The Greatwinter Trilogy by Sean McMullen

IF

Spoilers

When I first had the book Souls in the Great Machine suggested to me by my significant other, I initially had my doubts. It was supposedly a steampunk novel which is a genre that I really don’t take to seriously and my significant other and I usually don’t agree on what books and literary genres we enjoy. When I was halfway through this book though I had come to realize that I was pleasantly surprised.

Before I begin to discuss what I really enjoyed about this trilogy I really should give some info on the plot. All three books take place 2000 years in the future. The first book takes place in Australia (called Australica by the time the books take place), while the second book takes place in North America (called Mounthaven), The third book takes place in both places and beautifully combines the stories of the first two books. This world is very much different from our own. This is because 2000 years before a strange phenomenon known as “The Call” occurred killing a large swath of the world’s population. The Call when it strikes cause people and any animal larger than a cat, sans all birds, to surrender all control of themselves and to slowly walk into the sea and drown themselves. While most inland area are struck by a Call every few days or so all coastal regions are in a permanent Call that never stops. This obviously had ill effects on the human race and nearly destroyed it. However, out of this humans still survived. To make things worse high above the Earth satellites from before The Call destroy anything over a certain size or speed as well as all electrical devices. This has forced human society into an artificial dark age. I won’t give the source of The Call, nor why there are technology damaging satelittes in the upper atmosphere as these plot points are to big to be given away so easily. 😛

Despite all this humanity has still adapted and is largely prosperous. Cities are built and organized in such a way that if a person is caught in a Call there are various barriers along roads to catch them, houses have no windows or doors on sides that face the sea and most people have clockwork call anchors that if not reset occasionally will release a hook or other sort of anchor that will catch hopefully catch on something or lodge itself in the ground to stop people long enough for the Call to pass. Trains are in existence in Australica, but due to religious precedent by all religions cannot be powered by anything but wind or muscle. Mass communication is maintained to a point by a series of beamflash towers that use mirrors and sunlight to deliver coded messages across large distances. In Mounthaven where there is no such religious precedent a rigid class system has developed which is more similar to feudal Japan than anything else. The ruling class is made up of Airlords and their Wardens who fly above the Earth in small personal aircraft. Wars are fought in the air solely by the airlords and their wardens, both to spare the civilian population at large from brutal warfare, but to also conserve resources. Personal duels have also returned to both continents.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but the author does a very good job in slowly orienting the reader to this new world of his. Also the imagination the author obviously put into all of this is quite impressive. He imagines humanity, despite numerous impediments to its advancement still moving forward, both culturally and technologically. It is quite interesting to see how the author finds ways to get past the barriers he has set for himself. This is quite impressive.

I also enjoyed all the characters. There was not one that I hated, nor found disinteresting. All were interesting in their own right. I have never encountered this in a book before. I mean in most books there is at least one character you can’t stand or at the very least would rather skim over the parts they’re in in order to get to more interesting characters. This is not a problem here. Each character also seemed to have a drive behind them. Some purpose that they all felt they needed to carry out. While this may seem cliché and somewhat unbelievable, I found it quite interesting, this was it was intriguing to see how the author tied in various seemingly unconnected plot points together to become something greater in the end.

The writing was also phenomenal. I have never before encountered a work or series of works that so masterfully combined comedy and action so well together. There were so many witty remarks in all the books that each time you picked up the books to read you were guaranteed at least one laugh. This was a good change of pace for me as many of the books I read are quite serious in nature.

The fact that this trilogy is sometimes labeled as steampunk quite annoys me. This is because it quite simply isn’t. Steampunk is largely Victorian in nature and is needlessly showy. It’s also completely unbelievable, technologically speaking. These novels on the other hand have instances of technology that are quite possible. It’s easy to imagine, for instance, a complex network of towers that deliver messages to each other through sunlight. It’s also easy to imagine pedal trains.

Overall these were amazing books. I was genuinely crestfallen to have had to finish them all. I hope you’ll give them a try and fall in love with them the same way I have.

The books in this trilogy are in order:
The Souls in the Great Machine
The Miocene Arrow
Eyes of the Calculor

IF

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A Timeline of American Classics

American-Literature-CLEP

http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/694565

As a part of a project for school I was required to make a timeline. I figured that it would be a good idea to make this timeline about the dates in which several of American Literature’s most famous novels were published. One thing I noticed in this project was that I never realized exactly how new some of these books still are, especially when compared with famous stories like that of Shakespeare or the Classical Epics, like the Aeneid. I mean. Huck Finn was barely written over a hundred years ago, and The Good Earth was only written in the midst of the Depression. It’s very interesting to see how far American Literature has evolved in so short a time as in 150 years.

Underneath by Dan Dewitt

It is a pleasure to introduce our second Guest Reviewer, Jackie Keller. She is currently a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and her major is Psychology. She hopes to attain her B.S. in said science by the end of the year. When she is not delving into the minds of murderers and lunatics she can be found either either reading horror literature and exploring the underlying emotional processes behind them or sewing the skin from her victims into a human skin suit. We hope to have many more reviews from her in the coming weeks!

Just in time for Halloween, it is my pleasure to present you ravishing readers with my review for the short story collection, Underneath. Underneath is a collection of unique horror tales by author Dan Dewitt. The stories presented are “true” short story length, ranging from 1500 – 4000 words, making it very quick and easy to read. They draw on many themes such as family, marriage, technology, and of course, zombies.

Dewitt switches between first and third person for his different stories, but has an overall realistic style. That is to say, even in third person, the writing style clearly and directly conveys the thoughts and emotions of the characters, even the more “coarse” ones. It’s a good choice for short horror, in my opinion, because it allows the reader to more easily sympathize and empathize with the characters as the tension rises in their respective plots.

That said, the “thought style” presented for nearly all the main characters, as well as many of the supporting ones, tends to be very masculine. I realize that authors tend to write characters more along the lines of their own gender identity, and since Dewitt is male, it is more probable that many of his characters are going to be more masculine. However, this style in which he portrays many of the characters almost makes them blend together – nearly all of them drink and smoke cigars, are tough, even if unsuspecting heroes, protective fathers, etc. Seriously, this guy seems to have a cigar fetish or something, the characters smoke them in at least two or three different stories.
I can’t completely dump on gender representation in Dewitt’s work, though. The only female protagonist in any of the stories is an intriguingly dark character, though here I am mentioning that she is the only female main character. As for the supporting female characters, however, the vast majority of them are smart, strong, definitely capable, and have at least some backstory of their own. One of the only possible exceptions being the character Dahlia in the Father-Daughter Dance story, but let’s just say that she has a… certain physical condition that we can cut her some slack for.

Gender issues aside, I greatly enjoy Dewitt’s style for the way that it plants you right in the character’s heads and hearts. He even still does it well with multiple character perspectives in the book’s final story, Orpheus which is DeWitt’s unique take on the traditional post-zombie-apocalypse tale (and has actually been created into a full-length novel).

Allow me to get back to the Father-Daughter Dance tale for a moment. This story follows one of many emotional trials of a father grieving over his lost daughter. Though Dahlia is arguably presented as a weak female character, the story itself is a strong parable of a parent’s love for a child, and how far a parent can and will go to try to save their child. This story is also one of the only stories that tap into more of a fantasy or “mystical” element. The only other story being How Many Years of Bad Luck Am I Up to, Anyway?. The occult themes in this story are a great style change from many of the more “realist” and contemporary styles of his other stories. It’s also pretty action-packed, and does keep you on the edge of your seat, but in my opinion, the ending falls a little flat. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t skip this one.

Speaking of contemporary style, allow me to finally introduce to you my favorite story in this book, Terror by Text. Yes, it’s a monstrously cheesy title, and the author admits it himself, but don’t let that turn you away! The protagonist of this story is a sort of horror blogger who tells the story of his trip to an abandoned hospital entirely through a series of Tweets. You’re probably thinking, “Oh God, a story out of Tweets? What trend is this guy trying to latch onto?” And hell, even one reviewer on Amazon was reduced to bibliophilic tears, bemoaning what literature has become. Ignore your initial inclinations, and definitely ignore bibliophile snobs. Anyway, our protagonist uses Tweets to document his haunting hospital tour, as well as an encounter with a strange, evil online figure who isn’t exactly a welcome commentator. What is it about the Tweet-style that makes this story the scariest, in my opinion? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. It probably does have to do with the fact that I am a generation Y kid, and this story is written in a bite-by-bite style that appeals to my attention span-deficit young mind – or so the elders might tell you. I’ll go ahead and tell you that it’s to do with the fact that it creates a “pace” for the reader to follow. We know where the protagonist is going, how he’s feeling, and how fast the story is going, even at only 140 characters at a time. And yet, that text line length creates not only an “out-of-breath” tone that seems to match the trekking on of the protagonist, it leaves us enough mystery as is necessary in a ghost story, for us to wonder what exactly happened in that particular ward…

Underneath is free for the Kindle on Amazon, and the paperback price is also extremely affordable, so if my review hasn’t piqued your interest enough in Dan Dewitt’s work, the price may as well! Obviously, if you aren’t a horror fan, it’s probably not going to be up your alley no matter what. But if you like mystery, a bit of the occult, contemporary drama, or even just zombies, I highly recommend getting this book, especially now that we’re entering the haunting season.

Vampire Nation by Thomas Sipos

Spoilers!

It is said by many Conservatives that Communism is an ideal in which the government lives off the lifeblood of the people. To simplify, the state is a parasite, sucking the blood of its host till there is nothing left. One author took this idea and took it to the next level, both in scope as well as in satire. In Thomas Sipos’s Vampire Nation the Communists are in fact vampires, drinking the blood of the populace to survive. This book is a rich mixture of Ayn Rand, Van Helsing, and documentary on life in a communist country.

The book takes place during the Regan Era just before the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. It tells the story of an American sent to Communist Romania to scout future locations for a movie about witches he has written. He isn’t in the Romanian capital of Bucharest for long before he discovers that he is not only being constantly watched and bugged, but also that his hosts are more interested in what’s running through his veins rather than helping him make his movie. He falls in with a supposed CIA agent/vampire hunter, who brings him along in her independent mission to kill the king of Romania’s vampires: Nicolae Ceausescu. During their mad dash across the broken and lifeless city of Bucharest they encounter many of the real horrors that were Romanian Communism. They see scores of orphans starving in the streets, numerous attempts by the government to hide the level of poverty the country is experiencing (in one case plants are painted green to look fresh, even though it’s winter), and horrific abuses of power by the upper echelons of the Romanian government.

It should be mentioned that while the vampire aspect of the book is completely false the other aspects and descriptions of starving masses and abuses of power are not. Much of what is described by the Sipos actually happened or, in the case of the orphans, is continuing to happen to this day. Much of the historical facts about Ceausescu and his regime, are taken from the book Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescus’ Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption by I.M.Pacepa. Pacepa was a foreign intelligence chief for the Romanian government during the fall who defected. His work helped to document many of the abuses of power that took place in the Ceausescu Regime as well as many of the problems that regular people experienced every day. When one looks at Communist Romania it is easy to see a parallel with what is happening in North Korea today.

This books is exceedingly well written and it’s a very easy read. One should take note, however, that many Conservatives views are expressed by the characters. If you like your books politically neutral this book may be a bit of a hard sell for you. As an action and horror story, though, it is quite amazing. It may also appeal to history buffs who enjoy a comical twist on the usual historical events.

The Shattered Citadel Series by Michael Mangual

Courtesy of Michael Mangual

Courtesy of Michael Mangual

Spoilers!

I have found in my experience with stories about war that during battle scenes it is a common incident that the action of a battle leaves me bored and reading faster just to get to a part with real human dialogue and storytelling. Is it odd to say that I have become desensitized to the battlefield in literature? Maybe and maybe not. It is very hard to pack real emotion into a battle scene. This is understandable as any battle in war is barely controlled chaos. How is it possible to pack real emotion and sympathy in something where absolutely nothing is certain and every character essentially becomes faceless as they fight for survival? This week’s review is different from those, in that the author has found a way to humanize (as terrible as it sounds) his battle scenes into something more than a faceless mass of death and destruction.

I was first introduced to the world of Shattered Citadel by Michael Mangual, by a stranger at a Barnes and Noble store who saw me looking over the Alternate History section. I’m thankful he suggested it. Shattered Citadel at this point is a series of short stories that can be found here: http://shatteredcitadel.com/ . They are a work of love from the author, one Michael Mangual who hopes to one day turn this labor of love into a full-fledged book in the same style as The Good War by Studs Terkel and World War Z by Max Brooks. Shattered Citadel is about a future world war (also called the Third Human Civil War) between a Federated Europe, United North America, and India against the hordes of the Chinese Hegemony, a newly born Soviet Union, and a new Muslim Caliphate that is made up of the entire Middle East.

I will not lie many of the stories involve intense scenes of violence which include graphic depictions of genocide, cannibalism, and the unmitigated use of weapons of mass destruction. The world he paints is one that I desperately hope we can avoid. Despite these scenes of intense violence there are also instances of compassion and humanity. Many stories deal with the redemption of characters and champion the sacrifice one person can make out of love for another. While Mr. Mangual is able to make his battle scenes stay interesting he is also able to create real sympathy from the reader for the characters he creates.

This series does not only focus on World War III. Many of Mr. Mangual’s short stories also describe the world afterwards as well as the colonization of the solar system by humans along with Humanity’s first interactions with beings from other planets. These stories I find especially well planned and executed as the alien species are very interesting. One race, the Huellok are described as two headed flesh eaters. The second are the Voorik, large crystalline beings that speak through telepathy in the voices of dead loved ones. Both are very different from the standard aliens we seem to get today, most of which always seem to be overly human. These actually seem otherworldly.

I am genuinely glad to have had this series of short stories introduced to me by a random person in a book store. I have not been disappointed. These series of short stories are great reading for anyone who has an interest in military Sci-Fi.

Courtesy of Michael Mangual

Courtesy of Michael Mangual

The Ender’s Game Saga and Ender’s Shadow Saga by Orson Scott Card

photo credit to wikipedia

photo credit to wikipedia

Spoilers!!!

Why I usually only profile one book on this blog, today I am going to be ambitious and not only profile an entire series, but two. I started reading the first Ender Series book, Ender’s Game, with what can only be described as apprehension. I knew what the plot was and it seemed rather cheap to me. After two hours in, I am proud to say that I was gravely mistaken. The plot is not only very memorable, but the characters just stick out in your mind. The world Mr. Card builds through the story is also very thought provoking.

The premise of the main story in the first and most famous book Ender’s Game, is that in the future the world has been twice attacked by an alien enemy known as the Formics, better known through the derogatory term “Buggers”. The Formics are an insect race which are controlled by “Queens” much in the same way ants are. The Formic’s second attack was only just overcome by the combined force of Earth’s many nations. However, despite Earth’s victory the Formics have never been truly defeated outside the Sol Galaxy. To combat this overarching threat the nations of Earth operate a military force known as the International Fleet (IF). The IF institutes a program where extremely gifted children from around the world are collected and sent to the IF’s Battle School to be trained to be the planet’s most gifted military geniuses to lead the Fleet against the Formic threat. The Battle School is located in an orbiting space station far above the Earth. Enter Andrew “Ender” Wiggen, the youngest child of an American Family. The IF takes a peculiar interest in Ender and soon Ender is on his way to the Battle School. Once there he makes many friends and enemies. The students at the Battle School are broken into 41 teams which battle each other in a null gravity room. In this null gravity room the teams act as armies in mock wars and use various tactics to beat one another. After being passed among several teams, Ender is eventually given a team of his own to command. He quickly conquers the other teams to become the battle station’s top commander. Eventually he and his top commanders are taken from the Battle School to Eros were the fight against computer controlled enemies with mock fleets of ships. Eventually Ender beats the simulated enemy and eradicates the enemy’s home planet. At this point it is revealed that the mock war wasn’t a simulation. It was a real war against the Formics that Ender won by completely destroying the Formic Homeworld. Due to the stress from the pressure put on him as well as the guilt at having committed Xenocide (the complete destruction of an entire alien race), Ender temporarily snaps. After the war, he goes of to help build humanity’s first off world colony. Once there he find the last surviving Formic Queen, through her, Ender learns that the Formics didn’t mean to ever interfere in human affairs ever again and regretted the first two wars they started. The third war was started and ended by the Humans. To help redeem himself, Ender agrees to help find the Formic Queen a new home to restart her race. This sets the stage for the rest of the Ender’s Game Saga.

The Ender’s Shadow series deals with the world Ender Leaves behind and how his fellow students from the Battle School deal with their return to Earth. Their return causes many political intrigues to be played out which often result in all out war between countries who use the Battle School students to plan ingenious military plans in an attempt for global Hegemony. Where the Ender’s Game Saga is very spiritual in nature the Ender’s Shadow Saga is much more political in nature.

Throughout both series, Card creates a world that is exceptionally similar to our own, while at the same time very different. For example, while the countries are unofficially united against the alien threat, much bickering still happens between nations. Also the technology, past the spaceships and interstellar travel doesn’t seem to be so different from our own. Tablets seem to be much more commonplace in this world than our own, however.

What really get’s me about these two series are the themes that Card manages to explore with his characters. Besides the usual war and politics of most sci-fi stories, Card also manages to explore such themes as Sibling Rivalry, Collective Guilt, Child Labor, as well as the Concept of Necessary Evil. What get to me most about these stories is how Card manages to get you genuinely love each and every character. When A character achieves joy, the reader experiences it with them, when a character feel pain, the reader feels that as well. The events in every story also keeps the reader in a constant state of wonder and an eagerness to figure out how the characters will solve the problems they will encounter.

On a special note, what I found especially interesting in this novel was the many instances that Catholicism plays a part in the stories. Many of the characters are either practicing Catholics or have a Catholic past. Now to many this may not be an issue, but I find this interesting as Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, and high in the Church at that. Now please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mormons or their faith. I am, however, almost certain that Catholicism is a major symbol in the stories, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what the symbol is. I find this to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the novels. I would love to hear any and all ideas on this as well.

Needless to say that I am very excited for the Movie verions of Ender’s Game to premier later this year (trailer shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP0cUBi4hwE) and I will post a review of it whenI finally get to see it. I suggest these novels to anyone and everyone who can read them. They have something for everyone and they will genuinly make you think.

photo credit to wikipedia

photo credit to wikipedia

World War Z (The Movie)

Spoilers!

To start off this is a movie review and I understand that since this is a book blog it’s rather odd to do this. However, in my review of the book World War Z  I promised that I would post my thoughts on the movie after I had seen it. After having seen it I can confirm that the movie was what I had feared. Something Awful.

I feel that the writers of this movie essentially took a copy of World War Z, threw it in the air and hacked it up with a knife, and whatever pages the caught (which wasn’t a lot) was put in the movie. There were only about three instances from the book that were actually in the movie. It begs the question of why even give the movie the same title as the book. The only thing the two had in common was the fact that they had zombie, and even the zombies in the movie were different from the book! In the book the zombies are literal walking corpses that decompose as time goes on.  They can’t run and hold no superhuman abilities.  This is not the case in the movie. In the movie they’re more akin to the zombies in 28 Days Later. They’re fast moving and are capable of feats that a normal person is not capable of. Also while the zombies actually eat people in the book, in the movie they just bite and run off. It is is also worth note at the lack of blood or gore in the movie. I’m not saying that they needed the same amount of gore as they had in the Saw Franchise, but if you’re being bitten in the thought you usually tend to at least spirt a tiny bit of blood.

Another problem with the movie when compared with the book is the movie’s complete lack of political scope. Half the point of the book was the problems that arise for the still existing government when dealing with the undead hordes. In the movie it’s mentioned in passing that the US President as the Vice President and several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are dead and that’s it. Well How are other countries faring and who the hell is in command of the US? While the movie makes it seem that most governments are collapsing the UN is still functioning, at least with the help of the US military. In the book the UN is more or less destroyed and is only brought back to functioning capacity years after the war against the undead begin. I find it hard to believe that in this situation that the US military would devote any resources to a failed organization such as the UN.  Only two other countries are mentioned, Israel and North Korea. Israel somehow builds a superwall around much of their nation. This does happen in the book, but in the movie it’s built within a month, while in the book it takes at least 6 to year for them to set it up, which let’s be honest is more realistic for a country rather than a single month. North Korea’s answer to the problem is to pull out the teeth of every single citizen so when one person is infected they can’t bite anyone. At this I actually leaned forward in my seat, shaking my head trying not to scream in the theater. In the book the entire population disappears. Most in the book believe that the entire population went into underground bunkers and continue to live there. I like this situation much better than the one discussed in the movie as it leaves a lot of potential open for future use.

Another problem with the movie was the main character, played by Brad Pitt. The character, Gerry Lane, is a completely hollow individual who, after having worked with the UN for number of years, somehow has the same capabilities as a Navy Seal. Some of the things he does in the movie are just so far above and beyond what a normal person could do that it seems like he can solve the entire global problem on his own. The character isn’t helped by the fact that Brad Pitt can’t act, but then again in an action movie all you need to do is be able to run and read so I wasn’t expecting too much from him in the first place.

To put it simply, the movie was an abortion. They had a chance to redefine the entire zombie genre and they blew it. This is unforgivable. I would not recommend this movie.