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Pirate Cinema
By Cory Doctorow

Before saying anything else about this book, it should be noted that it is a fantastic read. You should read it. It’s well written, fast paced, and enjoyable. Cory Doctorow even has links on his website for you to download the entire book for free. So the only question about it is whether or not this book is worth your time, because you can decide whether or not its worth paying for after you’ve read it.

Pirate Cinema is definitely worth your time. Cory Doctorow has a beautiful narrative flow that is captivating, moving the reader fluidly from one moment to the next. The fact that his prose is so brilliant is far from the best thing about his writing, but it is a good place to start. The dialog reads as naturally as breathing, the characters are believable, and their fears palpable and understandable.

For everyone who has felt the pressure and fear of copyright law in the last decade, this novel will speak to you. It calls to mind the time when the RIAA was winning multimillion dollar lawsuits against everyday people because their kids learned how to use napster. The villains are faceless and terrifying. This book will touch you if you have ever imagined yourself in those shoes. Pirate Cinema goes on to some bigger and more controversial ideas.

Part of what makes this such a compelling read is how deeply it gets into what it means for a culture to have art. This book aggressively asserts that it is important for people to be able to internalize artistic works, ingest them, and even use them to create with. These are things that the modern world has been wrestling with for over a century. It has only gotten harder to deal with since the internet made it as easy as a few mouse clicks to copy something that required a lot of work to make. It is all about wrestling with that boundary between protecting the work of people whose products can be copied and given away or sold without them making a dime for their efforts and aggressively punishing people for taking part in a culture that they frequently pay everything they have to indulge in but could never afford to explore completely.

The fact that Doctorow has published his book digitally for free should tell you which side of the line he comes down on in his works. He puts a lot of effort into approaching the ideas from unique and fresh angles, and from a youthful perspective. Doctorow knows where the battle is really going to happen, and it is with the kids. The old guard always changes and as long as the next generation understands what is at risk by trying to lock down everything our culture produces forever over mere money.

Cory Doctorow is really good at this, and he has done it before, and maybe even better. But it would not be fair to let previous books diminish the quality of this one. At some points the details feel a bit thin, but generally the plot holds together pretty well. The structure could perhaps have been a little more clear, though it is difficult to say for sure. The ending feels a bit abrupt for all the buildup leading into it, for certain, but it does land the ending gracefully.

Pirate Cinema is worth your time. It is filled with humor, character, warmth, suspense, passion, and ideas. Readers, do yourselves a favor and put this one next in line in your list of things to read. If you love it as much as I did, buy it. This author’s work is worth it, and the movement that he is apart of deserves the money. It is a refreshing and enjoyable read.

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A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)
By George R. R. Martin

Storm of Swords CoverThe word epic gets thrown around all over the place about almost anything these days. In the case of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, there just is no better word. These books are epic in scale and scope. A Storm of Swords is the third book in this densely worded series.

A clever reader could pick it up and work out the current events and the vast majority of their context without reading the prior books, though it is not recommended. The events at the beginning are very tightly co mingled with the end of the previous installment, “A Clash of Kings.” There is just enough exposition in the book to make the events relevant, and it is delivered with grace and subtlety. This is a very small saving grace to the new reader, though, because of how thickly presented the plot is. Every chapter has multiple plot heavy events happening, with very little fluff or padding. This is the most story heavy book in the series so far, and one of the most difficult books to work through. Plus, the first two books are equally excellent, so there is very little reason to start in the middle of this story.

One of the real triumphs of Martin in writing this series is the volume of foreshadowing and character development as the plot moves forward. The whole world has a vibrant feel to it that has the weight of a well thought out reality that unfolds in every detail. Martin uses visceral descriptions to highlight the feeling of a world that is just close enough to reality to be believable, and suspend disbelief. The characters feel frail and mortal, even the greatest and most famous and daunting of warriors. In fact, it seems to be a theme of the entire series. Anything(or anyone) great crumbles under its own weight, often tearing apart the foundations it is built upon, both physically and philosophically.

After putting a great deal of thought into it, the most negative thing there is to say about a Storm of Swords is that it is extremely dense. This is no light read, and if you are a casual reader, or even an average one, this book will take some time to muscle through. It will hardly feel like you are muscling your way through it, but it will take longer than the average novel to pierce its depths and come out the other side.

Anyone with any taste for fantasy should read this series. It is engaging, smart, and fascinating. Every page is filled with superb story telling that never breaks character. Beware, though, even though there will only be 7 books in this series, picking it up will take up a huge chunk of your reading time.

Play it Loud

Signal to Noise New Edition
Written by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Dave McKean

Signal to Noise is a piece of art. It gives the impression that it is less important for you to like it than to appreciate it. Gaiman and McKean are very aware that despite the details of the story they are telling the book is really about mortality and limited human perspective and unshared experiences. The title is pretty key in deciphering some of the meanings of the narrative. It embodies a basic question of life about whether the universe has meaning. Is it just white noise, or is there purpose to the patterns?

It is well written and beautifully illustrated, and both the words and images carry weight and meaning. In that sense, Signal to Noise is a complete success. From a certain point of view and perspective it is even intensely engaging, even though it does not really have to be. For what it is, and the ideas it explores, it feels like it needs a little more life to it, though. It is all about death and loss and isolation. It feels one sided in its narrative. That is not bad, exactly, but it could have used some other elements from the emotional spectrum to create a little more texture. All of its grand ideas feel a little flat and two dimensional.

There is no reason to spoil the plot for a review since the graphic novel is so short. The plot follows a simple path where a very predictable and painful to watch even happens very slowly, and then the surrounding characters interpret their feelings about it. The end is there to make you feel more enriched by the experience rather than cutting off at the bleakest moment. At the same time, though, it doesn’t really change much. It isn’t supposed to, it is there to give you context and to smooth out your emotional exit from the narrative. All the pieces come together, at their worst they are only serviceable, and at their best they are really powerful ideas. These artists are experienced at their craft and it shows. They know how not to mess up, even when they do not always shine.

This is perfect light reading. The emotional drama is predictable but still engaging. The narrative is engaging. The art is aggressive and harsh, but it matches the tone of the story and ideas. None of it is revolutionary though it does have some very cool twists in here on some of the ideas. I strongly recommend it, especially since it will only take about an hour or two to read in its entirety.

The Pillars of Creation (Sword of Truth book 7)
By Terry Goodkind

This review will be a bit of a reversal. The Pillars of Creation is by far the best book in the series so far, and is overall a pretty good book. There aren’t even very many qualifiers to that. It is the first book since maybe Wizard’s First Rule to remain solid and carry forward to the end on its own momentum without any serious stumbles along the way. It’s a better book because it is not trapped in the serious problems previous books have had with exposition, pacing, or character development; and all the players in this book have already been milked for all the serious ideological issues that have been a huge hindrance. Goodkind does not handle those issues well in earlier novels, so he is able to leave behind some of the series’ baggage.

The largest weakness with The Pillars of Creation is with its antagonists. Most of them are the same general one dimensional straw men that Goodkind has relied upon heavily in the past. That is not necessarily a bad thing, and most of them do not really need to be more complex than that. For a large part of the novel this was really only a problem because it just made them so predictable. They are largely bad guy stereotypes, unthinking, aggressive, and evil in every possible way. There is one character that falls in with some of Goodkind’s poorest written villains early on in the narrative.

Goodkind just uses serial rape as too much of a fallback for so many of his villains, it is absurd. There is generally at least one per novel, so far. An unlikely number of people who start out well meaning at the beginning of his stories before get fed up with life and deciding to take out their frustrations via serial rape. There is no middle ground, it is like they have one bad day, then bam, they rape every woman they get alone. It would be funny if it weren’t so grotesque and horrific. It is a really glaring flaw in some characters that might otherwise have been interesting because their jump in logic is not sympathetic. Even Goodkind doesn’t really empathize with his villains, even though it is clear that he knows he is supposed to in order to produce a good story. It really breaks the identifiable humanity of the characters.

As for what the story does right? Just about everything else. First off, it breaks entirely with tradition and follows an entirely unknown cast of characters during a parallel series of events that starts well before the end of the last book. The worst weaknesses in previous novels were with characters that he had broken over the course of multiple novels and had been following religiously. The new characters aren’t weighed down by overlong canonical ties. On top of that, their distance from the story up till now has made much of the exposition that is still there feel much more natural. It doesn’t feel forced when the new characters need to know something, because none of them have been around. This makes it so that there are fewer moments where characters are saying or thinking things that seem unnatural for the purposes of conveying information to the reader.

Because these new characters generally are not the supreme evil of the communist emperor Jagang or the embodiment of all that is good and right in the world, like Richard Rahl, they are able to shed much of the bizarre and disjointed tools that Goodkind has used in previous books to define his characters. That has all been covered before, so Goodkind is able to present some characters that are far more humanized and don’t represent ideals that Goodkind just doesn’t have the skill to realistically portray. The story generally feels a lot weaker and thinner than the rest of the book when it does touch on the characters and ideas from previous books that have had such weird narrative problems. Every line of narration will still tell you how unbelievably amazing, reasonable, and good Richard Rahl is when it gets to his character even when there is nothing to demonstrate these qualities. These problems with telling us how to feel instead of showing us what we need in order to reach those feelings on our own have been a huge problem. They are largely absent from this installation, but not entirely.

More importantly, after book six, which covered in depth all the strange and surreal political ideas that define the major players in the series, Goodkind is able to move on and tell this story without having to act as a voice for those ideas that have been weighing the books down. Pillars of Creation does still have some real problems with creating believable events, but if you can read the book without thinking about the events too much you should be able to enjoy the read. It’s easily the best book in the series up till now, and one of the very few that manages to keep a strong sense of pacing that never deteriorates or pauses the book for weirdness. I’d maybe even recommend this book to someone who was not following the Sword of Truth series, and for those who are following it or reading their way through the series it is a must read.

Faith of the Fallen (The Sword of Truth)
By Terry Goodkind

Faith of the Fallen is Goodkind’s peak of the Sword of Truth series thus far, culminating in his ultimate anti communist manifesto. It reads like a cold war textbook on why communism is bad. I’m not joking. This book is worth it for the bizarre unintended humor quality alone. Richard Rahl is all that stands between the world of good and, I shit you not, communism. McCarthy could not have written a more direct book.

My previous review mentioned that the series follows a pattern of bad even books and decent odd books, and this fits completely into the former category. I will give this book credit for the clues that lead me to a greater understanding of something that has bothered me throughout this entire series. Goodkind is terrible about his use of exposition. I’ve said that in every review I have done for this series, but, there is something I only just finally started to notice during Faith of the Fallen. Goodkind has a problem with his exposition that is even worse than its heavy handedness. It is not aligned with the reality of the story. Goodkind will often use exposition to tell you the way that he wants you to feel, and then fail to back it up in the actual events and background development of the story.

The best way to give an example of this is the way he writes Richard as a definitive moral compass of the series, but his decisions are constantly wrong. The story starts with him giving into a hostage situation without any sort of guarantee. He agrees to go along without any means of securing the safety of the hostage. The story begins right where the last one lets off. A sister of the dark(who ultimately is a mess of a character) creates a magic bond to Richard’s love interest(that is never used before, and feels incredibly contrived and forced). Now, as long as this magic only lets the victim experience what the sister of the dark experiences, it works, but then Goodkind writes in that she has the power to just give death over this link without any exterior symptoms. This little detail makes the entire scenario of Richard going along peacefully nonsensical! It is there in order to give the sister of the dark(with a name that is a straight up homonym of Nieztsche’s) certain powers to try to compensate for other holes in the story line. The problem is that it undermines the entire story entirely. “So, you’re saying that if I go with you, you could still kill her anyway without me having any way of knowing she is dead? Then you could kill me in my sleep without me even knowing that everything had gone horribly wrong?”

The inconsistencies go on and on. It’s not even worth enumerating them, because it would fill pages and pages. The characters are weak and poorly written and used entirely as poorly executed and heavy handed soap boxes for various philosophies. Of all the books up to this point, this is the only one of the bad ones that is so bad that it is worth reading for pure humor. It is almost comedy gold. Richard Rahl vs communism. I just do not even know what there is to say about that. I do not even know what there is to say. I had high hopes for this book, because it followed a book with such a rough ending that it really needed this sequel to pick up where it left off and weave the stories together. It doesn’t though. It wraps up the end of the last story in the first few chapters and then the book starts its own story proper. It would have made more sense to put the dividing line between the two books a few chapters into this one instead. I think it didn’t do that so that it could have a slightly steadier opening. It doesn’t work at all, though. The shift in story is still so jarring that it breaks any feeling of immersion.

If you are able to laugh at really bad writing, then maybe this book is worth reading. The very premise is laughable, and the execution is every bit as hilarious as the plot line sounds. It is really disappointing, because it is the first book in the series that really feels like it has the responsibility to continue on the previous book’s themes in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Faith of the Fallen fails to deliver on that promise in almost every single way, and then shoot off on a bizarre set of tangents and ideas. I honestly did not mean to say this much about this book. I laughed the whole time. It is funny bad. Very funny bad. It does not follow up on the Soul of the Fire, but it is worth reading for a number of reasons all its own. At this point in the series, if you want to skip this book then you should probably just give up on the series. It is pretty unforgivable that it is such a terrible follow up to the Soul of the Fire, which particularly needed a strong follow up. I recommend avoiding this as anything but a light and humorous read, or as a faithful following of the Sword of Truth series. As a work of serious or of quality fiction, this book fails on almost every level.

So Excited

The Humble Indie Bundle has been selling a collection of books and graphic novels this month that I am very excited about, and I just can’t hide it!

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow, Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, Invasion by Mercedes Lackey, Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, and then, to tickle my own childlike heart, a collection of comic collections from XKCD to Penny Arcade!

I’ve been reading the fourth Song of Ice and Fire novel, and loving it, along with book 7 of the Sword of Truth series. Getting a lot of reading done, and loving it. As I read these I will be posting about them and talking about them. Seriously can’t decide what to read first.. any suggestions?

My Ears Are Ringing

Soul of the Fire (The Sword of Truth #5)
By Terry Goodkind

Beware, this books deals with some very mature and difficult subject matter.

Soul of the Fire contains the best writing in the Sword of Truth series so far. Being able to start off with such a positive statement about a novel feels very good. Goodkind has filled this novel with a number of segments that center around a truly emotionally devastating sub plot involving a powerful serial rapist and his government employed support network. The events in this sub plot contain viscerally devastating details of physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. Murder. Can’t forget the rape. From a perspective of quality that involves the ability of a book to really play havoc with the emotions of the reader this is some incredible writing that is on par with Dostoyevsky. Whether or not this is a good quality is really up to the reader, but if you’re reading this then you will be aware of what you will find here. Even if you feel that these are good qualities in a challenging read of high quality, though, it should be noted that these moments and segments of the story are interspersed with some of the lesser writing in the series.

Normally I don’t really feel that it is beneficial to discus the strict events of a novel too often. I really feel like those details are part of the story, and are involved in the reading. If I can impart to a reader whether or not a book is worth their time, then I feel like I’ve preserved the pleasure of every bit of discovery for the reader if I have managed not to reveal anything at all about the story or events. But I really have to share this. It was absurd, silly, time consuming, and simply flat out ridiculous. The book picks up, like all the others from the exact stopping point of the previous novel; but Soul of the Fire is so exposition heavy that despite the direct link of events to Temple of the Winds that you could literally skip it and still know almost every detail of what happened by just reading this book. As soon as things start happening, Richard begins to hunt for a chicken around the village of the Mud People, and continues to do so for(I kid you not) about a quarter of the novel. Maybe a hair less than that. It would be almost funny if it hadn’t been so long and chopped up with the story that I talked about earlier. And on top of that, it’s incredibly repetitive and tedious in a lot of its use of words. Goodkind will latch onto a phrase and use it over and over again, regardless of how ineffectual and unwieldy it is, such as, “The chicken-that-is-not-a-chicken.”

There are also a few examples of some particularly awful world building here. The series is full of contrivances, but one of the most absurd happens in this book. In order to create a scenario where the loss of magic from this universe Goodkind informs us through exposition that there is a river that is naturally practically pure poison and which only becomes potable via the purification of plants that are involved in an ecosystem supported by magic that consumes the poison from said river before it reaches a place where it feeds crops and livestock that would be harvested and fed to most of the world, killing hundreds of thousands in an apocalyptic scenario. Think about that for a minute, though. Think about a river in this universe that is naturally poisonous to everyone. Where does it come from? What grows out of it before it is purified? What is the poison? Why is that poison in it in such abundance?

A lot of the characters are really one dimensional, but that is perfectly fine. They’re characters that the reader is supposed to either hate, or sympathize on a specific level for only a brief time with, or get comic relief from, or in other ways non central to the main plot. The real story that manages to get pushed to the foreground includes a young man dealing with feelings of inadequacy and persecution dealing with a world that insists that the only way to be a good person is to do things that he knows are wrong but trigger internal positive responses in him against his poor lot in life, along with a girl who does not know how to deal with being a victim of a deeply personal crime from an untouchable and irreproachable source, and a henchman who has to deal with a society governed by the near completely morally bankrupt. While the world building is pretty shoddy and the other half of the book that these stories are chopped up with is pretty generally weak at best, Goodkind really does manage to tell a compelling tale where you need to know what happens next to these characters. Their plights are identifiable, and their oppressors are truly unthinkably awful and analogous to real world situations of abuse.

Unlike any other book previously in the series, Soul of the Fire feels inextricably tied to the next book in the series. It does not feel resolved at the end. It is a weird feeling in Goodkind’s exposition heavy world where every book completely fills you in on the context and background, frequently far beyond what you even need to know. After all, Soul of the Fire is not the first book in the series to render the book before it completely unnecessary to read in order to take in the story.

Overall, a pattern has started to emerge where the odd numbered books in this saga are the better reads, frequently by a significant margin. Soul of the Fire is worth reading on its own for its own merits on top of progressing the plot of the overall series. Bear in mind, though, that the parts that are good are emotionally brutal on a number of levels, and the parts that are bad are intellectually brutal on just as many levels. It is very weird, too, switching back and forth between the two. You literally jump back and forth between a rape victim being told that it is probably their fault they got raped and Richard chasing around a chicken-that-is-not-a-chicken. The majority of the book feels just like that sentence, so be prepared. The end is generally a lot weaker than the first half, too, but it lands on its feet leading right into the next novel. Unless you are very sensitive to the writing problems outlined here, or to the subject matter of the story, you should check it out, most especially if you have followed the series up to here.

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