Review: Mr. Mercedes

Mr. Mercedes Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I hear the name Stephen King I think of supernatural horror stories. Mr. Mercedes breaks that mold and delivers instead a suspense filled detective story. Newly retired Detective Bill Hodges receives a note from the Mercedes Killer, one of the few cases he failed to solve, and it gives him purpose.

Some stories are interesting for the richness of their characters. Others are interesting for the unique environments. This story invests in the actions of the characters. King tantalizes us by interleaving chapters of alternating perspective between Hodges and the Mercedes Killer. We are allowed to peek into the life of the killer and see exactly how he intends to harm Hodges and those around him, then fret over whether the plan will work or fail.

I didn't find the characters themselves particularly interesting. The killer is sufficiently loathsome, the detective acceptably noble. The supporting cast...well they support the progression of the plot. You won't find a Detta Walker or Randall Flag in these pages.

King is tops when it comes to suspense, and I have to admit I broke out into a sweat as read through the final pages of confrontation. Even so, the story is ultimately forgettable, and I'm not sure I've been given enough reason to get excited about a sequel.

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Review: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoy sci-fi, and on the spectrum of sword to laser I definitely fall strongly on the laser side. Even so, I've enjoyed fantasy in the past. I grew up on Dragonlance books, and I love a good Elder Scrolls RPG. I've been tempted to jump into the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series based on the recommendations of several of my friends with similar reading tastes, but I've always been put off by the investment. I hate to not finish a book, so if I'm not enjoying it I tend to drag out the time to finish it rather than do the honest thing and put it away. So when I received "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" from my father-in-law, it was a bit of a boon. Here was a collection of three short stories set in Martin's world, a fine sampler to see if I would enjoy reading more or not.

The short answer is, I did enjoy it. These three stories of Dunk and Egg were fun and exciting. I believe existing fans of the series will likely get more from them as I was lost among the various sigils and names, but that didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of Dunk's journey. The artwork throughout the story is fantastic. A three star rating may not seem to reflect my words, but I think it is a fair rating based on my subjective enjoyment. I'm unlikely to pick this book up again, nor am I likely to highly recommend it, but it did further encourage me to read more of Martin's series.

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Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Sometime in December I started seeing ads for new shows coming to SyFy, including Childhood's End and The Expanse. I'm not much of a TV watcher, but they seemed interesting, so I watched the Childhood's End mini series and the first two episodes of the Expanse. Both were entertaining, and while I was intrigued by the world The Expanse was establishing, I wasn't sure it was enough to get me out of my habit of spending my evenings gaming or reading. Then Christmas rolls around and some generous soul gifted me a book that had been on my to-read list for a while: Leviathan Wakes. To my surprise the cover tells me it is now a SyFy series called The Expanse!

This book really grabbed me. Many sci-fi books set in space focus largely on a particularly interesting scientific concept, or perhaps wonder at some as yet unknowable facet of our larger universe. While these books entertain by providing a sense of awe and wonder, they typically lack fully flushed out characters with interesting lives. Not so with Leviathan Wakes. We're introduced to a wide cast of distinct characters, and the science takes a back seat to the politics of the factions governing their lives. Our solar system is composed of three primary factions: Earth, Mars, and The Belt. Earth is still the cradle of civilization, but our own negligence in being shepherds of our planet has left it in poor shape. While they don't come right out and say it, Mars appears to be some sort of idealized communist society. All of Mars is united in their goal of terraforming the planet. That process is incomplete, so the denizens of Mars live under domes. Finally, The Belt is the loosely organized set of stations and ships necessary for mining the asteroid belt for raw materials needed by Earth and Mars. They do not have the political or financial muscle of the inner planets, and are largely seen as a pawn to be used rather than having a voice in solar system. A thin veneer of diplomacy hides an underlying distrust and animosity among all three factions.

I loved the characters. Holden is XO of an ice mining ship, the Canterbury. He is naively optimistic, a bit of a goof, but he is also has a fierce and unwavering sense of what is right and wrong that drives all of his decisions. Miller is a jaded cop on the belt station Ceres. He walks a fine line of being a native son of the belt while still trying to uphold the laws as an employee of an earth based security team. Their lives quickly become intertwined.

The format of this book switches perspective between Holden and Miller with each chapter, and each chapter tantalizes you with some form of teaser that entices you to keep reading. I found myself setting aside more of my evening time just to get a few more pages read. Now that I'm finished, I'm excited to catch back up on my recorded episodes of the show. From what I've seen so far (I'm 4 episodes in) there are some minor differences in the details, but otherwise the story is being very closely followed. I'm eager to watch more and to pickup on the next book in the series.

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Review: Steelheart

Steelheart Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun, yet juvenile, action-adventure romp. I never developed any kind of empathy with the characters. David, our narrator, is 18 but reads more like 13. Cody is that irritating guy at the party who is always "on". Each of the characters is a cliche, but with the volume turned up. I would have loved to see some depth or intrigue to these folks, but that may be asking too much from a YA title. Speaking of YA, I am going to highly recommend this book to my 11 year old. I think he would love it. It is fast paced and full of action with big heroes and bigger villains. There are a few moral dilemmas that are lightly touched on, but they do not bog down the story in such a way that a young reader might be put off.

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Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm Animal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A timeless tale of the corrupting power of power. This is clearly an allegory to the Bolshevik Revolution, but I think it could be applied equally well to many situations where one subjugator is usurped by another. The pigs succeed in achieving and maintaining their power by controlling the information permitted to the 'lower animals'. It is an excellent reminder that we must always be wary when we allow others to lead us.

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Review: The Other Side of Dawn

The Other Side of Dawn The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The conclusion of the Tomorrow series is fully of action set pieces and closure for our pack of war torn teens. Ellie and her crew are met by a kiwi facilitator who provides them with the tools they will need to turn their mischief up to 11.

I enjoyed seeing how the tale wound down, but I also get the sense that the author was hesitant to inject real grit into the story that could have made it that much better. Perhaps it is due to the YA target audience that the atrocities that Ellie is exposed to are given a soft focus. Perhaps, as this tale is told by Ellie as she collects her notes from the war, the author is simply emulating what he believes she would decide to note, and what she would decide to omit. In the end, I'm left feeling an absence of texture from the story, and I think it keeps me from truly feeling like I've walked in their shoes.

That all said, this entire series has been fun, light reading. It could easily be turned into a sort of television series. If you've enjoyed The Hunger Games series, you might enjoy this one as well.

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Review: The Forever War

The Forever War The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Weird things happen when you start traveling at near to the speed of light. If you were to get into a hypothetical ship and travel at very close to the speed of light, making laps around the sun for a year, then landed back on earth, you might find that the earth had actually made 15 trips around the sun in that "same time". This is time dilation, and is something that Einstein introduced the world to as part of his theory of relativity.

Now, imagine going to war where you spend time on a ship traveling at near light speeds in order to reach the combat zone and return. What might be a handful of years to you in your own subjective time would be decades or even centuries to those you left behind. Would you be able to stay connected to the people you left? Would you still feel any bond?

This is the concept behind The Forever War. It is ostensibly a commentary on the Vietnam War and the reaction of soldiers involved in and returning from that conflict. I've never been involved in war, so I can't really identify with that sensation. I can say that this story left me with a bit of empathy for returning soldiers as well as anyone else who might find themselves out of sync with the modern world. We're living in a period of dramatic and dynamic change, and it is easy to feel like an outsider as the world rapidly shifts.

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Jade Mason