Book Reviews: Fiction

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (12-4-09)

This is a beautiful story of a fairy-tale romance set in a highly realistic rendition of the life of a geisha in Gion. The only downside is that it is a bit slow in some parts. 4/5

The Stranger by Albert Camus (9-27-09)

This is a fascinating story of a rational man who faces the tyranny of an irrational world. I love the beginning in which the main character just contentedly goes through his simple daily life. Then an unfortunate situation leads him into the hands of the law where his simplicity and rationality blow up in his face. 5/5

On the Road (Unabridged Audiobook) by Jack Kerouac (8-24-09)

This is a really famous novel about a guy who does a lot of travelling with friends around the U.S. and Mexico by car. It is actually mostly a true story, but because it is somewhat modified, it is classified as fiction. For the most part it is a narrative, which I don't usually like as much because it is harder to feel like you are there without extensive dialogue. The story itself was rather boring for me. There wasn't much point except to show how irresponsible the characters are, always scraping by with money and getting into trouble. I think people like the book because it does a good job of portraying this exotic lifestyle with few responsibilities and lots of freedom. But it wasn't really appealing to me, I wouldn't want to experience it myself, at least not quite the way it happens in the book. It took me a really long time to finish because there was almost nothing to draw my interest. The only thing I liked were the few places where there was a little bit of philosophy about living a more simple and free lifestyle. 2/5

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (11-27-08)

While I appreciate the fact that the author was very clever in developing extremely intricate passages in this book, I did not enjoy it at all. It was unnecessarily complex, mentioning so many random names that I often had no idea what was going on. The actual plotline was extremely dull, with the emphasis being on the stories that the characters were making up. But since these stories were mostly incomprehisible, the book ended up being very boring. 1/5

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (5-24-08)

I almost didn't make it past the first chapter becuase the heavy use of artificial slang made the book so hard to understand. But after the first chapter it got better since I understood the meaning of the main slang words. The story was pretty dark and it also seemed more distant from the characters than most novels. I think this is a result of having less dialogue and more narrative. Toward the end it did spend a little time on the philosophical implications of removing the freedom of choice, but this was a fairly small dose. It was moderately entertaining, but not highly interesting. 3/5

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (12-07)

The story is based on a uniquely interesting character named Larry who leaves normal life behind to seek the answers to his philosophical questions. He supports himself with a small income that he receives from the interest on his inheritance. It is enough for him to live modestly and travel the world. He spends most of his time in Paris and India, reading and meditating. The whole novel, all I wanted to hear about was what he was doing and if he had accomplished anything. But Maugham tantalizes the reader by leaving him out of the story for long stretches where only his friends are present. This may be a good tactic to build anticipation, but if taken too far it simply bores the reader, which is what happened with me. There was just not enough content about Larry's story in the novel. 3/5

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (9-4-07)

Like Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead started off slow. The difference is that The Fountainhead remained slow throughout most of the book. The last chapter was the best, but even it only becomes interesting intermittently. The philosophical ideas are still profound, but they are not presented as well as in Atlas Shrugged. Rand was aiming for an epic story, but the epic feel did not come through very well, except in small pieces. She set up a really interesting theme in the character of Toohey who wanted world domination, but never exploited it by making something happen. If Toohey and the protagonist Roark engaged in some form of direct intellectual/philosophical battle the book could have been a lot more interesting. 4/5

The Alchemist (Unabridged Audiobook) by Paulo Coelho (3-30-07)

This was a cute little story about a boy who wanted to follow his dreams. It was written to be a children's story, but it had some interesting philosophical messages. It emphasized the importance of not being averted from your dreams because of setbacks, no matter how terrible. It also emphasized the important psychological concept of living in the moment. However, I was disappointed with how much mysticism was included. It stressed the concept that the universe will conspire to help you realize your dreams, but this is clearly not true and the message could be construed as an excuse to not plan ahead enough. So it was fun, but because of the negative messages, I can't give it my full stamp of approval. 3/5

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (12-13-06)

A story of the struggle of industrialists in a society heading towards communism used as a vehicle for expounding Rand's philosophy of objectivism. This is a life changing book, but only for those who are meant to read it. Rand's ability to evoke emotion and make things really interesting may not be able to compete with Dumas', but that is not what this book is about. This book is about sending a message to people and making them think about their life philosophy. It looks like it took almost 6 months for me to read it, which is because it is big. 5/5

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (6-15-06)

I would say this book is a bit harder to read than most novels. It is not very exciting and it is written in the form of a biography. Really I think it is a means for Hesse to collect some of his thoughts on life and learning. I think he hints at the real purpose of the book on page 415 where he writes "... the subject would not matter. It would only be a pretext for me to seclude myself and enjoy the happiness of having a great deal of leisure... a tone not of instruction, but of friendly communication and discourse on various things I have learned." It definitely gave me a few things to think about and I suspect Hesse put a lot of thought into the book. However, that alone does not make for a good read. The plot was empty and the narrative was boring enough that I would not recommend reading it. 2/5

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, translated by Robin Buss (4-23-06)

A grand tour of human experience through the exploits of an agent of providence. I was perpetually fascinated by this long novel-the reader experiences so much emotion. I saw the movie first and I was sad that the best aspect of the movie wasn't in the book. The main reason I read the book was because of Mercedes' undying devotion in the movie. The book is possibly more realistic and interesting, but I wished that it didn't happen that way after seeing the movie. Regardless, this is one of the best books ever. 5/5

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Audiobook) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (4-9-06)

I rarely read mysteries, but I thought that this was a good one to try. Plus the audiobook is free from Project Gutenberg, which is a great deal! I really liked the mood this book sets. The narrative is in the old-fashioned proper style, which feels refreshing sometimes. It is also really fun to imagine that someone could have such strong powers of deduction. The stories are well thought out, though it probably would have been more powerful if they had more common threads throughout them. The first story introduces a girl who impresses Sherlock Holmes, but then she is scarcely mentioned again. It would have been interesting for them to interact multiple times. Basically, this is a mystery novel, so it doesn't really have the greatest overall plot because that's not what it is striving for, but it does entertain with its clever scenarios. 3/5

Time's Eye by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (12-13-05)

I was expecting a good read after seeing the two very prominent authors, but I was disappointed on the whole. My main critcism is that the first half of the book had almost no science fiction. It seems the first half of the book was a long drawn out setup for the second half of the book. Setting up for the ending is important, but it has to be done while the reader is being entertained, otherwise it is boring. As for the second half, there is some interesting interplay of historical characters including a battle between Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. The concepts were grandiose, but the implementation was subpar, with feelings of awe few and far between. The very end of the book got much better, but not enough to override the rest of it. 1/5

Cosm by Gregory Benford (11-27-05)

This book is about a researcher who accidentally makes a sphere that is actually a connection to a whole different universe, but nothing ever happens with the other universe: no one goes there, nothing comes from it, and it doesn't really do anything. I've heard that a lot of people like Benford because he is one of those writers who is actually a physicist and writes hard SF, but so far I haven't been too impressed with the physicist writers. You can tell in books like this and Twistor that the writer is an academian because of how they focus on the daily lives of academic characters. There is some interesting realism to this, but I personally don't get too excited over academic culture so I don't appreciate that much. It took me a long time to finish this book because it was reasonable, but not compelling. The action was just too slow, so I got bored with it. 1/5

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (6-1-05)

This was one of the quickest reads I have ever seen. It is just so high paced and interesting that it is easy to sit and read it for hours on end. Dan Brown has recently becoming one of the most popular authors and it makes sense - he is a great author and he writes at the popular level. It is annoying to me that he is sloppy with technical matters. But the worst aspect of Dan Brown's fiction is that he makes statements that seem very true to the reader but turn out to be totally false. This is annoying to me because it is totally possible to write fiction that is just as interesting where all factual information that could be true is true. But my overall opinion is that this book is an enjoyable read. 3/5

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

This is a hugo award winning science fiction novel. However, I thought that too much of it was uninteresting. I'd say more than half of the text was about two children stuck on a planet of intelligent dogs in a medieval society. There was some interesting space and technology parts too. Although I like the creativity, I think this is good evidence that the people who give out book awards are not the real hard science fiction fans. 1/5

Vacuum Diagrams by Stephen Baxter

I was absolutely amazed by this book. I love the concept of eternity, and the sequence of short stories spans the age of the universe. I was concerned when I read that it was a book of short stories, but it wasn't bad at all because all the short stories tell one long saga, and it is more like you are jumping to future points of the same plot line. The interplay of the various races of the universe is awesome. The story remains enthralling throughout the whole book. 5/5

Twistor by John Cramer

This hard SF novel has a very realistic feel to it. The fictional part, teleportation to a shadow universe, is of course unrealistic, but the characters behave just as real university researchers. There was even some computer-action in this book, so it is a rare kind. Though not the most compelling, the story was fairly interesting. 2/5

Stealing the Network: How to own the Box by Ryan Russell

This book is the first real book that I read entirely in a book store. It was basically a collection of stories about computer hacks. All the stories were fictional, but some research went into their creation, making them fairly realistic and interesting. I enjoyed this book a lot because it gave a good feel for the thrill of hacking and creative problem solving. More importantly though, it motivated me toward securing my own systems. I think that this type of reading should be a high priority for any system administrator so that they are reminded about what kinds of things can happen. 4/5

Picoverse by Robert Metzger

A team of researchers creates a new universe using particle accelerators and plasma. I understood the concept like this: lasers cause cavication, which means there is a region of plasma that had all of its electrons cleared away, which makes a huge electrical potential because of all the positive nuclei, making the most powerful and compact particle accelerators ever, the beams of which are collided in the center of a large reactor in which energy densities are so high that they are the mass equivalent of a black hole (because of E=mc^2) and space-time is ripped. The characters go on to do some fascinating things with the new parallel universes which also happen to have their time sped up. 3/5

Neuromancer by William Gibson

This is supposed to be a really popular book, but I wasn't too thrilled with it. It definitely set an interesting mood and was very likely an inspiration for the matrix, considering it was basically the original cyberpunk novel. However, it was just too slow and the plot was not too compelling. 2/5

Foundation (Audiobook) by Isaac Asimov

This is quite an epic tale. It isn't exactly science fiction as I see it, but it takes place in the future in a galactic setting, so many people would probably call it science fiction. Really though it is like Dune in that it is a political style story. There are some concepts that were well done like the idea of predicting the future with psychohistorical studies. I definitely enjoyed listening to this, but this isn't really my type of book, so I wouldn't consider it that great. 2/5

Ringworld by Larry Niven

In this creative adventure, a small team of humans and aliens examines a space artifact, which is a giant ring around a star with a surface like that of the Earth's. There is an excellent mix of science fiction, with amazing technologies, and emotional elements, making for exciting reading. 4/5

Signal Shattered by Eric S. Nylund

The sequel of Signal to Noise, Signal Shattered is the story of a good natured hero trying to survive in the aftermath of the destruction of the world. With incredible technologies coming from both his own former civilization on earth and communication with even more advanced aliens, he struggles to outwit the hyperintelligent aliens who are after him and his own former partners who turned bad after being mutated by an alien genetic enhancer. The reader gets a feeling of despair from the events in the book as it seems that there is little hope. However, the technology-oriented plot is very awe-inspiring. This book really made me think about the future (so it is a very good book). 5/5

Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

Time Ships is actually written as a sequel to the classic, "The Time Machine" and it carries over the victorian style of speach for the protagonist. A nice story, but nothing too special here. The coolness picks up throughout the book, but never gets too high. 2/5