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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Childhood’s End

I’ve been on a reading roll lately (unfortunately for my schoolwork). I just finished one of the classic works of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. It was a very short novel, hardly more than 200 pages, and its most incredibly achievement, I think, was telling a story on a scale covering the whole universe in so short a time. Most authors now spend 3 or 4 books telling a story that the same sense of scale and majesty that Clarke did in one short volume.

The writing was slightly archaic and cheesy, which was unsurprising given the time it was written and the way science fiction looked at the time. However, this just added to the novel’s charm in my opinion. Because the novel was so short and did not really have any central characters per se, there was very little obvious character development going on. We are used to, as readers, seeing individuals grow and learn as characters. There was very little of that in this book, and where it did happen it seemed somewhat secondary. However, I would argue that there is tremendous character development in the novel. The characters are not individual humans, however, but rather the central character is humanity.

A significant portion of the novel does not focus on individual characters, but instead describes the way humanity has changed in reaction to the coming the alien Overlords, who brought peace and prosperity at the cost of ingenuity. The novel was really a medium for Clarke to explore philosophical ideas, which he did very well; Childhood’s End is probably the most thought-provoking novel I have read to date. However, some of the metaphors he drew made me wince, especially his seeming ringing endorsement of colonialism running throughout them.

The ending of the book was its most interesting feature. I could not tell if Clarke was going for a happy ending or a sad ending; he seemed to be hinting at a happy ending, as humanity’s goal in life had finally been realized, but it came at such a cost that I was unsure of whether or not he truly intended it to be happy. I did not consider it a happy ending, and to me the ending came across as humanity having been used by a more powerful force with no thought for humanity itself. It was, in a way, somewhat Lovecraftian; the novel told us that “the stars are not for man,” and hinted at things that mankind could never comprehend. What was hinted at seemed both majestic and terrible.

In the end, Childhood’s End was well worth the read, and I would recommend it to anyone.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Readings

 

The Lies of Locke Lamora

I have mixed feeling abut Scott Lynch’s debut novel The Lies of Locke Lamora. I read it based on the wonderful reviews it has received, and decided to give it a shot. While I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to others, I don’t think I will be reading the next book in the series.

Scott Lynch’s writing was very good, and I was never bored reading it. The characters’ dialogue often had unnecessary curses, I thought, but it didn’t detract too much from the overall whole. The witty banter between characters was really the highlight of the novel – especially between Father Chains (by far my favorite character) and pretty much everyone he met – and the book was filled with great one-liners. I laughed quite a lot, despite the novel’s dark overtones.

The world described by Scott Lynch in the book was very well developed. All of the book’s action took place in the city-state of Camorr, which was not-so-subtly based on medieval Venice. Camorr itself was very richly developed, and it was easy to forget that I was sitting on a couch reading a book; Scott Lynch really was able to draw me into the odd quirks of the city of Camorr, from its shark-fighting to its institutionalized corruption to the hints of a forgotten people who had once lived there. I assume the rest of the world will be developed in Lynch’s later novels, as in this book he told of a world beyond Camorr, and from the details he dropped it also seemed very well-thought out and developed.

However, what will keep me from reading the next one are the characters and narrative. Scott Lynch’s writing, dialogue, and setting were all wonderful, but I never felt his characters had any depth; they failed to draw me in. Locke seemed to be absolutely perfect, with no flaws, and the rest of his Gentleman Bastard gang seemed the same way. The characters never drew me in, and they largely seemed caricatured. None of them seemed to have overly extensive backstories, and even the intriguing villain seemed to have only a rather half thought-out sob story that made little logical sense (his whole deal seemed contrived to me, like the success of the main characters). I didn’t care when the characters died; what kept me reading was wanting to uncover how everything fit together, not the charm of the characters (excepting Father Chains, who was absolsutely wonderful).

The plot was relatively predictable, and I was actually astonished at how almost nothing seemed to go wrong for them throughout the book until the very end, and even then Locke and Jean seemed to escape largely unharmed. The whole thing seemed somewhat contrived; Locke almost never screwed up, and while terrible things did eventually happen to his gang, he still managed to beat circumstances relatively little worse for the wear. The whole novel, at times, seemed to be going from one fortuitous happening after another, and came across as sort of contrived. Furthermore, the book was very back-heavy, and not in a good way; there was no real suspense building up to the finale. It just kind of suddenly happened.

So, in the end, The Lies of Locke Lamora was worth the read. It clearly set itself up for a sequel, but I think it works just fine as a standalone novel as well, and I think I shall keep it that way.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Readings