Review: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

by on Sep.01, 2012, under Reviews

The Big Short is a book that describes how the 2008 economic meltdown came to be, as told through the personal stories of several people directly involved in it. How some of them were directly involved in the fabrication of wealth that never existed at all. How one of them became fabulously rich betting against the major funds whose wealth disappeared overnight.

Alright, you might ask, what does this have to do with Science Fiction? That’s a good question. No, I am not taking on the review of books of politics or economics. I am reviewing this book because I feel that this book is a case study, a must read book for aspiring authors.

As an aspiring author, this is a book you must read three times.

Once: to read the content. If you are in any manner involved or care about economics, this book will be very upsetting to you. Just read it all the way through. And throw it. And yell at it. You will.

Second time: Sit back and admire how well this story is told. Economics is a pretty dry subject. Yet you were throwing the book and yelling about it, weren’t you? Examine how this story is told. Examine how Michael Lewis engaged you in the story.

Final time: Examine how Michael Lewis engaged you in the characters. Some of these characters are real bastards. Some of them scorned you and the money you’d invested or left supposedly safe in their organizations. And yet he makes these characters real to you, he engages you in their story. He makes you care.

In short, Michael Lewis gave you a story with no heroes–only villains and a few unlikeable anti-heroes, and yet you were would up tight in the plot. This is impressive, and there’s a lot to learn here.

Leave a Comment : more...

The Soul of a Reviewer

by on Aug.31, 2012, under Observations, Reviews

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of other reviewers last night that really got me thinking. Several of them admitted that they didn’t stop to think about whether or not they enjoyed the piece they were reading–they were too busy looking for things to critique as done well or badly.

Although I totally respect the work that both of these reviewers do, I feel that it is important that as a reviewer I don’t forget what the reader cares about.

One of the essential things to remember is that a reader is reading to be entertained. They have no objective beyond enjoyment or learning, in both the passive and active senses. The most important thing about reviewing should be looking at the story from this point of view.

If I am reviewing a piece of work, and I don’t approach it with the intent to be entertained, then I am doing the reader a disservice. While it may be important to note that an author did or did not achieve some technical objective, the most important part of a review is to answer: is this book likely to entertain the reader?

Obviously, it’s impossible to such a subjective question for all possible readers. But I feel that it is the goal that we as reviewers should always strive for. Almost any technical matter within the work is less important than this essential question.

Leave a Comment more...

I am now a reviewer for The Future Fire

by on Aug.03, 2012, under Reviews

I am now doing reviews for the online review site The Future Fire. This site publishes reviews of books, films, and other weird and speculative publications or performances from indie and small presses. You can see my first two reviews here:

I reviewed Ferryman by Nigel Edward
and Cerulean Dreams by Dan O’Brien.

Yeah, you’ll notice I don’t pull my punches.

Leave a Comment more...

Review: Endurance by Jay Lake

by on Dec.13, 2011, under Reviews

I have to admit I was looking forward to rejoining Green in the cold northern city of Copper Downs. As I said in my review of Green, I had found her story delightful and very real, very present to me. Endurance does not disappoint. In fact, the greatest risk you’d find in Endurance is what I found far too often this week: you’ll realize it was nearly dawn and you had better set it down and catch a few hours sleep.

Green is older now, and during this book she learns to handle problems with greater dexterity and even a little wisdom. But life is throwing challenges at her faster than anyone would wish, and the story is leisurely for only a few dozen pages before becoming a dashing, dodging twirl and flip of an entirely engaging and well-planned plot.

Did I say plot? Oh, no, there are dozens of plots. The plots of the reconstituted council in Copper Downs. Blackblood. The embassy from Kalimpura which has recently arrived. A rebellion. Magicians. Lily Blased. And oh hey, why not a few god killers too? Playing to win. Playing to Lose. Even Green learns to plan her steps forward, and adds strategy to her arsenal of deadly tools.

It’s a twisting mass of engagements, tricks, deception and triumph. But Jay does a wonderful job of leading the reader through it: he kept me shivering with anticipation, but never confusing me. It’s a brilliant display of craft to pull someone through deeply interwoven plots without confusing them, and Jay handled it brilliantly.

Can I recommend it? Absolutely. But I warn you, don’t take it bed unless you haven’t got anywhere to be in the morning.

Leave a Comment more...

Review: Welcome to the Greenhouse edited by Gorden Van Gelder

by on Nov.13, 2011, under Reviews

This book is not what you might guess it would be. No, this book is much better, and more enduring, than you can imagine.

From the title I expected to find a book filled with sci-fi imaginings of catastrophe and chaos. And yes, this book could easily be called “Sixteen different ways calamity found us.” But to do that would be to overlook something very essential and different about this anthology.

These stories are cast after the apocalypse, often far in the future. And they don’t lay claim to the scientific predictions, nor the destruction. There is fairly short thrift paid to disaster. This is an anthology about humanity’s soul. Who we are. Who we can be, and who we have become. This anthology doesn’t challenge you to imagine physical earth disasters – it challenges you to imagine how far humanity might climb, or how low we can fall, after today’s expectations are far enough in the past to have been forgotten.

Jeff Carlson presents the story of a miracle boy that wanders across the earth trying to heal it. Pat McEwen tell us the moral delimas of a public defender trying to reestablish justice in a newly wild west. Chris Lawson shows us the struggle involved in trying to reestablish lost species on the planet. Each of these and nine other stories focus on the people trying to survive, live and love in an environment that we can barely imagine in our comfort today.

Gordon van Gelder’s selections for this anthology don’t tell us what’s going to happen to this planet. Instead they challenge us to see what we are capable of, both good and bad, noble and otherwise. Who will you be? What are you capable of?

Leave a Comment more...

Review: Green by Jay Lake

by on Nov.10, 2011, under Reviews

Why am I doing a review for Green more than 2 years after release? Because I found something remarkable and lovable about Green that I haven’t seen anyone else mention.

As I’m sure that you’ve read from other reviews or from the book itself, Green is a young child sold (or stolen) away from her farming father to a foreign prince. Over the course of the book she goes from rebellious child to well-trained assassin, in a story which spans regions and civilizations.

Yes, another competent female killer. But there is something truly wonderful about Green. The main character is not a spinning, kicking automaton with a god-given motive far beyond her years. The main character is… a young girl. A young girl with incredible skills which she spent years training to acquire. Whose skills do not transfer to the next thing she does magically, as if any competency is all competencies. The things she does are completely believable based on her story within the book.

Many reviewers harp on her immature response to going home and trying to reintegrate, or the way she gets pulled into things without a sense of direction. Honestly, this is exactly what makes the character Green real to me. When I watch the movies or read books about characters with an unnatural sense of what to do, it pushes me out – takes me away from believing in the character except as an expression of the author. Green acts as many young children have acted – she falls into things she may have known better. She acts against her own interests when rebelling against others. She is truly and completely human to me.

Green is a wonderfully real young lady. Reading her story brought me pleasure, and I gaze eagerly at the recently arrived hardback for her next journey — Endurance.

Leave a Comment more...