The Man in the High Castle

man-in-the-high-castleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick was first published in 1962 and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. I’m a fairly big fan of PKD and I’ve had this book on my list to read for some time. I’d always heard it was a great story, the title is fantastic, and the premise is definitely intriguing.

The story takes place in an alternate history where the Allies lost the second World War and the United States is split into two territories with Japan owning the western region and Nazi Germany occupying the eastern (as seen on the cover here).

I’ll admit, I had fairly high expectations for this book despite not knowing much about the story outside of what I stated above. I know Amazon has turned the novel into a series which has several seasons and I’ve heard good things. I may try the show soon as I’m sure it differs greatly from the book and perhaps may even improve upon it as it has been nearly 60 years since the book was released.

The book has several interesting characters and different stories happening simultaneously. I was most interested in the political story-lines (despite not caring for politics in general). As you can imagine, there is a lot of racism and sexism related to Nazi idealism and there are plenty of heinous practices in place throughout the novel in relation to these. Luckily, we don’t have any/many direct instances of these in the story but they are referenced and go along with much of what actually happened during the war.

As in several other stories by PKD, there is a spiritual/divine presence in the form of the I Ching or Book of Changes which is a real book you can find today. The user can determine their fortune and possible short-term future by using this Oracle book. This added an interesting element to the novel, especially as it becomes more prominent as the story progresses, but it may be a little absurd for some readers. However, I did enjoy another element of the story in the form of an alternative history novel within this novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a fictional book (not to be confused with a real book by this title recently released in 2015) within The Man in the High Castle which predicts a future where the Allies win the World War (aka the actual outcome of the war). The book is banned in all Nazi territories and it lies toward the center of the overall story.

One of the things I like about PKD’s writing is that it has become a nostalgic form of science fiction. This book states that the Nazi’s have already colonized other planets in the solar system, and you can take rocket flights halfway around the world in 45 minutes, but the phone system still uses operators and everything is paid for in cash. This juxtaposition we recognize today would not have existed in the 1960’s, but I find it charming and makes the book even more interesting because it is a glimpse into the time it was written despite the setting being in the future (a future that has since become our past).

I’m recommending this book mainly because it does have a high status within literature and has become a historical piece itself. The book is a bit dated, but I can understand why it made a big splash when it first came out. I don’t think a book like this would be published today (or at least to the acclaim it received), so I recommend this book with a slight warning to keep your expectations of events a little low. PKD’s writing, for me, is really easy to read and he sometimes goes off on philosophical tangents (part of what I like about it), but it all comes together perfectly and leaves you a little to think about after finishing the story. This story does not disappoint in regards to this. It is a shorter book at around 250 pages depending on the edition you get. This was the first alternative history book I believe I have read and it was an interesting one. If the premise captured your attention, you’ll likely enjoy it.

Happy Reading.

Who Said You Should Never Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Yeah, yeah, there is that old saying (which is true), but I thought I’d list books whose covers I think are beautiful, made me pick the book up initially, or I simply like. There are often several variants to book covers based on editions, reprints, etc. The cover is meant to entice you or else they wouldn’t spruce them up. I’m a sucker for cool artwork too. Here are several that I enjoy.

The Sword of Angels

Sword of AngelsThis cover is actually the reason I picked up this trilogy by John Marco. I saw this cover, thought it looked cool, found out it was the third book in the series, and went on to buy the first book. I need to re-read this series since it has been (I believe) over ten years since I first read it and a fourth book has been released since then that continues the story of one of the main characters.

Exhalation

ExhalationAnother simplistic cover that goes along with an equally simplistic yet mysterious title. This collection of short stories, and one novella, by Ted Chiang is a great read for any SFF fans or if you like stories that make you think.

The Faded Sun Trilogy

The Faded Sun TrilogyI picked up a copy of this trilogy in one volume a long time ago. The cover was of course a factor. I had no idea who C.J. Cherryh was but she has become an author whose work I really need to look into, which of course means I have yet to read this trilogy. I have a lot of books on my TBR and I will get to them eventually. I’ve been trying to read through the books I have and purchase fewer books.

Memories of Ice

Memories of IceMemories of Ice is actually book three of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. This is the first on this list of books I picked up because of the cover but have not yet read. The Malazan series is a larger series and I currently have the first five books. I plan to read them some day, but I just haven’t gotten around to it just yet.

Norse Mythology

Norse MythologyOkay. There are a lot of different versions, retellings, and of course covers of the Norse Myths. The cover I refer to specifically is a recent retelling by Neil Gaiman. I think the cover is fantastic and we get a few versions of it. One for hardback and one for paperback. I have a copy of both mainly because I happened to get an opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the paperback, which honestly is the cover I like best. I think there are a few other variants of the hardback cover (which is different from the paperback version you see here) but they are different color backgrounds including black, white, and red.

Fahrenheit 451

FahrenheitFahrenheit 451There are a lot of different covers for Fahrenheit 451 as it has become a classic and is taught in schools. I particularly enjoy the simplistic 60th anniversary cover as well as the Folio Society version which I recently acquired.

A Memory of Light

The final installment of The Wheel of Time. This cover actually holds more significance because it comes at the end of a long journey and holds the fates of many beloved characters, which makes this cover perhaps the only one on this list linked directly to the story it tells. I’m sure there will be many new covers for the books in this series as time goes on and as the television series releases, but the original (to me) will always have a certain appeal.A Memory of Light

Too Like The Lightning

Too Like The LightningI purchased this book from a big sale my local library puts on every year so I was able to get it really cheap. I picked this one up for two reasons. The cover, and the fact that it made a bit of a wave when it first released however many years ago that was (it was 2016). I believe this is the first of a four-book series by Ada Palmer with the first three currently available, which is a good reason for me to wait a bit longer to read this book as I prefer to read series that are complete since I often need to re-read the first books when a new installment comes out if it has been a while since the initial read.

The Stormcaller

The StormcallerLike The Magician, this cover is for the first of a series that caught my eye. I think the artwork on all the covers is great, but this one made me give the book a try. I read the first three of the series by Tom Lloyd and then stopped as the final two books had not yet released. I plan to return and re-read the entire series some time.

The Magician

Magician Raymond E FeistI remember this one distinctly. I was in high school and about to go on a small trip to visit family when I picked this one up. The version I bought was actually two books in one and was my introduction to Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga. I have read the saga but have not read much beyond the core books and into the ever expansive world(s) contained in the larger Riftwar Cycle. I picked up the book for my trip because the cover did interest me, especially at the age of 15 with the image of the wizard, and I always enjoy magic.

All Systems Red

Last but not least, The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I absolutely adore this series and have also loved the cover art for each book. Network Effect is the fifth installment that was released earlier this year, and we will get the sixth book, Fugitive Telemetry, next year.

Murderbot Series

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell was published in 2010. I picked this book up roughly seven years ago after reading Mitchell’s book Cloud Atlas. I consider myself a fan of Mitchell’s work but this is only the second book of his I have read as of today. I have a few of his other novels and intend to read them some day. I think I will try Number 9 Dream or Slade House next. He did just have a new book come out this month titled Utopia Avenue.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet takes place just outside of Nagasaki, Japan, beginning in 1799. Jacob de Zoet is a Dutch clerk who has traveled to Dejima, the man-made island just off the coast of Nagasaki which acts as a trading post between Japan and the Dutch East India Company. This post was the only trade between Japan and the outside world at the time as Japan remained closed to outside influence. Jacob has traveled to Dejima to make his fortune within five years so he can return and wed the daughter of a nobleman. His time in Dejima, and Dejima itself, prove to be a whirlwind of unexpected occurrences and interactions as the turn of the century brings many changes.

The book is split into five parts. The final two parts are short and read more like an epilogue, so I consider the first three parts, the bulk of this ~500 page book, to be the main story. I will admit that the third section had a bit of a lull due to the introduction of new characters. The first two parts included a few characters and plot points I thought were the most interesting of the book, and they take a back seat during the third part but do ultimately get resolved before things wrap up. I was a bit concerned for a moment that a resolution would not occur as I was nearing the end and was still waiting, but it does eventually wrap up, primarily in the epilogue-like finale. Therefore, I would consider this book almost like a four-act play. The first three sections telling the story, and the final two sections as the resolution act.

The writing is phenomenal, which is a large reason I enjoy David Mitchell’s work. Included in the back of the edition I have, there is an essay by David Mitchell “On Historical Fiction” where he talks about how he discovered Dejima, found a new level of respect for historical fiction writers, and how he didn’t initially intend to write a historical fiction novel but the story he wanted to write needed to take place in that particular setting. I must say, the historical aspect alongside the juxtaposition of East and West culture of the time makes for a compelling setting for which the interesting characters then enter to begin the story.

Also, history is often not kind and you should not expect the traditional fiction plot where things always end well for our protagonists. Another reason I think this book held an air of mystery is that almost anything could happen. Good or bad. I was, overall, satisfied with how things ended. I had mentioned I was concerned about certain story elements possibly not begin resolved, but they all tie up nicely even though in ways I did not expect.

Unlike many of Mitchell’s other books, including Cloud Atlas, this novel isn’t split among several narratives and fused together, but rather follows one main character, Jacob de Zoet, though I would consider there to be a second protagonist and two secondary characters who we get to see short stretches from their points of view.

I don’t often read historical fiction, though I have read a few alternate history novels. I usually keep to straight fiction or non-fiction. I didn’t realize this was a historical fiction novel until I was about halfway through. I had assumed the setting was real, but certain events were taking place that I thought were too realistic to simply be fiction and I soon found out that I was correct. I really enjoyed it and may even try more historical fiction novels in the future.

Happy Reading.

Knightmare Arcanist

KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST - E-BOOK COVER - FINALHello and welcome to this stop of the Blog Tour featuring Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall (pronounced sha-me), who I believe is a name you should keep an eye out for moving forward. This post will contain no spoilers so have no fear as you read further.

Knightmare Arcanist is book one of The Frith Chronicles which follows a young man named Volke who wants nothing more than to become an arcanist. Arcanists are those who have bonded with mystical creatures, can use magic as a result, and are highly respected in society. Volke lives on the island of Ruma, which was named after the famous arcanist who founded it, and will likely live his life as the town outcast unless he can bond with a mystical creature. The island is known as a location where phoenixes breed and the islanders hold a ceremony every ten years to determine who will bond with the fledgling phoenixes and become arcanists. Will Volke be able to obtain his dream? If so, what adventures await?

This book hit many of the “fun fantasy elements” for me. Mystical creatures and magic of course capture my interest. The bonding of mystical creatures creates a unique magic system where the arcanists are able to use magic related to the creatures they bond. For example, phoenixes allow the use of fire and healing magic, an undine would allow their arcanist to wield water magic, and a hydra allows the use of poison-type magic. Not just anyone can bond with a mystical creature though. The creature must accept the bond and the bonding is for life.

I’m usually not a huge fan of books that include talking animals, but for some reason I consider this story an exception. Perhaps it is because only the mystical creatures can speak and they are technically not real animals but creatures of legends and myths. The plethora of possibilities created from the variety of creatures makes the magic even more interesting.

Within this fascinating world we follow a group of interesting characters who struggle through interpersonal conflict often created through implicit misunderstanding. These struggles will make you love or hate certain characters, but in the end they must all face, together, the real dangers they knowingly are ill-prepared to confront.

This book was released in June of last year (2019) and lucky for us there are already three more books in the series bringing The Frith Chronicles total to four books so far with the most recent being released this past May. It will be interesting to see what comes next for our adventurers after the events of this book. The four books are:

  1. Knightmare Arcanist
  2. Dread Pirate Arcanist
  3. Coliseum Arcanist
  4. Plague Arcanist

If you are a fan of fantasy then definitely give Knightmare Arcanist a try. It is a fun, swashbuckling tale that takes place in an ever-interesting world of magic. I want to thank Dave at TheWriteReads for including me in this tour, and a big thank you to Shami Stovall for providing this great story.

Happy Reading.

Words Are My Matter

Words Are My MatterUrsula K. Le Guin won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014. This collection was originally gathered and published in 2016. Words Are My Matter: Writings on Life and Books consists of essays, book introductions, and book reviews written throughout Le Guin’s lifetime. The book is split into the three categories and only minor editing was done to the original pieces.

My favorite section was the essays and talks. I enjoyed the book introductions and was happy to discover a few writers I had previously never heard of who I have added to my TBR list. I love finding new authors via authors I already enjoy. I think I like Le Guin’s essays as much, if not more, than her fiction, but I need to read more of her fiction before I make a definitive decision. Her essays are often a call to action while also being an observation of a trend she has noticed throughout her career. I agree with much of what she says and have come to realize that some of her concerns as far back as the late 1960’s are still very much something to be concerned about today. The issues have not been addressed or have continued behind the curtain. However, I am hoping the recent widespread notice of some issues in publishing and among writers will bring about the long-overdue changes. Only time will tell.

As far as essays go, there are several great ones here, but I think another collection, The Language of the Night (which consists of only essays), provides stronger arguments. Please check out that collection if you want more of the aforementioned calls to action. This collection contains her ever interesting article “Is Gender Necessary? Redux” which was the reason I had first borrowed it from my library. I am recommending Words Are My Matter though because I believe it is a collection that is more likely to appeal to a wider range of readers. The subtitle Writings of Life and Books of course is the perfect description of this collection.

My favorite essays from this collection were “The Death of the Book” and “On Serious Literature”. I also enjoyed “Genre: A Word Only A Frenchman Could Love”. The author I mentioned I discovered earlier is Jose Saramago and I will likely try his book Blindness first. There were of course other authors I had not yet discovered, but their books didn’t catch my interest despite Le Guin’s review. Granted, a couple of the reviews actually killed any interest I might have had. I actually never read reviews about books unless they are included in collections like this as I tend to give myself the opportunity to form my own opinion instead of relying on others. It’s also fun to see a review about a book that has had decades to prove itself.

I respect Le Guin’s opinions despite not agreeing with every one she expresses. The reviews were my least favorite, but you can skip around in collections like this if you choose to as they are all standalone pieces. The book ends with a “week in the life of” which seems like a little bonus part to the book. This is a diary format description detailing Le Guin’s stay at a women-only writing retreat called Hedgebrook. The week she describes could be considered uneventful (as is most of life) but for some reason it transported me to the idyllic landscape Le Guin explored when not working on her story. It was the perfect ending and left me feeling as if I had just finished a week out in nature away from everyday obligations. Refreshed, relaxed, and able to enjoy the moment. I would recommend this book for this description alone, but again, there is a lot to enjoy and there is likely something for any reader.

Perhaps you may pick this up one day and read one or two little essays or reviews. This is definitely a collection that is easy to pick up and put down at any interval. Perhaps you will discover something new or be inspired to do something new. I hope so.

Happy Reading.