Category Archives: Fiction

My reviews of great fiction books

Book review: The confusion

I’ve gotta come clean here: I’m a huge fan of Neal Stephensons work, so when I heard that he’d written not one book, but a series of three books each around 900 pages long, I was thrilled. Then I read the first one (Quicksilver), and to be perfectly honest, I was bored. I felt it had it’s moments, but that it would’ve been twice as good if it had been half as long. I started on the second book in the series (The Confusion) , and ground to halt about 200 pages into it. Too boring. I really wanted to like Quicksilver though, so I wrote this luke-warm review of it. Man, was I ever wrong! :o)

A couple of months ago, I decided to re-read Quicksilver, and what a change that made. Suddenly I got it. I found that in my eagerness to devour that book, I’d missed most of it. You see, these books are subtle. They contain so much good stuff, but it’s not all out in the open – you may have to work for it. On re-reading Quicksilver I really got into it, and suddenly, 900 pages seemed just right. Especially when there are two more book in the series, and the second one is even better.

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Book review: Microserfs

In Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, a bunch of geeks working at Microsoft (hence the title of the book), decide to change their predictable, stable, profitable yet somehow unfulfilling lives in Seattle for a leap into the unknown, starting their own company in California.

Some things remain the same: They still work way too much. They’re still geeks. They still obsess about small things, as geeks do. But something starts to change. They get lives. The fundamental isolation made possible by the corporate lifestyle at Microsoft is replaced by confusion, frustration, identity crisis, dating disasters, jealousy – but also by friendship, community, loyalty, trust and most of all love.
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Book review: The crimson petal and the white

The crimson petal and the white by Michael Faber is a novel that by all rights I should hate. It’s a 900 page long story set in victorian England in which very little happens. I ought to be bored to tears, but in reality the book gripped my like no other book I’ve read recently.

The reason: The characters. This book is driven almost totally by the people in it, and Faber brings them to life as deep, funny, interesting, sexy, confused, frustrated, brave, cowardly, weird and wonderful. There’s Sugar, the highly skilled prostitute who writes a secret novel in which she kills off innumerable men. There’s William Rackham, the aspiring intellectual who drives himself to take over his fathers perfume business. There’s Williams strange and beautiful wife, who teeters between high society and madness. And there’s a whole host of other human beings (not merely characters), each of whom are brought to life in front of the readers eyes. The result is, that for all their flaws and failings, you end up caring deeply about what happens to them.

The novel has another quirk: It speaks directly to the reader, and anticipating your every thought, leads you on a tour of Londons victorian stratified society. It lends a wonderful intimacy and drive to the story, and gives you the impression, that here is a tale told just for you. It’s a wonderful book, and I recommend it highly.

Book review: The DaVinci Code

It seems like Dan Brown is trying to develop a new format: The ultra-condensed thriller. The action in his last book, Deception Point, took place over 48 hours, and most of the story in The Da Vinci Code unfolds over only 12 hours. Considering this, Brown still manages to pack an enormous amount of action into such a short time span. The book takes off within the first few pages, and it simply doesn’t let up until the (quite satisfying) conclusion. The action drives you forward, and there’s always a new event or question that you’re just burning to discover the explanation for.

Robert Langdon (a symbologist who was also the protagonist of Angels and Demons) becomes involved in a case of murder and gruesome self-mutilation at the Louvre, and to clear himself of blame, he must find clues in the bible, in ancient organizations such as the catholic church and the Priory of Sion and in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, whose art never quite is what it seems.

The book works wonderfully as a thriller, but it works on another level as well: The alternative view on historical facts like bible history and the art of Leonardo da Vinci is extremely thought provoking. The book would work fine without it, it’s just that it adds a wonderful depth and believability that is rarely seen in a thriller. This is one of the best suspense novelse I’ve ever read, and I recommend it highly!

Book review: Quicksilver

Well then, reading Neal Stephensons newest book Quicksilver took me a little longer than expected but then it is 900 pages long. It’s set in the 1600’s amid scientists (called natural philosophers at the time), alchymists, kings, nobles and vagabonds. The cast of characters is enormous and contains both real and fictional people. People like Isaac Newton, Leibnitz, Louis XIV and William of Orange mix with names familiar to readers of Cryptonomicon: Waterhouse’s, Comstock’s, Shaftoe’s and especially Enoch Root.

The book seems extremely well researched, and certainly all I know about that period and its science and politics seemed to fit it. The book is divided into three books, and my favourite is definitely the middle part where the main characters are Jack Shaftoe (half-cocked jack, the king of vagabonds) and Eliza whom he rescues from a turkish harem. This part has a tremendous drive and energy.

The other two thirds of the book are driven mainly by the amusing and highly detailed descriptions of the political and scientific developments of that age, inventions ranging from calculus to stock markets. The book is enormously complex, and being the kinf od reader I am, I’m sure I missed many of the more subtle points it has to offer. I hope to pick them up when I re-read the book at some point.

UPDATE:
I have now re-read Quicksilver, and completely changed my mind about the book. The book is excellent, I just didn’t get it the first time around. As with many truly rewarding works, you may not get it at first, but when you do, it’s that much more rewarding.

This book is not a single page too long! It IS complex, but that’s why it’s good. Read it!

Book review: Hey Nostradamus!

I discovered Douglas Coupland what seems like many years ago (but was in fact in 1997) when I read Generation X, and he remains one of my favourite authors. His style has since been steadily moving away from the hyper-realistic stories of Shampoo planet and Generation X to a more surrealist, subjective and poetic style which is also evident in his latest book Hey Nostradamus.

What it’s about? Good question. There’s a shooting at a high school, much like the one at Columbine, and this has consequences for many people, whose intersecting stories are told in the books four separate passages. The mood of the book is detached, somber and haunting but still moving and while the book offers very few answers it certainly poses many good questions. It is an elegant piece of fiction which I recommend highly.

Book review: Cryptonomicon

Okay, here’s a novel in which the central themes are cryptology (making and breaking codes), nerds and world war II. Sounds boring, huh? But Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson is an amazing work and it’s 900 pages do not contain a single boring passage.

The story is amazingly complex and has as many as five parallel tales set either during world war ii or today. Nerds, marines, scientists and one very strange priest from a mysterious order, all involved in plots and counter-plots that span more than 50 years.
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Book review: Summerland

Michael Chabon is a writer with a talent for writing fantastic stories based squarely in everyday life and american popular culture. This was obvious in his masterpiece “The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay” which had it’s roots in the golden age of american comics, but it finds a new, wonderful expression in Summerland, which is a childrens book in the same way as the Harry Potter books – this book can be enjoyed by anyone at any age.

The story is a true adventure, in which a number of children and mythical beings must save the world from Coyote (the trickster god in american indian mythology). The major themes are (get this) baseball, indians and airships. And Chabon manages to create a story that is funny, believable, touching, exciting and a times very sad. Where the worlds of J.K. Rowlings and Philip Pullmans books are a little old fashioned, Chabons adventure is quite modern, giving this fairy tale a more up to date feel.

This is an excellent book, especially for reading to someone, and I warmly recommend it. Here’s a quote from the book.