• Most new users don't bother reading our rules. Here's the one that is ignored almost immediately upon signup: DO NOT ASK FOR FANEDIT LINKS PUBLICLY. First, read the FAQ. Seriously. What you want is there. You can also send a message to the editor. If that doesn't work THEN post in the Trade & Request forum. Anywhere else and it will be deleted and an infraction will be issued.
  • If this is your first time here please read our FAQ and Rules pages. They have some useful information that will get us all off on the right foot, especially our Own the Source rule. If you do not understand any of these rules send a private message to one of our staff for further details.
  • Please read our Rules & Guidelines

    Vote now in FEOTM Reboot Wave 1 tie breakers! December 2021 - March 2022 - May 2022

Book Reviews

Underworld_DonDeLillo_Spread001.jpg


Garbage and consumerism; baseball, memorabilia, and collectors; marriage and infidelity; mafia hits and serial killers; the Cold War and The Bomb; Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra; fathers and sons; chess; graffiti; God and sex; J. Edgar Hoover and Gorbachev’s birthmark; Eisenstein and the Rockettes; Lenny Bruce and the Cuban Missile Crisis; us and them; The Shot Heard ‘Round the World and the number 13.

In 1951, a home run ball sends the Giants to the World Series as, simultaneously, the USSR conducts a nuclear test. How are these events connected? Or are they? In the 1990, our de facto main character Nick buys the baseball. Why Nick buys the baseball is one of the ideas that propels the novel. Though it is very difficult to say what the novel is about. People buy things to create an identity for themselves, but most of what they buy ultimately ends up in the "underworld" of a landfill (Nick is a waste management executive). Do people actually buy things out of need, or more out of loss, to fill the emptiness of their lives. It is also the wasted lives and the physical waste created by consumerism and the vicious cycle it creates: buy to fill a void and create more waste.

Throughout the book DeLillo makes connections between themes and storylines constantly reminding us that everything is connected, even if the how or why isn’t understood or driving a “plot” forward. Underworld is about the often unseen—but sometimes felt—undercurrents of the human experience.

At times, the book can be frustrating as storylines and characters I’d become invested in give way to smaller vignettes that held my interest less and seemed to force the connections DeLillo wants the reader to make. This is the downside of the non-linear storyline. It also doesn’t pay off with a climax that feels like it is all brought together. But maybe that’s not the point. In many ways the book will mean something different for every person who reads it. DeLillo isn’t preaching; he’s holding up a mirror and what you take from it will be very personal.

“Because everything connects in the end, or only seems to, or seems to only because it does.”
 
9780330258708-de.jpg


I had never read this novella and figured it was time. It definitely feels like Pynchon but lesser Pynchon. It’s a quick and easy read (for Pynchon) and might be a good entry point for his work. But I hesitate to recommend it as it almost feels like like Pynchon fan fiction. It’s not bad but if you’re interested in Pynchon seek out something better.
 
9780330258708-de.jpg


I had never read this novella and figured it was time. It definitely feels like Pynchon but lesser Pynchon. It’s a quick and easy read (for Pynchon) and might be a good entry point for his work. But I hesitate to recommend it as it almost feels like like Pynchon fan fiction. It’s not bad but if you’re interested in Pynchon seek out something better.
Yeah, I have a soft spot for it but it's a bit of a shame that it's probably his most widely read book. By his own admission, he regrets it having been marketed as a novel because he "forgot most of what he'd learned about novel-writing" while writing it.

I wish Pynchon newcomers would check out "The Secret Integration" from Slow Learner (a much better entry point imho).
 
Yeah, I have a soft spot for it but it's a bit of a shame that it's probably his most widely read book. By his own admission, he regrets it having been marketed as a novel because he "forgot most of what he'd learned about novel-writing" while writing it.

I wish Pynchon newcomers would check out "The Secret Integration" from Slow Learner (a much better entry point imho).
I’m going to be doing some re-reads this summer. Among them The Brother Karamozov and also, having been inspired by reading this novella, Gravity’s Rainbow. I feel I’m much more equipped to appreciate it now than I was back when I first read it. I’ve never picked up Slow Learner, but I should!
 
I’m going to be doing some re-reads this summer. Among them The Brother Karamozov and also, having been inspired by reading this novella, Gravity’s Rainbow. I feel I’m much more equipped to appreciate it now than I was back when I first read it. I’ve never picked up Slow Learner, but I should!
Nice! The short story I mentioned above is a companion to GR, so I would definitely recommend taking a look on that score as well. (I just passed the halfway point of GR re-read #3 and I think I’m finally starting to understand it!)
 
Last edited:
Underworld_DonDeLillo_Spread001.jpg


Garbage and consumerism; baseball, memorabilia, and collectors; marriage and infidelity; mafia hits and serial killers; the Cold War and The Bomb; Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra; fathers and sons; chess; graffiti; God and sex; J. Edgar Hoover and Gorbachev’s birthmark; Eisenstein and the Rockettes; Lenny Bruce and the Cuban Missile Crisis; us and them; The Shot Heard ‘Round the World and the number 13.

In 1951, a home run ball sends the Giants to the World Series as, simultaneously, the USSR conducts a nuclear test. How are these events connected? Or are they? In the 1990, our de facto main character Nick buys the baseball. Why Nick buys the baseball is one of the ideas that propels the novel. Though it is very difficult to say what the novel is about. People buy things to create an identity for themselves, but most of what they buy ultimately ends up in the "underworld" of a landfill (Nick is a waste management executive). Do people actually buy things out of need, or more out of loss, to fill the emptiness of their lives. It is also the wasted lives and the physical waste created by consumerism and the vicious cycle it creates: buy to fill a void and create more waste.

Throughout the book DeLillo makes connections between themes and storylines constantly reminding us that everything is connected, even if the how or why isn’t understood or driving a “plot” forward. Underworld is about the often unseen—but sometimes felt—undercurrents of the human experience.

At times, the book can be frustrating as storylines and characters I’d become invested in give way to smaller vignettes that held my interest less and seemed to force the connections DeLillo wants the reader to make. This is the downside of the non-linear storyline. It also doesn’t pay off with a climax that feels like it is all brought together. But maybe that’s not the point. In many ways the book will mean something different for every person who reads it. DeLillo isn’t preaching; he’s holding up a mirror and what you take from it will be very personal.

“Because everything connects in the end, or only seems to, or seems to only because it does.”
Haven't read Underworld yet (planning on getting to it) but I've got Libra on the "to read" shelf for later this year, looking forward to it. Have you read that one yet?
 
Haven't read Underworld yet (planning on getting to it) but I've got Libra on the "to read" shelf for later this year, looking forward to it. Have you read that one yet?
I haven’t. From what I understand it is very different from Underworld and White Noise. Though Libra and Mao II are in my “want to read” pile.
 
20757266z.jpg


American Pastoral. It’s an interesting novel that uses a framing device to create a parable for the American experience of the late 20th century. It’s the story of all-American Seymour”Swede” Levov, but it’s told by a friend of his younger brother and, by necessity, is fictionalized. The person telling the story idolized the Swede and so we get a somewhat nostalgic take on his downfall. How could everything so idyllic fall apart? Was it really idyllic in the first place? I won’t spoil things here, but it’s a poignant read with a relevance to the late 90s is only more relevant in this MAGA era United States.
 
Crossover (Image Comics, 2020-2022)
Picture Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Except, it features guest appearances from other horror movie characters. Every time one of the guest characters shows up, another character exclaims "Oh my gosh it's Micheal Myers from Halloween!" or "What is Tommy Jarvis from Friday The 13th doing here?!". And of course, there's a scene where Chucky meets Don Mancini and complains about how he's written, before killing Mancini. The whole time, everyone is calling out Wes Craven as a hack, with plenty of self deprecation from Wes Craven himself.
Picture all that, but with comics. That's crossover. It's pretentious and dumb. At one point the author claims that he now realizes that the world doesn't revolve around him, while proceeding to make it about himself.
It has some good moments, the cameos from other comic writers are great, the art is decent, some of the fourth wall breaks are fun, and it introduced me to some series that I wasn't really aware of beforehand. I'd have absolutely loved this comic 5 years ago.
The original characters in this comic don't really do much, they're overshadowed by the author. This would've been much better without the author inserting himself, but I get that this was a personal project for him.
I still enjoy this for the novelty, but it can be frustrating. And man I want to rewatch New Nightmare.
 
415sjYk3e-L.jpg


The Brothers Karamozov. I first read this late in high school so probably about 17 years old. As a kid raised by my Irish Catholic father that was beginning to lean towards atheism it was quite a read. As a (much older) adult, I’m now firmly agnostic atheist and have a greater knowledge of this era of Russian history. As such the experience was quite different.

There are many different elements to this novel. It’s got family rivalry/dysfunction, it’s got love triangles, it’s got murder mystery, it’s got courtroom drama, it’s even got some adolescent drama. But if you’re reading this for any of that you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is about characters and those characters are symbols for various elements of Russia at this time in history (late 1800s). More on this later.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact of this novel on modern storytelling. In fact I’ve been watching Succession with my wife while reading and the influence is unmistakable. But as with so many influential classics, it’s hard to see it in a vacuum and a lot if its impact is watered down by its imitators

At its heart it’s a philosophical book. The brothers and the father each representing different aspects of faith, Russian culture, and human nature. Even Freud based his id, ego, and superego on the brothers. I’d argue the monk Father Zosima is the idealized stand-in for Dostoyevsky’s own self and not the father (Fyodor). And the saintly Alexei (Alyosha) is the surrogate for the author’s deceased son (Alyosha) and the stated hero of the novel.

I admit I’m mostly an Ivan and his Grand Inquisitor chapter of the novel is still a high point for good reason. I’d say Dostoyevsky does often fall victim to making his characters that disagree with his worldview seem a bit foolish as if to undermine those points. But the Grand Inquisitor chapter is persuasive if only as a foil to Alexei’s faith. [Side note: I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we get Zosima’s take almost immediately following that chapter.] But Ivan exists, in large part, to explore whether morality is possible without religious faith.

It’s a great novel, of course, but it does have flaws in my opinion. It can definitely be a bit melodramatic, especially regarding the romances. And it is sometimes a little too on the nose as well. My thoughts on the book are my own. I believe anyone can—and likely would—come away with different interpretations. And, in many ways, I believe that’s the point.

I read the David McDuff (Penguin Classic) translation, but I wish I had read the Pevear and Volokhovsky translation.
 
4406.jpg


East of Eden. A sweeping epic spanning three generations. It’s easy to see why this is a classic and Steinbeck’s personal favorite. Primarily a story about the Trask family, it has richly drawn characters among that family and without. Unfortunately it is lacking in positive female characters, with only Kate/Cathy as a female main character. The book deals with obvious family relationships of fathers and sons and brothers, but it is primarily a rumination on the nature of good and evil and whether one is predisposed to evil or if there is a choice. The book is a modern retelling (and expansion) of Genesis from the Bible, with the main father figure named Adam and the sinful mother. The sons Cal and Aron represent Cain and Abel, though early in the book Adam and his brother Charles also earn comparison. One of my few nitpicks is that the book is rather heavy-handed in telling the reader of the Cain and Abel parallels, with conversations between characters literally telling us. The first chapter of part four (the only part of the novel covered by Kazan’s movie which I have yet to see) goes so far as to tell the reader in no uncertain terms that this book—and, indeed, all stories—is about the “never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil.” I don’t think these themes are easy to overlook and I wish Steinbeck would’ve trusted his readers more. But that’s a minor nit in an otherwise wonderful novel. It’s often talked about in discussions of the “Great American Novel.” For me, it wasn’t that, but it was still a worthwhile read.
 
Last edited:
51HgrMkErvL.jpg


The blurb on the cover says “as close as you’ll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form.” At first that felt true, but then I started to feel this felt more like the novelization of a space action video game. It’s full of tropes and not much depth. Its barely competent writing has almost nothing I want from sci-fi—no big ideas—and very little I want from a novel—depth of character and themes—so maybe I just chose the wrong book.

The book is told from the perspective of our two protagonists, Holden and Miller, in alternating chapters. The fact that it was often difficult to remember which perspective I was reading tells you all you need to know about the depth of the characters and left me wondering why the author(s) chose this device in the first place. Often when that device is used it is to give the reader a chance to see the same events from different points of view, something that would have made sense given the characters’ different backgrounds and solar system politics. But no, there’s virtually none of that. The dialogue and descriptions are so hackneyed as to be almost embarrassing. And it is sci-fi in name only. Yes, it is set in the future and it takes place mostly in space or off Earth, but that is all relatively inconsequential to the story. It could just as easily be Half Life 3 set on Earth. There are no big ideas that you can’t help but ponder in between reads. This has none of that. It feels like the author(s) assembled a bunch of scenes and characters types from other, more successful space actioners (of other mediums) and crassly assembled them for profit. Is this the Nickleback of sci-fi!? Perhaps. I’m honestly shocked I finished it; and that comes down to my loathing to put in effort and not see it through to conclusion.

I am strangely now curious to see the series. It reads as though it might be the rare book that actually works much better in a different medium. I still think it would’ve made a great video game.
 
Last edited:
I like the crime/mystery story of the first book, lightly wrapped in a sci-fi dressing, but the style does change in the next several, which I also like. The next several books are a much harder sci-fi story that involves the origins of the protomolecule, manipulation of asteroid orbits, interstellar gates, and the colonization of new systems. Maybe if you don't want to commit to a whole novel, you could pick up the novellas. They do fit into the larger story, but I think they'd be good alone too.
 
I like the crime/mystery story of the first book, lightly wrapped in a sci-fi dressing, but the style does change in the next several, which I also like. The next several books are a much harder sci-fi story that involves the origins of the protomolecule, manipulation of asteroid orbits, interstellar gates, and the colonization of new systems. Maybe if you don't want to commit to a whole novel, you could pick up the novellas. They do fit into the larger story, but I think they'd be good alone too.
Does the writing improve? The first one feels like a very freshman effort.
 
Yes, but still keeps the same general tone
Look I can enjoy pulpy sci-fi—Andy Weir, Blake Crouch, etc.—but this book felt like it wasn’t even trying to be a novel. I don’t mind the tone so much as I mind not utilizing the medium. I don’t want to read a movie or a video game. That’s what I watch movies and play video games for. I want something different from a novel.
 
Look I can enjoy pulpy sci-fi—Andy Weir, Blake Crouch, etc.—but this book felt like it wasn’t even trying to be a novel. I don’t mind the tone so much as I mind not utilizing the medium. I don’t want to read a movie or a video game. That’s what I watch movies and play video games for. I want something different from a novel.
I've tried getting into this book series a few times but was turned off for the same reasons. Felt too much like reading a subpar film novelization. And I definitely get your point about the character perspectives not feeling distinct enough. They kept introducing new characters who were supposed to have diverse backgrounds but they all seemed to think and act as if they were related, the only distinctions being minor and superficial. I think it works much better as a tv series and even makes improvements from the books (at least as far as I read).
 
51QOoa+RbLL.jpg


I really loved Towles’ previous book A Gentleman in Moscow. But this one just didn’t do it for me. Towles is still a masterful writer and the characters are richly drawn and the 1950s world feels real and lived in. But the story just didn’t connect for me. All of our characters are flawed and have been dealt a bad hand in life. Unfortunately, each of them has a real genuine excuse for their predicaments in life that are (mostly) not of their doing. I found myself feeling that was all a bit too convenient and that allowing some of the characters to be in messes of their own making would’ve made the whole thing more varied and interesting. Heroism is a theme. Our presumptive protagonist (who doesn’t really turn out to be the main character so much as a player in an ensemble piece) has a younger brother who carries around a book about heroes. And each of our characters are trying to leave behind their past and start anew and be heroes in their own right. They all mean well, but some just can’t get out of their own way. What follows is the great American road adventure in the tradition of Kerouac, Steinbeck, et al. In the end (and without spoilers), a lot happens to our characters but was there truly any growth; did the road teach its lessons? Unfortunately, while I found the book a pleasure to read, I needed more from the story, more from the character arcs, more from their growth.
 
mistborn-1-the-final-empire-taschenbuch-brandon-sanderson-englisch.jpeg


I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical of Sanderson. I actually thought he did a good job finishing up the Wheel of Time series but that was a well established property with fleshed out characters and quite a bit of outlining and even completed chapters. The knock against Sanderson is his character development. And for me character is king. So yeah, I was skeptical. And he didn’t disappoint. The characters are paper thin. I get that this is the typical hero’s journey, but still. We’ve really got two main characters for most of the book: Kelsier and Vin; the mentor and the apprentice. But I couldn’t tell you much more about either of them, though Kelsier is by far more interesting almost by default. Yes, they are given backstories but we never really feel that in their characters and they just feel blah. Then we have the titular Final Empire and its evil overlord The Lord Ruler. And I shit you not the bad guy is called the Lord Ruler, which sounds like something from a Mel Brooks parody of a fantasy story. Sanderson has been praised for his world building akin to Robert Jordan. But while Jordan can be long-winded, I always felt like I was being put in a real place. With Sanderson I don’t really get that and everything just seemed generically “fantasy.” The magic system is interestingly grounded at first but then it feels like half the book is learning new magic moves as if it were the early levels of a video game. The magic powers—called allomancy—seem a lot like Jedi skills, again acquired as we go like in a video game. But it does make for interesting and exciting battle scenes, which Sanderson does well. But it all felt a bit too YA for me. I’d have liked a bit more maturity. And by that I don’t mean sex and/or violence. I mean more depth and more sophisticated prose and, for the love of god, more believable dialogue. But I felt similarly about the early books of Wheel of Time and I ended up really enjoying that series. I bought the full (first) Mistborn trilogy so I’m sure I’ll read the next two books at some point.
 
lonesome-dove-taschenbuch-larry-mcmurtry-englisch.jpeg


Unquestionably well written and a very entertaining read. There are lots of characters and many intertwining storylines. This is definitely a horse opera and, as such, is loaded with tropey western elements. But it never feels as tropey as it is. McMurtry does an excellent job of making this all feel real. If it has cliché elements of western, well that’s because those are common elements of the American western frontier and it is less glorified and feels more like historical fiction. One thing I wasn’t expecting is for this to be so funny. The early parts of the book are wonderful with the banter between these old (and some young) cowboys. Gus certainly has the best of them but that’s primarily due to the sheer amount of talking he does. Augustus McCrae is a classic character of American literature. It’s easy to see why this book is so beloved. But ultimately I guess as a novel with such acclaim I was expecting more. Despite enjoying my time with these characters in this world, I never truly cared for them or their experiences as much as I would’ve expected. It just failed to connect with me emotionally. And for such a character driven story, that is a pretty big failure in my opinion. I suppose the overall theme is that of how we treat each other and that who are is the sum of the choices we make. But we don’t see or even learn much about why they make the choices they do and so it is hard to feel growth or lack of growth coming from those choices. Ultimately I don’t want to get too down on it. I did enjoy it but it is more of a very good oater than something that transcends the genre to me.
 
Back
Top Bottom