The first thing to note about this book is the author. Originally published as written by Stephen Bury it is actually a collaboration by Neal Stephenson and George Jewsbury. The other thing you should know is that I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson. For my money give me Neil Gaiman for Fantasy and Neal Stephenson for Sci-fi and I am a happy guy.

You could compare this story to a modern Manchurian Candidate or maybe a political thriller version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. For my money this is a book that should be turned into an HBO miniseries with the look and feel of a spy/political thriller.

The basics of the story goes like this: A politician has a potentially career ending stroke. Someone with a lot of resources brings this politician into contact with a scientist who has developed a way for a computer chip to replace some lost brain functionality in primates. The politician recovers quickly and the secret group has a way to control him via the computer chip and coupled with real time voter responses they make the perfect third party presidential candidate.

Early in the book there is a lot of talk about how politics will change in the age of high definition. This novel was originally published in 1994 and the predictions of how HD news coverage would change politics is fascinating. It also hearkens back to the famous TV/Radio debate between Kennedy and Nixon. The media presentation of the politician can be more powerful than the words and we live in the world where one bad video clip can stop a political campaign. If you don’t believe that to be the case I will refer you to the 2004 Dean campaign.

Stephenson is known for not being able to write endings, this of course isn’t a fair analysis. Stephenson writes his stories to talk about technology and sometimes the history of technology. He is perhaps the best history teacher in modern times because he can wrap the history or tech into an fascinating story. Interface doesn’t follow the normal climatic way of ending a book. Again going back to me thinking it would make a great miniseries applies here. The ending of the novel is only about 7.5-12.5% of the story, like the ending of a ten part series would be. Other novels usually have 15-25% of the novel.  Stephenson’s  endings work but you can feel like something is missing, it can wrap up really quick and almost to quick for someone who writes such long novels.

Its a good book, a good read and would make a great tv show.

I finished this one a while back, A week or maybe two ago. However over the weekend I finished another book so I thought I should put my thoughts down on this one.

Green Mars is the second book in a Trilogy. The first is Red Mars, which I wrote about a while ago, and the last is Blue Mars which I am about 25% the way through right now.

I don’t love these books. They are well written, have a large cast, are well thought out. However as I think I mentioned when writing about Red Mars it was hard to follow any certain characters and to really start to like them.

I think if you would have to say what is the story of the Mars Trilogy I would say it is in someways the story of America, except set on Mars. The first book would be like the discovery and early settlement of North America. The second book would very much be up to and ending with the American revolution. That is how Green Mars is, it is the story of how another planet became independent and started to form a government.

I don’t have much else to say about this, its long, well written but didn’t connect much with me.

I finished this book almost two weeks ago. I should have written my thoughts on it before now. However since I finished another book today I figured I better get on the ball.

Ok, quick run down the Magicians is an American Harry Potter. With that the magic school is more of a college and the students are more or less adults, but just barely. Because the students are adults there is a good deal of profanity, alcohol, drug use and of course sex. The interesting thing in this story, the thing that pulls it together to make a story is that all the main characters are or were big fans of a series of children’s books. Although in the novel the series has a fictional name by a fictional author, it is the Narnia books. Like I said they don’t call it that, but basically that is what it is. And since this is a book about magic the magical world from the books in their childhood actually exists.

The main character isn’t as likable as Harry, from Harry Potter, but he does seem to complain about as much. The problem I have with so many action and sci-fi books told from a first person point of view is that the main character so often comes off as whiny and annoying. You want the hero to be a hero and not someone that needs a good slap. You don’t want your hero to be a jerk (exceptions for Joss Whedon Characters of course). I don’t even recall if this one was first person, but I think it mostly was. Also I am kind of tired of magic or other world books where the main character starts off not knowing what is going on. There has to be better ways to bring the reader into the world.

Reading this book though gave me an idea. I have for a long time had an idea for a story, I had the name for a long time. The name is Broken Boys and it has been kicking around in my head for at least a decade. Now I am kicking around the idea of setting it in a magical world. If I did it wouldn’t be a world with magic schools. It would have people drawn to a place or to each other to learn from one another. It wouldn’t have heros but rather as the name implies people who are in some way broken. Physically, mentally, spiritually broken. It could turn into an action story and if it did the follow up story would be called Broken Army perhaps.

So back to The Magicians. Fun read, not terribly moving. It is I think perhaps as one review had said for fans of Harry Potter who are now to old for Harry Potter.

I finished reading Perelandra a couple of days ago. I haven’t been up for writing a review of this until now. Ok real quick Perelandra is a sequel to Out of the Silent Planet. In the last book the main character goes to Mars and discovers the nature of the universe. In this book there is a smaller cast to follow. The main character already knows about the goods and what not. This time he is sent to Venus. On Venus he basically sounds a garden of Eden of scenario with a new humanoid race that is just starting. In Out of the Silent Planet the main character meets three new races, has two villains and meets the powers that be. In this book he has one villain, already knows the powers that be and meets basically the Venus version of Eve.  So in this Eve story not only is there a representative of the serpent but this time there is someone arguing for the PTB, and that character is our main character.  So this time There is basically a good voice on the other shoulder.

The first thing that struck me is how much more religious this book was than the first one. The first one could be taken as strait up scifi and introduces the PTB and for the most part leaves it at that. Paralandra though integrates the PTB of this world into the Christian story. Maps the PTB to the Pantheon on of Christianity. In fact the new Venus species is very much humanoid because of Jesus was humanoid. The garden of Eden is just an allegory or a comparision. This is the Garden of Eden of Venus. There isn’t a tree of knowledge but there is an island with solid ground. I could deal without. It was a break in tone from the previous book in that it doesn’t hint at the relationship of Christianity to the PTB and this one just outright awesome that and goes with that. However what really took me out of the story was the violence.

The resolution of the conflict in this story is a resolution of violence. It starts with a holy or righteous argument against the corruption of evil and ends with the assumption that the only way to actually stop evil from corrupting the innocent is with violence. Imagine if the garden of Eden story ended with a fist fight against the serpent and the eventual murder of the dead serpent body possessed by evil. I guess I always thought a war with the evil PTB wouldn’t be settled with pugilism. Thats just me.

I enjoyed the read and there were sections in the middle that were religious apologetics ported to fantasy and these novels despite involving space travel and other planets is fantasy and not scifi in my opinion. If you travel to another planet in a coffin thrown through space by the PTB and then have a fist fight with a devil possessed dead body you are outside of the realm of scifi. I will read the last book sometime, but not next. Next I have started the Magicians by Lev Grossman

I just a few moments ago finished Shadows in Flight, the fifth book in the Series of Ender’s Game books that focus on and follow the character of Bean.To see the whole family of Enderverse books check out Wikipedia, there is a map that shows where in the time line and how all the books are related to each other. Originally Shadows in flight would be the final book that brought the two series back together for a conclusion. That is not what happened though. The final book will be called Shadow’s alive. Shadows in flight is a much shorter novel, only about 55,000 words. There is nothing wrong with a short novel, they can tell a very personal story.

Shadows in Flight did just that, it told a very personal story. It told a moving story. In my opinion the most moving Enderverse story since Speaker for the Dead. It told the story that the character of Bean deserved. In fact after reading Flight I think I have decided that Bean is the character from the series I care most for, not Ender, not anymore.

Like I talked about once with author’s writing the early novels as themselves, in some ways Flight was Card writing a character as himself. Flight was ultimately about a parent coming to terms with their own mortality when the realize that their children will carry own and are grown. Now Bean’s children in this book are only six when he realizes this, but his children aren’t exactly human and neither was Bean. In the Enderverse Bean and his children have a genetic change that greatly advances their intelligence but makes them continue to grow their whole lives until they become so big that their bodies can no longer keep themselves alive. In Flight Bean, who was once the smallest child in the first book, is now about 14 feet tall and can’t breath in normal gravity and can’t stand up even whit almost no gravity. Bean who in this book is at the end of his life is only in his early 20s. Now Card obviously is older than this, but due to his health issues he says that Bean very much has the outlook on life that he himself had looking on at his children.

Now I don’t have children, I don’t think I ever will have children. Sometimes I see myself like the character of Bean. Sure my children would probably be brilliant or creative or both, but they would get the bad also, they would get the things that shouldn’t be passed on. Not gigantism but still things that the human race doesn’t need. Card came to peace with his own mortality after seeing his children would go on. I am a creator though, I find comfort in mortality knowing what I create will go own in some form, even if only in a very limited way. That was the view point that the novel I wrote took. The main character, who yes in many ways was me – but not in all ways, didn’t have children. He created. He created a new species of android live, but he found the peace of mortality knowing they would carry on. So while the characters of James (my character) and that of Bean (Cards) find comfort in different but similar things, they are still characters that don’t give up. The accept mortality, but don’t despair, and don’t give in. They create for the reason of creating. The carry on in the hopes of what they do today will mean a better world for those that carry on.

There is a sadness there, but also a Joy. Its a personal story, and I like personal stories.

Up next I will start the next C.S. Lewis book I mentioned in a previous review and I will continue with Green Mars the second novel in the Red Mars series.

I wrote a couple of days ago about finished reading one book about Mars. A science heavy sci-fi book. That same day I finished that book I finished another book about Mars. A more philosophical and less science based story about Mars. Out of the Silent Planet was a book C.S. Lewis wrote earlier than his some of his very famous other books. He also wrote it after he became a Christian. Some people theorize that he wrote the main character as a substitute for himself. It is said that writers often write their first protagonist as themselves and often they write themselves as a Messianic character. This is an theory I know understand much more from the inside. Of course the argument about this Lewis book could made that the main character was in fact his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien and if that was the case then the narrator would of course be Lewis himself.

I was surprised that Lewis didn’t have the main character teach the Martians about earth’s true religion but rather that the martians taught the main character about the religion of the universe and how the powers that be of the earth were corrupted and bent. I plan on reading the rest of the Lewis space trilogy to see how he wraps up this intergalactic religion and how that would compare to the Christian view point Lewis was writing from.

For my own ideas, my own works I don’t think there will be much from the book on Mars that I take for my own story that will take place on mars though.

One thing that struck me about this book is how the writing style changed of novels has changed. I could be wrong but in the last year I have read a handful of novels and I think that perhaps the modern novel for the most part took a new shape, a personal shape, somewhere between the Fitzgerald, Salinger and maybe the Beat writers like Kerouac. Before these writers and to some degree in say Fitzgerald the novels followed people but only from the outside. Like the change in acting that came from the Method, I think there was a change in writing were most novels became more personal, and examined feelings much deeper and the implications of the interactions of people. There are modern exceptions, especially in sci-fi. I read Rendezvous with Rama last year and it doesn’t even have character development. The novel wasn’t about how the people changed, it was about what happened to people and the people weren’t the important part. What happened was important. Rama in that way is a through back to the older style novels I was talking about. A through back to say Lewis. There is another possibility though. Perhaps these older novels were experienced as deeply personal to the readers of their day. Perhaps the modern context has changed. Perhaps people have always just written. Either way, from a modern point of view, I would have to say Out of the Silent planet was not a personal story, even though it exclusively followed one person through out the story and how he interacted with other beings. Red Mars followed many characters on the other hand and still told much deeper personal stories as I experienced that novel than Lewis did.

Still a good novel and the next novel I would have started right away would be the followup but something happened. A new Shadow series book was published. The shadow series is a series by Orson Scott Card that follows the life of a contemporary of Ender from the Ender’s Game series of books. One of my all time favorite novels was the sequel to Ender’s Game so the entire series of books following Ender and Bean (the shadow series) hold a special place in my heart.

Yesterday, last night I finished two books at almost the same time. Not exactly the same time, but almost. I don’t sit there holding two books or anything like that. Both books were about trips to mars. This review is for Red Mars.

Red Mars is a science heavy story about the first Martian colonist. Most of the story follows the activities of the first 100. That is the first 100 colonist on Mars. By the end of the book thousands of new colonists are arriving and most of the original 100 are dead.

I enjoyed the science. I wish I had the patience and knowledge to write a detailed account of how the trip to Mars would be for humans. From the months in space traveling, to the precautions taken to avoid excess solar radiation. Even the town building was fascinating.

I would have to do a little research but the only thing that struck me as off on the science was the idea that windmills could be rigged up to capture wind energy and transform it into heat energy that is pumped in the surrounding ground. Wind would generate some amount of heat based on friction already. I don’t know if stopping an amount of wind and turning directly into heat would generate any more heat than the heat already generated by the wind friction. I could be wrong.

The book also a large amount of politics in it. Not exactly the politics of the writer but the politics of the colonist. It makes for good drama in a story, but I don’t always care for it and I have yet to write something myself with politics in it. I think my characters live in a world with politics and they are often affected by politics but they don’t chose to interact in them. I think that makes the characters more like the people I know but also sometimes boring.

Red Mars for different parts of the book follow different characters and we see the world from their small point of view. By doing this you end up seeing a very large picture made up like a mosaic of individual points of view. I like being able to see characters as villains and also how they see each other. I think perhaps no one has done this better than George R. R. Martin. You care about all of Martin’s points of view and you know the character’s very well. I would hope though that after 5,000 pages (the first five Song of Ice and Fire books are collectively at least 5k pages) you would know the characters. The Red Mars characters though for me were not always as well defined. I think this was because we had a lot less time with the point of view characters. There were times where I was saying to myself whose story am I reading right now. I will admit this may have been me not paying enough attention but I don’t like not knowing whose story I am following once you get past the first couple of dozen pages.

Its a good book though. I got some ideas for a book I plan on writing next. When I say I plan on writing it next that does not mean I will even start it. It is just the idea I have right now for my next story which will be somewhat of a sister story to my first novel. Where Clean Room dealt mostly with a generally well balanced social character with important relationships in his life, the next story idea would be in the same world but follow a character that does not make those connections. A character that would in some ways be an extreme of a side of me I don’t always like.

This isn’t technically a book review, or maybe it is. I finished reading this book yesterday and as part of my NYGoals I am going to write up some thoughts on this one.

Its a good sized book, however in my opinion Isaacsons simple and clear writing doesn’t make it feel long, in fact it felt much shorter than it actually was. However that might be because of my first complaint. It didn’t feel like it contained a lot of information. This may or may not be attributed to the fact that I was very familiar with the larger story of Steve Job’s life before starting this biography. What was new to me was many of the details of Job’s personal life – especially in the later years when his health was declining. Some of it was very sad.

The technical information though – despite the many hours of interviews Isaacson did for the book was very thin. With the exception of the fact that Jobs was working on a television idea before his passing, I don’t think there was anything technical in there that wasn’t already on the public record in one form or another. There was some interesting information about the internal dynamics such as Jobs relationship with Ives. However I would have appreciated even more about their relationships. Especially the revelation that Ives would feel hurt when Jobs personally took credit for some of Apple’s designs. Perhaps a case study of the whole design life cycle of a product would have been awesome.

If you want details of items not in the last decade then Folklore.org has a lot more useful information – especially stories about the original Mac’s devilment.

Finishing this book though happened when two other things happened to me, things that perhaps I can not separate from my opinion of this book. One I listened to a recent episode of This American Life that looked at the factory conditions in China that make tech products including Apple products. Second I felt like someone judged me last week based on the fact that I don’t have an iPhone. I have an almost two year old android phone and its incredible. I plan on my next phone being android. I like the android phone OS. The thing is for almost everyone else in my life if they ask me I suggest the iPhone. I convinced my dad to buy an iPhone. I however have a handful of technical reasons I really like the android phone. There are things it lets me do that you can not do on an iPhone or can not do as well.

I love my Mac computers, I have apple stickers on my cars and had them on the previous two cars as well. I get frustrated sometimes that my phone isn’t in the Apple ecosystem – but that is a trade off I am willing to make. It will be less frustrating when I get my dad to give me back my iPod touch. (Hello the person who gave that iPod to me). I tried explaining to my dad that he doesn’t need an iPod now that he has an iPhone. I don’t think he believes me.

So I am don’t have a lot of warm feelings right now towards the fruit company or the man behind it. However I do love my apple products and I still feel sad about Jobs passing. No one though is in a position to judge me because I don’t use an iPhone. That is just crazy talk.

In other book news I started Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis last night and I think I am close to finishing Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.