Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving Reading

While I fully intended to finish a rather hefty history tome, instead I read several fantasy novels and finished up lighter fare. In full post, my comments on:

1) Stardust by Neil Gaiman
2) The Novice & The High Lord by Trudi Canavan
3) The Lost Fleet: Fearless by Jack Campbell
4) Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter D. Ward & Donald Brownlee

1)Stardust by Neil Gaiman: I bought this because I'd enjoyed the movie so much (see here). The book is different on several key points. The final confrontation is very much different. But, both the tone & major characters were essentially the same people as in the movie (except Victoria Forrester who is a more rounded character in the book). The ending is also more sad & bittersweet. Generally a good read, but this is one case where I think I preferred the movie.

2)The Novice & The High Lord by Trudi Canavan: After being quite impressed with the first book in this trilogy (see here), I bought the other two. Man, this didn't turn out at all like I thought (and that's a very good thing). The second book did an excellent job of showing Sonea's trouble being accepted by the other Magicians AND did a wonderful job of both explaining the High Lord without giving away too much about his motivations. The third book finally gives the reader some insight into what and why the High Lord has been doing what he's doing and setting up the huge confrontation at the end of the series. This is not a series with unearned happy endings or even a happy ending exactly but for a world of magic and such, Trudi Canavan does a really good job of making the resolution make sense and feel earned given how over-powered the heroes were. Overall, I'd recommend this trilogy highly. A very good fantasy read.

3)The Lost Fleet: Fearless by Jack Campbell: This is the second in “The Lost Fleet” series (first book reviewed here). A good continuation of the story. The characters & action were good. But the plot was...unexpected. I guess I’m stuck in a more formulaic military sci-fi mode. I expected a bit more of a grand battle climax. It had battles but they were throughout the story. Also, there’s an interesting side development that hints at a possible non-human intelligence in this universe and some technical history that could totally change the on-going war that forms the backdrop of the series. The only complaint was the relationship between the main character and the female politician. I don’t get her motives here. But that’s largely a function of point-of-view (only the main character’s, since he doesn’t understand her motives neither do we). Overall, this is a solid addition to the series but one that arose some conflicting opinions for me.

4)Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter D. Ward & Donald Brownlee: An incredibly interesting book! It systematically outlines the current thinking on how life evolved on Earth and how much a easier microbial life was compared to multicellular animal life. Fascinating and I discovered several things I was unaware of (like the Earth was covered in glaciers at least twice in its history and the importance on continent-forming for higher life forms, even aquatic ones). I went into this book expecting to be unimpressed but it was informative, well-presented and well thought-out. It also has some interesting implications for programs like SETI and the search for terrestrial planets. The only thing that didn’t fly for me had nothing to do with the author’s ability to convince. It just so happens there’s been research since the books publication that I know affects the validity of one part of their argument. The authors present many points as evidence so their overall argument is not weakened by this. In all other respects, this was a wonderful and enjoyable read.

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