Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am LegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmm, this was strange story. I can't really say that I enjoyed it, but then again I've never been much for vampire books. In learning a little more about the story itself, which has been published both in a collection of short stories and as a stand-alone book, it was an early foray into both vampires and dystopian stories. Given the popularity of dystopian stories, I can see how this has caught peoples interest again, both on film and in print.

I didn't like Robert Neville much. While he was in a tough situation, and obviously in a mentally straining situation, he also wasn't very deep as a character, so there wasn't much to relate to. His range was from grumpy drunk to raving madman. I wanted him to win, not for him, but because I wanted humanity to win.

What is slow about this book is that there is no real action or plot movement for a long time. Finally when Ruth shows up, things begin to happen. I wonder if that was necessary? Why wait? The story could have been roughly the same and about a third shorter... which is saying something since it is already a short story.

Finally, what did I like about this story? Well it was the prototypical English class short story. There are some obvious themes that you make you think about the world around you. How does change fit into our world? Does the new always have to replace the old? Is someone justified in hating, despising, or fearing the old ways? Or the new ways? How do we demonize those who are different from us? Are there people or things in life that seem patently evil at first, but which might not be what we think they are?

So, I'm not a fan, but I can see why this story has endured over the years. It will be interesting to see what it's place in literary history is in another 50 years.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (Alcatraz, #3)Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The first Alcatraz books were sorely disappointing. Book 2 was a second chance that piqued my interest enough to get me reading the series, although I was still disillusioned with the style of writing that constantly broke into the action. This 3rd book was more of the same. The plot, characters, and setting all got better, sure. But the annoying breaks in the story annoyed me that much more.

I feel like Sanderson is giving in to the concept of sunk costs here. He committed to this style for the series and feels like he has to follow through for consistency. But instead, he should just throw consistency out the window in favor of creating a much better product. He is capable of switching it up and making it work. His fan base will forgive him as long as he keeps the story and characters going. Just do it. Please.

But for all my criticism, I'm still reading, so he has me along for the ride, whining and complaining all the way. If you ignore the breaks in the action for chit chat, you end up with a 3 or 4 star read.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess BrideAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love The Princess Bride movie. I've been watching that movie since it came out in the 80's, seeing it for the first time at a friend's house on VHS. I knew that I liked the movie, so when I saw this audio book I was mildly interested.

What I learned is that I know and like this movie even better than I thought I did. As they talked about certain scenes, I could picture every one of them. The movie was actually on TV the other night and I found that I knew more of the dialogue than I thought, and I already thought I knew it pretty well. And now I have stories to go along with many of the scenes, which I will admit has ruined the movie just a bit for me, since it is hard to not pull out of the story and think of the filming now that I know the backstage tidbits.

One unexpected fact I learned was that it was a box office dud when it came out. I had no idea! Our family didn't go to movies so I figured I had just missed out. This movie is a classic and hearing the details of its making was way more interesting than I expected. If you like the movie, and are willing to risk knowing the behind-the-scenes stories that may ruin future viewings, I'd suggest reading this. It was fun. And just for fun, I dare you to not finish these lines:

No more rhyming, I mean it! _____ ____ __ ______?
Have fun _________ the castle!
Your friend here is only _____ ______, not all dead.
Gently! _____!
I have something to tell you. I'm not ____-_______ either!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story by Michael Ende
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I saw this audio book when I was in need of something to listen to, and remembered enjoying the fantasy movie from the 80's by the same title, so I checked it out. Strangely, I didn't remember hardly anything from that movie other than a flying dog, so as I began to read (listen) I was having a whole new experience.

The initial journey was a little long, but it was a fun adventure where a little boy takes part in the adventure he is supposedly reading. Finally, we are reaching towards the big moment where the Nothing is overcome and the Childlike Empress is saved. It wasn't my favorite, but it was satisfying to a degree. Then the story wrap up started, and was going a little longer than I expected since the main conflict had been resolved. Then there were new little conflicts, and the story kept on going, and I started to be concerned. Then it kept going, and concern turned to dismay. This story really was never ending! And it sucked! And where was that flying dog?

Finally after hours of unsatisfying torture it ended with the reunion scene between the boy and his father that should have taken place hours ago. Nothing good came from the rest of the book. It was a muddled plot with meaningless characters that came and went. Had it ended when the main conflict was resolved, I think it could have been a 3 star read for me. Now I grudgingly give it a rare 1 star.

I'm now going to go back and watch the movie, and see if Hollywood somehow fixed it, or if we were all so impressed with our new VCR's in the 80's that we would watch any old crap we could find on the shelf at Blockbuster.

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones (Alcatraz, #2)Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't going to read this book. The first Alcatraz was so awful that I wanted to white-out Brandon Sanderson's name on the cover. It felt like false advertising. But after a few weeks I found myself thinking about the characters and the story, and less about the quirky writing style. Somewhere in there I decided to give it one more try.

It was better the 2nd time. First and foremost, Sanderson seemed to both limit and condense his interruptions so they were easier to ignore. Second, underneath the problematic exterior Sanderson was back at his craft of world building and developing characters, and his natural talent is still there covered up by a really bad artistic decision.

I enjoyed this book, and he may just have won me over to reading the whole series, although it is tenuous. We will find out with the next book.

While I don't like the constant narrator interruptions, I do have two things to say about them. One, they are funny. It's not that they are bad reading, they are just out of place, like a stand-up comedian at a funeral. Two, I realized that the voice doesn't match. The narrator is supposed to be Alcatraz telling his story, but when you listen to the quirkiness of the narrator it doesn't match the voice of the Alcatraz inside the story. Maybe the narrator voice is the more mature, grown-up Alcatraz, but I struggle just as much to see that. My opinion is that the narrator is actually just good ol' Brandon Sanderson letting lose and being himself, which is awesome. (He actually took a shot at Garth Nix! Loved it! I like Garth Nix too by the way...) The narrator voice just doesn't work for me in this book.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups by Leonard Sax

The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-UpsThe Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups by Leonard Sax
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars. I liked this book, but was disappointed in its execution. Let me explain.

We are in a culture of disrespect in this country. Parents have abdicated all authority, and that abdication is costing our children, and society, a ton. We don't know why our children go to school, and we don't teach them correct principles. Our children are fragile and don't know how to fail, how to recover from failures, or how to be courageous. And this is all the fault of parents. We need to fix these issues in our homes.

Unfortunately, all of these astute and important observations somehow morphed into the same worn out diatribe against cell phones and video games that I hear a lot from the previous generation. While the author successfully made the case that parenting has gone awry, nothing lays causation at the feet of technology. In every example it was parenting that was to blame. So why be anti-technology?

While I am on the topic I'll share this thought from a recent tech conference I attended (sorry I don't have a citation-- I want to say the speaker was a VP of something from Twitter.) For our kids, the digital and physical world are blended, and both are "real" to them. So our parenting needs to become equally seamless. You wouldn't let your kids be alone with a stranger, so don't let them be online in a private conversation with out. But you also wouldn't lock your kids in the house to make sure they never encounter a stranger. How will they learn social skills? So let them safely explore the digital world. Know where they are going, who their friends are, and when they will be "home" (offline.) If they are home late, start hanging out with the wrong crowd, or sneaking out digitally OR physically, stand up and be a parent. Ok, so I might have restated that thought in my own words, but I appreciated the thought. Back to the book...

Yes, our culture has issues, but we all now live in a technical world. Absolving yourself of that world doesn't solve bad parenting. And your fear of technology doesn't solve the parenting problems either. Some of the worst, most fearful, least authoritative parents I know also abhor technology and refuse their kids video games, cell phones, social media accounts, etc. Refusing your kids' access to cigarettes is not the same as teaching them to not smoke. For me this ruined the whole book. I bought into the whole message, I see the problems in our lives and in the families around us, and this is the prescription? Useless.

This was headed toward a 5 star rating until it fell off the rails in the last few chapters. The author goes further down the anti-tech path without returning to the real issues. Parents need to learn to be authoritative again. They need to show love. They need to teach values. None of those have anything to do with smart phones. That is just a symptom.

So for falling off the rails, the best I can give this one is 3 stars. There are good messages in here, but don't get sucked into the false causality that leads you to give up technology in the hopes that all your problems will go away.