Dune (Dune Chronicles #1)

0881036366.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The masterpiece of science fiction and probably the best-known book of the genre to general audiences, is more the examination of humanity and the environment than technology. Frank Herbert’s Dune changed the emphasis of the genre from technology to the future of humanity from beings to various facets of culture that shaped not only science fiction going forward to numerous other genres as well.

House Atreides is given the Imperial fief of the planet Arrakis by the Emperor after taking it from their long blood rivals House Harkonnen as part of a scheme by the Emperor and Harkonnen’s to take out the Atreides. While Duke Leto and his staff attempt to prepare for the obvious trap they’ve been put in, his son Paul and his mother Lady Jessica must deal with the move as well as the growing powers of the former in the ways of the Bene Gesserit an all-female order that has been breeding for a male member for millennia. The Imperially trained Doctor betrays the Atreides’ forces but gains revenge against the Harkonnens by setting up Paul and Jessica’s escape to the native Fremen society on Arrakis. After gaining acceptance into a Fremen group, Paul finds himself apparently fulfilling their prophecy of their coming savior which he cultivates then attempts to tap down their fanaticism before it becomes a jihad across the universe. Yet as Paul’s tactics and strategy leads the Fremen to victory and success in their war against the Harkonnens and he becomes further imbedded in their culture, he realizes the jihad is unavoidable. The Emperor and the Baron Harkonnen along with numerous Great Houses brought to Arrakis by the powerful Space Guild attempt to put down the Fremen revolt only to be overwhelmed and conquered resulting in Paul becoming the new Emperor.

Herbert’s magnum opus is a quick, easy to read book that is belied by its size. Turning away from tried and true subject of technology that had long dominated science fiction, Herbert focused on humanity, culture, societies, religious, and the environment in the far future. The primary perspective in the novel is from Paul as a hero-savior who both successes and fails, his success is gaining revenge and bringing is new people to power is offset by his failure to stop the resulting fanaticism that will spread bloodshed across the universe in the future. Yet Herbert’s style of writing in which he changes point-of-views and inner monologues from paragraph to paragraph on many pages is a bit too much at times. Also the quickness of the narrative from beginning to end hurts the overall story as many subplots and a lot of characters not named Paul, though he isn’t immune, aren’t fully developed. The book feels like a trilogy squeezed into a single book in which things are covered without much depth or explanation and the reader just has to accept it but leaves everything feeling hollow.

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a science fiction classic that after more than 50 years still stands up as a very good story. Yet even though it covers a lot of material, there is no real depth in story or character development outside of its main protagonist. While I no doubt reread this book in the future and enjoy it, it left me with no desire to read further into the franchise that Herbert wrote over several decades.

The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun #4)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Wandering towards the North and the ongoing war with a broken, the former torturer Severian nears the end of his journey just to begin another.  The Citadel of the Autarch is the final installment of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetralogy following the exiled torturer Severian’s journey away from the Citadel and how he returned.

Severian continues his wandering North towards the war when he finds a dead soldier and brings him back to life using the Claw.  They find the Pelerines Camp and are cared back to health as Severian had picked up a bad fever.  While recovering he is selected to judge a storytelling contest, but before he can render his verdict, he returns the Claw to the Pelerine alter and is asked by the Camp’s leader to find a holy man close to the front and save him.  Severian goes, meets the man in his house of multiple time periods, but the man disappears while Severian is leading him away from the house.  Returning to the camp alone, Severian finds it has been attacked and abandoned.  Finding the new camp, he sees his new friends either dead or with worse injures than original.  Severian wanders again and falls into an auxiliary cavalry unit and joins an attack on the Ascians but is injured and saved by the Autarch himself after the battle.  The Autarch, the androgynous brothel guide of Shadow and Vodalus’ agent in the House Absolute in Claw, gives Severian a lift in his flier which is shot down and tells Severian to eat a piece of him so he can become the new Autarch.  Severian does so but is captured by Vodalus’ rebel forces which as Agia in the ranks wanting to kill him.  But after joining up with the Ascian army, Severian is rescued by the green man he saved in Claw via a time tunnel where Severian meets aliens that as Autarch he’ll be tested to allow man to return to the stars if he success or neuter him if he fails like the previous Autarch.  Dropped off on a beach, Severian finds a new Claw of the Conciliator and makes his way back to Nessus and the Citadel.  Using the memories off all the previous Autarchs, Severian sends the Citadel into an uproar of activity.  He returns to his first home in the torturer’s tower, figures out that Dorcas is his grandmother who died soon after giving birth to his father who was sent a warning message in Shadow, and has a philosophical rant about what his position is before being whisked off the planet to be tested.

This story was engaging up until the Autarch returned to the story and Severian awful philosophizing began in earnest.  Though Wolfe wrapped up several storylines or wrote things to just end, I really didn’t care because of how much I had disliked the previous two installments especially Sword.  Severian is an unreliable point-of-view character, which wouldn’t be bad if he wasn’t the only point-of-view or completely nuts or stupid or whatever Wolfe decided to have him be in a given chapter.  The cosmic philosophizing by the aliens or Severian’s attempt at it becomes unreadable because I by now don’t care and just wanted to see the story ended or interesting things happen.  Honestly, each story in the storytelling contest were better stories that this one or the entire tetralogy together.

The Citadel of the Autarch ends Gene Wolfe’s classic The Book of the New Sun as well as my interest in anything written by Gene Wolfe.  While this final installment is better than its immediate predecessor, the series went into a decline right after the first book.  I don’t get the hype of this fantasy-science fiction “classic” and feel it’s overrated.

The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun #3)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Upon reaching his assigned city, a young executioner goes on the run from the city’s Archon after failing to kill someone and travels further north towards a war he’s only ever heard of.  The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe is the third volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the tale of the exile executioner Severian attempting to figure out what is happening in this slowly dying Urth.

Having arrived in Thrax and taking up his position as Lictor of the city, Severian finds Dorcas depressed to the lover of the city’s most hated man and wondering about her past life.  The Archon invites Severian to a costume party to kill someone, upon his arrival he meets a woman in a Pelerine’s robe who faints and once Severian helps revive her then is seduced only to find out that she’s the individual the Archon wants dead.  Instead Severian shows her mercy then escapes a fire creature looking to kill him and sees Dorcas off as she leaves to the South to find out about her past.  Severian takes to the mountains heading to the North and runs to Agia whose allied with the man behind the fire creature to kill Severian, but after an attack by an Alzabo they go their separate ways.  Severian adopts a young boy also named Severian and they journey North, encountering a village of possible sorcerers when a black oily creature attacks looking for the older Severian but results in saving the two travelers.  Coming across an abandoned city, the boy is killed and Severian thwarts a resurrected tyrant from using him.  Continuing his journey Severian arrives at a lakeshore and is drugged by the village leader to be taken across the lake to the castle of a giant, but Severian escapes and gets aid for the waterfolk who ask him to lead them against the giant to is enslaving them.  Arriving at the castle, Severian discovers that Dr. Talos and Baldanders run the castle with the former being a creation of the latter.  After conversations with aliens, the three men fight and the waterfolk help finish off the giant Baldanders after Severian kills Talos.  Continuing towards the North, Severian attempts to digest everything he’s experienced.

Where to begin, I don’t know if Severian thinks with his penis too much or Wolfe writes him to be just stupid.  Throughout the story there is more and more sci-fi elements brought into narrative with some nice fantasy touches, however because Severian continually becomes an unlikeable character because his first-person narration is all over the place thus making the flow of the plot disjointed.  The fact he can’t just kill Agia after she admits to attempting to kill him just makes Severian look incompetent.  There is a chapter devoted to Severian reading a story from a book to the young Severian, the story was obvious a combination of the Roman foundation myth and the Jungle Book but was a highlight of the overall story because unlike the nonsensical play in Claw it was the most enjoyable part of this particular installment.

The Sword of the Lictor continues the downward spiral of this “classic” due to the fact that the point-of-view protagonist continues to get more unlikeable because of his clear stupidity and that fact that Gene Wolfe can’t put together a narrative that makes for good reading.  With this as the penultimate installment of the tetralogy, my hope for the finale isn’t high.

The Bone Clocks

0812976827.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything that happens has consequences in the future and one weekend for a 15-year old teenager after a fight with her mother has unexpected consequences throughout the rest of her life. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell follows the life Holly Sykes through her own eyes and those four other characters during 60 years of her life.

The book begins with a 15-year old Holly Sykes leaving home after a fight with her mother, only to have a life altering weekend for herself involving a trip to a paranormal world that she forgets and her family as her younger brother disappears. The book ends with a 74-year old Holly taking care of and wondering about the future of her granddaughter and foster son as climate change and resource depletion are sending the world towards a new dark age, though a surprising return of an old acquaintance results in them having a future. Between these two segments we follow the lives of an amoral political student Hugo Lamb, Holly’s husband Ed, author Crispin Hershey, and Marinus who is both a new and old acquaintance of Holly’s for a period of time in which they interact with Holly during different periods of her life that at first seem random but as the narrative progresses interconnect with one another in surprising ways including glimpses into a centuries long supernatural war in which Holly was directly involved in twice.

From beginning to end, Mitchell created a page-turner in which the reader did not know what to expect. The blending of fiction and fantasy from the beginning then science fiction as the story went beyond 2014 (year of publication) as the narrative continued was expertly done. The use of first-person point-of-views were well done as was the surprise that the book wasn’t all through Holly’s point-of-view but switched with each of the six segments of the book giving the reader a mosaic view of Holly’s life. The introduction and slow filling in of the fantasy elements of the story were well done so when it really became the focus of the book in its fifth segment the reader was ready for it. On top of that the layers of worldbuilding throughout the book were amazing, as characters from one person’s point-of-view had random interactions with someone in another and so on. If there was one letdown it was the science fiction, nearly dystopian, elements of 2043 in which the political-economic setting seems farfetched—namely China who would be in trouble if there is an energy crisis and thus not dominate economically as portrayed in the book—that made the denouement land with a thud.

I had no idea what to expect from The Bone Clocks and frankly David Mitchell impressed me a lot, save for the final 10% of the book. The blending of straight fiction, fantasy, and science fiction was amazing throughout the narrative and the numerous layers of worldbuilding, plot, and slowly evolving of the mostly unseen supernatural war that was instrumental to main points of the narrative. If a friend were to ask me about this book I would highly recommend it to them.

The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun #2)

0312890176.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Outside the walls of his home city for the first time, a young executioner on a mission finds himself amongst strange locations and stranger people. The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe is the second volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the journey of Severian, an exiled torturer figuring out the world.

Picking up shortly after the last volume, Severian is in the mining village of Saltus with a new travelling companion Jonas after being separated from Dorcas and the theater company at the gate of Nessus. Severian believes he sees Agia, but after searching for her returns to his inn to take his mask and cape to execute an accused witch. Later that night he travels to an old mine, fights off man-apes, and comes face-to-face with Agia but doesn’t kill her even though he tricked him to get him there so see could have revenge and get possession of the titular Claw that she put on Severian’s person during the events of Shadow and Severian used during his fight with the man-apes. Severian and Jonas are then taken by associates of Vodalus, who they kill as they get to the revolutionary’s hide out in the forest. Severian and Jonas join Vodalus after taking part in a cannibalistic ritual, before heading off to the House Absolute on a mission from Vodalus. The two are captured by the guards and in a holding room are attacked, which results in Severian learning that Jonas is a robot with human skin. Using the knowledge acquired from the memories of the person they ate, Severian finds a way out of the holding room and Jonas leaves to find a way to get repaired. Severian wanders around the grounds, finding his sword, coming across the Autarch, and then is reunited with theater group and Dorcas. The five perform a play during which Baldanders turns and attacks the crowd resulting in the group running for it. Severian meets with them again on the road heading north, he and Dorcas head to Thrax while Dr. Talos attacks the other member the troupe resulting in her joining them and is attacked by a poisonous bat which results in her death in the ruins of a city while meeting with associates of Vodalus who perform a mystic ceremony.

This story was all over the place and it felt like the quality of everything connected with it was the same. There was significant worldbuilding with Severian getting out into the wider world as the previous fantasy feel was joined by sci-fi elements to create this unique landscape of future Earth. However while Wolfe created this interested background, the plot and the first-person narration were all over the place and whatever elements that were good were very much outweighed by the bad, in particular the nonsensical play that added nothing for approximately 15 pages and was just to set up Baldanders’ attack in the next very short chapter. And frankly every time Severian seems to become interesting, though by his own account, he does a 180 by disclaiming his own “perfect” memory or puts himself down.

The Claw of the Conciliator is a mishmash of good, bad, and frustration. A lot of this comes down to the writing of Gene Wolfe and primarily from the first-person point-of-view that creates most of the issues. Maybe after finishing the tetralogy I might get a better view of things, but frankly if this “classic” continues to be frustrating it’ll be a big disappointment.

The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1)

0312890176.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A young man breaks the cardinal rule of his guild and instead of the expected torture and death is sent out the only home he’s known to be a travelling executioner. The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe is the first volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy following the life of Severian, an apprentice torturer who betrays his guild and brothers.

Raised within the ancient Citadel of Nessus by the Seekers of Truth and Penitence, aka the guild of torturers), Severian almost drowns in the River Gyoll and with some of his fellow apprentices goes into a necropolis where he encounters the legendary revolutionary Vodalus robbing a grave and helps him in fight with volunteer guards, earning him a gold coin from Vodalus. Later just before Severian becomes a journeyman, he meets a new client Thecla who is being used as a pawn to get to one of Vodalus’ associates. Because of her position, she asks that Severian talk with her and the two becomes friends even though Severian knows she’ll get tortured eventually. After her first torture session, Severian gives her a knife and after she slits her throat he turns himself in. Instead of torture and execution, Severian is sent out into the world as an executioner and given sword named Terminus Est. Venturing out further into Nessus than he ever had before, Severian scares people and is advised by the local guards to put something over his executioner’s garb. The next day after sharing a room with two charlatans he goes to a rag shop and when buying a mantle is challenged by a cavalry officer to a duel using an alien plant. The shop’s owner feeling responsible for this happening in his shop tells his sister, Agia, to show Severian how to prepare for the duel. The two journey around city to get his plant weapon and are joined by the mysterious Dorcas, who Agia dislikes though Severian is intrigued with. Facing his challenger, Severian survives a strike from the plant weapon surprising his opponent who attempts to run but onlookers attempt to stops him but he attacks him and kills several of them before he’s arrested by guards. The next day Severian wakes in a hospice and learns he is needed for an execution, visiting his client he finds Agia and her brother, who was his challenger, then realizes how naïve he was. After Severian executes Agia’s brother, he and Dorcas meet up with the charlatans while looking for some religious fanatics that Agia stole from only to learn they’ve left the city. The story ends on a cliffhanger because Severian decides to finish writing at that point.

There were a lot of things happening in this volume, which resulted in the story being both engaging and disengaging. The first person narration made the story very intimate, but also didn’t allow for the traditional world building which forced the reader to figure a lot of things out while trying to get a grip on the story itself. Yet once you figure things out the story becomes intriguing until Severian confronts the brother and sister in the prison cell and the brother’s reasons for challenging Severian are stupid. And the ending of Severian just deciding just to quit writing at the end of the story is weird as well. The fact that an older Severian is “writing” means that readers know he survives whatever happens, thus forcing Wolfe to take another direction which had both good and bad points.

The Shadow of the Torturer is a good story overall, though there are issues in the beginning and at the end that are somewhat disconcerting for a first time reader. Gene Wolfe created a very interesting protagonist and created several interesting twists throughout the story though some didn’t pay off as well as others while also laying seeds for future stories around Severian. This is an enjoyable volume that I’ll have to revisit with a reread in the future after completing the rest of the tetralogy.

Godzilla Raids Again (Godzilla #2)

Godzilla Raids AgainGodzilla Raids Again
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The 1955 film Godzilla Raids Again, is the second installment in the kaiju franchise following up the hugely successful first film just the year before. Takeo Murata and Shigeru Kayama once again wrote the screenplay and story along with Shigeaki Hidaki thus giving continuity to this Motoyoshi Oda directed film.

The film begins with two pilots, Shoichi Tsukioka and Koji Kobayashi, employed by an Osaka based fish cannery hunting schools of fish for the company’s fleet. Kobayashi’s plane experiences a malfunction forcing him to land near Iwato Island, Tsukioka looks for his friend and finds him safe only for the two men to be confronted by strange sounds then discover two monsters fighting. Tsukioka instantly identifies Godzilla before the two monsters crash into the sea. When meeting with government officials and scientists in Osaka, Kobayashi identifies the other as Anguirus. Amongst the group is Dr. Yamane who states that the two monsters were probably awakened by the hydrogen bomb testing that woke the first Godzilla, but unlike before they do not have the Oxygen Destroyer and must find another means of saving the country. Based on a recommendation by Yamane, the city is blacked out and the military uses flares out at sea that get Godzilla’s attention and moves him away from shore. Unfortunately a group of criminals breaks out of their transport and begin racing around the city, one of the chases leads to a fiery crash at industrial building that causes a larger fire getting Godzilla’s attention. Godzilla heads into Osaka when Anguirus emerges from the sea to attack him, they battle throughout the city before Godzilla kills his rival in the rumble of Osaka’s iconic castle. With their cannery destroyed, Kobayashi heads to their Hokkaido cannery where he is joined by Tsukioka a few months later when news breaks that Godzilla has been sighted again. The two pilots join the search, Kobayashi in his company plane while Tsukioka has been called up to the military. Godzilla’s atomic breathe disable Kobayashi’s plane and he crashed into snow covered mountain, but a sadden Tsukioka realizes they can shoot missiles at the mountain and cover Godzilla with an avalanche. It takes two waves of planes to complete the task and many pilot lives, but Godzilla is buried thus saving Japan.

Running almost 20 minutes less than the original, the film takes a completely different approach from the start. The introduction to the films main protagonists and the monsters is within the first ten minutes and letting the story flow from there. The use of clips from the original film and the reappearance of Dr. Yamane gave continuality from the previous installment while also giving information that this was a different individual Godzilla not the previous one come back to life. Like the first film, the special effects are top notch and essentially make this film live up to the original in that aspect. However, like the previous film there wasn’t much in character development through there was an attempt to give one to Kobayashi to make his death more meaningful. Yet the overall story felt off because after Godzilla had killed Anguirus and the characters vowed to rebuild, it felt like the film was over only for the setting to suddenly shift to Hokkaido.

Even though it is not as symbolic or high quality as its predecessor, Godzilla Raids Again was a good sequel that essentially made the franchise possible. The inclusion of two of the original writers provided for continuity from the first but keeping this film distinct. Although the story isn’t prefect, the special effects more than make up for it thus making for a fun watch.

Godzilla