Archive for steampunk

The Alloy of Law

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by xi'an

When I saw that The Alloy of Law was half-price in the Cambridge Waterstones, I did not hesitate long in picking the latest Brandon Sanderson‘s book! It is set in the Mistborn universe, with the same chemical principles directing magical powers (allomancy and ferromancy). A terrific concept by the way! However, The Alloy of Law reads much more like a steampunk novel. With a serving of wild (or weird) West. And, in short, it does not read very well… (Even though it reads fast, I was done with it by Sunday evening.)

“Numbers, patterns, movements. People seem erratic, but they actually follow patterns. Find the deviations, isolate the reason why they deviated, and you’ll often learn something. Aluminum on the floor. It’s a deviation.” (p.178)

In a sense, the novel The Alloy of Law best compares with is Gilman’s The Half-made World, that I read about a year ago. Same steampunk basics, same wild wild West atmosphere, same central characters of a female academic chafing at the Victorian constraints imposed by the society, same major role of trains… However, I feel The Half-made World is a successful and convincing construction, while The Alloy of Law sounds like an unfinished attempt. I have been amazed at the number of books published by Sanderson over the past years, especially considering the pressure he is under for completing Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I wish he had spent more time and care in polishing this book! Indeed, it greatly feels like it was rushed, with a neat idea for a backbone, but not enough meat to make the concept stand. There are too many dreary, repetitive, and overly precise descriptions of gun battles, the main male character is shallow (and only too well deserves his nickname of Wax!), the female character is more interesting but still caricaturesque, the overall plot does not make much sense, most of the dialogues are poor (e.g., when explaining “When you make an alloy, you don’t just mix two metals. You make a new one.“, p. 134), and the connection with the original trilogy is almost completely lost! (The fan-made trailer is actually quite well-made, by comparison. And covering about all main features of the book!)

I am certainly not looking forward the second volume in the series…., if any. In fact, the book is presented as a stand-alone novel, but the ending has all the loose threads (main villain still at large, love relations still unresolved, final appearance of a mythical figure, …) to proceed quickly (too quickly!) to a sequel of The Alloy of Law.

Diamond age

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2011 by xi'an

Here is the one before last of my vacation reads! As obvious from several earlier posts, I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s books. e.g. Snow Crash is one of my preferred cyberpunk books (along with Neuromancer), and I consider Stephenson’s approach to the genre deeper and more scientific than Gibson‘s. So when in Lancaster I picked the Diamond Age, I was quite excited to have discovered an overlooked volume of his’! The more because the story was partly taking place in Shanghai. Alas, I am rather disappointed by the result. Indeed, the book does not read well: the “suspension of disbelief” does not operate.

The Diamond Age brims with (too many???) brilliant techno-societal ideas, colourful characters, literary references, and exciting settings, but the plot dries out much too quickly. The universe Stephenson depicts is a mix of cyberpunk centred on nanotechnologies and of steampunk with Victorian codes and attitudes. (In a sense, the Diamond Age is Dickens mixed with Gibson and van Gulik.) One of the great ideas in the Diamond Age is the “primer” that educates the central character, Nell, who has been neglected by her alcoholic mother. It is a quite compelling concept, the one of an interactive book backed by an AI and by real actors that turn Nell into a real scientist (the part about Turing machines is quite good) and cryptographer, as well as teach Chinese orphans (although it does not work so well in the latter case because of the lack of real actors).  The fact that the level of the story remains one of a fairy tale while Nell is growing up and maturing is a bit of a disappointment. What really put me off, though, half the book read, is the appearance of the Dreamers, an “unnecessary and monstrously tacky underwater sex cult” that doomed my “suspension of disbelief” for the rest of the book… (The criticisms are mostly positive, though.)

the half-made world

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on December 31, 2010 by xi'an

“He was–ah–he was carving the roast at dinner, for the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and the Bishop of Lodenstein, and others. And the effort, and the occasion, were too much for him. He swelled up in his shirtsleeves and burst. He fell with his mustaches in the gravy.”

tor.com put the first chapter of this book on-line and it was original enough to make me buy it… I read the remainder of the half-made world over the past week and really enjoyed the weirdness of it! It came as part of the steampunk month on tor.com but it blurs the genre boundaries as it also qualifies as weird WestContinue reading

A very poor read

Posted in Books with tags , , on October 30, 2010 by xi'an

Following some reading advice on tor.com, I ordered Worldshaker by Richard Harland. Now I have read it, I cannot fathom why anyone would see anything positive about the book and even less how it could be nominated for an award! The style is appalling (the same applies to the above trailer and to the cover). The characters are incredibly shallow. The story is completely predictable, to the point there is no suspense whatsoever. (E.g., it is just so clear from the beginning that the two main characters will end up in a romantic relationship. The reason why they do is highly unrealistic, even in a fantasy universe.) The closed universe of the massive moving city (or juggernaut) is inspired from submarines but the description lacks conviction and it is unrealistic to an unbelievable level (like, how does the structure produce wealth to pay for raw materials from populations outside the ship? Why is the size of the working class population much lower than the size of the upper class population, contradicting economic requirements? What is the role of the “filthies” in the production and locomotion processes if they cannot be compelled to work for the upper class? &tc.) The fact that Worldshaker apparently belongs to the “young adult literature” category does not excuse those low standards in writing, unless the author wants to reach at such a young age that the story becomes inappropriate… There is no possible comparison with other books in the literature: the closed universe of a Jules Verne’s novel like 20,000 leagues under the sea is way above in its creativity, not to mention its style. The hardship of Victorian education are described in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, that Worldshaker very poorly imitates in this respect. The consequences of storing one’s ancestor bodies in one’s lodging is exploited in Barjavel’s Ravage. And so on. (An hilarious confusion on amazon author’s page mixes the author with a homonymous literary theorist!) This is clearly one of the worst novels I have read in a long time…

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