Review for The Passage & Breathless

My streak of running into books I love is now up to 4. After The Windup Girl and Year of the Flood last week, it’s The Passage and Breathless this week.

The Passage by Justin Cronin. At $13.99 it’s not even worth linking to – just get a used hardcover for $3 instead. On the other hand, it’s about twice the size of a normal book.

This is nearly as good as The Road, The Windup Girl, and Perdido Street Station. It’s a mix of post-apocalyptic survival, horror and twisted vampires. It’s also about hope and the journey of self-discovery.

It’s one of the rare vampire/zombie books that manages to avoid being a royal mess. There are one or two vampire references that will make you cringe but 99% of the book is solid. The vampires are amazing. There are parts where the author loses his sanity and tries to paint them as 5% human and spoil the fun – For the most part, he just lets them go about their evil and ruthless ways.

There were a lot of good things about the book –

  1. It’s long – you’re definitely not going to feel cheated after buying it. It is perhaps a bit too long – but that’s much better than being too short.
  2. The Passage in the title refers to something deeper that runs throughout the book – and not just the physical passage the protagonists make.
  3. Some of the main characters are great.
  4. It really is several books in one, and they are intertwined quite well.
  5. The journey at times is reminiscent of The Lords of The Rings (in a good way).
  6. It does pull you in – it’s hard not to get vested in the survival of everyone.
  7. It manages to reduce hope to a flicker and then bring it back to full burn surprisingly well, and several times. 
  8. It’s a story. There’s a lot of life in it and a lot of story-telling and even the author’s attempts to movie-material the story don’t affect it. It’s a rich story. 

There are also some obvious pain points –

  1. There are a few places where it becomes obvious you’re being set-up for a follow-on. It doesn’t help that the forthcoming two books in the Trilogy arrive in 2012 and 2014.
  2. There’s a little bit too much improbability. Not in the ‘wow this is so fantastic and wonderful and imaginative’ sense, but in the ‘the author ran out of logical ways to fill in the story’ sense.
  3. You do get the feeling a few times that the author was thinking about how good of a movie-scene a passage of the book would make. You almost wish his mother had sat him down and reminded him – In 50 years there will be 3D movies catering to all 5 senses and no one is going to care about the movies that were made in 2011. Your story, however, has the potential to be treasured for another 1,000 years.
  4. There are moments that are truly frustrating. This actually adds to the overall appeal of the book because the flawed parts better highlight the truly great parts. You almost suspect the author put in a few (not many, just a few) appallingly bad things in there to make the rest stand out.
  5. There are two very obvious editing mistakes in the ebook towards the end – the type that are very hard to miss.

Can’t go into more detail. Let’s just say that this book is almost at the level of the books mentioned above – at times it soars above them, at times it disappoints (but not for long).

If the remaining two books of the trilogy can keep the good parts of the first, and perhaps get rid of a few of the flaws, this trilogy has a chance at becoming a classic. The best vampire story since Dracula. It really does have that much potential – the story really is that good.

Breathless by Dean Koontz.

This is a very hard to categorize book. Haven’t read the other reviews but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this were a very hit or miss type of book with divided opinions.

Update: It seems a LOT of people hate the way the storylines are brought together. Interesting.

It’s 4 parallel stories with 2 of the smaller ones merging at the end. The main story meets up briefly, and rather awkwardly, with the last one. They are all good stories – each would make a decent novella and the characters certainly are interesting.

The main story is almost a fable. There’s a lot of ‘trust in the universe’ and ‘believe in your heart’ in the story and it’s done in a way that isn’t condescending. It’s interesting how Dean Koontz talks about Science – that in some ways science has forgotten that we don’t really know anything for sure. It would be easy to misinterpret what he’s saying but it isn’t meant in any obtuse way – just as a fact. That scientists today should be careful because what they hold in their hearts as true might just be today’s equivalent of the flat world theory.

There are a few things to like about the book –

  1. It’s very full of hope. I’d go so far as to say there’s a sense of wonder.
  2. It’s very open. It has a surprisingly quick ending but one that is digestible and open (not in the sense of ‘sequel open’ but in the sense that you can take the story where you want to take it).
  3. At least 2 of the 4 storylines are very good.
  4. Dean Koontz writes very well – You’ll be reading something and suddenly something will strike you and the truth of it will be evident and it’s puzzling how it’s just wrapped up in a normal story.
  5. Basically, it’s a book that’s very approachable and normal. Yet, at the same time, it has some pretty high level concepts.
  6. It’s not very deep and exceedingly deep at the same time. One person could read through and get nothing except the story and another could find something that’ll stun him.
  7. It has an Irish wolfhound in it. How can you not love a dog that is capable of hunting wolves.

In his Frankenstein series there was always a sense of ‘building up for the next book’ but with this book he’s managed to get rid of that while still keeping the good writing. It also has a demonstration of some pretty evolved writing skills – fitting in all these things that surprise you with their lucidity in the midst of a completely separate, different story. It doesn’t have the pace of the Frankenstein books (or rather the sense of pace).

It’s not recommended to read this book if –

  1. You went to Harvard.
  2. You are in love with Costume National.
  3. You hate any mention of hope or positiveness. This book is practically drowning in it.
  4. You think evolution is a universal truth and think there is no other possibility (scientific, random, or spiritual).
  5. You like a writer to demonstrate his knowledge of elaborate words as opposed to his storytelling abilities.
  6. Update: From reviews it seems you might not like it very much if you’re expecting to find a lot of horror in it or a nice, relaxed merging together of the storylines or a long, exciting rollercoaster ride at the end.

It’s a really good book in the sense that it’ll almost certainly make you happy to read it – provided you don’t fall into the above 6 categories.

The best words to describe this book would be Different and Divisive and Potentially Delightful. It really struck a chord with me because of the parts that are easy to miss but really stand out. A lot of people seem to hate the fact that it didn’t give them their usual Dean Koontz horror/thriller rush.

Kindle version Reviews for Wind-Up Girl & Year of the Flood

Not sure why 3 am through 8 am has turned into ‘Read Books on Kindle for PC’ time, but it has.

Fortunately, read two real gems in the last few days.

Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s $7.39 and could be categorized as one or more of – Steampunk, Science Fiction, A Story of Redemption, High Tech Fantasy, A Story about What Makes us Human.

This won both the 2010 Hugo and the 2009 Nebula. It shared the former with The City & The City by China Meiville.

It’s beyond breathtaking. It’s full of people who are human in the best sense and in the worst sense – sometimes both at the same time.

There are various threads that you might like –

  1. Fighting for your country’s integrity.
  2. Trying to build/rebuild a fortune.
  3. The dangers of corporations.
  4. The dangers of genetic engineering.
  5. The race against diseases and virus mutations.
  6. The vulnerability of the wind-up girl.
  7. The sense of being an outsider and xenophobia.
  8. The hatred of technology and the worship of it.
  9. The politics underlying everything.

You will probably not like it if you believe that we’re bound to find a replacement for fossil fuels in the near future. You will probably dislike it intensely if you like everything to be very technically perfect, i.e. you expect the book to have the scientific rigor of a peer-reviewed paper (not that that means anything these days).

Reading The Wind-up Girl is as intense as watching an entire season of Jersey Shore in one sitting – except at the end you feel there is hope for the human race.

The downside – Mr. Bacigalupi has 2 novels and 1 set of short stories in the Kindle Store and that’s it. Yet another brilliant author who hasn’t written enough books.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. This is a follow-on to Oryx and Crake and runs pretty much parallel to it.

With all due apologies to Margaret Atwood the environmental mumblings and poems ensure this book isn’t in the same league as either The Wind-Up Girl or Oryx and Crake.

It’s a beautiful story, yet each chapter begins with a painfully bland single-page write-up of some environmental nonsense festival and a poem that is equally appalling. Even if your heart bleeds for the Earth your eyes will be bleeding after reading all of these. Better to just skip them as they have nothing to do with the story itself.

The story is absolutely beautiful. The writing is stellar. Basically, if you rip out the 1-page environmental thingies and the poems this is a superstar book – just as good as Oryx and Crake, and in some ways, better.

There are quite a few things that are pretty amazing.

  1. Margaret Atwood captures that ‘love of my life’ feeling some/all girls seem to have. The tendency to start feeling that one man is the most amazing man in the world and the inability to ever get over him.
  2. The book captures the fact that there are often things we don’t want to acknowledge that do exist. In places it is rather brutal.
  3. It’s a very good accompaniment to Oryx and Crake. In some ways the characters are easier to grow fond of than the characters in Oryx and Crake – actually, in a lot of ways.
  4. It’s a very comfortable story with very unsettling things. You will be reading along smoothly and then realize that a rather unsettling notion has just been thrown in.
  5. It captures the Corporations/Progress vs Humanity/Earth aspect perfectly.
  6. It’s a plausible scenario. It’s not too hard to imagine the sort of world Margaret Atwood creates. You could argue that we are already well on our way to exactly such a world.
  7. It’s a very satisfying read – especially if you’ve read Oryx and Crake.

Not sure how it manages to be brilliant despite all the environmental cult nonsense but it does.

It’s strange how books have the ability to let you see things from someone else’s perspective but through your own eyes.

Thoughts on an unpolished, excellent indie novel

Ended up buying and reading The Demon Girl (The Rae Wilder Novels) by Penelope Fletcher. It’s rated 4 stars on 14 reviews at Amazon and my rating would be 4 stars too.

Update: You can find The Demon Girl free at Smashwords.

It’s the sort of book that’s got a ton of qualities – good and bad.

The good –

  1. It captures the ‘this makes zero sense to me. Why would she do this?’ feeling perfectly. Any man knows the feeling – the utter incomprehensibility of women. A world full of strange things like feelings and self-sacrificing empathy and stubbornness/strength mixed with delicateness/vulnerability. It was exactly how you feel when the woman you’re with gets upset over something that makes zero sense to you – Like not asking her where to go for dinner or asking her where to go for dinner.
  2. There’s a lot wrapped into the story. There’s a vampire, a good fairy, an evil fairy. Predictably, they are all after the Demon Girl. Even more predictably, and in the most frustratingly true way possible, the Demon Girl is in love with two of them.
  3. It captures another thing very well – the whole love triangle thing. Look carefully and there’s usually one person in that triangle who wants it, perhaps even needs it. The book captures it perfectly without adding any excuses. It would be presumptuous to claim that a large percentage of women have a fantasy about having 2 men vying for their love – but there might be a lot of truth to the claim.
  4. The characters are very human. They might be vampires and demons but you can relate to them.
  5. It was a good read and an engrossing one. Things moved quickly – both on the story level and on the emotional level.

A good comparison in terms of the protagonist’s feelings would be Robin Hobb’s Assassin series. There, the protagonist is a boy, and the feeling throughout was – He’s doing something crazy but I know why he’s doing that.

In this book you have no clue – Rae (the protagonist) switches between utter self-centeredness and total empathy for others. She’s totally driven by emotion – it’s almost as if she can’t control her emotions at all.

The bad –

  1. The level of editing is shockingly bad. If the author confessed that she wrote this in an opium induced haze and then sent it out without ever looking at it again it would explain the utter lack of polish perfectly. It would also explain the beauty.
  2. This wasn’t a major pain but the book is the first book in the series. You’ll have to wait until summer for part 2.
  3. The strength (that it’s very driven by how the protagonist feels) is also the weakness. It’s literally a sea of emotions and everything is viewed through the eyes of the protagonist Rae.
  4. Everyone’s names have excess e’s and n’s stuffed into them.
  5. It could really, really use more polish.

Strangely, a book like this highlights that editors and publishers (of some sort) will always be needed.

With 6 to 9 months of polish and shine this book could be a Top 10 book. It has the basic ingredients. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with this author and this series. It’s not that different from I Am Number 4 in terms of movie potential. The only thing is that this book is so real (as opposed to the Walt Disney ‘love you forever’ romance in #4) that it might not interest Hollywood.

That’s actually the best thing about this book – It’s real. It’s frustrating because the people in it behave like real people and do crazy, incomprehensible things. However, that’s the beauty of it – at no point are you laughing at how much of a fairy tale it is. It’s a book about real life with demons and great possibilities thrown in.

One last thing – the author is making a huge mistake by not putting this at $1. It’s a make-or-break mistake. She has a shot at hitting the Top 100 with this book – By going for $3 she’s losing that opportunity. The book is totally worth $3 but it has to be at $1 to minimize friction and increase sales volume. It’s the most short-sighted thing possible – she can price the later books in her series for $2 or $3. She has her big window of opportunity right now and she’s throwing it away.