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wysewomon "wysewomon" (Paonia, CO United States)

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The Crystal City: The Tales of Alvin Maker, Volume VI
The Crystal City: The Tales of Alvin Maker, Volume VI
by Orson Scott Card
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.95
48 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars The Spark is Gone, Feb. 4 2004
In _The Crystal City_, Orson Scott Card's 6th book in the Alvin Maker series, Alvin starts an epidemic and builds a bridge, Arthur Stuart gets kissed and runs to Mexico and back, Calvin postures, Verily sulks and Margaret sighs. That's about it.
Before embarking on _The Crystal City_ I went back and reread the entire series, as it had been five years or so since I was through them last and I wanted to be sure everything was fresh. I was, once more, delighted by the voice with its smooth use of early American colloquialism, impressed by the obvious knowledge of history and folklore that went into them, captivated by the engaging characters and astounded by the scope of the work. "Boy," I thought, "This is one Great Series!"
Then I came to the current volume. And I was really disappointed. It purely does not compare with its companions in any way. The story was frankly boring and the Biblical allegory--which was very suave and subtle in the earlier works-- was just ham-handed. I don't object to Alvin's spending the entire book leading a group of slaves to freedom, but it doesn't make for very interesting action and the subplots weren't developed enough to alleviate the tedium. The language was mundane, without any of the personality I had come to expect. The earlier books seemed to be told by a breathing human being; TCC resembled a recitation by a history prof counting the days until retirement. The characters were flat. The characters we had seen before were not developed any further and the new characters were not developed at all. In previous books even minor characters had personalities and stories, but only lip service was paid to that here: note the stunning difference between _Heartfire's_ Denmark and TCC's Old Bart. Historical characters were inserted to fill the formula, but not even Abe Lincoln really added anything. And as for Papa Moose and Mama Squirrel, well, I read the reason for them in the Acknowledgements, but I personally think using those names was a REALLY BAD CHOICE. Every reference to "moose and squirrel" catapaulted me into a realm that had nothing to do with Alvin Maker and Co. I'm sure you know the one I mean.
I don't mind that TCC started about five years after _Heartfire_ and that Alvin was in a really different place than one might have expected. I do mind that the story behind this wasn't really told. It's as if Tolkein had finished FOTR with leaving Lorien, skipped TTT altogether and started ROTK with "Well, now that Saruman's been vanquished..." There was just a huge chunk missing, and I think that chunk would have been a great deal more interesting than the story Card chose to tell. It almost seems to me that Card has written himself into a corner with this series; his characters can no longer grow and change and have real human experiences because that might tarnish them. Good and bad are established, but there are no longer any of the shades of grey that make people interesting.
Though TCC ends with some events that foreshadow a possible cotinuation of this series, it also sums up enough -- with "curtain call" appearances by most major characters fromt he series -- that Card could stop here without much harm done. Unless he makes some radical choices for this universe, I hope he does stop. I really wouldn't like to see this series devolve any further. The spark is gone and laying this series to rest before it decays would be a mercy.

The Outstretched Shadow: The Obsidian Trilogy: Book One
The Outstretched Shadow: The Obsidian Trilogy: Book One
by Mercedes Lackey
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from CDN$ 3.52

2.0 out of 5 stars Not the Worst thing I've ever read, but not the best, either, Jan. 27 2004
Kellen Tavadon lives in the Mage city of Armethalieh, where nothing ever is allowed to change. Son of the Arch-Mage, he's expected to follow in his father's footsteps, but he doesn't fit in, doesn't live up to expectations, and doesn't agree with the agenda that's been set for his life. His discovery of a mysterious set of books on the forbidden topic of "Wild Magic" sets him on a course that will ultimately thrust him form the life he knows and introduce him to his destiny.
Sound familiar? It should. The plot, characters, themes and settings are typical of fantasy in general and Mercedes Lackey in particular. Except for the hair colour and the fact that he whines a little less, Kellen could have been Vanyel. Whether this is comforting or annoying will depend on the reader.
I found this book very difficult to get into, mostly because the writing style is frankly amateurish, particularly for the first five or six chapters. For every location there are hundreds of words of unnecessary back-story and description. No event is truly connected to the larger story, as most of them occur mainly to elucidate conditions in Armethalieh. This was especially grating in chapter 2: an entire chapter devoted to a situation and characters who never appear again, merely to point out that women are not allowed to practice magick and mages go to great lengths to prevent them doing so. I couldn't help but feel there would have been a much more elegant and less wordy way of getting this point across. I wouldn't have found it worth my while even to give those characters names!
Once Kellen's destiny is thrust on him things pick up, but there's still a lot of the same-old here. The same old good vs. evil conflict, the same old debate between Earth magic and ceremonial magic, the same old magical creatures and, saints preserve us, the same old Elves. The action is okay and the concept of Wild Magic has some originality, but there's way too much introspection and moralizing on Kellen's part. I felt very strongly that the writers did not trust their readers to "get it," and so over-explained things to the point of boredom.
_The Outstretched Shadow_ has its moments. There were some things about it that I quite liked, occasional brief flashes of originality and wit. Unfortunately, it seemed that instead of pressing the boundaries of genre fiction, the writers allowed themselves to be limited by its banalities. So this was never quite the book I felt it COULD have been. I'll probably read the rest of the series, but I won't expect any more of it than I've seen here.

Ilium
Ilium
by Dan Simmons
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from CDN$ 2.93

3.0 out of 5 stars Cluttered, but Ultimately Somewhat Enjoyable, Nov. 5 2003
This review is from: Ilium (Hardcover)
In the far, far distant future, a lot of things are happening all at once. (Actually, part of the point of this book is that everything is always happening all at once in some respect, but never mind.) The gods of ancient Greece--or beings so like them as to make little difference--are hovering over the Trojan War, using reconstituted 20th century professors as their agents. Jupiter and Jovian space are populated by sentient semi-organic robots, who are on a seemingly kamikaze mission to Mars. Earth is a much different place than we know it now, with "old-style" humans enjoying a certain level of technology that no one understands yet having no artistic culture. By the end of the book all these stories will have come together--somewhat--to prepare the way for the NEXT book. So that makes _Ilium_ essentially a great big 500-odd page introduction.
It's a fairly interesting introduction, particularly as far as character development. These characters--except, perhaps, the eternal gods--live and grow in ways both drastic and believable. The process is aided by that age-old classical theme of Man's struggle against Fate; everyone here is raging against stricture and convention, whether he knows it or not. Also appropriate, since a major theme of _The Iliad_ is the devastating and world-changing effect of rage. As a backdrop and mirror of the action, Simmons uses Homer exceptionally well most of the time, although I don't personally agree with some of his interpretation; in my opinion he doesn't take a wide enough view or veer enough from rather straight-laced academia in his interpretation of the Ancient Greeks, with the notable exception of Odysseus and perhaps Helen. Of course Hector is the true hero of _The Iliad_ and it isn't at all merely the modern "politically correct" view that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. Ancient Greece, hello??
But anyway for all the enjoyable stuff, I found the story itself remarkably cluttered. For one thing, Simmons did that thing he does where he talks at length about societies and technology using a lot of big words, some of which he may have made up, without really explaining anything, so it takes a long time before you get a decent feel for what is going on. I don't generally mind this technique, but in this case it seemed like I was halfway through the book before I really felt I had a handle on things. Some of the questions--like, who are the post humans and why should I care?-- don't even begin to be answered, and that really bothered me.
For another, it seemed to me that there was too much diverse thematic content. There's meat enough in _the Iliad_ without bringing in Prospero's Island and all its inhabitants and the Wandering Jew legend too! All those disparate elements clashed in my head. I completely didn't appreciate the lengthy discussions of Shakespeare and Proust between the robots; it added nothing to the story and I found the literary criticism sophmoric.
The first 150 pages of this book were a real struggle to get through and I almost didn't bother going on. After that things picked up. I would have appreciated more resolution in this volume--some hint as to why all those elements were necessary would have raised my opinion a great deal. The sequel will show whether Simmons can ultimately pull off what he's attemtpting, but I'm afraid a lot of readers won't bother.

Spirits in the Wires
Spirits in the Wires
by Charles de Lint
Edition: Hardcover
24 used & new from CDN$ 1.60

2.0 out of 5 stars This One Just Didn't Grab Me, Oct. 25 2003
This review is from: Spirits in the Wires (Hardcover)
In his latest novel featuring an ensemble cast of Newford-ites, Charles DeLint attempts to explore the idea that Cyberspace is the modern equivalent of the Hollow Hills -- an otherworld that can be physically accessed -- and that some of the older denizens of the spirit world may have already become interested in this psychic real estate. Or, at least, that's what he says he's doing in his introduction.
When a virus disrupts the Wordwood site and a whole lot of people disappear into virtual reality, a disparate group of magic users and mundanes must use whatever means they can come up with to go to the rescue. Christy Riddell is one of the central characters, as his partner Saskia is one of the ones who has disappeared. We also get to see Holly Rue, Robert Lonnie, Geordie and a supporting cast of Newford's literary citizens (as opposed to Newford's painting citizens) as well as the usual faeries, sprites and elemental spirits.
And that's what kind of bothered me about this book. We had the usual suspects doing the usual things in pretty much the usual way; only the setting was somewhat altered, and that not by much. I think the question of spirits in cyberspace, so much a part of a lot of cyberpunk fiction, is a really interesting one. But I didn't find it addressed here in any interesting way. Rather, the idea seemed taken for granted and from there the novel read like a Michael Crichton action piece, with lots of fireworks and explosions, told from so many points of view that it was hard to care about any of them.
I'm also disappointed that DeLint's books seem to have lost the edginess that grabbed me in many of his earlier works. There aren't any great villains here, so the conflict is a little pale. There isn't any real sense of danger. Although the characters constantly must remember that "The otherworld is dangerous place," we don't see any real danger. Nothing really bad happens to anyone. It's all a walk in the park and the ending no surprise. We're told anything can happen, but it rings false. In reality "anything" CAN'T happen, because the heroes always come through safe and sound with very few scars. Call me bloodthirsty, but I think at this point DeLint's work could benefit from killing someone dead -- someone major.
This is another book that will probably be lost on anyone who hasn't read several of DeLint's short story collections. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone new to this writer or this genre. Although it's always interesting to see what's going on in Newford with these characters, I considered this one of their less thrilling adventures. Get it out of the library or wait for paper.

Sunshine And Shadow
Sunshine And Shadow
by Earlene Fowler
Edition: Hardcover
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.15

5.0 out of 5 stars A Really Good Book, Oct. 7 2003
This review is from: Sunshine And Shadow (Hardcover)
In _Sunshine and Shadow_ Earlene Fowler has done something very difficult: taken two interlocking stories set seventeen years apart and told them in a way that each illuminates both the other and the underlying theme of the novel, bringing the two together at the end for a touching conclusion. The skill with which she pulls this feat off alone makes me give this book high marks. That there are other things to like here is frosting on the cake.
As San Celina prepares for its annual Fiesta Days, both Benni and her husband, Gabe, renew acquaintances with friends from their pasts. When one is murdered and Benni finds herself victimized by a mysterious stalker, Benni and Gabe are forced to remember and confront things they'd rather forget.
_Sunshine and Shadow_ is less a mystery than an exploration of characters and relationships, and the ways events in the past influence the present, both for good and bad. The murder story is more of a device in service to this theme than an end in itself, but I didn't feel cheated. I actually found it refreshing that Ms. Fowler chose to go in a very different direction and treat her characters in very different ways, instead of limiting herself to the same old "Benni is a snoop but it works out okay in the end" story. We see a very different Benni here, one who is forced to face fear and questions of faith in order to find her real strength.
There are a couple of glitches -- noticably that the Internet and cell phones are more prevalent in the world of the book than they really were in 1995 -- but none that detract from the excellence of the storytelling. _Sunshine and Shadow_ is a strong and sensitive addition to the Benni Harper series, one that made me think about it long after the reading was done.

The Companions
The Companions
by Sheri S. Tepper
Edition: Hardcover
20 used & new from CDN$ 2.14

4.0 out of 5 stars An Enjoyable Read, Sept. 22 2003
This review is from: The Companions (Hardcover)
In the year 2700 (give or take), Earth is a wasteland of mile-high apartment towers, desalinazation plants, and algae processing facilities, populated by WAY too many people. The gap between the rich and poor is worse than ever, real food is non-existent and space colonization hasn't helped anything because of a law that every colonist who can no longer work (read: the elderly) must be returned to Earth. On top of all this, a religious group declaring that humans are the only species with a right to live has taken power and passed a law that all remaining companion animals must be destroyed because they use up too much air and water. Jewell Delis, a devoted preservationist who has spent years developing a bigger and better dog, manages to get herself and her charges shipped off to a recently discovered world, ostensibly to assist her linguist brother. And that's where the story really begins.
I liked _The Companions_, but not as much as I've liked others of Sheri Tepper's novels. This is not because of the story: reminiscent of _Grass_ and _After Long Silence_ in its themes, this was a hard book to put down. We find here the familiar "human only" club that appears (by other names) in Tepper's other books; also familiar are Tepper's playing with Planetary consciousness, languages that don't resemble languages we recognise and sentience in forms that are hard to acknowledge. Less prominent is is the theme of the existence of pure evil, but it's there. All this is woven into an agile plot populated by likable characters.
But I felt the story was rushed. There were a lot of subplots that I really wanted to hear more about and a lot of things that, I felt, didn't really get developed the way they deserved to. I think Tepper really limited herself by telling the bulk of the story in the first person -- a new technique for her -- because _The Companions_ didn't seem to have the scope of her novels where she's free to jump about more in time and space. The last third of the book seemed particularly cramped.
Where Tepper talks about relationships and communication, _The Companions_ is a great read. Where the major conflict comes in, it falls a little flat. But it's still a good choice for readers of speculative fiction.

Curse Of Atlantis: Thorgal's Quest
Curse Of Atlantis: Thorgal's Quest
Offered by EntertainmentForLess
Price: CDN$ 9.98
16 used & new from CDN$ 3.50

1.0 out of 5 stars Really Not Adventure; Really Not Fun, Sept. 10 2003
_Thorgal's Quest_ claims to be an adventure game. It's not, really. Or, rather, maybe it has roots in the adventure genre, but there are so many timed puzzles, skill tasks, fight sequences and the like that the adventure elements are lost in the shuffle. Perhaps this makes TQ appeal to a wider audience, but I know for sure that it only frustrates and alienates adventure purists like myself.
For reasons that you never are told, Thorgal the Viking is trapped in a strange village by a storm. While there, he meets up with a mysterious old man, who shows him a vision wherein Thorgal kills his own son. To prevent this fate, Thorgal must return home as soon as possible. This means crossing to the other side of the island where there is no storm and a boat can take him home. But beware the intervening forest, which is chock full of bandits and pitfalls!
Several things attracted me to TQ. The storyline, with its mythological elements, seemed appealing and reminiscent of _Odyssey_ or _Arthur's Knights_, games I found amusing. The graphics looked pretty good. The box promised challenging puzzles and hours of entertainment.
Beware false promises, O Intrepid Gamer! _Thorgal's Quest_ has a story that becomes increasingly ludicrous and illogical and graphics that are choppy and take forever to load. The challenge comes from infuriating timed activities where you have to stand in exactly the right place to succeed and endless pixel hunting. Thankfully this game is short--particularly because you absolutely have to resort to cheating to discover which pixel of the screen you have to position your character on to succeed in knocking out the bad guy, unless you want to be killed thirty times in a row while randomly running around.
In my opinion, this sort of game should not be advertised as Adventure. I had only played about half an hour before I wanted my money back. If you want an adventure game, don't buy this.

The Onion Girl
The Onion Girl
by Charles de Lint
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.51
51 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars If You Know Newford..., Sept. 4 2003
This review is from: The Onion Girl (Paperback)
In _The Onion Girl_, Newford artist Jilly Coppercorn suffers a devastating personal tragedy that forces her to re-evaluate her life and face things in her past that she'd rather not. As she is virtually the glue that holds Newford together, she is aided by a mind-boggling cast of characters, both this-worldly and otherworldly.
I loved this book and couldn't put it down, but I ended up having mixed feelings about it when I was done. On the one hand, DeLint's writing was a beautiful as ever, his depictions of the joys and terrors of the Otherworld as richly realised, his characters as real and his forthright pictures of some very ugly human experiences as affecting.
On the other hand, there are certain things I found a bit off. The cast of characters is SO enormous -- at times it seems that everyone who's ever appeared in a Newford story shows up at some time or another -- that it's a little hard to keep track of; I certainly wouldn't recommend reading this book unless you've at least read one or two of DeLint's short story anthologies. Towards the end, the message got just a little overbearing. At the same time, I didn't like the implication that only magic could really heal Jilly; I would have liked to see her take some real world steps to deal with her baggage. Maybe deciding to get therapy isn't magical, but I really think she could use it.
I did like that everything between Jilly and her "nemesis" wasn't completely resolved and that there was still some tension between them at the end. I also liked the fact that this ending wasn't a happy-ever-after kind of thing--that people underwent irreversable changes.
I didn't like that one character who could have been really interesting seemed to exist merely to deliver a heavy-handed message about standing up to bullies, which I think the book delivered effectively elsewhere. It seemed a waste of a character and brought up certain questions that were not answered to my satisfaction.
Probably if you're a DeLint fan already you'll like this book. If you haven't read anything by this fine writer, don't start here or you'll be lost.

Love for Sale
Love for Sale
by Jill Churchill
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Apalling, July 16 2003
This review is from: Love for Sale (Hardcover)
What is is with all these formerly witty and entertaining cozy/mystery series that have suddenly become unredeemably drab, boring and awful?
On the eve of the 1932 Presidential election, a group of strangers, one of them in disguise, shows up at Grace and Favor, offering wads of cash and demanding absolute privacy. Of course, one of them ends up murdered and the murder must be solved.
I can't begin to describe how terrible this book is. It reads like an outline, and not a very interesting one at that. There is no characterization and no atmosphere. Quite a few words are wasted on matters that have no importance and details that have no relevance. Long, dull paragraphs of factual background might have been copied verbatim from the encylopaedia. Despite numerous red herrings the solution is painfully obvious, and the red herrings themselves are boring and pointless. Events that are referred to in the book jacket never happen at all. A third grader could have come up with a better story and told it with more colour.
I have two words for anyone thinking of reading _Love for Sale_: Don't bother.

Cat Who Brought Down The House
Cat Who Brought Down The House
by Lillian Braun
Edition: Hardcover
48 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Inane and Ragged, July 8 2003
This 25th installment in the "Cat Who" series proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that once a book series has made it to the best-seller lists, it can never die, even when the successive installments have no redeeming value. The book reads at first grade level, with very little imagery. Action is limited to the "and then he did this" variety. The plot is practically non-existent, swallowed up in repetitive visits to every restaurant in Pickax where nothing happens except unending consumption of coffee and pie. The characters, who were once rather interesting, have devolved into mere sets of mannerisms.
The cats are comatose.
The title has no clear meaning or relevance, aside from a possible connection to an event that seemed stuck in for its cute factor. The writing is incredibly irritating, jumping inconsistently from third person narrative to Qwill's journal to excerpts from "Short and Tall Tales." This might not have been so grating had it been handled with anything like finesse, but each jump was simply announced with some phrase like: "this incident is better related through Qwill's personal journal." In my opinion, that kind of statement belongs in a writer's private notes, not in a published work.
I really enjoyed the first eighteen or twenty of these books, but they have become too inane for words. The whitebread, utopian view of this rural community where every charity can sell out $300-a-plate fundraisers and every problem can be solved by applying to the K Fund has really begun to stick in my craw. I think a better book would involve shooting Q willeran through the head. The only mystery here is why I keep inflicting this series upon myself.

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