Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Books of the Week: 7/10/2012

Yes, I know I missed posting a review last week. Yes, I know you all depend on me so much to provide high-quality reviews of low-quality books. No, it won't happen again. Until it happens again. Anyway, on to the books. I must really be on the good side of the karma wheel, because I'm still picking halfway decent books. This week, it's a prequel to Bioshock, a poor-to-mediocre Warhammer 40K one-shot, and a strange collection of quirky, funny sci-fi short stories. 

The Cyberiad
Stanislaw Lem

(I'm being a rebel and going in reverse order today! ANARCHY!) The Cyberiad is a collection of short stories that all feature the same two characters. It's set sometime in the far distant future, a future where humans have been superseded by robots that are suspiciously humanish in some ways. 

Stanislaw Lem (I love typing that name) is an excellent writer, blending humor and strange, possibly real, possibly invented math and science terms into a final product somewhat along the lines of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy crossed with Alice in Wonderland crossed with a math textbook.

The Cyberiad occasionally confused me, but it was a good kind of confused. Its humor is a blend of whimsy and mathmatical humor--humor that shouldn't exist, but does, somehow. And somehow, it's funny. Achingly funny, at times. 

I'll be more honest than usual and say this: I can't properly explain The Cyberiad. It's a book that you should at least TRY to read--get it from a library if you want to save money. The writing is great, the plots are both nonsense and completely sensible, and the humor is... hilarious. 

Krunk's Kornor: This book am confuse Krunk muchly. Krunk am not stupid--him am pass calculus, but this using lots of trigonometry or physisics or something like that. It am funny though. Krunk am think Stanislaw Lem some engineer or math nerd or something. Nerds are yummy. The boxes they come in are stupid though. 

Sons of Dorn
Chris Roberson

Yup, this is a Warhammer 40K Space Marines novel. Why are Spess Muhreens such popular choices? Those giant warriors are cool, but they're hard to write well. At any rate, Sons of Dorn follows three young warriors--from their induction into the Space Marines, through their training, and into their first major battle. 

Right away, I noticed the writing. It's mechanically okay, but awkward and stiff. Think Lord of the Rings, but instead of majestic, Sons of Dorn is pompous, flowery, and generally absurd and stupid. Additionally, Roberson loves to say things like "Greg would soon regret mocking this fine literary work." There's foreshadowing, and then there's slapping the reader in the face with the rotten, disgusting knowledge that A) You're reading a book, and B) Something bad's gonna happen. 

Roberson jumps between characters a lot. If he could do this well, it would be a good thing, but he fumbles, making the switches either jarring or completely unnoticeable, and thus confusing. And speaking of characters...

The main characters in Sons of Dorn are hugely unrelatable. You'd think, with three protagonists, I'd find ONE to identify with, but no. One is a whiny brat, one is a stereotypically stoic 'Japanese' type, and the last one is a barbarian who only cares about killing stuff.  The races of these three are such obvious knockoffs of the Japanese, the 1700's French, and your standard "noble savage" that I could barely stand it. 

These three characters all hate each other and are trapped in some sort of twisted hate triangle, with each wanting to kill one of the others. Now, if I was their commander, I'd notice this and set them straight, as it seems like that would undermine their efficiency, but their officer not only tolerates it, but COMMENDS it! Madness.

Overall, the plot is laughable, shallow, flimsy, and obvious. The ending in particular is slapped-together deus ex happy-ending Disney material. While it would be unrealistic and aggravating in any scenario, it's particularly annoying in the grim world of Warhammer.

As a whole, I've read better Warhammer novels. Weak plot, stupid characters, bad writing, general stupidity... I finished it, but I finished Twilight, too.

Krunk's Kornor: This book am stupid. The Cyberiad were too smart for Krunk, but this book am like reading Dick and Jane. Except Dick and Jane funny. Here, Spot! Anyway, fighting in this book seem unrealistic. And Krunk know lots about fighting and killing. Him am do that for a long time. But him retired now. NOT BY CHOICE.

Bioshock: Rapture
John Shirley

This is essentially a prequel to the events of Bioshock, explaining how Rapture was built, how the various characters ended up down in that underwater utopia, and how the utopia became a dystopia, and then just a freakshow. 

Now, maybe I'm biased after Sons of Dorn, but John Shirley's writing is good. Not great--that's pretty rare--but quite good. And quite good, in a video game novel, means it's far above the norm. 

Reading the backstory of the various characters, and getting inside their heads, is pretty awesome. If a bit disturbing at times. Okay, it's creepy, about as creepy as Bioshock. No, maybe it's creepier. (I'm not a big horror fan--actually, I'm a coward--so it might be less creepy for you.) At any rate, Bioshock: Rapture is creepy. Perhaps it's because you know what is going to happen to these people, and what is going to happen to Rapture. 

It's really cool to see Rapture's rise, the seeds of its downfall being sown, and then watching it crumble. Stuff that's hinted at in Bioshock is fleshed out more here, and you realize just how much Andrew Ryan sunk into his would-be-utopia. No wonder he went crazy.

The plot is good, even if you rather know where it'll end up. And the balance between the many characters is well-done. The shifts of view are worked properly, and aren't too frequent. 

At any rate, Bioshock: Rapture is a good book on its own merits. Whether or not you've ever played Bioshock, you could still enjoy this. Writing is good, plot is good, and characters seem like real, if crazy people.

Krunk's Kornor: There am lot of scheming in this book. Krunk not like schemers. They am trouble. Krunk am of Joker's philosophy, "I'm not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are." Anyway, this book am have too much scheming, not enough fighting for Krunk.