This is one I’ve been wanting to read for some time, and let me just dispel the suspense right away: Old Man’s War is pretty awesome. In fact, I may break with protocol and actually continue the series. At some point, anyway.
The premise of the book is that in the somewhat distant future, you can get a new lease on life (complete with new body) after you turn 75, so long as you’re willing to join the Colonial Defense Force in your new life.
Like Starship Troopers and The Forever War (which I will totally finish someday, probably), it’s told in the first person, and as military science fiction goes, it’s top notch. Cool tech, interesting aliens (with the exception of the tiny species, which I found just silly), and awesome battles. Scalzi manages to draw you in to care about the main character in his friends, but I’ll just warn you now to not get too attached.
There’s a bit of sexy times in it, so I wouldn’t put this one in the YA category (language, too), though it’s nothing terribly graphic. But the recruits are encouraged to see what their new bodies can do, and the bodies are hot, so you do the math. Kinda makes sense, actually.
But the thing that I really enjoyed is the heartfelt sadness at the core of the book since the main character lived long enough to make the transition, but his wife did not. It’s really quite sweet.
One of the great things about it is that it manages quite a bit of world building, which is something I’m usually averse to, but not when it’s done well. Here it’s definitely done well, creating a nice, big world for a series of books. As I said, I may pick up another in the series, and I’ve been told it’s actually worth it to do so. But don’t look for me to do that anytime soon. Too many other things to read.
Speaking of which, I picked up and finished the final book in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series, Calamity. So I’ll post a review for that in the near future.
I’ll also be posting a podcast about Colossus, and we’re currently reading 2001: A Space Odyssey and going to be covering it for April.
Colossus, by DF Jones, is sort of the reason I have a podcast. I won’t tell the full story here, since I tell it in an upcoming episode in which we cover this book and its film adaptation, Colossus: The Forbin Project. But suffice it to say that I listened to a podcast discussing the movie, and they didn’t also talk about the book!!! The horror!
I first read the book after seeing The Forbin Project listed in a “Greatest SF Movies” video. The story goes something like this:
Murica invents machine intelligence to control its defenses
Things go badly
You’ve heard this story before, right? It’s totally The Terminator. That fits the “A.I. gone bad” mold. As do any number of other titles. But Colossus isn’t Skynet, and isn’t really even evil when you get right down to it. In fact, it was constructed to take human decision-making out of the defense equation. Sound like War Games? And once Colossus is in power, it promises to protect humanity from itself. Sound a bit like “The Evitable Conflict” from I, Robot? (Actually, it sounds a lot more like VIKI from the I, Robot “adaptation” starring Will Smith (we totally covered that on the podcast, BTW).
Of course, the idea of an AI going rogue has been done over and over, as far back as R.U.R (which you might recall I reviewed), but really it goes back even further, to Frankenstein. Man cannot always control what he creates. I find it fascinating to see the various ways authors envision the story unfolding, and I particularly like when they subvert the expectation of “well, the humans will win in the end, of course.” So if you agree with me on that last point, read Colossus (or better yet, watch the movie) and stop there.
I’m not a series completist. I’m very likely to pick up the first book in a series, or maybe read the first two, and then call it quits. I did that with Dune, with A Song of Ice and Fire, and with The Dresden Files (though I’ll probably pick more of those up at some point). But I’d been wanting to check out the rest of the Colossus series, and so when Amazon had Colossus free in the Kindle store (got one for Black Friday 2015), I decide it’d be my first Kindle read. Plus, The Fall of Colossus was $1.
The title of the second book really kinda gives away the game, doesn’t it? So you pretty much go into it knowing that Colossus won’t come out on top in the end. But the story in between is interesting, and it sets up Colossus and the Crab nicely. In Fall, there’s some pretty horrifying stuff about Colossus attempting to understand human emotion by subjecting them to all kinds of insane tests. Interesting, but downright disturbing in places.
I didn’t end up buying the final book, and it’s probably because I wasn’t a huge fan of the second. It was still only $4 in the Kindle store, but I cheaped out and got it from the Kindle Lending Library, which is pretty nifty, actually. I won’t give away any of the plot since it keys so heavily on the second book.
If I had to rank the books, it’d go like this:
- Colossus and the Crab
- The Fall of Colossus
So I’m a bit meh on the series, but definitely enjoyed the first book. The thing I love about reading science fiction from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, is that it’s interesting to see what the authors thought the future would look like. And it’s sometimes hilarious to see what they got just so, so wrong. In this case, DF Jones posits a future with a United States of North America (and U.S. of South America, and U.S. of Europe), but with a U.S.S.R. that endured into the 21st Century. And there’s spectacular transportation technology, but little to no wireless communication beyond radio, and certainly no Internet. Teletype is the order of the day when it comes to communicating Human-to-Colossus. Not even a modem present.
And this is to say nothing of the guesses at social changes. Women are totally liberated and equal in the workplace, but “would you please fetch me some food, sweetheart?” wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
This is a case in which I think the film adaptation did it better. Pulled it back into the 70s, so teletype was the state of the art, and I feel like the female characters were better served. In fact, the film went to great lengths (at least for the time) to represent diversity in the tech workplace, with black, Asian, and female engineers represented. Kinda cool, actually. The one misstep is in the voice-synthesis created for Colossus. It’s totally 70s and to me, a failure of imagination.
The highlight of the film, for me, is Eric Braeden as the main human (and title-sharing) character of Charles Forbin. There’s just something about the easy way he goes about his acting that I find magnetic. Beginnings of a man crush working here!
So, what’s my point? Well, I enjoyed Colossus quite a bit, but my admiration for the film is such that I’m recommending folks skip the book and just check out the movie. Just understand that you’ll be watching as pre-Star Wars a science fiction as exists out there. It’s every inch a movie of 1970. But I love it.
I’ll get the podcast posted in March and update this post when I do, and you can hear my co-hosts not raving about the movie. Philistines!
I suppose it’d be good to just go on record saying I loved The Force Awakens. The movie, that is. Loved it. Saw it three times in the theater. Loved it. It may now be my favorite Star Wars film. Seriously. Loved it.
(Yes, it has some problems. Don’t care. Loved it. Nothing changes my affection for the original trilogy, but still, loved the new one.)
So you could say I was disposed to also love the novelization. In fact, I’d been checking the Nook store incessantly, hoping to see its price drop below $5 so I could justify grabbing it. Didn’t happen. But my library hold came through, so I still got to read it for free.
Bottom line: I’m glad I didn’t spend money on it.
Now, this isn’t to say I found it devoid of value, but I see no reason I’d ever re-read it, and I didn’t get a great amount of enjoyment out of it the first time through. So yeah, glad I didn’t buy it.
But again, there’s some good stuff in it. Little tidbits you didn’t get in the movie, like the following (obviously there are spoilers here):
- Supreme Leader Snoke is old. Like watched the Empire rise and fall old. So the list of “who could he be?” is pretty long. I’m hoping he’s just an old Dark Jedi and not affiliated with the Sith.
- Chewie totally pulled a dude’s arm off. Rad. And it was the corpulent “one quarter portion” dude from the movie. Had it coming.
- Kylo Ren recognized Rey. He knows her, though she apparently doesn’t remember him.
- Rey felt the pull of the Dark Side during her fight with Ren.
The book also goes some distance toward making Starkiller Base not quite so JJ Abrams, but not far enough. In the film, the base drains a star, then uses the stored energy to direct beams through hyperspace at a target. But since space is big, no one should have been able to see it take out the Republic system. Also, wouldn’t draining a star have made it like pretty cold on Starkiller Base, at least after it discharged the weapon? And aren’t stars a long ways apart? How did it fire and then start charging again without moving light years away?
Instead, the book has it powered by a star but storing dark energy. And the planet it hits turns into essentially a supernova. Which could be seen a long ways off. Even so, the light from that nova would’ve had to travel a long ways to be seen from another system. Back to the “Space is Big” thing. Still, I appreciated the hand-waving. I didn’t need it, but I liked that explanation better. It’s just that the shot of Kylo Ren watching the beam go out from the base was so, so cool.
So yeah, there was good stuff in the book, but it just didn’t do anything for me. I suppose it’s unfair to compare it to the movie, much as it’s generally unfair to compare a film adaptation to its book, since the story you see in your head while reading is never going to be perfectly migrated to the screen. And there’s also the big hurdle that you don’t get the same charm in characters brought to life by real actors.
And maybe that’s the point. I loved the characters in the movie. Rey is seriously awesome, and I loved the bromance going between Finn and Poe. I tried to import their personalities into the book, but it fell flat, and maybe that’s just the nature of the transfer between media.
I guess I don’t have many actual gripes about the book. It’s fine. It’s just that it felt perfunctory. Like it was all rote, with little creativity. And maybe the author’s hands were tied. How much could he change, really? I certainly don’t think it’s a fair sampling of Alan Dean Foster’s writing (I’m told by my Take Me To Your Reader co-hosts that I need to read Sentenced to Prism).
Okay, it turns out I do have a couple of gripes. One, there’s a typo, unless I’m very mistaken:
“He allowed his thoughts to be briefly diverted, regretting the time that had been wasting in dealing with necessary inconsequentialities.” Srsly. I know that “time’s a-wastin’” is a phrase, but I’m pretty sure we wanted “wasted” here. Hard to blame the author for this since I’m sure an editor was involved at some point.
Two, Foster goes for too many five dollar words when he could’ve gone cheaper. Chewie is several times described as “hirsute.” Sure, it’s a fine word, but it’s as arcane as any Balderdash clue (funny thing, I learned that word from Balderdash). And yes, it means “hairy.” And if it were an isolated use, I’d have no problem with it. But it recurs at least once. Once I’d have forgiven and even praised. Twice just seems like showing off.
Three, and this is the big one, Rey’s vision sequence is all kinds of wonky. It’s less clear than in the film, which is saying something. And it doesn’t even mention the lightsaber being in the box. Seriously, check it out:
The box was not locked. She opened it.
A heavy, slow, mechanical breathing filled the room.
Notice she didn’t see what was in the box. She doesn’t look into the box at all as far as the text is concerned. Maz then shows up, like in the movie, and says this:
“That lightsaber was Luke’s.”
It’s the first mention that the lightsaber was in the box. Sigh.
I think if we’ve learned anything, it’s that all future Star Wars books should go through me. My rates are reasonable.
How to sum up? I’m not sure how things balance out here. I liked the few tidbits I mentioned, but somehow finishing this book didn’t make me happy the way almost all other books do. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment; it felt obligatory, and that’s not what I look for in my reading.
Am I alone in this? Have you read it? Did you find the experience worthwhile? Am I being too hard on it?
Next up, I’ve been reading the Colossus trilogy in preparation for a podcast about Colossus: The Forbin Project, so I’ll probably post a few thoughts here, perhaps before we get the podcast recorded. And then I’ll get back to the excellent collection of Michael A. Burstein’s fiction, I Remember the Future. (Hint: a recent podcast featured the author and the title story.)
So this is the post in which I brag about how much I read this year while simultaneously whining about not reading more. And that’s all I have to say about that.
I read 50 books this year, but that included 14 graphic novels. I figure I should be docked 50% of that number, so that takes me to 44. I’d like to have read more. #whinybragging!
(I also listened to a few audiobooks, but I’ve mentioned before that I don’t consider that reading.)
As usual, I’ll link to my review if one exists, and I’ll mention where I got the book. I’ll also put in links to Take Me To Your Reader where we covered something I read.
- The Blood of Olympus, by Rick Riordan. Purchased the dead tree version. The series wore on me more than the first Percy Jackson one, perhaps because the books got longer, but probably more that it just seemed like more of the same. Still, final book gets a bump for wrapping things up. And that’s my review!
- The Minority Report, by Philip K. Dick. NOOK Store. Read this one for the podcast. TMTYR Episode #16.
- By His Bootstraps, by Robert Heinlein. Library. Short story not so much read for the podcast as because it was like the story we were covering, and from the same author.
- Justice League: Volume 1: Origin, by Geoff Johns. Library. The first of many Graphic Novels this year. This explains my low page-count for the year.
- What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe. Library. Probably the best thing I’ll read in the next five years. Just fantastic.
- The Walking Dead: Book One, by Robert Kirkman. Library. I enjoy the show, so I thought I’d start reading the graphic novels. I’ll probably trickle them in here and there.
- Man in the Empty Suit, by Sean Ferrell. Library. Definitely a weird one. Just go read my review for further info.
- Contact, by Carl Sagan. Library. Podcast pick here, but also one I reviewed. So check out both! TMTYR Episode #17
- Saint Odd, by Dean Koontz. Library. I really wanted to write a review, but couldn’t do it. I enjoyed this as a final book, but the series had lost me long ago. Read the first one and then watch the movie and check out our podcast episode on it! TMTYR Episode #5 (we were still figuring out what we were doing.)
- Total Recall, by Piers Anthony. Purchased. This is the novelization of Total Recall, which we covered for a reverse adaptation. April Fools! TMTYR Episode #20
- The Flash: Move Forward, by Brian Buccellato. Library. This is me enjoying some New 52 Flash.
- R.U.R, by Karel Capek. eBook. The podcast for I, Robot inspired this, which is the play which popularized the word “robot.”
- Total Recall, by Philip K. Dick. NOOK Store. Remember that reverse adaptation? Well, we also covered the original short story “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” on the podcast. TMTYR Episode #19
- Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, by Bill Nye. Library2Go.
- The Flash: Rogues Revolution, by Brian Buccellato. Library. More graphical goodness.
- The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin. Library. Podcast read, and such an interesting one! Just listen to the podcast, featuring our first ever guest! TMTYR Episode #23
- The Flash: Gorilla Warfare, by Brian Buccellato. Library. Are you seeing a them in my graphic novel reading?
- Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson. NOOK Store. Enjoyable fantasy-ish stuff. The world has powered people. But they’re all bad. How do you fight them?
- The Flash: Reverse, by Brian Buccellato. Library. The reverse flash done differently!
- Mitosis, by Brandon Sanderson. Library2Go. Interstitial short story between the first two books in the Reckoners series.
- The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin. Library. Yes, I read it twice. It’s awesome.
- The Flash: History Lessons, by Brian Buccellato. Library. More Flash.
- I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov. NOOK Store. Linking to an old audiobook review. But we also covered this on the podcast this year. TMTYR Episode #25
- I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay, by Harlan Ellison. Library. The screenplay for the movie that should have been. Also discussed on the podcast.
- Firefight, by Brandon Sanderson. Library2Go. Good second book in a series, and I’m looking forward to the conclusion.
- Daredevil: Born Again, by Frank Miller. Library. Had to get some Daredevil in after how much I enjoyed the Netflix series, which was outstanding.
- Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey. NOOK Store. Picked this one up on the cheap. I may continue the series and may not. Maybe I’ll just watch the TV series.
- Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. 3M Cloud Library. Such a fun read for an old 80s dork like me.
- Superman: Earth One: Volume 1, by J. Michael Straczynski. Library. I really enjoyed this new take on Supes’s origin.
- Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein. eBook. Another podcast read, and a great one. With our first non-in-studio guest! TMTYR Episode #26
- Superman: Earth One: Volume 2, by J. Michael Straczynski. Library. More Supes!
- The Death of Superman, by Dan Jurgens. NOOK Store. And yet more Supes, but in the classic sense.
- Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, by Frank Miller. Library. More Daredevil! Geez, I read a lot of graphic novels this year.
- Blackest Night, by Geoff Johns. NOOK Store. Did I mention I read a bunch of these? This was probably my favorite, though.
- The Maze Runner, by James Dashner. 3M Cloud Library. The story was fine, but some of the contortions to make it edgy and yet YA really grated on me.
- The Fixer, by Joseph Finder. Library. Such a great summer read!
- Jumper: Griffin's Story, by Steven Gould. Library. And yet another podcast read. TMTYR Episode #29
- Jumper, by Steven Gould. Library. See previous. Actually, I linked to my original review, too.
- Forever Evil, by Geoff Johns. NOOK Store. Another awesome graphic novel.
- Reflex, by Steven Gould. Owned. Another old review, but a re-read for podcast fodder.
- The Flash: Out of Time, by Robert Vendetti. Library. Final Flash of the year.
- The Martian, by Andy Weir. Google Play Books. Re-read this one for the podcast. So good! (Movie is awesome, too.) TMTYR Episode #30
- Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Google Play Books. And yet more podcast reading. Read my review for a rave about it, but tune in to the podcast for a contrary opinion. TMTYR Episode #33
- Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp. Library. Final podcast read of the year, or is it? Christmas, the time for Die Hard, and this is the book it was adapted from. TMTYR Episode #35
- Supergirl Vol. 1: Last Daughter of Krypton, by Michael Green. Library. Watching Supergirl, so why not read her, too?
- Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke. Library2Go. A classic that didn’t live up to its reputation.
- Gatefather, by Orson Scott Card. Library. A disappointing end to an interesting series.
- Night, by Elie Wiesel. Library. Powerful. Haunting. Mercifully short.
- [Title Redacted], by William Van Winkle. Look for a new book from William next year. And remember that if you like it, it’s totally because I beta-read it.
- The Bible: ESV. I read this one every year. This year is a year, therefore I read it.
Well, it’s come to the time of the year where I’d normally do a nice roll-up of all my year’s reading, listing everything I read with very brief thoughts on each, linking to my incredibly well-written reviews (yes, that was sarcastic). And I may yet do that. The trouble is, I’m basically four months behind on book reviews. So there’s no way I’m going to go back and write individual posts for all those and THEN do my wrap-up. How about this? I’ll list here everything I read but didn’t review, scrawl down some brief thoughts on them, then put together the whole list and my list of favorites in a future post. Mmkay?
The thing is, I’ve been having trouble getting books read, and my overall output is down this year. Actually, I just checked, and my raw total of books is actually up, but my average book length is down. So maybe it’s coming out in the wash. But I certainly feel like I’m reading less than I should.
I have the Take Me To Your Reader podcast, and that takes up a fair bit of time and quite a lot of energy, so that’s one reason. But really it’s just that since I’m having more trouble getting through books, I have a harder time justifying sitting down to write about the ones I do finish. Instead, I’d rather be reading more books. Vicious circle, isn’t it?
So how about I just dive into this thing, eh? Oh, by the way, I do tend to write up some quick thoughts on Goodreads when I finish a book, so you could always follow me there:
The Fixer, by Joseph Finder
I read this one on our family vacation back in August, in which I had what might be the perfect vacation day: I slept in, had French toast and pancakes for breakfast, coffee on the back porch in the beautiful Central Oregon sun, watched a baseball game (Hisashi Iwakuma no-hitting the Orioles!) and read half of The Fixer. After I finished it the next day, I felt like summer was officially over.
Things that make Joseph Finder books exactly what I look for in a vacation read:
1. They stand alone (generally)
2. Short chapters! (keeps the pages turning, leading to the “just one more chapter” phenomenon)
3. Great narrative greed (see previous parenthetical)
To me, summer reads are less about intricate plots and more about the ride. So if you missed this one this year, queue it up for next summer.
I read this one in preparation for our Jumper podcast, as it ties in much more closely with the film than the rest of the series does. And as such, it’s a cool read, giving you a bit of flavor about essentially how the movie could have been so much better (though we all still enjoyed the film). It follows the more interesting character of Griffin (portrayed by Jamie Bell) as he discovers his powers and the Paladins. Good stuff if you’re a series completist. Just keep in mind that it’s essentially the Jumper Expanded Universe, and not canon at all with the rest of the series. The series is awesome, by the way.
I’ll go in reverse order here. If you read my previous graphic novel roundup, you’ll know I’ve been enjoying the New 52 Flash books, so this is just the latest. Good stuff.
I’ve also been enjoying the Supergirl television show, though it’s not as good as The Flash or Arrow. So I thought I’d check out the New 52 Supergirl. Entertaining enough, but I probably won’t go out of my way to read more.
The other two are a couple of my favorite reads this year. Both by Geoff Johns, who as far as I can tell can do no wrong. Forever Evil features The Crime Syndicate, which you can think of as the Evil Justice League, and it’s just incredibly awesome to watch Lex Luthor (yes, him) take them on. Blackest Night is one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve ever read, featuring not just the Black Lanterns, but also ALL THE LANTERN CORPS! There’s a point in the book when the power rings duplicate themselves and begin deputizing existing DC superheroes/villains into the Corps, and I completely geeked out about that.
This was another podcast read, as it’s the basis for Die Hard, which was our Christmas pick this year. The film is a pretty faithful adaptation, with changes that make sense for making a blockbuster movie. Listen in to the podcast if you want to hear us talk about those. (I’m not sure I recommend the book, though it’s a decent read.)
This is a tough one and probably deserves its own post. But, it’s not getting one. This book is a classic of the genre by one of the Big Three (if you don’t know them, it’s Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke), introducing the concept that an object is detected moving toward Earth, and when it’s determined to not be a natural object and will pass through the solar system and then be gone forever, mankind has to figure out how best to study it. I honestly wasn’t thrilled with the read and don’t plan on reading further in the series. It’s all world building, which isn’t my thing, and I think it’d make a better TV series than a book. But I’m a heretic about a number of things.
And what is with Clarke and his weird marriage ideas? Childhood’s End had the concept of temporary marriage contracts, and this one has astronauts having wives on multiple planets. Maybe his home life wasn’t happy.
My son had this assigned in school, so I picked it up so we could talk about it. It’s a powerful first-hand account of The Holocaust, and as such is haunting and horrifying in many ways. But it’s a pretty light touch on the subject, never dwelling too much on gory details. And it’s also quite brief, to the point that I wished it was longer. Though perhaps this kind of story is best left brief.
Unfortunately, I think this series peaked with The Lost Gate. This book is fine and all, but I got worried toward the end that we'd be getting Book Four. Then I wished we had. I just wasn't satisfied with the swiftness of the conclusion of the book. Oh well.
--- - --- - ---
As for right now, I’m re-reading Colossus for the podcast, and then I’ll be hitting The Hunger Games again for the same purpose. I’ve also started reading Earth’s Deep History: How it Was Discovered and Why it Matters.
It was a year ago that we lost Dad. If you knew him, you know what a tremendous man, husband, father and grandfather he was. It still somehow doesn’t seem real to me. I often have to remind myself that he’s really gone, and it’s almost always when I’ve started or finished a book. Books were one of the main topics of conversation we had, and so some books I’ve read still feel unfinished because I never talked with Dad about them.
I often say I have a heart of stone, and it’s somewhat facetious, because of course I have emotions. But I guess I’ve just soldiered on since that day, never really finding myself choked up despite feeling his loss acutely. And I think I know the reason.
It’s the things he left behind: Faith and family.
All of Dad’s kids have followed in his faith footsteps, and it’s a great comfort to us knowing that we haven’t really lost him. Not forever.
But equally as important is the family he left behind. In the aftermath of Dad’s passing, we clung to each other and enjoyed each others’ company even more than we previously had. We love each other dearly, and it’s an amazing tribute to Dad that we do. When we’re together, we don’t frown because Dad isn’t with us; we smile because we’re together. This photo was taken by my wife just two days after Dad died:
Yes, we were still shell-shocked, but our closeness allowed us to have a wonderful time despite the circumstances. I’m grateful for that.
I’m also grateful that I was close to Dad. My sadness over his passing isn’t colored by anything but the love and memories I have of him. There’s a gladness to that kind of sadness. The grief is just the mirror image of the love. (I think there’s something in The Shadowlands about that.)
You may be wondering why I didn’t include a picture of Dad in this post. It’s because I did. The picture above has tons of Dad in it. You can see him in our smiles.
Miss you, Dad.
So, the Swimmer Dude has friends who are requiring that, should he wish to go to The Scorch Trials with them, he must first catch up at least that far in the Maze Runner book series. So I thought I’d do the Good Dad thing and read along, at least for Book One. And it didn’t hurt that Google Books had all four volumes for pretty cheap (I think it ended up being about $12 for all of them). And the fact that I’m a NOOK owner means I can load them into my eReader (sorry Kindle folks, it won’t work for you).
So, the long and the short of it is that I enjoyed The Maze Runner. I liked the setup, being dropped into (or pulled up into) an unknown world, seen from the perspective of a new kid entering The Glade. And here I suppose I should mention the premise. Our narrator, Thomas, emerges into The Glade, a large, open area with enormous gates on all sides. The gates lead to the Maze, which the Gladers are trying to figure out how to solve. Why are they there? Why do they emerge into the Glade with no memory? Why is it fatal to stay in the Maze after dark? Each of these questions is answered to some degree during this book, and it’s a fun ride, though a bit obvious at times. (There’s a key initialism I figured out immediately and just assumed the characters had, too, so I was surprised to find they hadn’t.)
I also enjoyed the short chapters, which lent the book great narrative greed, since it was easy to convince myself “just one more chapter and then I’ll go to sleep.” And I liked the way it all wrapped up and set up the next book. I may even subvert my own tendency to read only the first book in a series because there are so many other books out there to read.
Alas, the book has a flaw I just can’t get past without at least mentioning: fake slang/swearing. And before I launch into my lengthy rant here, I’ll just point out that I persevered in the face of this seemingly insurmountable annoyance, and another reader might not be as turned off as I was by the whole thing. But this is my blog, my rules, so if you’re reading this, you evidently want to know why it’s a big deal.
I’m a language guy. I love accents and dialects. I’m certainly no expert on linguistics, but I’ve poked around in the science and I’m pretty confident I know at least a little bit about how language changes over time. And this isn’t it.
I didn’t let Steelheart off easily about fake swearing, and I’m not letting this one off, either. My problem is basically twofold:
1. It’s used to allow copious swearing but with novel words so as to keep the book Young Adult, at least technically.
This is the main problem, really. It’s hard to see this as anything but laziness. The fact is that a group of isolated young men will probably devolve into very limited vocabulary pretty quickly. This is true. So it’s probably unrealistic to ask the author to sanitize the language too much. Incidentally, this is one reason I can’t stand “Christian” fiction. Write real characters who talk like real people. If that means you can’t be filed under Christian Fiction, you’re probably better off. Or your book stinks, and the only reason people buy it is that it’s clean. Hope you’re proud.
So, we’re not sanitizing the language, which is probably realistic. And everybody’s carving a blue streak constantly. But with new, non-immediately-offensive words. Which is not realistic. And this is my second problem.
2. That’s not how language works.
The devolution into crass language would certainly happen, but it would likely align on existing profanity, perhaps with some novel gymnastics played with how the swear words attached to other words. But to invent an entirely new canon of swears? I don’t see it.
Because there has to be a reason for language, including slang, to change. And an isolated community is actually a category in which I’d accept this. But wait, you’ll tell me, The Maze Runner fits the bill, as the Glade is totally isolated. Sorry, but a couple of things work against this idea. One, the Glade is said to have been in existence for two years. That’s just not enough time for it to develop such an extensive arsenal of slang, unless it was deliberate (which I hesitantly grant later on). And I don’t buy that one of the early Gladers started the modified slang on purpose.
So maybe this slang comes from before the Gladers arrive in the Glade. No, it doesn’t, and this is issue number Two. Thomas is unfamiliar with the slang, and yet has good command of English. Add in the fact that Newt seems to be British, uniquely using “bloody” as frequently as Ron Weasley. Either everybody brings in their own dialect or they don’t. It can’t be both.
So the slang couldn’t have developed outside the Glade, because different kids speak differently. And it just didn’t have time to develop in the Glade. So it’s basically back to the fact that it’s an expedient from the author, who wanted the kids to swear lavishly but not run afoul of censors who would keep the book off the lucrative YA shelves.
Okay, there’s also the possibility that the author just enjoys playing around with language, and I’ll admit “klunk” is a pretty quality substitute for the “poo” range of expletives. So I’m probably way overthinking this. And the author has actually weighed in on this, saying it’s just a way of adding color and flavor to the world he’s creating. I get that, and in the end it’s totally the author’s choice, and it’s also totally his right to maximize his book audience. I’m not really pleading for authors to stop doing this on principle and starve in the process. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Aaaand I’ve thought of a way to retcon the whole thing, and this is what I’m doing to justify not actually letting this keep me from enjoying the series. I have to tell myself this is what happened:
One of the first kids in the Glade came in with this modified slang. (I guess this would be Alby?) Subsequent kids imitated him. That’s the only way it works, so we’ll go with that. And now I’ve talked myself out of the above rant. I hope you enjoyed the ride.
I’m also willing to be corrected on this. I’m not a linguist, and I don’t even play one on TV. I’m also not on TV. It could be I’m ignorant of some other factor in play. Feel free to correct me. And if you’re James Dashner, keep in mind I enjoyed your book and bought the whole series, so I’m really only ranting for ranting’s sake. That’s what the Internet is for, isn’t it? If you’d like to set up a Skype call, I’d be happy to be argued over to your side. And maybe we could talk about the new prevalence of PG-13 movies that might be better as R? I’ve got a good microphone and a podcast (Take Me To Your Reader) on which to publish this kind of thing. Contact me. Seriously.
Speaking of the podcast, we’ve got two new episodes up. The first is a normal episode talking about Starship Troopers, while the other is a special episode featuring an interview I did with the president of The Heinlein Society, talking about the Society itself, Robert Heinlein and his work, and touching on another film we discussed on the podcast, Predestination.
Our next episode will be about the Ray Bradbury short story A Sound of Thunder and the dreadful film made from it. After that, we’ll be tackling Jumper, which should be fun. To that end, I’ll be re-reading that book and checking out Jumper: Griffin’s Story while also trying to get through a bunch of other Bradbury fiction, the latest Joseph Finder, and finishing The Forever War. So I’ll be a bit busy trying to get some books finished. Might be a bit of a stretch here until I post anything else.
I’ve written in the past about how for a long time I wasn’t able to read and enjoy graphic novels. Something about them was just too chaotic to me. Well, I’m over that now and enjoying the heck out of catching up on some titles. I won’t spoil anything on purpose.
It started back when I read Crisis On Infinite Earths, and now I’ve been mostly sticking to topical titles. With the exception of The Dark Knight Returns, but that’s Batman, and you read it because it’s Batman.
My son and I enjoy Arrow and The Flash, with the latter being the more enjoyable (fun) show, so I’ve gone back to read a few classic titles like Flash of Two Worlds and Menace of the Reverse Flash, but also catching up on some of the more prominent stories from the past ten or fifteen years, including The Flash: Rebirth (which told the story of Barry Allen’s return after his death in the previously mentioned Crisis On Infinite Earths, and Flashpoint, which for a while I thought we might be seeing on Season One of CW’s The Flash.
But I’ve enjoyed The Flash enough that I was motivated to catch up on the new continuity introduced in the New 52 imprint (set up by Flashpoint, incidentally). There were ups and downs, and some of the re-imaginings didn’t make total sense to me, but on the whole I’ve really enjoyed checking out the bound volume sets as they come to my library (I’m waiting on Volume 6 right now). I feel like a nerdier nerd now. Sweet.
--- - --- - --- - ---
I haven’t written here about Daredevil, the amazingly well done Netflix series, either. I’ve always been more of a DC guy, and I’m growing a bit tired of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Avengers: Age of Ultron was on the “meh” side for me), so Daredevil was both a revelation and an extremely enjoyable series to watch. It’s definitely not for kids, but the cast, acting, production, and story are all top notch. It’s basically a very long movie, but the series format really lends itself to the kind of space you need to tell such a great story. And I love that it wasn’t the standard Origin Story, and that the Big Bad is somewhat sympathetic (though also very bad).
But since I’d enjoyed that, I picked up Daredevil: Born Again (Frank Miller of The Dark Knight Returns wrote it), which is just a tremendous story and beautifully drawn and colored. The story is basically that Kingpin finds out Daredevil’s secret identity and proceeds to dismantle every part of his life, from his career to his friends…everything.
I’ve actually just picked up Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, so I'll give that a look soon. Totally looking forward to that one because it’s a detailed origin story, substantially thicker than any of the other graphic novel collections I’ve been reading.
--- - --- - --- - ---
Most recently, I picked up Superman: Earth One, Volumes 1 and 2 and really enjoyed them. Volume 1 is really the story we should’ve gotten in Man of Steel, and I have a hard time believing the screenwriters for that film weren’t influenced a bit given how similar the stories are (but the comic is better).
For those not in the know, the Earth One imprint is a way of giving writers freedom to reimagine superheroes from the beginning without reference to any other continuity. So it’s a great jumping off point if you’re more interested in the character than the history of the character. I’m thinking of looking at the Batman: Earth One title, though first I suppose I should read Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which I already own.
This week, DC Comics slashed prices on a bunch of famous stories, so I picked up (for my NOOK) The Death of Superman, Blackest Night, and Forever Evil, so that gives me some more quality Superman, plus some Green Lantern and Justice League. I’ve already finished the Superman one, and it shows me that people who objected to the destruction in Man of Steel probably didn’t ever read this book, because Supes and Doomsday cut an enormous path of destruction across most of the States. Now I just wish there was a cheap follow-up to that book, because it ends on a bit of a downer, as the title would suggest.
What about you? Where do Graphic Novels fall on your reading radar? Do you consider them books? (I’ve been counting them in my reading total, because they make it go up, and that’s basically the only reason.)
After enjoying Steelheart, I picked up the follow-up short story Mitosis and waited on my hold request for Firefight to come through. The things I’ll do to be able to discuss the plots of books with my running buddies. (Yes, I was the slacker on this series.)
BTW, spoilers. There’s no other way to do this. So if you haven’t read Steelheart, go read it before continuing. Actually, you’ll pretty much want to catch up entirely before going on. They’re fun books, so do that.
Still with me? Good.
Firefight picks up not long after the events of Steelheart, showing the Reckoners continuing to fight epics who are streaming to Newcago in order to take over after the fall of a certain titular character from that book. See how subtly I’m not spoiling the death of Steelheart? Oops!
Although the title to this book is Firefight, the name of the Epic we found out was actually Megan in the previous book, I don’t think I’d really say this book is about her. Instead, the focus shifts to Babilar, formerly New York City, and a powerful epic called Regalia. But the fact that she has a history with Prof is what really drives the action in the story. So I’m not totally sure why the book is titled the way it is. Yes, there’s the subplot of David trying to find Megan and bring her to the good side, as well as to convince Prof not to kill her, but the book is absolutely about Prof and the inevitability of Epics going bad.
To the extent that the book is about Megan, it’s actually mostly that David is starting to question the unconditional killing of Epics. Which makes sense since he works closely with one (Prof) and is infatuated with another (Megan). This doesn’t stop him from shooting one in the face early in the book, but the flicker of the “real person” coming through right before he pulls the trigger makes him begin to doubt his methods. And his quest to redeem Megan and have her be on the Good Team is further complicated by the fact that she evidently killed one of the Babilar Reckoners, so there’s a bit of trouble over that.
I’m not going to spoil the core idea of this book, even though it wasn’t terribly hard to predict, but I’ll just say that if you read and enjoyed Steelheart, I’m sure you’d enjoy this one as well. And now that I’ve made the mistake of reading a partial series, I have to wait until early next year to finish it. Dangit!
Oh well, there are plenty more books to read. I read Starship Troopers for Take Me To Your Reader, and I started reading Rendezvous With Rama, but then my e-loan on it expired two weeks early! What’s up with that? I’m thinking of picking up Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars to give it a thumb-through, and I’d love to read Armada when it comes out. Or maybe I’ll just read some more Graphic Novels.
TL;DR version: I enjoyed it but it’s a mess. Still, some of the mess can be blamed on T2. Stay with me, we’ll get there. But first, I need to go back in time a bit and give a few thoughts on the previous entries in the series. Newest to oldest:
Terminator Salvation: We always wanted a movie set in the future. This just wasn’t the movie we wanted. Oh, it’s reasonably enjoyable, but the plot makes anti-sense. If combined with actual sense, it could annihilate the universe. (If you don’t believe me, answer this question: How did Skynet, in this timeline, know that John Connor was a.) a major threat and b.) someone they’d been failing to kill for a long time? Yeah.)
It’s notable that the movie would’ve been way more interesting had the trailer not given away the central twist. That’s going to sound familiar, so get used to it.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: Gets more hate than it deserves, but has the best ending of the series. You seriously cannot disagree with this without lapsing into crazyhood. Nick Stahl was terrific as a PTSD-suffering John Connor, Claire Danes was a nice addition, and the crane truck scene is flat out amazing. And again, the idea of Judgment Day being inevitable makes infinitely more sense than, say…
Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Okay, I love this film. So exciting, with effects that still hold up to this day. The trailer spoiled the central idea (Arnold as the good guy), and it’s to the film’s credit that it basically didn’t matter. However, the ending is the reason we got T3 and Genisys, and it’s where the film falls apart for me. Yes, Terminator was built around an ontological paradox, but as a closed loop it actually works. Breaking out of that loop makes no sense whatsoever. There should at least have been a nod to the idea that destroying Cyberdyne and Dyson’s work might not avert Judgment Day. BTW, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes the idea of the changing date of Judgment Day and does something really cool with it. And it was a terrific show, criminally cut short.
The Terminator: A nice, simple plot that plays more like a horror movie, but it’s just so effective! And again, the plot holds together pretty nicely. Why hasn’t Michael Biehn gotten much, much more work? Kyle Reese and Dwayne Hicks and then two or three other major roles? Not cool.
Before I start on Genisys, let me just re-emphasize: You cannot object to this movie based on its being a reboot or messing with the timeline. The entire franchise is built on that. And if T2 is your favorite, you’ve already aligned yourself with the idea that the timeline is changeable. So either adjust your favorite to the original (which I’m leaning toward) or stop objecting to this film on that basis. (Also, admitting you’re doing it is the first step.)
Okay, so now to my thoughts on the new movie. It’s not good. The plot makes almost no sense. And yet, it was tons of fun. The major problem with it is that it introduced ideas that would have made a more interesting film but then wasn’t that film (the young Sarah film could’ve been awesome). Also, THE STUPID TRAILER RUINED THE BEST TWIST IN THE MOVIE!!!! I can’t blame the filmmakers, because it’s the marketing department that does the trailer, but seriously, it’s not good enough to get people into the theatre if they’re then going to be less impressed because you put the best stuff in the trailer.
Maybe I should just divert into some things I liked and disliked (This is where the Spoilers begin):
Things I liked:
- J.K. Simmons. Best thing in the film. It’s not close.
- Arnold. Who’s not going to enjoy him as the T800?
- Nods to the original. I loved all the references to the original film. (Though it also made me strongly wish I was watching the original, so it’s good and bad.)
- Jason Clarke. Loved him in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and I liked him here. I just wish the trailer hadn’t blown so much of his character arc.
- The effects. If you look really hard, there are a couple of terrible missteps here, but for the most part they’re flat-out terrific.
- The Sarah/Pops chemistry. This will feed into my dislikes, because the only believable chemistry here was between Sarah and the T800, and to a lesser extent between John and Kyle.
- The time-twistyness: Another one that’ll pop up on the dislikes. But I like the idea of the alternate timelines and the T800 being sent back earlier. (Though we’re never explicitly told who did it, but I think it’s strongly implied.)
Things I disliked:
- Who’s the main character? I guess it’s Kyle Reese, but even though Jai Courtney did an adequate job, it didn’t feel like his movie. Even though he was the narrator. But much of the action took place without him driving it. So that’s not so great.
- The Sarah/Kyle chemistry. Sorry, it’s not there. Or if it is, it’s not believable. I would rather have seen them just shelve the idea that they had to have a child. At the end, when Sarah says she can choose, I seriously wanted her to stiff Kyle completely. I would’ve believed it. They’d already established that a.) John was no longer the hero of the resistance and b.) Judgment Day was averted.
- The time jump. When you go through time to avert a future event, why do you allow yourself less than two days? Why not six months or a year? (Because it’s a movie.)
- The Genisys thing. You’re telling me there’s an actual countdown to a major software release and it’s not backed up anywhere? If John was ensuring Skynet’s existence, wouldn’t he have set up Genisys as a decoy and had his launch happening in Greenland or something? (This, again, is why you allow yourself some lead time, to allow for emergency international travel.)
- The time-twistyness: Ju got some splaining to do! I liked that there were some movements toward explaining Kyle’s memories, but it really should’ve been explicitly stated who sent Pops into the past.
So there you have it. I’ll probably see it again (Swimmer Dude wants to see it, so we’ll go on cheep nite), but there’s no way this one will ever be the classic the first two films were.
Feel free to weigh in here.