Hey readers! While Fiction Wednesday in its current form is in hiatus until I can get my short story collection out, I thought I’d stay true to the theme and continue fiction talk on Wednesdays; specifically, other people’s fiction. You see, I actually quite enjoy writing fiction critiques (I’m not sure you could call what I do reviewing), but when there’s a choice between writing about someone else’s story or writing something of my own, my own work will always win. This means that a good percentage of the books that I read on GoodReads only get a rating without a corresponding review. I’m not crazy about that, as I’d like to go back and remember just why I felt that way about a certain book, as well as giving other readers something to go by. Hence, this series. I have no idea if it’s a full-time thing or not. Let’s just see where it goes, shall we? It could be a lot of fun to just be a “book blogger” for a day each week and maybe take a look at what does and doesn’t work within certain novels. It’s worth a shot, I figure. This means that I’ll be giving some thoughts on the books that I’m currently reading while trying to remain somewhat above spoilers for newer works. I’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce you to new authors in the future without taking up an entire day worth of posts. With that rambling preamble out of the way, let’s take a look at this week’s offerings…
Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter For those few people not familiar with the steampunk genre, K.W. Jeter is the guy who originally coined the term in something of a joking fashion. Jeter is a friend of personal favorite Tim Powers and knew Phillip K. Dick through Powers, so he definitely has the pedigree. I’ve always wanted to dig through his bibliography but only just decided to get around to it. This book seemed like a natural choice, given that it was one of the earlier steampunk works. Note that I’m reading the Angry Robot re-release from a few years ago, but I prefer the cover to the left with all its Dungeons and Dragons echoes, so I used that one.
Now about the novel itself…I so want to like this book, but I find it thwarting me at every turn. I realize that it hasn’t received great reviews, but the same is true for the Difference Engine and I feel that’s a criminally under-appreciated and misunderstood book, so I hoped the same would be true here. Alas…it starts out really slow – so slow that I thought about bailing more than once – and only starts to pick up at about the 20% mark. At that point, the book looked like it might be something truly special, an original blend of steampunk and H.P. Lovecraft. I’m now 72% in and I have a feeling it’s not going to live up to that promise. Things have already begun to go off the rails and some of it has strained even my credulity thanks to inconsistencies within the story itself and some good ideas that don’t go anywhere useful.
Oh, and the women in the story absolutely baffle me, to the point where I wonder if Jeter was attempting a parody. Almost every one of them wants to jump the protagonist at every turn. I’m sure he’s a handsome guy (as seen above), but come on now. The one woman that hasn’t wanted to jump him is duplicitous and dangerous. I just…I wonder.
The book could improve in the last quarter, and if so I’ll bump it up from a possible three out of five stars, mostly earned for the originality of the concept and some of the writing.
Side note: I’m actually a little shocked at the poor OCR and editing in this one, given that it’s from a publisher that I respect and tried to entice with one of my novels before I went solo (Angry Robot publishing). Not sure what happened here, but I’m not impressed with the quality control.
Expect a bit more talk about this novel next week.
I admit it: I started out as a Hunger Games skeptic. The concept seemed a little old hat to me, as I cut my teeth on dystopian lit like Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s “The Long Walk,” which I feel must have inspired this series on some level. How the hell would they handle such a topic in a manner appropriate to YA? The topic itself is grim stuff, and I wondered if they soft sold the whole thing.
Still, I think when it comes to books it’s important not to judge a concept/story offhand without at least some exposure to it, as opposed to film where you can pretty much see upfront that something is crap, so I decided to give the Hunger Games a shot last year.
I was pleasantly surprised, and I consider the first book worthy of enshrinement in something like my personal pantheon of books (most of my five-star reviews on GoodReads are for books like this, five stars takes something really special that not even the best authors can consistently nail down). Sure, it had some issues, specifically with what I think of as “bare wires” where the mechanisms of the plot are a little exposed to a reader who knows what she or he is looking for, but I didn’t feel that those in any way diminished the novel.
So it was that I went into the sequel with some trepidation. I’d heard it didn’t capture the magic of the first book, but then again what could?
I’m happy to report that while Catching Fire is not an all-time classic, it’s still a really damn good book. It starts a little slow, but once it picks up it takes you on one hell of a roller coaster ride. The “bare wires” issue is a little more prominent in this one, to the point that I couldn’t ignore it, knocking a star from my overall rating, but it’s still a very worthy title and gives me hope for the third book. Introducing new characters to a series like this, where so many are designed to die, is a tricky matter. It doesn’t help that the book’s central conceit revolves around contests that include 24 participants. This means that Collins really runs the risk of overloading a reader with new characters when there are already so many old ones with which the reader must contend. She doesn’t entirely pull this off, as I had a moment or two of confusion, but in general I think she handles it well enough that it didn’t detract from the story for me.
It’s hard to go into some of my other issues without spoiling it, but I think you’ll probably recognize the points where you can see plot mechanisms at work. If you can get past that and some character overload (though some of these new characters are great), I think you’d enjoy it, even if dystopian, depressing fiction isn’t your thing.
That’s it for this week. Next week I hope to have a wrap-up on Infernal Devices and start digging into Divergent by Veronica Roth. Pretty early in the going, but I’m already intrigued. Can’t wait to hear what other folks have to say about it.
So tell me, what are you reading? Oh, and feel free to friend me on GoodReads! I’m right over here.