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Book Review: The Eye of the World

Book Name: The Eye of the World
Author: Robert Jordan
First Published: 1990

Author Robert Jordan (born James Oliver Rigney, Jr.) was born in the late 1940s in Charleston, South Carolina. As a child, he was fond of reading, especially the books of Mark Twain and Jules Verne. As an adult, he served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a gunner with the US Army.

Returning to the states in the early 1970s, Jordan went back to school at the Military College of South Carolina. He studied the sciences and following the gaining of his degree started work as a nuclear engineer for the Navy.

Writing had always been his passion and in the late 1970s, he began to write novels of various genres, under different pen names. Robert Jordan was his final pen name in which his fantasy books were gathered. His most famous fantasy series is The Wheel of Time which has sold 44 million copies globally and was the basis for a role-playing game, soundtrack album, and a computer game. The ideas and title of the series were inspired by Hindu Mythology.

Jordan had many other concepts waiting to be written in the fantasy genre, he was waiting to start them once he finished The Wheel of Time. However, fate was not kind to him. In March of 2006, he announced publicly that he had cardiac amyloids, a rare blood disease. He was given four years to live. He underwent chemotherapy and took part in a study for a new drug that might have helped him. It was all to no avail. Jordan passed away in September of 2007 with his Wheel of Time series unfinished.

After his death, his wife selected Brandon Sanderson, an up and coming epic fantasy author, to complete the Wheel of Time series based on the notes that her husband had left behind. Robert Jordan had written the epilogue and a few chapters, but little more of the final book. Sanderson took up the challenge but found that the story was so complex that he needed three rather long books to finish the Wheel of Time properly.

“As the Wheel of Time turns, places wear many names. Men wear many names, many faces. Different faces, but always the same man. Yet no one knows the Great Pattern the Wheel weaves, or even the Pattern of an Age. We can only watch, and study, and hope.”
― Robert Jordan, The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World is the first book of a long fantasy epic series that features a cast of main characters instead of a single hero. It has a huge cast of characters and the story unfolds, chapter by chapter, via the viewpoint of a different rotating protagonist. It is a complex tale with many twists and turns.

The story begins in a land known as the Two Rivers which has been all but cut off from the rest of the world for at least a thousand years. It is a rural place of small villages and isolated farms. During the spring festival, young Rand al’Thor notices a stranger watching him. A man whose cloak doesn’t move in the wind. He tells his father about the stranger, but he is gone when his father looks.

They arrive in the village of Emond’s Field for the festival and Rand hooks up with his two friends. Perrin, the apprentice to the village blacksmith and Mat, a comedic prankster. They both mention that they have seen this same stranger watching them. In the village, there are visitors come for the festival. Aes Sedai Moiraine and her warder protector Lan. Moiraine gives each of the three boys a coin; she calls it a token for future work she may ask of them.

Rand and his father return home, but are attacked by creatures known as “Trollocs”. Rand’s father is wounded during the attack. In his delirium, he tells his son that he is adopted, a foundling he picked up on a mountaintop during the Aiel War. Rand takes his injured father back to the village in the hope that the Aes Sedai can use her magic to heal his father. She does heal his father, but she tells Rand, Mat, and Perrin that the Trollocs are after them personally. The strange man who watches them is a “Myrddraal”, a creature of darkness, and the three must leave the village for their own safety and that of their people. The three decide to leave with Moiraine and her Warder. At the last minute, Rand’s girlfriend Egwene joins them. She desires to become an Aes Sedai herself and this is a good excuses to leave Edmond’s Field. A wandering minstrel named Thom also comes along.

The party flees Emond’s Field and travel toward the town of Baerlon. There they meet a young woman named Min who claims that she can see auras around Rand and his friends. While there, their village wisdom Nynaeve find them and says that she wishes to bring the boys home for their own good. This causes her to be at odds with the Aes Sedai who is having enough trouble protecting the boys from Trolloc attacks on the road.

In Baerlon, the boys begin to have dreams where a man clad in black names himself Ba’alzamon and tells them that they will serve him and the Dark One. Moiraine wishes to bring the boys to the city of Aes Sedai, known as Tar Valon, where they can be better protected. She uses her channeling magic, called The One Power, to scare off whitecloak soldiers in Baerlon who wish to harm the boys. While their inn is set on fire, the party escapes.

Away from Baerlon, the group is forced to seek refuge from the Trollocs in an abandoned city called Shadar Logoth. Even the Trollocs fear to enter the city. In the city, the boys go exploring and meet a man called Mordeth who casts no shadow. Mat steals a dagger from him. The boys manage to get away from the man, but this episode worries the Aes Sedai and her Warder enough that they decide to split the party up.

Perrin and Egwene cross the river and try to make their way to Tar Valon on their own. On the way they encounter a man who can talk to wolves. He claims that Perrin has this ability too. As they continue to travel, Perrin and Egwene come to a “stedding”, which is the home of “Ogiers”, giant sized people who live incredibly long lives. Their home has magical protection from Trollocs, however Perrin and Egwene discover that Whitecloaks have also come. The Whitecloaks take a disliking to Perrin due to his association with wolves, which they regard as evil.

Nynaeve, Lan and Moiraine depart Shadar Logoth together. Moiraine senses that Nynaeve also has the one power and can channel it, but she is untrained. Without the schooling of the Aes Sedai of Tar Valon, she may die. Nynaeve resists the idea, but in the end she accepts that she will need to become an Aes Sedai and agrees to go to Tar Valon with Moiraine. Nynaeve casts her eye on the intrepid Lan and the two begin to fall for each other, which causes complications for Moiraine who is bonded to the man via the one power. Via the coin Moiraine had given Perrin in Emond’s Field, the Aes Sedai is able to track him and Egwene. The trio arrives to save the pair in the nick of time from the Whitecloaks.

Mat, Thom and Rand leave Shadar Logoth in a boat and eventually arrive in the city of Caemlyn. Mat becomes increasing paranoid on the journey. Unknown to the boys, he is being magically poisoned by the dagger he stole from Mordeth in Shadar Logoth. In the city, Rand meets a young Ogier named Loial, who at first mistakes him for an Aiel and tells Rand that he must be a “ta’veren”, a man who fate wraps itself around. Rand is eventually taken to see Queen Morgase where a seer has a foretelling that Rand is at the center of all the destruction that is to come to Caemlyn. While it is commented that Rand looks like an Aielman, his accent is that of the Two Rivers. The Queen decides that Rand may go free since she is familiar with the people of the Two Rivers.

Moiraine and her party arrive in Caemlyn and connect with Rand and Mat. Moiraine uses the one power to heal Mat of the poison from the dagger. The group learns that the Dark One plans to use an object known as The Eye of the World in a place called the Blight. Loial the Ogier knows how to use a magical passage called “the ways” and takes the group to the Blight via this method. There Rand must confront Ba’alzamon, using the budding power within him, to claim the objects that are contained in the Eye of the World.

The Eye of the World Book Cover

I was first introduced to The Wheel of Time saga by gaming friends that were hooked on the roleplaying game based on the novels. In order to play the game, it was necessary to read the books. It did not take me long in The Eye of the World to become completely hooked on this series and soon would go on to read the rest of the novels.

I had an opportunity to hear Robert Jordan read from his final work-in-progress novel, the one that would eventually turn into three volumes written by Brandon Sanderson, at the San Diego Comic Con a few months before his death. The room was packed with hundreds of breathless people, waiting to hear Jordan read from his much anticipated book. He was seated and did not wish to move about much due to his illness, but his voice was strong and clear. The words captivated the audience.

When he died with the final book unfinished, I was one of those heart-broken fans that wondered if I would ever hear the end of the tale by one of my favorite authors. When his wife commissioned Brandon Sanderson to finish the series, I was uncertain if this young author had the chops to write The Wheel of Time. I checked out one of his first novels, Elantris, and saw the quality of his work. I had nothing to worry about. Sanderson has gone on to become one of the top writers in the epic fantasy genre today.

The Wheel of Time Saga

The Eye of the World (1990)
The Great Hunt (1990)
The Dragon Reborn (1991)
The Shadow Rising (1992)
The Fires of Heaven (1993)
Lord of Chaos (1994) Locus Award nominee, 1995.
A Crown of Swords (1996)
The Path of Daggers (1998)
Winter’s Heart (2000)
Crossroads of Twilight (2003)
Knife of Dreams (2005) Final novel completed by Robert Jordan.
The Gathering Storm (2009) Completed by Brandon Sanderson.
Towers of Midnight (2010) Completed by Brandon Sanderson.
A Memory of Light (2013) Completed by Brandon Sanderson, epilogue by Robert Jordan.

Luna Station Quarterly Features Book Review of A WRINKLE IN TIME

A Wrinkle in Time Book CoverI’ve been a regular contributor of book reviews to the online feminist magazine Luna Station Quarterly. It is a magazine that features up and coming female speculative fiction writers, and columns about all things related to science fiction and fantasy. The magazine debuted in 2011 and features a subscription-based magazine and free online columnists that write on subjects connected to speculative fiction. There is also an anthology of stories put out by Luna Station Quarterly that can be found on Amazon.

This June, Luna Station Quarterly has reprinted my book review of the vintage fantasy novel A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I hope you will stop by the magazine and read the offerings by columnists such as myself.

http://www.lunastationquarterly.com/book-review-a-wrinkle-in-time/

Book Review: Contact

Book Name: Contact
Author: Carl Sagan
First Published: 1985
Locus Award for Best First Novel in 1986.

Dr. Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1934. He earned bachelor and master’s degrees at Cornell and gained a double doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1960. He became a professor of astronomy and space sciences as well as a director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He would go on to take a leading role in NASA’s Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to other planets.

Dr. Sagan received many prestigious awards in his field of study. As a scientist trained in both astronomy and biology, he has made large contributions in the study of planetary atmospheres, surfaces and the history of the Earth. For twelve years, he was the editor-in-chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. He was a co-founder and President of the Planetary Society, a one hundred thousand strong organization that is the largest space interest group in the world.

An author or co-author of twenty books, including The Dragons of Eden (1977) which won a Pulitzer. His other books include Contact (1985), Pale Blue Dot (1995), and The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark (1996).

Sagan produced and starred in the PBS series, Cosmos, which won Emmy and Peabody awards and brought the concepts of science into the living rooms of everyday people. The series was watched by 500 million people in 60 countries. A book by the same title came out in 1980 and was on the New York Times Bestseller List for seven weeks.

Co-Producer with his wife, Ann Druyan, Sagan turned his popular novel Contact into a major motion picture of the same name which starred Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey in 1977. At the time, Sagan was struggling with bone cancer and two years before his film would be seen the theaters, he lost the battle and passed away. His wife gives the following account of her husband in his last moments in the epilogue of Sagen’s last book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium: “Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other’s eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever.”

“The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” ― Carl Sagan, Contact

Fate comes into play in many factors of a life, a planet, and a universe. It was pure luck that the radio telescopes of the Argus project happened to point at Vega at exactly the right time in the night sky. If not, then the scientists would never have picked up the repetition of prime numbers that showed the first sign of life beyond our own planet. This is the theme of Contact, based on Sagan’s studies as an astrophysicist and philosopher, he gives his idea on how our world might reaction to the knowledge of extraterrestrial life.

This is the story of Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, an astrophysicist and radio telescope engineer. She is a scientist working on the SETI project, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We learn about her childhood and college years as a curious girl who loses her father at a young age. She becomes a rebel who asks questions about religious contradictions and turns to science as the answer.

After college and graduate school, she joins SETI and what is known as the Argus project, a large radio telescope array that is designed to search the universe. Late one night, a signal is picked up. Prime numbers being repeated. The signal is confirmed to be coming from the star system of Vega, twenty-six light years away. Not only prime numbers are transmitted. Two more messages are sent from Vega. One is a playback of the first Earth transmission into space, a speech that embarrasses many, but also a blueprint from a machine, one that is designed to transport people elsewhere.

There is much debate about the machine among the political forces of the Earth. There are also religious forces that wish to find answers. Two prominent American preachers, Rev. Billy Jo Rankin and Palmer Joss meet with Eleanor to talk about the religious implications of the message from Vega. As more about the machine’s blueprint is recorded, the more the tensions between the religious and the scientific communities increase.

The machine from Vega is built but later is destroyed by a bomb placed on one of its parts. The American who was supposed to travel in the Machine is killed in the explosion. A second machine is built near Hokkaido, Japan. Eleanor is chosen to be America’s representative along with four others from other nations to use the machine to travel.

The machine is activated and the five explorers are shot through a wormhole. They enter a sort of cosmic mass transit system, viewing many star systems along the way. Eventually, they end their journey near the center of the galaxy where a docking station is the end of the line.

The five humans are deposited on what appears to be an Earth beach. When the others go off to explore, Ellie remains behind on the sand. She is surprised when instead of an alien, she is greeted by her long dead father. Eleanor and her “father”, who is one of the aliens who took the form to help make Ellie more at ease, talk about Earth’s place in the universe and how they traveled to this place. It is suggested that there may be a Creator after all and her “father” suggests that to find the signature of this Creator, she look at the number pi.

The five humans return to Earth using the same method that took them to the way station. Instead of the eighteen hours that they knew was their travel time, they are told that they were only gone for twenty seconds. There is no evidence to back up their claim for being gone as long as they had and since the camera Eleanor carried only recorded static, there is no proof of their journey through space.

Did Ellie and the others actually travel to the center of the universe or are they having delusions? Is the great machine nothing but a big hoax? Can their story be believed simply on faith? You will have to read the book to find out.

Contact Book CoverMy first exposure to Dr. Sagan was via his PBS series Cosmos. Decades later I can still hear that lilting melody of its theme like a perpetual earworm. The show introduced me to concepts of science as a child and sparked not only an interest in the planets and the world around me, but in science based fiction as well. The man had a way of explaining complex subjects in a way that was easy to understand. As I studied science, his name would come up time and again and I realize that his television series and books were only a small part of the amazing accomplishments this man gave to the world. I found the movie Contact to be wonderful in its idea of a great machine that would take us to the stars and that he chose a female protagonist to do the job. In the seventies, this was not a common occurrence. I am not surprised that his first novel won a Locust award for excellence. Contact is a book that I can recommend to people that enjoy “hard science fiction”. While there is some relationships that go on in the book, the focus is on the technology and scientific concepts that make the wonders in the book happen.

Book Review: The Tar-Aiym Krang

Book Name: The Tar-Aiym Krang
Author: Alan Dean Foster
First Published: 1972

Alan Dean Foster was born in New York City in the year 1946, but he was raised in California. He received a B.A. in Political Science in 1968, and a M.F.A. in Cinema from UCLA 1969. He worked as a copywriter for two years after graduation for a small advertising and public relations firm in Studio City, California. It was during this time that he wrote a lovecraftian letter and sent it into a bi-annual magazine called The Arkham Collector. Much to his surprise, the editor published it as a short story. Sales of short stories to other magazines soon followed. His first attempt at a novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang, was bought by Ballantine in 1972 and it incorporated several suggestions from science fiction editor John W. Campbell.

Imagine for a moment that George Lucas approached you to write the novel version of Star Wars: A New Hope in the early 70s. At the time, the movie was unknown. Your name would not be on the cover and the payment would be a mere $5000. Do you take the job as a ghostwriter for this unknown filmmaker? Two authors had said no. Alan Dean Foster said yes. And the rest, as they say, is history. When Star Wars became a hit and more novels were needed, Foster was the first to be called in to write them. His first spin-off novel of Star Wars with his own name on the cover was Splinter of the Minds Eye (1978). He has gone on to write countless Star Wars movie novels, including the pending Star Wars: The Force Awakens that will be released in late 2015. He has a story credit for the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture, many novels based on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and he has also written ten novels for Star Trek the Animated series. Other movie tie-in books include the Alien movies, the Black Hole, and Starman. It is little wonder that Alan Dean Foster has won the 2008 Grand Master award from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. He continues to write and has well over 100 novels to his credit, both movie tie-ins and his own original series.

Currently, Foster lives in Arizona with his wife, but he enjoys traveling because it gives him opportunities to meet new people and explore new places and cultures.

“…Who would have suspected it? The Krang is both a weapon and a musical instrument.” – Alan Dean Foster, from The Tar-Aiym Krang

The Tar-Aiym Krang begins on the world of Moth, a planet with “wings”, two golden clouds of dust suspended in space around it. On this world many travelers come. Hardened space-sailors, merchant buccaneers and the insect race known as the Thranx are the targets of the young orphan boy Philip Lynx “Flinx” and his mini-dragon pet Pip, an empathic flying snake that shoots a corrosive and violent neurotoxic venom. Flinx has odd empathic talents that help him live as a thief on the streets of Moth. One day, he steals a starmap off a dead body that really didn’t need it any longer. Flinx thus starts an adventure that takes he through the reaches of space to a strange alien artifact on an abandoned world.

The Tar-Aiym Krang Book CoverThe first book I read by Alan Dean Foster was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. I was a huge Star Wars fan (still am) and anything I could read to further those adventures was like gold to me. Splinter came out two years before The Empire Strikes Back and doesn’t read as canon any longer, but at the time I loved it and it brought this author to my attention. When I spotted Foster’s first original novel The Tar-Aiym Krang, I found it to be a light-hearted space opera filled with dead ancient alien civilizations, uncharted worlds and majestic ruins and the search for an artifact that could threaten the galaxy. It is easy to see why the Flinx and Pip novels were very popular. I began reading more of the Humanx Commonwealth Series and they put a smile on my face.

The only problem I can see about the novel is that the female characters are not as well-developed as the male characters. They are little more than window dressing in the story. This was somewhat typical of the times when science fiction was geared toward adolescent boys instead of a wider adult audience. The book tends toward a YA level, but there are a few sexual situations that might make it considered to be more adult. Still, it is a well-paced book that is a fun read. If you are looking for a book to experience Alan Dean Foster as an original author, The Tar-Aiym Krang is a good place to start and then continue in your exploration. Don’t stop with the Humanx Commonwealth. Foster has several good original series including The Spellsinger Series and The Damned trilogy.

Humanx Commonwealth Series (Pip & Flinx)

The Tar-Aiym Krang (1972)
Bloodhype (1973)
Orphan Star (1977)
The End of the Matter (1977)
Snake Eyes (Short Story) (1978)
For Love of Mother-Not (1983)
Mid-Flinx (1995)
Flinx in Flux (1988)
Reunion (2001)
Side Show (Short Story) (2002)
Flinx’s Folly (2003)
Sliding Scales (2004)
Running from the Deity (2005)
Trouble Magnet (2006)
Growth (Short Story) (2008)
Patrimony (2007)
Flinx Transcendent (2008)

Luna Station Quarterly Features Book Review of The Blue Sword

The Blue Sword Book CoverFor the past few months, I’ve been a regular contributor to the online feminist magazine Luna Station Quarterly. It is a magazine that features up and coming female speculative fiction writers, and columns about all things related to science fiction and fantasy. The magazine debuted in 2011 and features a subscription-based magazine and free online columnists that write on subjects connected to speculative fiction. There is also an anthology of stories put out by Luna Station Quarterly that can be found on Amazon.

This May, Luna Station Quarterly has reprinted my book review of the vintage fantasy novel The Blue Sword by author Robin McKinley. I hope you will stop by the magazine and read the offerings by columnists such as myself.

http://www.lunastationquarterly.com/book-review-the-blue-sword/