Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (2005)

October 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm (fantasy, negativity)

I’m not going to finish reading this book.

It’s really a fascinating setting, and I’ve been trying to finish it, but there’s been one too many Dramatic Reversals, the whole thing has been prolonged by one of the main characters not talking to the other one (I really dislike that), and – forgive me – a book is getting too politically complicated when the antagonist’s struggle to stay on top of his power structure takes up a fourth or so of the wordage.

Plus, it has a Princess ex machina.  I dislike those, too.   Especially when they’re convinced they’re too smart and abrasive for any man (except the Prince!) to be interested in them.   And they’re good at everything except one nonessential thing (art).   And they think deceiving an authority figure (and only that authority figure) by pretending to be a hopeless ditz is good strategy.  And they just happen to be the one to accidentally discover the vile crime going on.   And … well, you get the idea.

Probably, if Sarene wasn’t so irritating, I’d like this book as much as everybody from Locus to Library Journal apparently did.  The reviews are why I picked it up in the first place.  The whole conceit about the highly localized power in Arelon and how it went horribly wrong is quite fascinating.

The conceit about how Arelon’s society and economy might go straight to perdition if it were taken over by merchants and legislated via the profit motive (sort of) is, on the other hand … a bit much.  Not that real people haven’t been at least as dumb, but as somebody (Twain?) once said, fiction has to be more believable than reality.   And it doesn’t help that the Prince, Raoden, turns out to be the one who figures out how to fix things (I think … it’s hard to say since I haven’t finished it).

There was real opportunity here to explore the theology of the antagonist, Hrathen, versus the one common to Arelon and some other nations, but most of the religious matters are handled in exclusively political terms.  Not attractive.   (Actually, Hrathen’s brief crisis of faith is the most interesting religious moment in the book, as far as I’ve read.  And he’s the antagonist, remember!)

I think that covers most of the major issues I have with the book.  Most of the other characters are distinct and interesting, and there’s nothing wrong with Sanderson’s prose.  I just could not connect with the major characters or the plot or substantial segments of the worldbuilding. Very frustrating, and I’m going to clear it out of my reading pile.

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This is not a 100 Best SF post

October 16, 2011 at 7:49 am (best lists)

Recently (by my busy standards) there was another blip on the “Best SF” screen, this one a popularity contest by NPR that satisfied almost no-one.

And for me (among others) it raised the question: What is “best”?  Does it include staying power?  Scope?  Subject matter?  And who gets to decide?  When it comes down to it, every person’s experience of a book is different.  Every list of the “best” is subjective.

And there’s nothing stopping me from creating my own list!  My criteria were two: the book must have made a strong impression on me, and I must have not changed my mind since I first read it.  Whether they can be considered “best” by some objective (hah!) standard is completely beside the point.

So, without further ado, I give you

Fifty F&SF Books that Blew My Mind

  1. Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
  2. Carol Berg, The Books of the Rai-kirah
  3. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
  4. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  5. Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls
  6. Lois McMaster Bujold, Ethan of Athos
  7. C. J. Cherryh, Cuckoo’s Egg
  8. Gordon R. Dickson, Dorsai!
  9. Amanda Downum, The Drowning City
  10. E. R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros
  11. Claudia J. Edwards, Bright and Shining Tiger
  12. Suzette Haden Elgin, Native Tongue
  13. Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair
  14. Alan Dean Foster, Nor Crystal Tears
  15. Neil Gaiman, The Sandman
  16. William Gibson, Neuromancer
  17. Barbara Hambly, Those Who Hunt the Night
  18. Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough For Love
  19. James Hilton, Paradise Lost
  20. Christopher Hinz, The Paratwa Trilogy
  21. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  22. M. Bradley Kellogg, Lear’s Daughters
  23. Janet Kagan, Hellspark
  24. Guy Gavriel Kay, The Lions of Al-Rassan
  25. Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint
  26. Megan Lindholm, Wizard of the Pigeons
  27. Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora
  28. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen
  29. Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
  30. Ursula K. LeGuin, The Word for World is Forest
  31. R. A. MacAvoy, The Grey Horse
  32. Anne McCaffrey, The Ship Who Sang
  33. Vonda M. McIntyre, Dreamsnake
  34. Patricia A. McKillip, The Riddle-Master Trilogy
  35. Carla Speed McNeil, Finder
  36. Elizabeth Moon, Remnant Population
  37. George Orwell, 1984
  38. Terry Pratchett, Thud!
  39. Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Good Omens
  40. Mickey Zucker Reichert, The Last of the Renshai
  41. Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire
  42. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
  43. Dan Simmons, The Hyperion Cantos
  44. Sherwood Smith, The Inda series
  45. Wen Spencer, A Brother’s Price
  46. George R. Stewart, Earth Abides
  47. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  48. Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  49. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
  50. T. H. White, The Once and Future King

So, there you have it – now you know how to write a novel that will impress me!  … Well, no.  This doesn’t help at all, does it?  They’re virtually all different.  The only thing they have in common is me.  To my way of thinking, this is the only really legitimate kind of “best” list.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary.  As it should be.

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