“Perdido Street Station”: Book Review

Perdido Street Station - Cover
Perdido Street Station – Cover

“Perdido Street Station” easily takes me to both a familiar and an utterly strange world from the first page. It first remind me to a street in Agrabah from Aladdin, and then to a steampunk-ized version of our world where mechanical things with gears, pistons, steams, on an uneven arrangements roaming clumsily, noisily, mechanically. Going deeper into this world, however, we see a scarred world, wondrous, fantastical, but also made of stuffs from nightmares. Terrifying, almost repulsive at times. A fantasy genre unlike most of its brethren.

This is the first time I read China Miéville and I was led to believe that “Perdido Street Station” is going to be a hard science-fiction because I had intended to read a hard science-fiction when I finally pick “Perdido” from my long queue of “to-read” section from my library.

And so I was a bit surprised after flipping the first few pages and found out that “Perdido” is not strictly belongs to science-fiction genre, but rather to fantasy genre. And not the High-kind fantasy I used to read too.

But my surprise turns into pleasant as I quickly found my way into the world of “Perdido Street Station,” getting acquainted with its many inhabitants although they were not always pleasant or easy to read (and imagine) to.

It takes a little while for the story to get its engine going. Most of early chapters were devoted to characters as they were introduced, and the many threads that eventually led to the story’s fight against its main antagonist in a series of epic action set-pieces.

The story is also not particularly kind to its designated protagonists as well. I personally feel that this kind of direction is a rather refreshing although obviously won’t bode well to readers who seek a “feel-good” story.

In fear of spoiling the story more than it already has, let’s just say that there are a lot of ways the story could have ended that would leave its readers in a pleasant smile, rather than perhaps, a bit too real, and a bit too depressing direction that Miéville chose.

With so many fantasy books being adapted to a movie or a tv series, as I read this book, I kept thinking about the feasibility of this book turned into a moving picture. It has many great ingredients. A lot of visually enchanting characters, there are magic involved, also machines, epic battles with guns and beasts and multi-dimension movements (think of X-Men’s Nightcrawler), a sprawling city, a mysterious desert, a haunted forest, even a bit disgusting Red district. Although, well, it is a bit depressing and a bit hard to enjoy. But hey, Game of Thrones (or A Song of Ice and Fire) works.

All in all, great intro to Miéville although I’m going to venture to a lighter literature first before heading back to Miéville’s Bas-Lag. But I’m definitely going to be back.

Rating: ★★★ – Great read. A bit hard to swallow at first, and its ending is perhaps a bit too depressing for some.

“Ready Player One”: Book Review

Ready Player One - Cover“Ready Player One” on the outset, is a yet another young adult genre. Its main protagonist claimed herself (or himself, in this case) to be no more than just an ordinary teenager. But as the story progresses, this “ordinary” teenager would becomes a reluctant hero that saves the world against the Power that Be.

What makes “Ready Player One” a notch more enjoyable for me, compared to other young adult genre, is that Video Games took a big big role in the book. There was a prevalent virtual world in the book’s universe quite similar to “Second Life.” That is if “Second Life” is at least as massive and significantly more prevalent as Facebook nowadays (does “Second Life” is still live?).

It also borrows heavily on MMORPG concept which strikes a familiar tune to yours truly here. To an uninitiated, in an MMORPG world, you run around in a virtual world, doing quests, solving puzzles, killing monsters, and getting rewards in doing so.

In “Ready Player One,” the virtual world has evolved to become its own “real world.” It has real economy, real (and clear) social status within, real job, real school system, and for a lot of people, just like our hero, a real life. Because for them, the real real life is too depressing.

Anyways, it so happens that the virtual world creator (or founder, which better fits the theme of the book) has left a series of cryptic clues that will led the solver to a hidden “treasure” inside this virtual world. This “treasure” would allow anyone who found and possess it with what many would’ve guessed as near as unlimited power as you could get within the virtual world.

And because the virtual world in this book is essentially the “real world” with real economy and real currency the “treasure” is priceless. It was worth killing for so to speak. And the hunt becomes a world-wide obsession with some groups forming some kind of an evil alliance that will do everything, extortion, mass murder, everything to reach the “treasure” ahead of everyone else.

Naturally, our hero solves the first clue first and because the high-score system visible to anyone inside the virtual world, it puts a big target on his back. The hunt now revolves around him.

The clues are another reason I fell prey to this book as they includes a number of obscure references that I’m actually familiar with. Rush (that progressive old-school band hailing from Canada) is a prime example of it. I would not say that nobody ever heard of Rush but I could imagine that the intersection between those who are familiar with Rush and also read this book to be quite small.

But at the end of the day, the book is still a young adult book. A fast read, but not very rewarding because you felt that you had read something similar before. I’m still looking forward for the film’s adaptation though, and with Steven Spielberg on helm, it should be interesting.

“The Forever War”: Book Review

The Forever War - Cover“The Forever War” has been more or less considered as a staple of science-fiction book, a must read because of its importance and its influence. All in all, it is a safe assumption to made that when you had more or less wade into the realm of science fictions, you are bound to hear about this book. Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War.” I will not bother you with the details only that it was such a seminal work.

But for some odd reasons, this book remains in my backlog for quite some time, almost forgotten. Until I ran into “Starship Troopers” re-run on TV a few weeks ago. Now, “Starship Troopers” isn’t particularly a great sci-fi film, if you could call it a sci-fi but it was a ton of fun and quite probably the only film where I could stand Denise Richards fully clothed. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I made a mental connection between “Starship Troopers” and “The Forever War” thinking that the film was perhaps loosely based on the book (it’s not) and immediately picking up my Kindle and start reading.

It was a good read.

I was particularly amused by the liberty in which Haldeman described sex, orgy, and those in between, but other that, I’m thoroughly enjoyed the “War” especially more when the main characters are doing their own private Wars in the future Earth rather than out on the frontline in places light years away from Earth.

I also really love the time dilation aspect of the story, once again stretches my imagination beyond its limit to comprehend the vastness of this universe where we are just a tiny, minuscule beings in the middle of vast nothingness that is space, and finally simply give in to acknowledge, once again, that we are nothing. Nothing.

Though how the “War” ended might felt too abrupt and too simple, it was for me, a great note to deliver Haldeman’s criticism of War in general. Him, being a Vietnam veteran who must’ve seen some things that forever scarred his conscience during the War. The Real War where death is anything but certain in the air.

A quintessential read for space science fiction lovers? I would say “Yes.”

“The Three-Body Problem”: Book Review

The Three-Body Problem

“The Three-Body Problem” is the first science-fiction works I read that comes from China. Interesting read. A bit too hard, but also quite an ambitious one.

The good: Heard of Fermi paradox? Basically, a physicist named Enrico Fermi says that given the size of the universe, we can’t be alone. This paradox is best expressed as a single question. “Where is everybody?”

I’ve always thought and believed that humans can’t be the only sentient beings in this whole universe. We are not that special. Though I may not be seeing the evidence of such alien life in my lifetime but nonetheless, I know that they were there. They are maybe as clueless as we are about the existence of other sentient beings. Or, in a worse but as likely scenario, they have already known about us, but then dismissed us as we are clearly an underdeveloped beings, not worth their time to made a contact.

This book is yet another sci-fi work around this paradox. The title is also a reference to an orbital mechanics problem of the same name. The gist of this Three-Body Problem is that there’s simply no way, except in some special cases, to determine the motion of three bodies as they are generally non-repeatable. The book introduced this problem through a virtual reality simulation that took place in a world where instead of one, had three suns. The problematic and the general unpredictability movements of these suns was the main brain teaser of this book.

As a casual reader with a penchant of science fiction especially dealing with large objects, universes, space, and its many relationships, I found this book to be a very enjoyable read.

The bad: A reddit user, through this thread, laid out his problem with this book. Although I’m not going to defend nor deny that there were problems, I felt the book’s problems were generally common in a hard science fiction genre. Hard science fiction has to touch and explain a topic that sometimes a little bit beyond reach of most readers. And therefore, a careful explanation is often required. This is a tricky balance to navigate between lecturing and confusing the readers.

The characters are, to be quite honest, cardboards. Usually featuring one or two exemplary character that often a manifestation of the writer’s own narcissism. Not so uncommon in the genre. In all fairness though, I think if one is knowingly going to dive into this particular genre, he or she is would most likely expecting ideas rather than memorable characters.

The last third is kinda flat but I’m more than willing to let it slide.

Ultimately, this book, had led my curiosity to learn about at least two new things. The Chinese Cultural revolution, and the Three-Body Problem itself. These new curiosities are easily worth more than the few hours I had spent to read this book..

Notable Fact: The book was written by a Chinese author, and it is my first time to read any book from a Chinese author. I made a mistake to read his “About Me” section because it gives me a signal that the author is a bit pompous (to which most of the reason why I’m attributing “the manifestation of the writer’s own narcissism” to this work of his in previous paragraph) of his own accomplishments. Though for a very good reason, I felt that it was a bit unnecessary.

It is a refreshing air. I have never read any science fictions except from English or American authors and naturally, their views tend to be Americans or English. The first part of this book deals with Chinese Cultural Revolution and it is succinct enough for me to warrant a few more extended trips to Wikipedia to delve more into the subject.

This is why I read. I was given a chance to glimpse into Chinese Cultural Revolution and though merely on the surface,  into a Three-Body Problem.