10 for 13 – II

Alright then. Here’s five more reviews of books that I read in 2013. (the first five are right here linky linky) Now, I haven’t reviewed everything that I read last year, but it’s pretty close. Enjoy my opinions, please.

Endymion / The Rise of Endymion

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is probably the greatest science fiction novel ever written. Well, it’s up there anyway. Top five at least. Endymion and it’s companion novel take place in the same universe. All caught up?

Now, while Simmons’ is a hell of a writer, he’s not infallible. His massive ambition is usually what gets the better of him, he’s always skipping from this genre to that, tackling gigantic research-heavy period novels, and composing epics of rarely matched scope. Hyperion and it’s slightly less amazing sequel are probably the best work he’s done in his expansive career, so I was pretty damn psyched when I finally picked up Endymion about four years ago. I read about 100 pages before I put it down, thoroughly disappointed. It wasn’t anything like what I’d expected. The style was different, the characters were different, even the tone was different. It just wasn’t what I wanted, so I caulked it up as another of Simmons’ rare missteps and pretty much forgot about it. Last year, however, I finally picked it back and and decided to give it another shot.

Long story short: it blew me away.

This is a really excellent science fiction novel. Unfortunately, it’s not really that great a sequel. Simmons seems aware of this, as the book is filled with almost meta-textual asides in which the eponymous narrator remarks on how different his own story is from “The Cantos” which is the first two books, which exist in this book in the form of an epic poem written by the poet character from Hyperion. Got all that?

You have to get past your expectations to enjoy this book, and I suppose that’s what threw me off the first time I tried to read it. Once you reset your brain, however, you’ll find the most thrilling and inventive yarn you could possible hope for. The ideas fly thick and fast here, and are truly staggering in their range and depth. I’ve read a hell of a lot of science fiction, but there are concepts on display here that are truly staggering and original. This book (and it really is one book in two parts, far more so than Simmons’ other duologies) was an absolute delight, and gets my strongest possible recommendation.

Underwater Welder

Hey, you ever heard of that show The Twilight Zone? This is kinda like that. I was helped to this insight by the six reviews on the cover that name dropped the show. I guess the comparison is warranted, as this graphic novel was pretty Twilight Zone-y, both in terms of positives and negatives. Its got a great sense of mood and atmosphere, but it also has that odd remove, the sort of distinct artificiality that keeps you from engaging totally with the characters. It has a sort of fable-ish tone. Okay, so the story is about this guy – an underwater welder, imagine that – dealing with the fact that he’s about to have a kid, and trying to come to terms with the disappearance of his alcoholic father. I more or less liked it. Worth reading just to look at the art, which is wonderfully sketchy and loose and evocative.

Valencia

Michelle Tea is an incredible writer. Her command of prose is absolute and eloquent, she has an wonderfully strong and unique voice and great instincts for timing and pacing and style. I’m not entirely convinced that she’s a particularly good memoirist, however. Or I don’t know, maybe it’s me. Maybe memoir just isn’t my genre. This book is, essentially, a collection of (presumably true) short stories all drawn from a time in the writer’s life. Taken individually, they sparkle with the light of Tea’s masterful language. Taken together, they add up to very little. I found myself growing tired of reading about the author’s (or should I say character’s?) senseless debaucheries and flurries of romance and aimless stabs at employment. The book is rather like being sat down and talked at for three hours by a self-absorbed friend who really needs to think about getting over herself. That said, and I know it sounds fairly damning, I would still recommend this book to just about anybody. Not everybody who picks this up is going to get anything out of reading the whole thing, but everybody should read it at least a little. The writing is just that good.

Maya’s Notebook

As I said last time, I’ve been hugely impressed by Isabel Allende’s period novels. She has an incredible way of balancing the epic and the intimate. I was less impressed by this modern day novel, however. It’s about a girl who runs off to a rural hide-away after getting in way too deep with some unsavory types. There are some really good scenes, and I rather liked Maya, but I just didn’t completely buy any of it. The small town stuff never really grabbed my interest, and the crime section felt a bit pulpy. It just rang false too often. Not a bad novel, but not one I’d especially recommend.

And there we have it, all caught up! It only took me two months! That certainly bodes well for the coming year!

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