Thursday, December 23, 2010
Rating: 4 Pierogies
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah (for my Mexican Jewish friend Sam)! I am stuck at work because my boss is a tyrant but the rest of you should go home and enjoy one of the most entertaining Christmas Stories of all time: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. Actually, I prefer to listen to David Sedaris' books on tape as his narrations are priceless.
Holidays on Ice is a book of 6 holiday-related essays. The most well-known is called Santaland Diaries and recounts Daivid Sedaris' time working as an elf Macy's. Although not my favorite David Sedaris book (Naked is my all-time favorite), Holidays on Ice is a light and hilarious way to enjoy the holidays.
As my holiday gift to you I will leave you with my favorite Christmas dinner movie scene.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
You may have noticed that it is now December 2010. How was A Dance With Dragons you ask? You know the book that was supposed to be released in September 2010 after years of missed deadlines and delays?
Well I don't know, because once again George R.R. Martin is too busy housing fried chicken to finish the damn book. I cannot even remember what happened in the previous 4 books at this point.
WHAT ARE YOU SMILING AT YOU TUBBY TEASE!!?!??! Put down the gravy and get to work!!!!!!!!!
At least HBO seems to be on track with filming A Game of Thrones. You can watch a great Behind the Scenes Video of the production here.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Rating: 5 Pierogies
Review: Beloved is one of those books that everyone who wants to consider themselves "well-read" knows they should read at some point in their life. It won a Pulitzer prize and is probably the most well-regarded book written by a black woman of all time.
I avoided this book for years. I assumed, like most thing academics and media elites fawn about, that Beloved would be overrated, self-indulgent and pretentious. The fact that the New York Times' book editor named it the Best Work of American Fiction in the Last 25 Years only magnified my complete distrust for the hype around this book. Then the godforsaken French inducted Toni Morrison into the Legion Honor Society with Mitterrand saying she is the "greatest American novelist of her time" and I swore her work off completely.
Being a malcontent and cynic I assumed that people so wanted this to be a good book that they labeled it one regardless of merit. I figured I would be totally let down after reading Beloved and feel like I did after reading the Great Gatsby (yes, I hated the Great Gatsby okay?). However, one day I passed my bookshelf and Beloved seemed to be calling my name so I grabbed it and dug in.
Well don't I just feel like a giant A-hole right now? As it turns out, Beloved is magnificent. The awards, accolades and hype were well deserved for once. I really loved this book. It is one of the few books out there when both the story and the quality of writing combine into an amazing piece of art (and I will only refer to novels as "art" if both the story and writing are excellent). Beloved is art.
Had I known Beloved was essentially a ghost story (or arguable ghost story) I probably would have read it a long time ago. Although the "main" plot line is the ghost story, the tales of the various characters' past (the story of slavery in America) is told in flashbacks. Although the book jumps around in time it is not difficult to follow.
The main story and ancillary stories told in Beloved are all interesting, emotionally charged and significant. Beloved is a ghost story, a mystery and historical fiction all rolled into one. This book tackles the horrors of slavery but does not do it an an overwrought, maudlin, preachy or emotionally abusive way. It states the reality is stark, untouched terms - which makes the telling all the more beautiful and horrible.
In short, Beloved tells the story of Sethe and her daughter Denver and their lives after escaping from slavery. Their home is haunted with the ghost of Sethe's murdered daughter and it affects their already complicated lives in significant and frightening ways. There is literally endless scholarship devoted to the ghost in Beloved - what is it? what does it represent? In the end it doesn't really matter - Beloved will affect the reader in a profound way regardless.
Perhaps my favorite part about Beloved was the uniqueness and strength of the writing. I haven't given any thought to the simile since 5th grade when we learned how to differentiate between similes and metaphors. Beloved, literally, made me fall in love with the simile. Morrison's writing is stark, raw and earthy. The descriptions she creates with plain, even harsh words, used in ways I had never conceived of makes her writing so incredibly powerful. Morrison writes using a vocabulary and tone that former slaves would used - plain, nature-based, utilitarian. Yet, she transforms it into something exceptionally beautiful - something incredibly unique and special. I was truly moved by the literal writing in this novel and I cannot remember the last time I felt this way about a book.
Beloved is exceptional and special. I am so glad I read it.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Imagine me jumping up in down in a circle and squealing like an idiot as I write this.
OH My God OH My God OH My God OH My GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!
FILMING HAS BEGUN for the HBO series based on George R.R. Martin's series a Song of Fire and Ice. I'm so excited I feel like puking on myself!!!!! Began three days ago to be exact. Supposedly it will be released Spring 2011.
The series Tag line will be - wait for it - "Winter is Coming." Hell yeah it is!!!!
I have a very complicated love/hate relationship with this series. I hate the series because it is disgusting sexually in a Roman Polanski sort of way but it is pretty much awesome in all other respects. Major characters are killed off constantly, your allegiance as a reader switches from the "good guys" to the "bad guys" constantly (presuming you can tell the difference between the two). The books are just totally exciting and entertaining and awesome.
HBO has released a viciously short teasor. They are also being stingy with the promotional photos although the three they have released are all of Sean Bean as Ned Stark so at least their marketing department seems to know what we want to see.
YOU. ARE. WELCOME.
The full cast has also been released. Aside from Boromir, I mean, Sean Bean and that guy who is always cast as the "Little Person" (is that the PC term du jour?) in any acting role requiring a little person I have no idea who any of these people are. I just hope the actors playing Cersei and Jamie Lannister are kick-ass because those characters are awesome.
The have cast alot of characters who don't even appear until later books in the series, it makes me wonder if they are screwing with the plots and timing of the story arch too much. If they are going to edit/change any part of these books it better be the gratuitous child-rape and gratuitous gang raping and nothing else!!!
Harry Lloyd as Viserys Targaryen
Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon
Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy
Sean Bean as Eddard Stark
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister
Julian Glover as Grand Maester Pycelle
Michelle Fairley Catelyn Stark
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon
Iain Glen as Ser Jorah Mormont
Kit Harington as Jon Snow
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
Finn Jones as Loras Tyrell
Richard Madden as Robb Stark
Rory McCann as Sandor Clegane
Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo
Kristian Nairn as Hodor
Dar Salim as Qotho
Donald Sumpter as Maester Luwin
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark
Maisie Williams as Arya Stark
Roxanne McKee as Doreah
Sibel Kekilli as Shae
Amrita Acharia as Irri
To see cast photos go here. The girl who they cast to play Arya looks perfect for the role. We'll see...
Here is the "trailer". I need more frankly. ENJOY!
Friday, May 21, 2010
Harvey also adeptly handled the Peninsular and Russian campaigns by devoting an entire section to the conflict in Spain before moving on to address Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia. Despite the overlap in events and the interrelated strategic picture in both theaters after 1812, Harvey shrewdly kept them separate in his book. This provides the reader with a more focused narrative that may have become muddled by a traditional chronological narrative.
So obviously I enjoyed the book yet it gets only 3.75 pierogies. That’s because unfortunately for Harvey I am somewhat of an authority on this area of history myself – albeit only a semi-literate yinzer authority. As such, this book inevitably failed to satisfy because as a general history perfect for the casual reader it necessarily lacks some of the historical detail and minutiae that appeals to readers with pre-existing Napoleonic conditions. This is particularly evident in the cursory treatment given to the many land battles. The Napoleonic Wars are punctuated with famous battles such as Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, and Borodino. If you are expecting a detailed blow-by-blow tactical account of these battles, this is not the book for you. To be fair, this was not Harvey’s goal and could have added hundreds of pages to an already thick tome – but in my view it was still a notable shortcoming to address major battles in mere paragraphs. And to the extent Harvey, a British author, betrayed any bias it was through the disparate treatment he gave to the land battles (dominated by France) vs. the sea battles (dominated by Britain). Even a minor engagement between a British frigate and its prey was often given more ink than a battle that resulted in tens of thousands of casualties and altered the balance of power in Europe.
One last sticking point for me was Harvey’s rather odd justification for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. The author pulls no punches in casting Napoleon as the power-hungry ogre that he undoubtedly was – from his buffoonish attempts at diplomacy and premeditated slaughter of prisoners outside Jaffa to his naked aggression against Spain. Yet oddly when it came to one of Napoleon’s most boneheaded moves, Harvey justifies the Russian campaign as a defensive war. Eh, maybe. It’s certainly true that Tsar Alexander had grown hostile to Bonaparte in the years since Tilsit, but this was largely due to Napoleon’s insistence that Russia participate in a costly self-defeating embargo against British trade and his inflexibility in meeting Russian diplomatic concerns. Moreover, it would seem Napoleon’s decision to conquer Moscow rather than contenting himself with a new frontier at Vitebsk or Smolensk belies such a defensive motive.
That said “War of Wars” is an immensely readable and well-balanced account of the conflict between Britain and France, which defined early nineteenth century Europe. It is the perfect book for readers seeking an introduction to the events and personalities of the age and a great jumping off point for further reading. In that spirit, here are some recommendations.
For a more detailed account of the invasion and retreat from Russia:
Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March - Adam Zamoyski
For a thorough diplomatic and military analysis of Napoleon’s defeat of the Second Coalition and the events that led to Austerlitz, see:
The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805 (v. 1) – Fred Kagan (of Iraq’s surge fame)
For those looking for detailed accounts of individual battles or campaigns, Osprey Publishing has an excellent series that covers the Napoleonic Wars. Each book includes a chapter on the modern layout of the battlefield for readers interested in historical tourism. Here is a partial list from the reviewer’s own library. These are great primers on the overall strategic picture of the Peninsular Campaign, with Austerlitz thrown in for kicks: Fuentes de Onoro, Vimiero, Badajoz (where the British army committed a full blown Roethlisberger upon taking the city), and Austerlitz.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Rating: 2 Pierogies
Review: I wasn't going to review this book. My feelings were too mixed, too complicated and I had no idea how to rate it. I was going to rate it "unrate-able" but after sleeping on it I think I can tackle this review now.
The premise of The Sparrow is spectacular, and I had not been so excited to read a book in a long time. Furthermore, book reviewers I trust and generally agree with LOVE this book. The story is told via two distinct timelines...
In 2019, a radio telescope in Puerto Rico picks up a broadcast of beautiful, hymn-like singing from a planet in a nearby solar-system. While the U.N. dithers about how to proceed for years the well-funded Catholic church secretly sends its own mission to the planet, called Rakhat. The mission is manned by an eight person crew, 4 Jesuit priests (all highly educated and experts in relevant fields) and 4 expert civilians. It is a rather annoying plot device that the civilians and priests are already a rag-tag group of friends who happen to have the perfect skill set for such a mission [eye roll]. One has to be willing to suspend disbelief when reading science fiction, but this was a tough pill to swallow. The author tries to use this as support for an argument by the priests that the mission is predestined and sanctioned by God. But....Eh....
In 2060, Father Emilio Sandoz (a member of the mission to Rakhat) returns to earth alone. Although 40 years have passed on earth, due to space travel time-relativity, only 6 years have passed for Father Sandoz. Based on earlier communications, those on earth know that the other seven members of the crew met horrible fates on Rakhat and Father Sandoz is implicated. He has horrifying injuries, his hands are maimed and he is too sick and traumatized to reveal what happened on Rakhat. Slowly, with the care of a small group of priests, he slowly recovers and shares his tale in a sort-of inquisition in large part to clear his name.
Sounds awesome right? Well, it is in alot of ways so I'll start with the good.
This book is addictive and will have you hooked because of the way the author introduces truly interesting mysteries and masterfully reveals the answers while simultaneously introducing new teasers. This might be the best book I have ever read in regards to the introduction, handling and resolution of mystery. There are also really really interesting and creative ideas in this book. Examining a world where sentient life is evolved from the relationship between carnivorous predator and herd-prey was really interesting and Russell's background in anthropology was evident in a good way. Furthermore, I thought the mystery of the damage to Father Sandoz's hands was darkly fascinating.
Now for the bad.
This book goes to places so dark and horrifying and "out there" it is rather shocking. Even borderline ridiculous. In theory this makes sense because the story examines how and why we should believe in a divine plan and love God when there is so much horrifying and unfair suffering in the world (and in all worlds apparently). In order to make such a point, there must be alot of horrifying suffering in the the story. The problem is this question has been addressed in countless ways by countless people for the entirety of recorded human history. Indeed, our ancient religious texts examine this issue thoroughly as it the most ubiquitous and important theological question of all time. As such, if the author is going to take the story to such a horrifying place, the pay-off needs to be there in the end. There must be some new or powerful insight on this age-old question that justifies why you took the story to such a sick place. In the end, The Sparrow failed to achieve this in my opinion. It made me think about God and human suffering but not in a way new or different than a daily newscast on the Sudan would. This is where the book failed for me. The author was unable to justify why and where she took the story. As such, it came off sensational and lurid and lost much of its power. Perhaps I missing something, perhaps it affected me more than I realize. I'm not sure which is why this review is so difficult to write.
My other issues with this book are more irritants than anything else.
1. The writing is clear, precise and straightforward but only serviceable at best. There was not artistry in the writing. In some ways that is a relief as you don't have to concentrate at all to understand the story. It was like fast-food, no-long term nutritional value but hit the spot at the moment.
2. The dialogue was GOD AWFUL. Possibly the worst I have ever read. Clearly the author wanted us to view her characters as witty, smart and irreverent. The problem is the "witty-banter" between the characters was obvious and intellectually-lazy. The responsive gut-wrenching laughter from the other characters in response to such lame comments made me think they were tasteless idiots even though they are all supposed to be geniuses.
3. Although there was a ton of character development, the characters still same across as one-dimensional caricatures and I didn't care about any of them. This is amazing as I am a very easy person to manipulate emotionally. Furthermore, most of the characters actively annoyed me, namely Anne Edwards. We are supposed to love Anne Edwards and care for her; she is a mother figure to the other characters, affectionate, accepting and skillful medical doctor. I HATED her. I spent the entire book waiting and hoping for her to be dispatched. Although Anne is many great things but she is also the worst of things: an aging hippie. Granted as a medical doctor she is less worthless than most aging hippies but just as the aging hippies in my neighborhood terrorize me on a daily basis with their self-involved annoying bullsh^*#t, so Anne Edwards annoyed me through out the whole story. One of her first acts upon their space mission is to have loud, old-person, hippie free-love sex with her husband in full auditory "view" of four Jesuit priests. The characters in the book inexplicably found it funny and endearing, I found it self-centered, totally inappropriate and obnoxious (i.e. typical aging hippie behavior). Hey Anne! If the gay elderly dying Jesuit Priest leader of the mission (and the only interesting and likable person in the book) wants to die in the closet so as not to distract the crew trying to survive on a new planet, so as not to fundamentally alter his relationships right before his death and so as to generally die in peace without a big emotional event LET HIM. He is being humble, selfless and a good leader under the circumstances. It may not fit in with your aging hippie liberal agenda to force everyone to know, validate and experience everyone else's sexuality but you and the other aging hippies can learn something about the quiet dignity of not making a goddamn spectacle of yourselves all the time. You would think I would like this book to the extent shot a couple of aging hippies into outerspace on an asteroid to meet horrible fates but I still resent the time I had to spend with them.
I guess that is all I have to say. I don't know if I would recommend this book or not. There are parts that are so great, even brilliant, and parts that are just ...yuck. I'll give this book 2 Pierogies because I don't know what else to give it. I was going to read the sequel but the thought of reading more of this dialogue is insufferable. I'll read the plot summary on wikipedia instead (I guess I am still interested in the plot to an extent which is something).
FYI - Brad Pitt's production company bought the rights to The Sparrow several years ago and supposedly Brad Pitt will be playing Father Sandoz. Yeah, I'll totally see it although I'm not sure the movie can be very faithful to the book as it is too disgusting for film most likely.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Rating: 5 Pierogies
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Review: The following quote is on the front cover of the newest edition of Carrion Comfort:
"'Carrion Comfort' is one of three greatest horror novels of the twentieth century. Simple as that."- Stephen King.
That's one hell of an endorsement. Carrion Comfort also won the Bram Stoker Award in 1989 and is a British Fantasy Award winner and a World Fantasy Award nominee (1990). It didn't take a bunch of awards and endorsements to convince me to read this 636 page horror masterpiece though. This is Dan Simmons and it is about mind vampires. I love Dan Simmons and I love vampire stories so I was onboard from the get-go. Well, "vampires" isn't really an accurate description. The monsters in this book are not literal vampires (ha ha "literal vampires"), they are individuals that have the psychic ability to subvert the will of other humans. They can enter your mind and completely control your body and its functions, make you do whatever they want, erase your memories, read your mind, perceive through your senses and turn you into a slave basically. Those who survive describe it as a rape. These "mind vampires" or "Users" feed off the exertion of their power over others and it helps them to age slowly and remain energetic. There are only a couple dozen mind vampires in every generation but as it turns out that is more than enough to do alot of damage. It is not suprising that these mind vampires are extremely successful, rich and powerful generally (think titans of industry, famous evangelists, politicians and Hollywood producers) and that they are behind alot of the world's tragedies.
Carrion Comfort revolves around a small group of these mind vampires and their power struggles which manifest through sick and twisted "games" played with human beings as disposable pawns. [I can't type the word "pawn" withouth thinking of Stefano from Days of Our Lives, "You are my paaaawn John Black..." okay sorry]. No one is safe and anyone will be used and discarded if it suits the mind vampires' purposes - including children. There is alot of horrifying stuff going on here and it is infuriating to read about innocent decent people being used and killed in such awful ways.
However, there are good guys in this book who are fighting back led by Saul Laski, a holocaust survivor who is hell bent on tracking down an old nazi mind vampire, who not suprisingly, had a gay old time torturing residents of the nazi concentration camps with his Ability.
As with all Dan Simmons books, Carrion Comfort has a ton of characters and numerous plot lines going at once. As is also true with all Dan Simmons books, Carrion Confort is freaking awesome. Some argue that it is too long, a typical criticism of Dan Simmons. Although I usually disagree, in this case I think there are a couple of places where the story could have been shortened. The "Middle Game" portion of the book was definitely too long. I also found myself getting annoyed with the length of some of the fight sequences. There are probably a hundred or more such sequences in the book and some just wouldn't end. It got to the point where I didn't even care if anyone survived, I just wanted to get back to the story. I also didn't care about the good-guy protagonists that much. As such, despite its size, there was a lack of character development although this isn't a character study book so I didn't really care.
One thing Carrion Comfort did that I enjoyed was telling parts of the story from the points of view of two of the villians. I LOVE IT when authors so this (shout out to George R.R. Martin). Tony Harod is a slime ball Hollywood producer who uses his power mainly to rape women. Many chapters are told from his perspective although Simmons still uses a third person narrative. Many other chapters are told from the perspective of Melanie Fuller, an elderly Charleston resident and mind vampire. Her chapters are the only ones told in the first person and her chapters are the best by far.
Melanie Fuller is perhaps the most powerful and most evil mind vampire alive. The other mind vampires try to use her in their games because she seems so old, isolated and "out of it" but are soon reminded that, as in chess, the queen is the most dangerous piece on the board. Melanie's dangerous not only because of her superior abiliy but also because she is nuttier than squirrel poo. She doesn't even realized she is part of a greater power struggle (which is rather amusing) and is completely obsessed only with herself and her comfort. Her amazing powers protect her from harms that she is too self-centered and stupid to recognize. While the other mind vampires are obsessed with controlling world events and their internal power struggles Melanie just wants to live in isolated comfort and pretend that the world never changed from the segregated South she so loved. Her desires (to be left alone and live in comfort) are comparatively modest compared to some of the others but she is willing to use people in the most horrifying ways to achieve this goal. Her chapters are funny because she has all the normal old lady afflictions (thinks young girls dress like sluts, just wants to eat toast) but has no morals whatsoever. None. It is funny in a dark way how breathtaking her lack of morality is to behold being an old lady and all. She is also completely racist and says the most outrageous things. Her ability has rendered her emotionally retarded so she is also juvenile, needy and immature in many ways. All that weird baggage combined with her ridiculous power make her the most entertaining character by far.
I am not sure if Simmons was trying to make any greater social commentary in this book. Perhaps it is just coincidence that all the mind vampires are white and those fighting them are minorities (jews and blacks mainly) - but probably not. There are obvious corollaries in Carrion Comfort regarding the subrogation of minorities in society and history generally and specifically in the story. Simmons also takes alot of time in analyzing the nature of human violence and the moral implications associated sacrificing innocent life to survive and/or defeat evil (often times tying this anaylsis to the Israel-Palestinian conflict). I'm sure someone could devote alot of time and energy into studying these aspects of the book although I think it is fine to just enjoy the ride too.
Carrion Comfort is a massive book and will be a time investment to read. However, if you like horror and action and imagination I think you will find it very worth your time. I love you Dan Simmons!!!
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Johnny Truant is a tattoo parlor employee living in LA and a likely future beneficiary of Obamacare as he is someone who spends all his money on drugs and booze while complaining that he doesn't have health insurance. He is a hard-partying loser in my estimation although I guess some people may find his lifestyle cool initially. An old blind man named Zampano dies in the apartment next to his friend's apartment and Johnny ends up doing the post-mortem apartment cleanout. He finds a manuscript that is in pieces. The manuscript is essentially an academic paper deconstructing a home-shot film by a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer named Will Navidson called the Navidson Record [The character of Will Navidson is based on Kevin Carter and his famous photo of the toddler dying in the Sudan white a vulture waits in the background. The paper is complete with source footnotes and analysis of the film from famous academics and writers. The problem is there is no evidence that The Navidson Record exists and all the footnotes and quotes by famous people are fake. Johnny Truant then decides to put the Zampano's writings together and essentially edit it into a book. The rest of the book is the resulting academic paper about The Navidson Record written by Zampano and Johnny Truant's personal story told through copious footnotes.
seems a house of leaves
Moments before the wind."
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Today is my birthday. Remember when birthdays were exciting, fun and happy occasions? Yeah, me neither.
The point is that Spudbabe got me House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Z. Danielewski for my Birthday. I have been wanting this book for a long time. Anyway, I was all excited to start reading until I skimmed the following review excerpt on the back cover:
"A rollicking Pynchonesque oddity, a Nabokovian linguistic obsession, and a Borgesian unreality. [House of Leaves] jumps and skips and plays with genre-wrecking abandon, postmodern panache, and an obsessive imaginative scope that absolutely shames most books on the market today."
Well, isn't that PRECIOUS.
"Pynchonesque"? Seriously? Look Gravity's Rainbow is on the bottom of my to-read pile and it isn't leaving that spot anytime soon. As such, this reference is meaningless to me. But not to you San Fransisco Examiner and Chronicle, oh no not to you.
There are so many aspects of this short little excerpt that make me want to vomit I am not even going to get into it. This is why you are better off reading reviews here where our contributors are Appalachian clingers who are likely too drunk to regard themselves with any sense of importance whatsoever. The only literary-adjectives created here will be in the nature of "Hogwarts-esque."
I am not sure I can bring myself to read the book anymore. First Nancy Pelosi and now this, if San Fansisco didn't have such delicious sour-dough bread I would boycott the entire city.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
For those who may be unfamiliar with the movie and/or novella, the premise is extremely simple. It is the story of a falsely accused man, Andy Dufresne, who spends two horrendous decades in prison beginning in 1948, how he survives, and the friendship he develops with another inmate, Red. Ultimately, it is a story of hope in the face of unjust and seemingly endless darkness [Andy Dufresne: "Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."] My fiance says that line is 100% wrong and total crap by the way. Moving on...
Apt Pupil ~ Summer of Corruption: At 191 pages, Apt Pupil is by far the lengthiest novella in Different Seasons and also the only story to be told in the third person (thanks Wikipedia!). The movie adaptation, also called Apt Puil and which I have never seen, was released in 1998 and stars Sir Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro (who?).
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Rating Ilium: 4.5 Pierogies
Rating Olympos: 2 Pierogies
Review: Ilium (2003) and Olympos (2005) comprise a two book science-fiction series, the Ilium/Olympos Cycle, written by one of my favorite authors - Dan Simmons. Ilium won the Locus Award for best science-fiction novel in 2004 and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2004 as well. Olympos was short-listed for the Locus Award in 2006.
To say I was super excited to read this series would be an understandment. I bought both doorstop books in hardcover and I saved them as a reward for myself for finishing a particularly rough month at work. Dan Simmon's novel Hyperion (1989) is not only my favorite science-fiction book of all time but one of my favorite books of all time period and I was looking forward to reading more of his work in this genre (Dan Simmons writes in numerous genres because he is awesome).
When superficially describing Dan Simmon's books to others I find they always come across wrong. They either sound boring or unserious and totally insane, neither of which are fair or accurate. In this case, the Ilium/Olympos Cycle would fall into the latter cateogory. When I explained to my father that the plot revolved around Greek Gods thousands of years in the future re-playing out the Trojan war on Mars he looked at me with sadness and disappointment and asked what happened to his "intelligent" daughter who used to obsessively read Dostoevsky. I assured him that Dan Simmons is a very intelligent author in my experience although I'm not sure Dad is convinced yet.
The two books are one story which comprise three distinct plotlines that intersect and relate in various ways throughout the books. The cast of characters is enormous. The first plot line follows the anciet battle of Troy. Except it is in the future and the Greek Gods are very real. They live on a martian volcano renamed Mt. Olympos on a terriformed Mars and are re-enacting the Trojan War soley for their own divine entertainment. The story is told, at least inititally, from the perspective of Thomas Hockenberry a 21st century Homer scholar from Indiana who was somehow brought back to life by the Greek Gods to record and report to them on how accurately their Trojan War compares to Homer's Iliad. All the Greek Gods and heros of the Trogan war are accounted for and some are even major characters in the story. Thomas Hockenberry performs his scholar reporting duties faithfully, albeit unhappily, until he is recruited by Aphrodite to murder Athena and in the process potentially finds a way to overthrow Zeus, end the reign of the Gods and stop the war. So are the Greek Gods living on Mars super-evolved and genetically engineered humans? Aliens? True Gods? You'll have to read to find out.
The second plot line follows a group of "old-style" humans living on earth. The human population on earth is strictly controlled by post-humans (evolved humans no longer living on earth) and each old-style human has a 100-year life span. They remain young throughout their 100 years due to rejuvenation technology they neither understand nor control. All their needs are taken care of by robots/machines and they live largely meaningless, immature, illiterate lives with no responsibilities much like the modern American college student. Essentially, they fax (think Star Trek's transporter beam) to various points around the globe to have huge drunken orgies and that's about it. It's alot like Spring Break Cancun 1998. One small group of old-style humans however begin to educate themselves and investigate the mysteries of their existences including the whereabouts of the unseen post-humans. As you might have guessed, this leads to all manner of danger and adventure.
The final plot line involves the loveable moravecs; artifically intelligent beings who left their creators on earth thousands of years ago ala Battlestar Gallactica and live on the moons of Jupiter. The moravecs keep to themselves generally although they are programmed to have an accute interest in human culture and the two main moravec characters happen to be obsessed with Proust and the sonnets of Shakespeare. When they notice that quantum levels on Earth and Mars threaten to destroy the galaxy they go on a mission to find out what is going on and put a stop to the quatum shananigans on Earth and Mars.
Ilium is freaking awesome. I loved it. Total vintage Dan Simmons. He comes up with a premise so interesting and creative that it leaves you shaking your head in awe. Once again I was blown away by the sheer scope of his imagination and his guts in setting out such an expansive and detailed premise. How was Olympos you ask? Eh - not so good sadly. Granted Olympos had the thankless task of bringing together the countless characters, and plot lines, and plot points, and random occurances which seemed impossible in light of the massive scope of the story. Turns out it very well was impossible because Olympos didn't deliver in the end [unlike Fall of Hyperion (1990) which totally DID deliver].
Olympos is a huge book and the first part continues to evolve the premise and scope of Ilium but not in a manner that was equally interesting. It also expands an already unwieldy set of premises and not to the story's advantage. The end of the Olympos felt very much like a rush job. Large plot lines are left unresolved, others are only partially resolved, other are resolved too quickly and sloppily, various mysteries aren't explained, the underlying science felt shaky and unclear, characters do things that don't make sense in light of their development through the story etc. It was basically all around an unsatisfying conclusion to a greatly imaginative story and world Simmons created. Additionally, there were several completely gratuitous and ridiculous sex scenes in Olympos. They wouldn't have been so bad if they didn't come across...well...kind of juevenille. For example, imagine if "Sleeping Beauty" were instead called "Sleepy Booty" and aired on Cinemax after 11PM. How would the porno prince wake the comotosed maiden? Well, read Olympos to find out. There is also a comletely pornographic sex scene between Zeus and Hera. That one, complete with graphic descriptions of Zeus's divine phallus was so ridiculous that it was just hilarious for all the wrong reasons. I read it outloud to Fiance because I knew it would embarrass him and he literally begged me to stop.
Most of the reviews I have read about the Ilium/Olympos Cycle are very favorable towards Ilium and very critical towards Olympos. Turns out I agree generally for the reasons discussed above. That said, some of the criticisms of Olympos I have come across I am not particularly receptive to. I have read several reviews claiming Olympos is anti-Islamic and even misogynistic. To this I respond with an exaggerated eyeroll. First of all, there is literally nothing more precious than self-righteous individuals claiming to care about women's rights while simultaneously refusing to allow any critical analysis of Islam out of a trendy enslavement to political correctness. But that is a side issue and I digress... I didn't see misogyny in these books.
These same people also seem to have their skinny jeans in a bunch because they think Olympos is anti-Islamic. Part of the story references a crazy time in the 21st Century where muslim extremists existed. They were violent, suicidal, anti-western and wanted to eliminate Jews from the planet. Hmmmm, gee I wonder where Simmons came up with that?? He must be prejudiced obviously, or maybe he's just watched the news at some point in the last 20 years.
What was the point of this post again? Oh yeah. Well, in closing I would recommend this series because Ilium is absolutely wonderful and the whole series is very entertaining. Just prepare yourself emotionally ahead of time for the inevitable disappointment at the end of Olympos. I did this in November regarding the 2009 Steelers season and it worked out well.