lines well written. There are some criticisms that should have been addressed, but overall they do not hinder the enjoyability.

It was nice to see the disparate stories of Rand, Perrin, Mat, and Egwene all converge in a meaningful way that didn't seem unnecessarily forced. I'm also glad that Lan had an important task to fulfill, since he has been a staple of the series. While it seemed a little odd to have five villains handled by the five heroes in the Last Battle, it made good sense within the structure of the story. My only real complaint was with the Sharans and Demandred. I understand that Demandred was out there doing things during the course of the books, and that he had to show up meaningfully sometime. However, his appearance with the Sharans just seemed like it occurred to through a road block at the heroes. So little is spent developing the background for Shara or the leadership of Demandred that it seemed like the authors forgot to actually give Demandred a purpose and through this in as an afterthought. In the same vein, Demandred is so overpowered that he could have essentially defeated the armies of Light in a few hours if he hadn't spent the entire fight challenging Rand. Having a powerful enemy that is distracted and consumed by a hate for the hero is an interesting story telling device. Having an enemy that, despite being distracted, could still single handedly dominate the heroes but chooses not to is a trope that has been comical for years. Demandred is essentially a bond villain that doesn't go to the trouble of actually capturing the hero.

Other than those issues, this was a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight - Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson This is the book that truly returned this series to fulfilling its potential, at least for me. Numerous story lines and subplots are finally wrapped up to clear the way for the Last Battle. Perrin has finally stepped into his role and begun to accomplish what he was responsible for all along. Mat has returned to his irreverent character while fully accepting his role as a reluctant hero. Rand has truly embraced his role and begun the leader that was needed.

Beyond these three main characters there was a powerful, though short, subplot involving Aviendha. Her visions of the future serve as a reminder that the Last Battle, while necessary for the survival of all, does not guarantee the survival of all. Egwene alternated between a competence and arrogance. She is a competent leader in the White Tower and demonstrates her skill at both politics and battle. However, her treatment of Gawyn is belittling to him and unbelievably irrational. While she accepts the need to moderate herself before sisters, she demands almost unquestioning obedience from Gawyn, even when she has not ordered him to do something. She grows angry and frustrated when he does not act in accordance with her unannounced wishes. Her treatment of Rand is similarly disheartening as she assumes that his course of action is wrong with out analyses or review. Elayne is similarly frustrating and continues to serve largely as a waste of attention in this series. Her political maneuvering is mediocre, though it is painted as genius in the story. However, this is all somewhat unraveled in her treatment of Perrin. By threatening Perrin she overplays her hand to gain exactly the fate she is attempting to avoid. Her standing with lords appears to be more important that taking a course of action that is necessary to prevent blood shed, and she seems blind to reason solely because her prerogative is not accepted unquestioningly. Brandon Sanderson has done a wonder with the female characters in this story, though there was only so much he could accomplish with the frustratingly arrogant and one dimensional creatures created by Robert Jordan.

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm - Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson This book suffered a bit from Wheel of Time fatigue. I've been making a go of essentially reading the whole series straight through, with a few non-fiction books thrown in to break up the monotony. Starting this book, I had little motivation to read it. The story was well told and Brandon Sanderson does a great job of adapting his style to the series. I certainly enjoyed this book much more than the last few installments, and it would most likely have deserved the fifth star had I not forced myself to read the first quarter of the book. Once the story gets moving it is quite captivating. Many of the flaws that marred main characters in previous books were mitigated or removed entirely. Nynaeve is no longer insufferable, though she was becoming a better character in the last two books. Instead she is loyal, insightful, and a conscience for a newly hardened Rand. Egwene demonstrates a strength of character and intelligence that was largely hinted at before she was captured, but she has blossomed in this book. The vengeance she seeks on the Seanchan is very humanizing as it balances the cold and dispassionate attitude she has held to recently. Perrin is finally coming to terms with his need to find his own balance and to be a leader to his people. Rand, while aggravating for much of the book, finally shows some significant character growth. Mat has chapters that are largely similar to what is expected of his character, though he still manages to be among the most interesting characters. Best of all, not a single chapter devoted to Elayne's unnecessary sub-plot.

While I had some difficulty plodding through the beginning of this book, there were several well written scenes that made it worth it. Verin and Egwene's meeting was an amazingly tense and rewarding chapter. The final resolution of Rand's character arc for this installment was very well done and allowed the frustration and madness to really come through. The unexpected comedy between Mat, Talmanes and a few others was exceedingly enjoyable, and I hope to see more of it in the next book. This book is essentially a recharge for the series. It rewards readers who have plodded through three or four books that lacked significant development in either characters or story lines by rapidly resolving several issues. It's clear that Perrin is set up to take a large portion of the story in the next book, with Mat probably grabbing a large section for himself as well. These two have a significant amount of ground to cover in two books. Rand has largely completed his major plot points to set him up for the Last Battle. I would guess that he will play a less important role in the next book and that the final book will split relatively evenly between the four main characters.

Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire - Chalmers Johnson This is the second book I've read from Chalmers Johnson, and it was definitely another success. Technically, this is part of a trilogy of texts, and I read the second prior to reading this, though the books are not required to be read in any particular order. Taken together, the books paint a picture of a US in danger of losing its way, though by now it is more likely that it has already lost its way.

This book shows how the military structure and the defense agenda have divorced themselves from America's interests. Our military goals do no lead to stability in the international system, nor are they truly about protecting the US or its allies. Worse yet, these goals have led us to economic policy that directly weakened our economy and hurt Americans while ensuring that poverty around the world would increase. It's difficult to see how the US can square its stated ideals of freedom, self-determination, and the rule of law with direct support for dictators and autocrats, imposed "one-size-fits-all" economic models, and a rejection of any liability for itself under international legal norms.

There should be two main take away points from this reading. The first is that America and its institutions (including the IMF) seem to lack an essential curiosity to understand non-American cultures. The IMF frequently imposes and American inspired economic model on the countries it "helps," yet as Mr. Johnson has noted, the IMF cannot point to even one notable success for its policies. Recently, the IMF itself has noted that its policies are often counterproductive, though it refuses to actually reform them.

The second main take away is that America's increasing reliance on military might and ideological purity, as divorced from its own actions, have lessened the credibility of the nation and made it harder for America to maintain its standing. As our citizens fall further behind the industrialized world and, eventually, cede economic superiority to other nations that have invested in their economic infrastructure, America will find itself with fewer allies because of its belligerent stances. Prior to this, the country will have to deal with violent uprisings and political discontent in its satellites. Doing so is costly both in terms of money and it America's image. Our commitment to remaining the "lone superpower" is, in short bankrupting us and insuring our eventual decline.

Despite being written prior to 9/11, this book still offers some great insights into America's neo-colonial project.

Knife of Dreams

Knife of Dreams - Robert Jordan A much better installment than the previous few. The resolution of Perrin's storyline is thankful as it was dragging to an unnecessary extent. I still like Perrin as a character, though I feel he is largely wasted on mostly self-contained story lines that would have better fit in a spin-off series. Despite the lack of significant advancement of Egwene's storyline it feels like much is accomplished. It is interesting to see the development of her character, though I think more nuance with regard to Elaida would have made the story more interesting. As it stands now she is largely an incompetent villain for no reason. Considering how long she has lasted as an Aes Sedai and as an advisor to Morgase, I would expect her to be at least a bit more competent than she has been.

Mat's story has an excellent resolution for the sub-plot he was involved in. It was great to see him back to his own element while still evolving as a character. While I was disappointed in the short length of Rand's story line, it did involve a minor pay-off, though it feels as though there will be some unfortunate rushing to catch him up to where he needs to be. I'm happy that Elayne's story line is finally resolved, mainly because it was aggravating, unnecessary, and will hopefully lead to less of her POV chapters. I cannot fathom how she is supposed to be a good ruler. She was supposedly educated in warfare, but almost loses Caemlyn because her brilliant idea for catching the Black Ajah is to rush into danger without sufficient information, and to do so with at least one sister she knows is Black Ajah. She leaves herself vulnerable and requires the shifting of her army to save her, almost costing her the city and definitely throwing away the lives of the men sent to rescue her. Her rescue and the ultimate ending of the siege are due entirely to luck and the foresight of others. Seriously, she shouldn't be allowed to hold sharp instruments much less run a country.

Crossroads of Twilight

Crossroads of Twilight - Robert Jordan I am generally a fan of the series and I thought this installment was mostly enjoyable. It drags on unnecessarily in a number of places, but I'm getting used to Jordan being long-winded (i.e. Character A asks POV character a question. There are then 2 pages of descriptive text discussing the setting, clothing and feelings of POV character. POV character gives 1 word answer). It's true, the plot barely moves forward, with only 2 significant developments occurring. More importantly, this installment had two significant weaknesses for me. One related to this book (and partially to the next book) and one related to the series as a whole.

The more general issue I have is that this seems to be less a book of interconnected stories and more a loose connection of some tangentially related stories that all tie up (hopefully) in the last installment. Even accepting that, I have no idea why Elayne and Perrin get so many POV chapters. Perrin has done nothing of note for 4 books. His accomplishments after Dumai's wells are: 1. Left Cairhien under a ruse to go meet Masema, 2. Met Masema, 3. Tracked down Shaido encampment. This is the extent of his story for 4 books.

Elayne is even more maddening. She is part of the group that uses the Bowl of the Winds in the Path of Daggers. She gets to participate in running from the Seanchan and accidentally blowing up an entire contingent. Then, for two books, all she does is: 1. Become pregnant with Rand's child, 2. Politic to obtain the Lion Throne. Even the politicking is boring though, since it mostly consists of her complaining about her allies internally while being nice externally. There isn't any strategy, or planning, or tactics. She basically lets someone else handle all of this. I cannot understand why Elayne is given POV characters to begin with. She is aggravating on the way to Ebou Dar and has done next to nothing since. Cutting about half of the Nynaeve chapters and all of the Elayne chapters wouldn't hurt the book at all, since their is no indication that Elayne's rising to the Lion Throne is necessary for anything important.

Of course, this is a larger problem with the series. Rand is largely following a hero's journey kind of story line. Egwene is following a more standard "uprising against tyranny" story. Elayne and Aviendha are following more a sisterhood, coming into one's own, story line. Perrin is caught in the "afraid of one's nature" and a damsel in distress, along with a touch of "fish out of water" stories. And Mat is the "no name commoner rises to power" storyline. The problem is all of these characters are in a completely separate story that just happens to take place in the same time frame with minor contact points. There may be a vague overarching goal, but it is so vague that it doesn't really seem to impact anyone for most of the series. This probably would have been a stronger, and much shorter series, if each of these characters were broken out into stand alone books. Jordan could have built the world through telling Rand's story through his POV. Then given each of the other main characters their own series, set in the same world at the same time. There would be a lot of rehashing, but it would be in the sense of "fleshing out" instead of dragging on. It also would have significantly shortened many of these story lines because much of Elayne's story in particular, but also Egwene's and Perrin's only exist because they can be placed in the larger series. Ask theses story lines to stand on their own and they fail.

The more specific complaint is that we leave Winter's Heart on a great climax with Rand. He doesn't appear for the first 500 and change pages of this book, and then he is only around for less than two chapters. We don't see him again until 300 and some pages into the next book. Out of almost 1000 pages, Rand appears for less than 60. He was almost written out of his own series. For what though? So we can learn more about Egwene and her headaches? Or so we can see Elayne sit in her castle and complain about how others are mothering her? Or so Perrin can be restless? There isn't really any reason to cut Rand out of his own story.

These two weaknesses are what cut this story down for me.

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens I've seen a number of adaptations both on stage and on screen of this story, but it was amazing to read the original version. The adaptations definitely add elements to make it more enjoyable for modern audiences, though the original is a necessary read for anyone who enjoys the story.

Cinderella is Evil

Cinderella is Evil - Jamie Campbell An interesting take on a classic fairy tale. A more balanced approach that makes the characters more realistic and more interesting makes the fairy tale more interesting. However, the approach leads to a limited story that suffers from underdevelopment.

All You Zombies

All You Zombies - Robert A. Heinlein An excellent short story. This is my second experience reading Heinlein and he does not disappoint. Even with a short story he manages to pack in quite a bit.

Winter's Heart

Winter's Heart - Robert Jordan A strong installment to the series. Finally the main characters (excluding Perrin) accomplish some useful goal without it blowing up in their faces completely. The cliffhangers for Mat and Elayne leave open an interesting if predictable sequence of events for the next book. Rand appears to finally be learning some lessons about what he can and cannot do. Perrin and Faile have a disappointing story line in this book, mainly because it concludes on a "to be continued" less than a third of the way through the book. With the exception of the Battle of Emond's Field, I'm having a hard time determining the necessity of Perrin's storylines. Rand and Mat have clearly intertwined stories, with Mat developing into the general that Rand will need. Mat also protects and brings in characters that are necessary to advancing the plot. Egwene's storyline is necessary to helping resolve the conflict Even Elayne and Nyneave serve some necessity to the story. Perrin though, appears to be the protagonist of a related but unnecessary story line.

The length of the series may be a weakness that is starting to show here. There are a few characters that seem to be unnecessary to the actual storyline. Perrin is mentioned above, but Slayer is a clearly unnecessary storyline as well. Slayer, so far, has served no purpose than to be an antagonist to Perrin in the Two Rivers. Even Padan Fain, despite being the driver behind the Great Hunt, serves little purpose any longer than to be a slasher villain. If Fain had died in Falme, Slayer hadn't existed, and Perrin had not been a central character, the whole series would likely be substantially shorter and the main story would not suffer much if at all. Perrin and Slayer's story could still be told, but it would be better in a spin off that told the story of non-central characters during the central story, in the vein of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.