I read "Flowers For Algernon" a few months ago, a little bit too early for it to have been my first reviewed book. But in light of its author Daniel Keyes's recent passing, I thought I would give a few thoughts on the novel.
"Flowers For Algernon" is one of the most famous Sci-Fi novels--although it is almost too far into the literary genre to sit easily with speculative fiction. In any case, it involves a mentally challenged man who is given a surgery to increase his intelligence. Told in apostolic form, it follows Charlie Gordan's journey to genius--and the consequences that follow.
In short, it's brilliant, wonderful, touching, effective, and sincere. A must read.
In length, the entire story is overshadowed with an air of tragedy. I loved Charlie from the first, barely-legible entries in that journal. Though he changes drastically over the course of the novel--and not all in ways that I hoped for--I still wished that I didn't have to reach the last words and part from my good friend.
I finished the novel in three days, carrying it with me to wherever I thought I might have a spare minute to read.
Let me say this outright: Portions of the book are very difficult to read, because Charlie begins as a less-than-literate writer, and like Faulkner, Keyes chooses to portray this by the most direct means. But unlike Faulkner, whose prose sometimes allows style to overcrowd substance, Keyes portrays something profound and heartbreaking in the most effective way possible.
There are minor flaws to this work. The last half of the book drags on a bit, in particular, until it reaches the climax, at which point it again tightens up. The book is predictable--I knew from about five pages in how it would end--but I think this was partially intentional, and it doesn't reduce the emotional impact of the ending.
I'm not generally a Sci-Fi fan--while I find the concepts fascinating, I am sometimes let down by the lack of attention character receives..... Also, it tends to expect some amount of math ability, which I cannot provide. But "Flowers For Algernon" joins the ranks of The Giver as one of my favorite works touching on the genre.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Monday, June 16, 2014
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
I’ve decided recently to try my hand at writing book reviews. I’ll start with works that have been out for a few years, cutting my teeth, and perhaps working to new releases, eventually.
Mistborn is an Epic Fantasy trilogy published by Tor in 2006-2008, written by Brandon Sanderson.
I chose Mistborn as my first for a few reasons. It’s the book series I’ve read most recently, and one about which I feel I have a real opinion. But I also chose it because I’ve mentioned Brandon Sanderson and his efforts at teaching aspiring writers multiple times since I’ve started the blog. It would be negligent of me not to look into the work of the man whose advice I have adopted so often.
I’m reviewing the trilogy as a whole, although I’ll offer some thoughts about each individual work, as well. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, though the series is several years old at this point.
Let’s start with what Brandon Sanderson has grown famous for: his magic systems. He deserves every bit of the praise given to him here. He has some of the most coherent, logical, internally consistent magic systems I’ve ever read. His strategy of putting multiple systems in a single world is inspired, perhaps revolutionary. And Sanderson’s Laws of Magic (the first of which is here: http://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/ ) are a brilliant application of plotting rules to Fantasy.
Mistborn, perhaps even more than his other works, put this strength on full display. He creates some of the most intriguing, world-specific problems I’ve ever seen, and has the characters solve these problems in ingenious ways. Scenes of action and violence enrapture the reader because he provides an innate understanding of how the system functions. Even the quiet scenes are defined by the evolution of the magic, which is thick with revelation throughout the entire series. There are very few, brief moments where I thought I noticed small inconsistencies, but they hardly served to distract from the whole.
The plotting of each book is often every bit as strong as the magic. In Writing Excuses, Brandon has said that he thinks plot twists should be surprising-yet-inevitable, and he succeeds far more often than he fails. Often, a page or two before a new development, my eyes opened in sudden understanding, which kept those developments satisfying. Each new development is foreshadowed, and each is full of implications, some of which remain unstated or unexplored for hundreds of pages, but most of which are given satisfactory resolutions by the end of the series.
On the other hand, the pacing is…strange. I consistently felt as though I were moving into the climax at the opening of the third act, with a full hundred pages—if not more—left to go. This wasn’t bad, necessarily, but it’s something I’m not used to, and was slightly distracting, and a bit exhausting, in places.
His main characters—I’m including any character that gets more than one viewpoint—are all deep and nuanced, with their own conflicts, character arcs, and specialties. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. They are all interesting, most of them are sympathetic, and some of them are downright unforgettable. This is one strength that only grows as the series develops; Hero of Ages, the final book in the series, shows impressive growth as a writer in this department—and in fact, develops a character that has grown to be my favorite in all of the series, and one of my favorite characters from any series.
His side characters are more hit-and-miss. Any member of the original crew receives enough character that it’s hard to consider any of them anything but main characters. His one-off perspective characters and people that are around for less than a hundred pages do not fare so well. While he is good at developing rich, complex characters, he doesn’t seem to be as capable of expressing that depth in a handful of sentences.
Perhaps the largest hurdle I had while reading it was that Sanderson writes his 3rd Person Limited with just one step closer to Omniscient than I am used to. The narrative is just a bit less inside the heads of the characters. Because of this, I was sometimes unsure, when a viewpoint switched, just which character’s head I was in. Bear in mind that this is likely purely personal, and you may not notice it at all.
The single largest objective flaw, however, is almost impossible to miss. Each book in the series relies on the next to build itself up. The first book, read by itself, is not wholly satisfying, because so many things are left open for the sequels to resolve. The second book is closer to complete on its own, but there are still major plot points in this book—things that effect the climax itself—that are not adequately explained until the final book. To Sanderson’s credit, almost all of these main points are tied up in satisfying ways. But the emotional impact is dampened because I often felt the hand of the author, withholding information as I read.
On a side note Brandon’s humor in his works simply did not work for me. But humor is subjective, and I’m sure many people greatly enjoy what is found on the pages of Mistborn.
None of these things make Mistborn a bad series. On the contrary. It’s both brutal and elegant, wry and tear-jerking, and above all, unfailingly clever. A must-read for Fantasy fans.
What do you think? Did you notice something I didn't mention? Did you disagree about something? Let me know in the comments!
(If you want to read the books and form your own opinion, you can find them here: http://brandonsanderson.com/books/mistborn/)