Book Review – The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The blurb slings:

This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own. A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations—The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier western legend.

The Gunslinger’s quest involves the pursuit of The Man in Black, a liaison with the sexually ravenous Alice, and a friendship with the kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, here is stunning proof of Stephen King’s storytelling sorcery.

I sought this book out because it’s famous (or rather it’s the first book in a famous series).  I didn’t really know what to expect other than a tower and a cowboy.

Considering it’s a fantasy series it’s quite Stephen King – there aren’t many fantasy tropes and there’s an unusual amount of unexplained creepiness.

The story is mostly told in flashbacks (at one point recursive flashbacks three levels deep).  There’s nothing really wrong with this, although it’s a bit much to keep up with, but it leaves the main plotline pretty straightforward because so much of the writing has gone into the flashbacks.

The description of the desert was very vivid and the descriptions of the future (alternate?) Earth culture were interesting, although I think that was mostly for the mystery of wondering what’s going on.

This book reminded me a bit of Dune in that it has flashes of greatness but overall doesn’t have the same effect it would have done when it was first published.

As it’s the first book in the series it predictably doesn’t wrap everything up, although it does basically resolve its main plot arc.

Book Review – An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

The blurb geeks:

Ever since Martin Banks and his fellow computer geeks discovered that reality is just a computer program to be happily hacked, they’ve been jaunting back and forth through time, posing as medieval wizards and having the epic adventures that other nerds can only dream of having. But even in their wildest fantasies, they never expected to end up at the mercy of the former apprentice whom they sent to prison for gross misuse of magic and all-around evil behavior.

Who knew that the vengeful Todd would escape, then conjure a computer game packed with wolves, wenches, wastelands, and assorted harrowing hazards—and trap his hapless former friends inside it? Stripped of their magic powers, the would-be wizards must brave terrifying dangers, technical glitches, and one another’s company if they want to see medieval England—and their favorite sci-fi movies on VHS—ever again. Can our heroes survive this magical mystery torture? Or will it only lead them and their pointy hats into more peril?

In case it isn’t clear from the blurb, this is a humor book.  It’s mostly mildly amusing, but there were a few places that made me laugh out loud.

Pretty much the whole of this book takes place in a computer role playing game set up as a form of revenge on the main characters by someone they banished in the original back story.  This allows the author to point out some gamey things about computer RPGs (e.g. predictable enemies, inflexible conversation trees) and adds some variety to the premise of the series (as Atlantis and time travel did in the second book).

There was also at least one really cool subversion by the protagonists of the systems set up by the antagonist.  Not only was it extremely clever, but it showed that the author thought up the trap, thought up a way out of the trap and then thought up a way to repurpose the trap into something useful – it was very impressive.

This is probably pretty similar to the previous books (maybe less so the first one because we followed Martin’s point of view as he discovered the nature of reality) but there didn’t really seem to be a main character, just a group of protagonists with some major and some minor players.  It didn’t really cause a problem because for the majority of the book the characters traveled together in groups so there were only a couple of points of view.

Something that I noticed in the first two books was that it’s hard to tell a lot of the characters apart because they’re all pretty similar, have generic names and the author doesn’t spend too much time describing them in a way that distinguishes them from each other.  Of the half-dozen male characters one of them is asian, one is black and one is old – which should differentiate them – but they tend to have group conversations and only be referred to by name, so I still couldn’t tell you what name goes with which person.  This is still a problem in this book but less so because the characters were in two smaller groups so everyone’s identity and personality kept being reiterated.

For some (presumably publishing related) reason books tend to come in trilogies, so I just assumed this would be the last book in the series, however it didn’t read like the last book in the series.  Another thing that made me think this would be the last book is that the author has started a new series, but I guess maybe he’ll juggle them.

Book Review – Forging Divinity by Andrew Rowe

Forging Divinity by Andrew Rowe

Forging Divinity by Andrew Rowe

The blurb deifies:

Some say that in the city of Orlyn, godhood is on sale to the highest bidder. Thousands flock to the city each year, hoping for a chance at immortality.

Lydia Hastings is a knowledge sorcerer, capable of extracting information from anything she touches. When she travels to Orlyn to validate the claims of the local faith, she discovers a conspiracy that could lead to a war between the world’s three greatest powers. At the focal point is a prisoner who bears a striking resemblance to the long-missing leader of the pantheon she worships.

Rescuing the prisoner would require risking her carefully cultivated cover – but his execution could mean the end of everything Lydia holds dear.

I feel kind of bad for the author of this book – he’s obviously put a lot of work into it, but it’s just not grade-A material.  Judging from the editing errors I think the book was probably self-published which would explain it.

The author has clearly put a lot of thought into the magic system, but as it’s never fully explained to the reader, you just have to kind of take the author’s word that whatever the characters just did is possible, follows the rules and makes sense.  People turning out to be illusions is overused, and it gets to be annoying.

Like the magic system the religions obviously have structure and thought behind them, but since they aren’t explained to the reader it’s a bit unclear what the characters’ beliefs and the pantheons are.

The action is mostly written well, with some very dramatic scenes.

I get the impression that all of the male characters fancy all of the female ones and (to a lesser extent) vice versa, which seems unrealistic.  I suspect the author is single and fancies every woman he meets, and this worldview has seeped into his writing.

The point of view jumps around, and it feels a bit arbitrary rather than tied to the plot.  Exactly once in the book the narration jumps backward in time, which was disorienting.

The main character suffers a bit from paragon syndrome – unrealistic, unimpeachable, perfect morality.  It’s annoying but isn’t as obtrusive as in some other books.

The book had a few dramatic reveals but no big twist – from the beginning both the characters and the reader have a suspicion of what’s going on and they’re correct.

Like a lot of fantasy books, many of the made-up names are unpronounceable and confusing.

The main plot of the book is resolved by the end, but there are a lot of loose ends which I assume will be addressed in later books.

Book Review – Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

The blurb educates:

Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight.

It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of “Half-Cocked Jack” Shaftoe — London street urchin turned swashbuckling adventurer and legendary King of the Vagabonds — risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox.

And it is the tale of Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent Europe through the newborn power of finance.

In my experience, Neal Stephenson’s books are very long but very well written.  They often have long stretches where it seems like the author is trying to educate the reader so that they understand concepts later in the book.  This book is very much like that on all counts.

Unfortunately the difference between a book where this worked well (e.g. Anathem) and this one is that in this book there is no payoff.  There’s a bunch of “teaching the reader” but there’s no real reason for the reader to need to learn those things.  It’s not really clear what the book is about – a lot of things happen, but it’s in the form of the history of the countries and personal history of the characters involved – there doesn’t seem to be a moral or climax.

It’s not even clear who the main character is, or if there even is one.  The story switches between characters and times, new characters are added and old characters fall out of the story.

Part of this may be because this is the first book in a trilogy, so it could be given the benefit of the doubt.  I guess I’ll find out when I read the next two books in the series.

One of the best parts of the book is how it follows the events of history, allowing you to see things as they happened.  I don’t know a lot about this period of history, so it’s hard for me to tell what’s historically accurate and what’s fiction, but it was really interesting.