Reading the Classics: “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I chose Great Expectations next because I have been wanting to re-read it for many years. I read it in High School and was struck very deeply by both the major plot twist in the novel and its conclusion. I remember it being one of those books I clutched to my chest once I’d finished, thrilled by its depth and beauty. But by now, that was about all I remembered of it. I chose to listen to it this time because I wanted to really absorb it slowly.

Slowly, I did absorb it. Dickens is an author I’ve heard lambasted before for drawing out his novels well beyond what they need to be. Writing in an era where novels were published serially at times, he made sure he got paid to write for as long as possible. There are other authors who did the same, of course. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo (link to my review) serially, and that book is more than 1000 pages in print! But Dumas’s classic doesn’t feel as though every single word was pondered over to add to its length. Great Expectations is much shorter, but still slows at times to an absolute crawl as the verbosity of its prose drags it on. Now, Dickens is a truly skilled artist, so even when you can tell he’s dragging something out, it is still enjoyable to read.

The plot itself is much simpler than I remember. Boy falls in love with girl when they’re young. The girl has been purposely raised to be unkind. He rises above his station unexpectedly. Girl, now a woman, turns him down pretty hard.  Sorrow. Later, they meet and her station seems to have changed. She seems to have feelings now, but it appears to be too late. The end. Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but those are the basics. It’s a tough story that, on reflection, seems to have few if any redeeming characters in it. Pip is mostly carried along by the events surrounding him. The convict, Magwitch, who brings him into wealth and “expectations” has only paper thin motivations. Other characters are just about as narrowly made.

With all of that, I still enjoyed the book immensely. Dickens’s prose is fantastic, and he somehow manages to draw you into the story even without very sympathetic characters on the whole. It’s a great book, but perhaps not as great as I thought it was in high school.

Links 

Reading the Classics– Read more posts in this series as I work my way through classic literature.  Let me know what you think of them! (Scroll down for more.)

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

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Reading the Horus Heresy, Book(s) 4.5: “The Kaban Project” and others

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The Kaban Project The Dark King The Lightning Tower

I decided to try out some of the short fiction for fun as I continued my read-through of the Horus Heresy, and The Kaban Project was next on the list. I got a collection through interlibrary loan and read that along with the stories that were published around the same time: The Dark King and The Lightning Tower. The latter two were decent, but nothing that I though was too spectacular. Reflecting on tearing down the Imperial Palace in The Lightning Tower was cool, but I haven’t really had investment enough to care much about it like the characters did. The Dark King had the origins of Konrad Curze, and was grimdark enough to satisfy the Warhammer fan, but for all that, it didn’t blow me away. It was good, not great.

The Kaban Project, though? That blew me away. It made me reminisce about things like Dune and the Butlerian Jihad, or other great AI/robots vs. human type stories. The sinister rise of the machine intelligence, wholly unanticipated by the main character, was deliciously foreboding. It leaves me very much wanting more from the Mechanicum in this Horus Heresy setting, while also setting up some great ideas, characters, and potential conflicts going forward. It really had just about anything you could ask for in WH40K novella/short story. Definitely had me excited, because the idea of an evil AI in WH40K is a pretty terrifying and awesome prospect. I hope that at least a few novels will deal with this conflict.

The short story also made me interested in the sort of origin story of AI/Human conflict set within a Warhammer type setting. It would be fascinating to read about the first war against the AIs. Yes, it’s a theme that has become something of a trope in sci-fi, but the WH40K setting is so vast and wild that I think it would still be fresh and exhilarating.

Anyway, turns out the short stories in the Horus Heresy are worth reading, too. What are your thoughts on these works?

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– Read along with me in the Horus Heresy and see all my reviews of the books.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Classics: “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Yes, I know the last classic I read and reviewed was Pride and Prejudice (click for review), but I’m double dipping on Austen for two reasons: 1) Jane Austen is one of the most talented authors ever, so deal with it; 2) my wife and I went and saw a production of the novel that was just so excellent and fun I knew I had to read it.

I actually ended up nabbing the audiobook of this one and listened to it while working on our new patio. I have to say, this one could actually challenge Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel. It is so good. More than any of her other novels that I’ve read, Abbey has the satirical voice of Austen coming through loud and clear. Whether it’s that fantastic aside about having characters in novels reading, well, novels (because, after all, why shouldn’t a novelist endorse her own trade?) or the overwhelming feelings and emotions that overtake characters all throughout, this is an absolutely hilarious delight of a novel of manners.

Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine Morland, a gothic novel obsessed young woman who is of prime marriageable age and her interactions with society around herself. She makes and loses friends, talks to others about her love of specific novels–the more horrible and ghastly, the better!–and finds all the excitement she could have hoped for as the novel goes on. It’s a dramatic melodrama that Austen has layered over the whole work, somehow meshing it neatly into her own formula of social commentary and with so much humor I was laughing out loud as I was lifting cartloads of bricks listening to it. I know of few books that have been this much of a delight.

Austen’s satire is never bitter or even biting. It’s just funny. Yes, it is strange to be obsessed with gothic novels. Yes, the more horrible the better is an odd attitude. And yes, society people of the time would virtually never actually run into such events occurring. But for all of that, and for Austen’s mocking it, she made a masterpiece of her own that I am just as obsessed over as her characters were for gothic novels.

Throw all that in alongside classic Jane Austen twists and turns surrounding society love interests, and it’s a formula for total success. I cannot recommend Northanger Abbey highly enough to you, dear readers! Go read it, or come talk about it, or both!

Links

Reading the Classics– Check out the other classics I’ve been reading and reviewing and let me know what you think of them! (Scroll down for more!)

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

 

“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis – A Steampunk Delight

It’s no secret: I love steampunk. The thing is, I’ve struggled to find novels that capture the feel I really, really want out of the subgenre. The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld is one prime example of an excellent series. Then, I saw The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. It had a blurb from my favorite author, David Weber on it. Surely, he would not lead me wrong! Would he?

No, he wouldn’t.

Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above is the beginning of what I hope becomes a lengthy fantasy series. Bennis doesn’t do much experimental here. No, she instead delivers to readers an extremely sound, tight, action-packed steampunk novel. Do you want harrowing air battles? Do you want some political intrigue? Character development? Check all the boxes, it’s all here.

The story centers around Josette Dupre,who is the first woman airship captain in her nation. Some doubt her abilities. Upping the drama is the addition of Lord Bernat, a love-to-hate aristocrat with a gambling and womanizing problem. These might sound like familiar tropes, but Bennis develops them so well and adds just enough twists and turns in the overall plot and world to make it a novel that I churned through not once, not twice, but three times already. I’m thinking about adding the audiobook to my collection because it’s that good. It’s a lengthy read, but one that is so quick to pass by that I sat and read it in a day the first time.

Character development is clearly one of Bennis’s strengths. I know that term gets thrown around a lot. Too many times it means a character is interesting throughout the book. Here, the mains truly develop. They change in meaningful ways that make sense within the plot. They’re not static, but living and breathing.

The blurb from David Weber is spot-on as there are many parallels here, from the military trappings to the character development. It’s a debut novel that not only shows a ton of promise but also absolutely delivers the goods. And it has airships. AIRSHIPS, people. This is the kind of novel that fans of older JRPGs like Final Fantasy IV-IX and their like have longed for. Go get it. Read it. Love it. Share about it. And then come here and talk to me about it. Oh, and good news: the second book is already out!

Tell me what you think of The Guns Above in the comments!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels- #96-100

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

96. VALIS by Philip K. Dick Grade: D-
“One thing I’ve discovered from reading through this list is that I pretty much detest novels that are just covers for the author to offer either autobiography or their own philosophical musings. This book is both. What’s most amusing about this is that I do truly love many novels which are full of philosophical musings. The problem is that VALIS is, at its core, just an excuse for Dick to philosophize at his readers. There’s not much of a plot to speak of. There isn’t character development. It’s just like reading about someone’s narration of a quasi-Gnostic religious experience. Oh wait, that’s basically what it is. How is this even considered science fiction? I don’t know.”

97. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card Grade: B
“Another excellent entry in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card, Xenocide picks up right where Speaker for the Dead left off. However, it isn’t as polished as the first two books in the series, and probably could be about 150 pages shorter while conveying all the same characterization and plot. There is a bit too much ‘what are we gonna do next’ happening here. That said, it is still quite enjoyable, and the continuation of the plot makes it a must read. Speculation about morality, religion, and more abound. It’s great science fiction.”

98. The Postman by David Brin Grade: C-
“I couldn’t help but feel a major amount of deja vu with this. It’s got scenes that feel incredibly similar to Chrysalids or Alas, Babylon in different ways. I’m not saying it’s copied–it clearly is not–but it has a sense of familiarity that simply should not exist in a post-apocalyptic novel. Perhaps that’s a mark of how many of these books I’ve read by now, but I think it is at least in part a function of the writing itself. Anyway, The Postman certainly isn’t bad, it just didn’t strike me as particularly excellent, either. The blurbs on the back seemed to focus on how it’s some kind of warning. But a warning of what? And why is it particularly poignant in regards to humanity’s plight? Frankly, compared to some other post-apocalyptic tales, this is rather tame.”

99. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: B
“An emotional ride on what it feels like to be truly alone among all of humanity. That part is well done. Sturgeon’s characters are raw and real. However, there is very little science fiction in this one, and the ideas about male-female relations are straight out of the 1950s. There is also very little plot to speak of here.”

100. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle Grade: B
“Many of these classic science fiction books are very worth reading. Doyle never quite reaches the transcendent heights of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, but it’s an exciting read nonetheless. The idea of the undiscovered country on earth remains compelling, and the style was fun reading. It’s a fun, short jaunt.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 4: “The Flight of the Eisenstein” by James Swallow

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

Galaxy in Flames showed the true breakout of the Heresy and the violence that almost immediately ensued. Here, with Eisenstein, we find that the Heresy is truly breaking out and follow the path of this ship as we see whether the knowledge of the Heresy can get back to the Emperor in time.

The premise is really intense, as is the setup. Will the Eisenstein escape? What bigger ramifications will it have? The book weighs in at over 400 pages, so I went in expecting that we’d see the ship escape as well as some of the ripple effects of that. But a huge portion of the book is spent just on buildup to whether the Eisenstein will truly figure out what’s happening or not, and then on whether they get away. This leaves only the last small portion of the book to deal with any ramifications.

As I read this book, it felt very much like the first 300 pages could have just as easily been a short story. It reads as being very dragged out, with each scene dragging on longer than it needed to. The last 100 pages or so, though, were totally awesome. The building up of Garro as a character is really awesome, as were the scenes featuring the “Lord of the Flies.” The incredulity Garro and others had to face in the face of the Imperial authorities is believable, though I also wonder if there’s more going on behind the scenes than we get to find out in this book.

Really, what would have improved the book, in my opinion, would have been shaving off about 100 pages and increasing the action. Large portions of the book are spent with characters debating the next course of action, and that drags it down. The last section, though, made the book well-worth reading. I enjoyed it immensely at the end, and look forward to finding out what comes next.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– This will be a link for the series of posts as I continue to write them.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Genius Plague” by David Walton – math, cryptography, and thrilling adventures

One of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction is what I call “disaster” sci-fi (tell me if there’s a better name, please!), and I include things like cli-fi (climate based science fiction) and plagues of the future. Greg Bear is one who has written a lot in this area, and most of Michael Crichton’s novels fell into this general category as well. It tends to be a mashup of real science, math, and wild extrapolations. It’s a kind of offshoot of hard sci-fi that combines thrillers with science fiction.

David Walton, with The Genius Plague, has rocketed onto my radar as a truly gifted writer in this sub-genre. Look, if you’re one to avoid SPOILERS, as I am, don’t read on from here AND DON’T READ THE BLURB ON THE BOOK and go read it ASAP. Read on if you want a fuller picture or to talk about the book with me–please do!

I’m a sucker for mushrooms. No, I don’t like to eat them, but yes, they are fascinating. Diverse, hugely innovative, ancient, and creepy. They beg for science fiction novelists to write about them, and they’ve been successful in those novels I’ve read about them–The Girl With all the Gifts, for example: yes please! Walton starts off with a bang- a mycologist (scientist who studies mushrooms) in the Amazon gets ambushed for no apparent reason along with a woman. They’re both infected with a fungal lung thing and she dies but he survives–just changed. As his brother, who goes to work for the NSA, starts to crack some codes (with Walton mixing a small amount of math and cryptography in just for fun), the menace of this fungal plague grows exponentially.

There are many moving parts in this book: whether it’s Neil’s employment at the NSA and the linguistics, cryptography, and mathematics thrown together for that, or Paul’s interaction with the mushrooms, or international politics, it all moves swiftly. Sometimes, it moves a bit too quickly, and a bit of hand-waving is involved, particularly in the move from beginnings of infection to a seeming world threat. But generally, Walton balances the pace with characterization and fascinating set pieces. Though I wasn’t terribly surprised by any of the twists and turns, I loved the ride so much I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I found this book un-put-down-able, as one of the blurbs on the front cover also called it. I basically opened it yesterday and only stopped while caring for my kids. It was an absolute blast of a novel, and one that had a satisfying conclusion.

Another reason I loved this book is that the characters are fully formed and have unique feels to them. Also (and this is a big spoiler for some character development towards the VERY end, so don’t read it if you don’t want it spoiled), I liked that Neil and Shaunessy didn’t end up together and decided to be friends-ish. It was a kind of affirmation of male-female friendship that I truly appreciated. Well done, Walton! [/end big spoilers]

The Genius Plague has earned a place on my personal top 100 sci-fi novels list. It does have a few flaws, but those are overshadowed by a truly great novel that kept me turning the pages compulsively all day. Go read it!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.