Network Effect

Murderbot, Network Effect

Oh Murderbot, how I’ve missed you. Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries continues with Network Effect. If you have not read any Murderbot books yet, do so immediately. This series is phenomenal. The first book in the series is titled All Systems Red. I recently discovered that the first four books (all of them novellas) will be published in a one volume collection. It is supposedly scheduled to be available later this year.

Network Effect is the fifth installment of the series and the first novel. 350 pages of glorious Murderbot fun bringing back many characters and introducing a few new ones. We get a greater understanding of the Preservation and Corporate territories thus bringing this universe into better perspective. We also get to see our beloved bot continue its journey of understanding other humans, itself, and its place in the universe. Murderbot has come a long way since hacking its governor module.

Murderbot is an introvert. They don’t like interacting with humans (though it is getting better at it), they would prefer to spend all their time watching media/shows, and they are trying to figure out their existence in the universe. This is why I think so many people have fallen in love with this character. Most of us can relate to one (if not all) of these areas. If you have ever canceled plans to stay home and do nothing, you can relate to Murderbot. Murderbot can also be a snarky asshole even when it is inadvertently creating attachments to humans and other constructs (which may also be another level of connection to the character).

There is so much I want to discuss, but I try to keep all book recommendations spoiler-free, so I’ll wrap things up.

Even though Network Effect came out a few weeks ago, the next installment has been confirmed. Fugitive Telemetry is the next story and will be released in April 2021. It will be a novella similar to the first four. More information about this new book, and the 1-4 collection, can currently be found at Macmillan’s website. I am already looking forward to Murderbot’s next adventure.

Happy Reading.

The Book of the New Sun

Books of the New SunThe Book of the New Sun consists of four novels by Gene Wolfe. I bought all four in two volumes after I had added Gene Wolfe to the list of authors whose work I wanted to look into. This tetralogy is considered some of his best work. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know about his work until shortly before he passed away in April of last year, but I’m glad I am no longer ignorant of its existence.

I would normally have written a book recommendation for the first book in the series, but there are several reasons I did not do that for this story. Of course, I would not recommend the series if I did not like it or I didn’t think it held value. I am glad I read the series since I have learned a lot from it. However, this recommendation comes with a few reservations so let’s get started.

First, a very short introduction: The universe of the New Sun is definitely strange and the adventures of the main character, Severian, lead us through it. He is an apprentice in a guild of torturers and faces consequences for showing mercy to a client (as they refer to the prisoners).

We often compare things to better describe them to others, and I think in this case it would be easier for me to describe this story as a comparison or mixture of a few others you may already know. Since reading the first book, I could not help but think of the story as a mixture between The Name of the Wind (TNotW), Alice in Wonderland, and The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A weird combination, I know, but hear me out.

I thought of TNotW for several reasons. The story of the New Sun is told as a recounting of events by the main character, much like in TNofW, and they both include a spurious young man who has many travels and finds himself involved in powers much greater than himself that impact their entire world. New Sun has many fantastical elements as well and the loner-ish main character often has to fend for himself. I liken New Sun to Alice in the way that we as readers are thrown into a strange land where strange things happen seemingly at random. We don’t get a lot of information about the strange world but are given just enough to know what is going on and how things (kind of) work within the rules of that world. The last comparison, to Hitchhiker’s Guide, brings in the science fiction elements and continues the comparison to Alice insofar as the story’s universe is much larger than the glimpses we are given and things seem to happen randomly but often come back around before the story ends. Unlike Alice and Hitchhiker’s Guide, the random events of this story are not whimsical but often lead Severian into dangerous situations.

So, this series is a mixture of fantasy, science fiction, myth, philosophy, and many other areas I’m sure I may have missed or forgotten. I believe this series is greater than the sum of its parts, which is why I was so hesitant to recommend the first book without having read the entire story. Another reason was because it took me several chapters to get adjusted to the style of the book. Yes, it was written as an account by the main character, but the verbiage and structure took some time getting used to. This alone may deter some readers, but if you can get into the story, you will find it is well-written and engaging.

I consider myself well-read, but I learned a lot of new vocabulary from this series. This, for me, is a bonus though I can see some readers viewing it as negative if they need to look up several words per chapter or page. Most of the terms are more archaic. Very few, if any, were made up as part of the fictional world. This being the case, I’m happy to say that I have several new words in my arsenal for my own writing. I think an expanded vocabulary is definitely a positive.

Another reason I was hesitant in recommending the first book alone was because the transition from the first to second book was a little jarring. I think the series should be viewed as one continuous text, which I just discovered it had been written in its entirety before the first book was published. This may explain why each installment doesn’t follow a familiar story path or begin and end in a traditional method. This could also be seen as a negative, which is why I think considering all four books as one volume is an easy way to escape that thought concern.

I did see a few reviews of readers giving up during or after books two or three because they couldn’t continue with the seemingly random events. I had also heard that the fourth book wrapped things up nicely and fits all the pieces together. I would agree that the ending does bring the whole series together, but there is a lot to get through before this ending and many readers may not be committed to doing so. Which is another reason why I’m recommending this as a series instead of a standalone book. I definitely could have used a little more details regarding how the world of Urth worked, and there is a sequel novel title The Urth of the New Sun which I could read, but I think I may save that for another time.

I recommend this series because it is well written and engaging despite the events seeming to be random at first. There were several times where I thought I just had no idea what was happening or I didn’t have enough information to appreciate the story, but at the end of it all I felt satisfied. I was always interested in the events and characters, and I did read all four books fairly quickly. I am also still thinking about the book and what the whole story accomplished. I will definitely be looking into other books by Gene Wolfe in the future.

You may like this series or find it isn’t for you. I enjoyed it and wanted to (hopefully) introduce others to Gene Wolfe if not this particular story. I have entered the camp of those who believe his work has gone overlooked and I’m glad I remedied my own oversight. I look forward to discovering more of his stories. Perhaps you will too.

Happy Reading.

Dune Looks Beautiful

DuneTitleI found out they were filming a new Dune movie when I was reading the book for the first time about two years ago. The movie is slated to release at the end of this year on December 18th. A few images were released just today and I must admit that I am very much looking forward to this movie adaptation.

I knew the cast was filled with talented actors when the film was first announced. I had finished the book by the time they began gradually announcing casting decisions so luckily my interpretation of the characters were not influenced by the film choices (which has happened in other occasions but few and far between). Below is the majority of the main character castings.

Dune Cast

I must admit that I am very interested to see how they transform Stellan Skarsgard into Baron Harkonnen, but I have no doubt that he will portray the character well. A beardless Jason Momoa is interesting but he will likely do well as Duncan Idaho (which I always thought was a strange name). I love Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica and Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides. DuneI haven’t seen too many films with Timothee Chalamet, but I understand he is an excellent actor who has already established himself in Hollywood, so I am looking forward to seeing his portray of Paul. I love all the other choices. My only reservation is that movies that have this many stars tend to struggle with sharing screen-time of characters. I think this movie is currently planned as two parts so I hope that will help with this concern. I also think that all the characters are distinct enough that it shouldn’t be an issue.

If you haven’t read Dune, then I recommend that you read it before this movie comes out, and I am excited for you to experience this story. I consider it one of the best science fiction novels of the past century as do many others. I hope you take the opportunity to read it. You’ll likely then join me in the excitement to see a modern adaptation. If you’ve already read it, you’re probably already hyped.

Dune

From the few glimpses we are given in the pictures, alongside knowing the cast, I am already impressed. Of course I am trying not to get my hopes up too high, but there is plenty of time to let the excitement settle and better prepare for the film. Going in with too high of expectations always hinders the enjoyment of a movie.

I can already see from the few stills that their portrayal of the desert planet Arrakis is going to be great. I think splitting it into two parts is a wise decision considering the length of the book and the accumulation of events that take place. Doing so will help prevent trying to cram the entirety of the story in one film which has hurt other films in the past. Though I don’t think they will have much room to do so, I am curious if they will include any original concepts that were not in the book. This is always tricky to do but some films pull this off well. I’m not sure what they would even add if they did do this as I think there is plenty already.

Many films also change some things to better adapt it for the screen. It usually works best when the change is necessary to make it presentable in the new medium. Some things just don’t translate well onto the screen. One thing that comes to mind for this film is how they will portray Paul’s growth of mental acuity through the Bene Gesserit training.

Regardless of how they do things, I hope this film adaptation turns out well and does the story justice. I’m happy it will bring the story to a wider audience and even get more people interested in reading the book.

Dune2

 

Book Series for the Long Haul

I figured now is as good a time as any to recommend a few longer book series to help us all pass the time while we try not to think about the state of things. Don’t worry, all series on this list are completed so you don’t have to wait for the next one.

It’s always good to get lost in a book. Admittedly, most of these series fall into either fantasy or science fiction, but I have read them and greatly enjoyed them.

The Wheel of Time

The Eye of the WorldThe first series I thought of was the one I read last year and may be the longest I’ve ever read. The Wheel of Time is fourteen books long (fifteen with the prequel) and each book averages at about 800 pages. This epic fantasy series was incredible and I consumed it all in about 9 months. The first book is The Eye of the World. If you decide to dive in, there is a great community of fans on social media sites (at least there is on Twitter) and Amazon is currently adapting it into a television series. I also tracked my way through this series as I was reading it, so you can read my reactions and thoughts on each book after you read each installment to see if we had the same thoughts about the events. You can find my posts on this series on my list of Book Recommendations above.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyIf you a prefer a more whimsical read, then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams may be for you. This series of five books is an absolutely absurd story filled with space travels and nonsense that is joyous to read. Yes, the premise does include (spoiler warning even though the book starts with this) the destruction of Earth, but the journey afterward is a funny exploration of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

 

The Riftwar Saga

Magician Raymond E Feist

The Riftwar Saga was written by Raymond E. Feist and begins with The Magician. As you may have figured out, this series is a fantasy series. It consists of four core books but there are several other books the extend the story into The Riftwar Cycle. I’ve read the core series and only a few of the books that take place immediately after the main four. I greatly enjoyed them and hope you do to.

Dune

Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in the past several years. Admittedly, I have only read the first book. The series extends beyond the first novel (which can be read as a standalone book if you prefer) to include nearly 20 books in total. The first six were written by Frank Herbert and make up the core books. The series was extended by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. A new film adaptation of the original book is being made and should be coming out within a year (I think the original date was this December).

 

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is a trilogy aimed at younger audiences, but that just means anyone can read it. I again have to admit I’ve only read the first book of the trilogy, but this was because I did not know it had sequels until recently. I am definitely going to read them. There is an animated film adaptation of this first book made by Studio Ghibli that is an excellent watch. They do change a few things (as usually happens with film) but it is a great supplement to the book.

 

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the RingsSince I think the Lord of the Rings series/trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien has become one of those stories that people will claim to have read but have never actually read, I thought it would be a great time for many people to actually read it. Of course, the movies are phenomenal and do a great job of adapting the series for the screen, which is why I think many people have not actually read the books. There are quite a few differences between the book and screen despite the scripts sticking really closely to the source material. There is much more to Tolkien’s universe as well if you like this series. Outside of The Hobbit which preludes this trilogy, there are supplemental books that expand into areas well outside the main story-line for any who are interested.

 

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

It’s always a great time to re-read Harry Potter. Or finally read it. The series is great and you can even reward yourself by watching the movie adaptations alongside your read-through.

 

The Murderbot Diaries

Okay, this last one is simply a guilty-pleasure recommendation that actually breaks my rule. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is not yet completed, but the fifth book comes out next month. The first four books are novella-length, so the series isn’t terrible long, but I think the introverted Murderbot is just a great, fun character who tries to interact with humans a little as possible.Murderbot Series

Solaris

SolarisSolaris by Stanislaw Lem is strange to say the least. The premise is intriguing and I must admit I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book. The second half stalls a bit and gets a little abstract, but overall I think the book is interesting enough to recommend.

Written in 1961, it is a science fiction novel that takes place on a distant planet called Solaris, where the ocean covering nearly the entire surface is discovered to be a sentient life form. We follow a psychiatrist, Kris Kelvin, who travels to the station hovering in the planetary atmosphere. The story takes place in a distant future where humanity has thoroughly mastered space travel and the planet of Solaris is a still unknown entity. A rare, inexplicable puzzle still yet to be solved.

The book itself is an interesting thought experiment that imagines a planet-sized life-form while also delving into what it means to be human; physically and mentally. As I said, the first half really drew me in and made me want to discover how and why the events were taking place. Of course, I had to then finish the novel and the second half was good, don’t get me wrong, but it left me wanting a bit more.

This book has been adapted into film three times (1968, 1972, 2002) with the most recent staring George Clooney. I have not seen any of the adaptations, but I may check them out eventually. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a new adaptation especially since there are many elements that remind me of movies such as Sphere, Alien, or Sunshine. The premise is great enough that I don’t think Hollywood will leave it alone.

The book is approximately 200 pages so it is a fairly quick read. I first heard of this book from a student who was reading it for a class. I then saw it again mentioned in a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin who discussed a few other of Lem’s books which I do want to read. I think Lem has a good writing style and, from what I have read, he has interesting ideas that encompass psychological or philosophical ideas. This alone makes me interested in reading more of his work. It helps that he is able to frame the ideas around an interesting narrative.

Happy Reading.