A Night in Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

March 12, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

Roger Zelazny is probably best known for his Amber series, which are kind of lightweight adventure fantasy stories. His best work (in my opinion, of course) is Lord of Light, where he tells a more sober story with a lot of mythic and religious elements. A Night in Lonesome October is something of a hybrid between the two. It takes the lightweight style of Amber and the mythic elements from Lord of Light…although here the myths are popular myths of vampires, werewolves, and Elder Gods. Well, I’m not sure if Lovecraft is popular, but you get the picture.

There is good and bad in this combination. The good news is Zelazny is almost without peer when it comes to writing light intrigue. The plot involves a lot of maneuvering through a somewhat tangled web of alliances and plots as various supernatural entities cooperate and compete in an attempt to open (or close, as the case may be) a gate that will allow Cthulhu and friends to return to the Earth. Zelazny doesn’t make it so complicated it becomes confusing and the narrator…the familiar of one of the participants…is very engaging. The downside is the book is ultimately no more than a confection. There’s no deeper meaning here, it’s just a fun ride. There’s not even any real tension, because even though the fate of the earth hangs in the balance, the characters themselves don’t seem to be all that concerned. Oh, they occasionally allude to the seriousness of the situation, but they don’t seem to be losing any sleep over it. And since the characters aren’t tense, the reader isn’t either.

There’s no law that says every book has to have Deep, Important Thoughts or even Spine-Wrenching Tension and for what it is this is a very good book. It’s even a quick read, by modern standards. Recommended to those who enjoyed Amber or who like the sound of a light hearted supernatural romp.

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

March 5, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

This was one of those books that I felt was going to be so often discussed I ought to read it, even though I basically gave Card up for dead after Xenocide and Children of the Mind. As it turns out, my perceptions going in are precisely the same as my reactions after reading it, so in one sense it was a waste of time.

But it wasn’t really that big a waste. Early on I found myself enjoying the book much more than I expected. For all his faults, Card knows how to pull the strings, and the chess match approach Bean (like Ender in Ender’s Game) takes towards dealing with people can be fun to read. When the action finally moved from the mean streets to good old battle school, the setting that single-handedly made Ender’s Game a massive hit, I figured I had been selling the book short all along.

Unfortunately, it starts out all right, and then goes flying off the rails the moment Bean and Ender actually meet. From then on, the story “shadows” the original book’s story precisely. Not only does this make for an uncoupling narrative since I still remember what happens and Ender is still the prime mover, but it serves to exaggerate the flaws of the original book.

And once you got beneath the enormously enjoyable battle school sequences, the original book had a ton of flaws. The depiction of the children was ludicrous (they are so much smarter than real children their age they all must be another species), the psychology of the training questionable at best, and worst of all, the last third of the book is unforgivably vague. All that remains true, with added flaws from Card’s desperate attempts to make Bean really relevant to what is going on. The book might still have been worthwhile if he had taken it as an opportunity to flesh out battle school and the “command school” scenes in the asteroid, but they remain just as poorly described as before.

Rarely has a book been so aggressively “more of the same” than Ender’s Shadow. I’m sure there’s a lot of demand for that from Ender’s Game fans that found Speaker for the Dead perplexingly different in tone and complexity, but anyone whose tastes are remotely like mine is advised to look elsewhere for their next book.

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