Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I started listening to steampunk audiobook Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, which I have heard from multiple sources is a great series, and the premise intrigued me as it is an alternate history of World War I. Also, later books in the series won awards and stuff.

Unfortunately, nobody told me that this was a young adult series, where the two protagonists are 16-ish. In fact, I would argue that this is not just young adult, but middle grade, because the kids act like middle grade kids and are usually accompanied by adult guides. They aren’t "rebeling" like most of the kids in young adult books.

That by itself wouldn’t bother me – although I probably would not have bought it if I’d known it beforehand, because I generally do not relate at all to the trials and tribulations of middle grade kids and young adults. No, I still might like this book if it weren’t for one thing: The plot seems like a thinly-veiled excuse to explore the worldbuilding.

A great deal of time is spent describing these mechanical contraptions called "walkers" and these genetically-created airbourne creatures that float like balloons. The protagonists just happen to be on a path that comes in contact with these neat worldbuilding things. Alek just happens to be learning to drive a walker, and ends up running from pursuers in a walker, and Dylan just happens to want to join the navy and fly, and just happens to get stuck on a flying leviathan by chance. Even that contrivance wouldn’t bother me if the characters pulled me into their stories. Unfortunately, I find that I don’t care the slightest bit about these two kids. Maybe I am biased against kid protagonists in general, but their problems just don’t interest me. Dylan is a girl dressing up as a boy so she can fly with the others – how many times has *that* plot been done – but so far, her part could have been played by a boy just as well. Alek is the son of the Archduke Ferdinand who was assassinated to start World War I – that could have been interesting, but Prince Alek does not seem to have any emotional depth, and he comes across as a petulent child.

<Time passes.>

I am now about 2/3rd through the audiobook, having listened mostly without paying a lot of attention, and the two main characters finally ran into each other. My internal wannabe editor tells me that this is where the book *should* have started, because the relationship between these two characters from radically different worlds makes the book funny and compelling. Far more compelling than their individual lives.

Latest Audibooks I’ve Listened To

I’ve been on an audiobook kick lately. I realize it’s “cheating” to listen to a book instead of read it, but it’s just so darn convenient. You can actually accomplish other things simultaneously while listening to a book (like driving, washing dishes, playing games, paying bills, etc.), whereas if you read a book, it’s pretty much all you can do.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton. Great nostalgia book, although I could have lived without the cliche “real world is better than the virtual world” moral.

Hunted by Kevin Hearne, read by Luke Daniels. The latest in the Iron Druid Chronicles (#6 I think). Another highly entertaining episode from the life and times of Atticus O’Sullivan, this time covering his run across Europe while being chased by Roman and Greek hunting goddesses Diana and Artemis. This is the only “series” that I religiously keep up with. I like the IDC because Luke Daniels is an incredibly good reader, Hearne is a good story-teller, and the stories go into a lot of interesting mythology without being too cheesy. Also, it’s one of the few Urban Fantasy series that doesn’t focus on vampires and werewolves.

Redshirts by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton. This book is awesome. I listened to the entire ~8 hours on a Saturday. I loved it because it’s the kind of thing I might have written, except I would have considered it way too absurd and silly for anyone but me to find it amusing. I also would have been too obsessed with trying to come up with a logical reason for *why* fictional characters would become sentient – Scalzi made no such attempt – they just are (or else the explanation is so obscure that I missed it). It’s a book that starts out being unabashedly comedic, then gets pretty serious and thought-provoking by the time the three codas come around.

Inferno by Dan Brown, read by Paul Michael. It showed up on the front page on Audible, so I got it with one of my credits. Whatever, so sue me. This book is pretty much exactly the same as every previous Robert Langdon book: He meets a woman and together they run from secret organizations and the government while decrypting puzzles. This time, the lessons are about Dante’s Inferno and excessive global population. Paul Michael is a good reader; it’s a lot more entertaining to listen to Dan Brown than to read it.

Ready Player One – Start!

I’m finally listening to the audiobook of the much-talked-about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Internet super-celebrity Wil Wheaton.

Though I’m only a handful of chapters into it, this book is clearly an 80s geek subculture nerdgasm from start to finish. It’s fascinating, hilarious, and depressing – despressing because of how many of the obscure references I understand (like, roughly, all of them).

Now I’m going to take the fanboy hat off and put on the author hat. This book has a lot of exposition. I mean a lot of it. There are what I assume are pages and pages and pages of telling, not showing. I think there was one whole chapter telling Halliday’s life story. He’s basically John Carmack on steroids, which is neat if you know anything about computer gaming history, but it really didn’t do much to serve the story right then.

This book is yet another first-person-sarcastic-narrator book. I’m starting to think of all of these books as extended blog posts. This is not necessarily a good thing, in my opinion. I’m thinking that I will distinguish myself in my writing career by being one of the only authors never to write a first person book. Or perhaps to be the first author to write a first person book from the perspective of someone without a sense of humor. Or, I could write the same first-person book as everyone else and make some money. Probably I’ll do that last thing.

Ready Player One is yet another dystopian future book, this time with an energy crisis that destroys the near-future world. The green movement subtext is not very subtle. My jaw still hurts from being punched in the face with it. Personally, I have a hard time believing that fossil fuels are going to run out in our lifetimes.

Now if I can put on my programmer hat on for a second, there are a number of engineering problems with this Oasis system. I can buy the VR goggles (see Oculus Rift), but the haptic gloves stretch the limit of credibility. Even suspending disbelief enough to assume they work exactly as described and you can reach out and touch objects in the virtual world, how would you make your avatar *move* in Oasis? Wade runs quite a bit when he goes to the Tomb of Horrors. Would you have to dogpaddle your hands in the air? There’s nothing hooked up to your real-world legs. Maybe there are footpedals on the floor that aren’t described. Or maybe a virtual keyboard and mouse appears, or a virtual game controller perhaps, that you operate with your virtual hands and fingers. That’s not even talking about the two sentences of hand-waving magic that somehow allows Oasis to support millions of simultaneous, realistically-rendered users without any lag or processing delay. I don’t even think *that* is possible in our lifetimes.

Anyway, it’s a fun book. I’m not really sure if the story is any good yet, though. Mostly it’s a trip down memory lane.

Sanderson Takes Over

I’ve been trying to get through the Wheel of Time books before A Memory of Light comes out on January 8, and since I am now 20% finished with The Towers of Midnight, I think I can safely say that I am going to make it. Light! What a reading frenzy.

I was keenly interested to see what Brandon Sanderson would do with the series, and so far I’m quite pleased. I can definitely see the change in writing style (mainly in shorter sections and paragraphs and sentences), but I expected that. What I didn’t expect was the emotional impact that Sanderson brought to the series. Sanderson did something that Jordan never managed: He made me actually care about Rand for the first time since the first book. Rand’s been such an insufferable, stubbornly indecipherable butthead of a hero for so long that I frankly hoped the Dark One would win the Last Battle.

A huge increase in drama was achieved simply by actually having the characters interact with each other. When you think about it, so much of the Wheel of Time has been about the characters not interacting, and not explaining themselves, and not being forthright, and not trusting their peers. Everyone, good guys and bad, has had their own independent story going on, where they have their own plan, and they think everyone else is out to get them. That makes for some interesting points of view, conflict, and tension, but when it’s everyone and it goes on for book after book after book with no resolution, it gets a bit tedious. Of course, it might have nothing to do with Sanderson and might have been Jordan’s plan all along. You can see it starting to happen in Knife of Dreams.

Because of all the lack of communication and side plots and exposition, I haven’t really enjoyed Wheel of Time since The Shadow Rising, and the last good plot development I remember was Dumai’s Wells which I believe happened at the end of Lord of Chaos. I’ve merely been enduring the series since then.

At least until Knife of Dreams, Jordan’s last book, which was good. And now I can say that The Gathering Storm, Sanderon’s first book, is good, too. Were I to recommend the series to someone, however, I would say, "Read books 1-4, skim through books 5-6, then just skip to book 11."

The Blade Itself, Part 3

I’m sure you’ve been wondering what I’m reading. After The Cavern of Black Ice I wanted to read something a little less heavy, so I went back to Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. Previously I wrote such scintillating endorsements as “it’s not growing on me” and “I got bored.”

Well, the book *did* eventually grow on me. In the second half, I was glad to be reading it. The author did some very interesting things with the narrative voice. Normally, books tend to have a single voice throughout, but Abercrombie was able to change the narrative voice depending on the POV character. For example, the chapters from The Dogman used very down-home, earthy style, like you might hear from a southerner. Whereas the chapters from Jezel, a cultured city-dweller, used more grammatically-correct language. Only the chapters from Glokta had self-dialog, the italicized talking-to-oneself kind of text. I found those things interesting, at least from a behind-the-scenes perspective.

I thought the characters were very well-defined, and they each had amusing personalities, although I found them just a bit comic bookish. That is, sort of larger-than-life or over-the-top, like comic book heroes. I probably should not admit this, but Sand dan Glokta reminded me quite a lot of Soltan Gris from L. Ron Hubbard’s Mission Earth books (yeah, I read it, you wanna fight about it?) – he’s basically a really bad guy with a hilarious sense of humor. Actually, I found myself chuckling quite a lot through the entire book.

It’s a good thing that the characters were interesting, because the plot was *not* compelling. In fact, I’m not sure I can even describe the plot. A Magi inexplicably returns, the north inexplicably declares war on the south, and in the middle of it all there is a fencing tournament. It’s one of those character-driven books where everyone seems to be doing their own thing and “getting ready” to do something epic, like the whole book is one big long prologue.

Readers beware: There is no resolution at the end of the book. You will have to read the next one (I think it’s a trilogy).