Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Review: Children of Hurin

When I first heard that there was going to be a "new" J.R.R. Tolkien book I was worried. While I knew that Christopher had completed some of his father's work before in the form of the Silmarillion, I didn't want anything to taint the perfection that is Middle-earth. Nonetheless I felt compelled to read the Children of Hurin and I'm glad to say my fears were unfounded.

Children of Hurin falls much more in the camp of the Simarillion than that of Lord of the Rings in many ways. While being the story of one family, it is still written much more in the style of a history than of a narrative story.

It is the general story of Children that is its strength, being the creation of J.R.R. himself. Tolkien shows in this story that he has the capacity to be a true tragedian. While Lord of the Rings is much more a Norse epic, the story of Children of Hurin falls firmly in the camp of the Greek tragedies. There are many times in the story that you might think you were reading the work of Sophocles himself. Indeed Hurin's children have lives that make the stories of Oedipus or Shakespeare's hamlet look positively bright. It is also a story that demonstrates, just as the classics, the terrible danger of hubris.

It's not a perfect book, however. While the universe and plot are as good as one expects from the senior Tolkien, the prose suffers some, as Christopher is not as good of an author as his father.

I prefer the tone and scope of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and the prose of those books is definitely stronger but Children of Hurin is worth checking out if your a Tolkien fan, or if you're studying the classic tragedy as it is a fabulous example of a modern story emulating that style.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Book Review: The Uplift War

The Uplift War by David Brin

1988 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1987 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

A while ago, I set out to read the all the Hugo and Nebula Award winning Novels. When I started, I was enjoying all of the fiction I was reading, but the last few have been quite disappointing. Thank God than, for David Brin and his excellent novel Uplift War.

This is not to say that Brin's book is of a literary quality on par with Fahrenheit 451 or even American Gods, but it is good classic science fiction. Uplift War has good pacing, engaging story and a fantastic setting.

The story itself takes place on a backwater world of large galactic society of the sort you would find in Star Wars or Star Trek. The setting has its own unique wrinkles, of course, and Brin does a good job of making them important to the story. The galactic society of the Five Galaxies is one of ancient oxygen breathing sentient races with unbending codes of conduct. War is brewing, and humans (who are new on the scene and not very well liked) are suffering greatly. None of these are the most important aspects of the setting, however. Sentience in this galaxy is a gift. Few races since the fabled Progenitors have ever achieved it on their own; instead they are uplifted by already sentient races who they then serve as indentured servants for great lengths of time. Humans themselves have already uplifted chimpanzees and dolphins to sentience by the time the story begins.

All of the details about the setting play into the story in a better than average manner, but at the same time there is definitely a sense of vastness and mystery to the galaxy. Hints about other societies that exist parallel to that of the Five Galaxies and other events going in the background make it seem like this is a real living universe, rather than one engineered to suit the story. This is the perfect balance for a science fiction story of this type, and Brin pulls it off masterfully.

The characters who inhabit it are enjoyable company for the reader. None of them are undyingly memorable, but they are also not infuriating. Also, while Uplift War is the third in a series, you don't have to read the others to follow, which is always a plus.

I highly recommend that anyone with an interest in science fiction pick up and read this book.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Life: Absence, Procrastination and UC Applications

I must apologize to all my readers that I have been absent for such a long time. I have been busy procrastinating on writing my personal statement for my UC application and that's, uh... hard work. However, with the deadline quick approaching, I had to set aside my procrastinating ways and actually sit down and write it. It's now done, and as soon as I do a little bit of editing I'll be turning in my application. Wish me luck!

As for this blog, I'll have posts up in the near future. Look for a discussion of alien civilizations, mulled mead and a review of David Brin's Uplift War, which I finished some time ago.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!