Monthly Archives: June 2009

Mistborn: The Final Empire


Author: Brandon Sanderson

Synopsis: In a fantasy world where ash rains from the sky and the majority of people are oppressed by nobles ruling under an immortal god-king, a young girl discovers vast powers within herself and joins a plot to bring justice to the downtrodden.

Brandon Sanderson was recently tapped to complete the Wheel of Time series after the unfortunate death of Robert Jordan. This piqued my interest. When a friend recommended the Mistborn trilogy, I decided to take him up on it.

And I’m glad I did. Epic trilogies are the bread and butter of fantasy, and Sanderson is starting his off with a bang. In the first several pages, I was concerned about the prose – it was a little literal, not highly imaginative. I took this to be a sign of the story to come, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The story is superb. The characters are rich, but fathomable. That’s an apt word, here, because one actually feels that there are depths to fathom – not de riguer in fantasy circles.

The magic system is sensible, complete, and compelling. One consumes metals to power a handful of effects, including the capacity to Push or Pull on metal objects, but only on the line between the mage and the object. I was most impressed with the physical astuteness Sanderson brought to the magic system. If you Push or Pull on an object much lighter than you, it moves. If it’s much heavier (or attached to something heavier, or Push or Pulled against it), you move instead. This makes for some fantastically imaginative and stirring action scenes.

The final books in the trilogy are already out. I will be picking them up soon, and reporting my thoughts here.

Advertisements

Empire


Author: Orson Scott Card

This is a story about a short-lived civil war in a contemporary USA. It starts with the assassination of the president and VP by unknown terrorists, followed up by an attempted coup by the military and a rebellion of Liberal Elitists on the coasts, who are supported by a Bill Gates caricature with his army of iPod-like AT-STs ripoffs.

The novel started as a video game project that stalled, so OSC decided to convert the plot into a thriller. While it would have made a decent video game, he never really put the pieces together enough to make a coherent book. Too many holes, too many questions, too many implausibilities hamstring the effort. OSC specifically refers to 24 many times during the book, including in the acknowledgements. I haven’t seen the show, but I can only hope it’s tighter and better written.

But, Card is a decent historian, and presents us with an intriguing idea. Given the title and the content of the prolog, I don’t think I’m giving away anything when I say that the civil war is a ploy, a first step by a nefarious man to turn the US into an empire. Card’s thesis is this: it is improper to compare the US to the end of the Roman Empire. If the US collapsed right now, the vestiges of our culture worldwide would be shrugged off. He claims it is more proper to compare us to the end of the Roman Republic, having not yet entered the Empire stage. The plot came from Card’s attempt to imagine how the US would transition from the republic stage to the empire stage. It could use some polishing, but it is a thought-provoking idea.

Despite a transparent attempt to appear moderate, the book is politically charged. Strawmen emerge from the left and the right, but the stronger characters are all, let’s say, one sided. E.g. all the academic people are froo-froo and treacherous, while only half the military people are gruff, power-hungry bullies.

OSC claims that reviews of Empire break down political lines – low from the left and high from the right. This sort of mine-field tactic is a cheap trick of argument, unworthy of someone as smart as OSC.


Bonk


Author: Mary Roach

Mary Roach has established something of a career writing these little non-fiction nuggets. She has a delightful, carefree style with a fine mix of humor and inquisitiveness. This, her third outing, is about sex.

I think, ultimately, that the subject matter knocked her off her game a bit. While her previous books are also about subjects that are, to some extent, equally personal – death for Stiff and the soul for Spook – she appears to struggle more to find a distance here. The book succeeds best when she recovers her playful sense of humor.

The best way to see what I mean is to watch her at the TED conference. Be warned, some of the book’s best gems are here in the presentation, but there’s plenty more to enjoy in the text.