Book Reviews

It’s been a while since I finished reading something, and this month I managed to finish two things.  One was a full length book, the other was a piece of short fiction.  Here are my reviews.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

I received this book as a gift at Christmas this past year, and is a story I’ve had my eye on for quite a while.  What I didn’t know about it: it was originally written in Swedish, translated to English (and presumably many other languages since).  It’s a simple story, and starts exactly as the title suggests: A 100-year-old man climbs out of his window and disappeared, launching a man-hunt for him across Sweden.

It earns many comparisons to Forest Gump, mainly because the story of his past is told in parallel with the present-day story.  In his past, he interacts with many different historical figures and winds up inadvertently shaping historic events simply by dumb luck.

I’m normally not a fan of descriptions that compare the book to another work of fiction, simply because it saddles a lot of preconceptions onto the new work.  I tried not to think about the Forest Gump comparisons but after finishing the novel, felt that it was a pretty apt description.

The story is pretty funny overall, and the pacing was generally quite good.  At some points I thought that this wasn’t the case; some of the telling of his life in the past felt slow and left me wanting to get back to what the main character was up to in the present day.

I give it an A-, definitely worth a read.

Dead Trees Give No Shelter

Dead Trees Give No Shelter
Dead Trees Give No Shelter

This is a shorter piece of fiction, about 40 pages.  Wil Wheaton (yes, THAT Wil Wheaton) wrote it with an intended release for Halloween, as a break between a longer novel that he’s working on.

It’s a supernatural / horror story, which coincidentally also moves between the past and present day (and a quick jaunt into the year 2031).  I didn’t intend to pick two stories to review that had a similar story mechanic, it’s something I just realized.

Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

A quick but very enjoyable read. Wil Wheaton created a moody atmosphere and did a really good job of “hiding the monster” until it needed to come out of hiding. The story has a certain symmetry to it as well. At one point when I was reading it, I was listening to the E.T. soundtrack, which perfectly fit the tone that I think Wheaton was aiming for. There were some instances where the dialog didn’t work for me, but it wasn’t enough to make me give up reading in disgust. Solid read – pick it up after watching Stranger Things (or watch Stranger Things after reading this).

I really liked it.  Around the time that I finished reading this I also binged through the rest of Stranger Things, which was great.  Similar atmospheres, which I think is exactly what Wheaton was going for.

Since you probably won’t need help finding The 100 Year Old Man… on book shelves, I’ll just give you a link to Dead Trees Give No Shelter.  You can pick it up in multiple forms – I personally bought the eBook.  You can also listen to the Audiobook, which was narrated by Wil himself.

What’s next?  I’m going to finally read Timothy Zahn’s Survivor’s Quest + Outbound Flight; I’ve also got a World War II book I picked up from a bargain table that looks interesting.  I definitely have no shortage of things to read on my bookshelf.

The Mechanical – A Review

I recently (more like finally) finished The Mechanical, an alternate history novel written by Ian Tregillis.

The Mechanical Review
The Mechanical – cover from Goodreads

Setting

The Mechanical is the first of three books in a series known as The Alchemy Wars.  In this novel’s universe, the Dutch are the world’s super-power, having mastered alchemy and keeping order with various models of mechanical men, known as “clakkers”.  France is the only nation to really oppose the Dutch, and do so with chemicals.

Most of the story takes place in New Amsterdam (North America), with smaller parts taking place in Europe.

Characters

We are introduced early on to three characters: Jax, a clakker (mechanical servitor); Berenice, a French spymaster; and Visser, a Catholic priest working for Berenice undercover in Dutch territory.  As the book winds along, it’s clear that the main characters in the story are Berenice and Jax, with Visser serving a secondary yet important purpose.

As characters go, both Berenice and Jax have a well-defined character arc, each of them complete within the novel with a beginning, middle, and end.  Visser’s story doesn’t really reach a conclusion in this novel, which leads me to believe that he’ll have a more significant role in the next novel in the series (The Rising, also published in 2015).

I found that I didn’t really like Visser, though.  He was somewhat cowardly and really thought highly of himself and his role.  I imagine I felt about him the way I was supposed to – he was definitely very self-aggrandizing, to the point where he wasn’t very good at his job as a spy.

Beyond those three characters though, there wasn’t a lot of depth.   I give The Mechanical a grade of B- for characters.

Story & Writing

I mentioned at the top that I “finally” finished reading The Mechanical last week…this is because I started reading it over a year ago.  The story builds up very slowly at the beginning.  This is a 400+ page book, but I think it could benefit from some culling.

Part of the problem is that Tregillis has to do a lot of world building to start the novel, because you need to be able to see how everything works AND understand how the Dutch took and remain in power.  But the downside to this is that it progresses very slowly in the first half.

Once we get into the second half, and especially in the last third, the pace really picks up.  I think this part of the book is a better demonstration of Tregillis’ skill as a writer, because his pages aren’t being spent giving us long scenes of exposition.

Overall I like the aesthetics presented in the book.  It’s always neat to get a peak at alternative histories, and this one is very well thought out.  I do appreciate that things weren’t spelled out, but I could still understand the background.  The writing was a bit to “gratuitous” at times but generally, it’s good.  I give The Mechanical a B- for Story and Writing.

Wrap-Up 

While I really enjoyed the last third of the book, the first two thirds really didn’t do it for me.  Normally, a “long” book for me takes a few months to slog through.  This one took a year, and I stopped to read other things in between.  I can’t in good conscience give The Mechanical a strong rating.

On GoodReads, I gave it 3/5 stars.  Keeping with the letter grades I’ve been giving in this blog post, The Mechanical deserves a C+; a good read for parts of it, with strong main characters, but it really drags and feels like a chore to read in many other parts.

Coming up this week on the blog: a look at Paul Feig’s online TV show, Other Space.

Hunter – by Wil Wheaton

Alright, so I re-read Wil Wheaton’s short story Hunter tonight; I’m posting this from mobile, so you’ll have to find the link when I wrote about it in my last post.

Anyway…It’s not as good as I apparently made it out to be in that post. If I were to grade it now, I’d give it a 3. The world building is done well, but the characterization is only okay. I can see my own writing reflected here. 

Also, the twist at the end? Not really that big of a twist ending. 

I still recommend it if you have some money to blow – it’s pretty cheap after all. And it’s a short read. Took me maybe ten to fifteen minutes.