Last time on Literal Daze, we were terrified, blinded, and… clipped? I don’t know any good bird puns. Today, we’re going to take a look at two new and vastly different genres; Heroic Fantasy and Cyberpunk. Actually, they’re probably not that different when you think about it. They come from the broader “Fantasy” and “Sci-Fi” genres, which are practically two sides of the same coin. Orson Scott Card once said, half-jokingly, that the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction is that one has trees and the other has rivets. That’s it. I actually don’t think he was too far off.
In any case, I’m rambling now, so on to the reviews.
Neuromancer (William Gibson)
The thing is, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t have time to waste reading stuff I don’t want to read. When I was younger, it felt almost like a heresy to put a book away before finishing it, and sometimes I still feel the same way. Here though, I had no problem putting it aside.
It’s not so much that it’s a bad book. There are actually some pretty interesting concepts in it, and I imagine that for its time, it was revolutionary in terms of genre fiction. However, after the first quarter of the book or so, it became a chore to continue reading. By a third of the way through, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. The main issue is that everything simply feels too abstract to me for me to care. The protagonist is a master inside of this virtual world, but everything is so vaguely defined that I had a hard time telling what was even going on half the time.
I think that, under the right mindset, I could possibly enjoy this book. I have no doubt that it gets better later on. Maybe one rainy weekend, when I have nothing else to do and I’ve rightly steeled my will, I’ll pick this one up again and go for it. Until then though, I have better things to do, and better books to read.
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
I have to admit, even though I always try to set aside preconceptions when reading a new book, it was hard to avoid with this one. Chatter about The Kingkiller Chronicle (of which this is the first book) was all over the internet for years before I picked this up, and it only got louder as the second installment was released earlier in the Spring of 2011. I’d heard a great deal about it, everything from “this books is amazing” to “don’ waste your time” to everything in between. On top of this, I had to set aside my usual indifference for Fantasy in general. When it comes to genre fiction, I generally prefer Science Fiction, Horror, or Thrillers over Fantasy, so it took some self-motivation to finally check this one out.
I have to say, I’m glad I did.
The main draw in this book is unquestionably the main character Kvothe (pronounced almost like “quoth”). We essentially follow his life from childhood up through his teenage years. In many ways, he’s your stereotypical fantasy hero – he’s handsome, charming, unusually intelligent, and has a propensity for problem solving. He’s still young, so we can’t exactly say he’s super athletic and strong yet, but you can pretty much guess that’s how he ends up.
Despite all of this, however, he isn’t as stereotypical as he first appears on the surface, which is where the story’s true charm comes in. The novel is told mostly in flashback form. Kvothe owns a small inn in a remote village, and when a scribe seeks him out to hear his story, he agrees on the condition that he is given three full days to tell it, and that nothing will be changed from what Kvothe tells him. This novel is the first day’s story, and the flashbacks are told in first-person. Why am I going to this much detail to outline the structure of the novel? Because it’s actually quite important to the theme at the heart of this story. You see, by the time Kvothe tells his story, he’s already a legend. People love him, hate him, fear him, and adore him. Stories of his adventures are told throughout the land, and everyone knows the name Kvothe. And all this by the time he’s 30 years old.
So you see, Kvothe is a legend in his own time, and this book is about him telling the true story of how he became a legend, from his own point of view. We hear the origins of his mythos, and how the real story wasn’t always as incredible as the legend. Sometimes things happened more or less how people say they did, and other times the truth isn’t nearly so dramatic or heroic. Many of them are stories Kvothe made up himself, simply to further his own reputation. As he says many times, for much of his young life, his reputation was his only possession of any value, and so he wanted to make the most of it.
The only real criticism I have of the novel is the fact that, despite it being quite long and covering a large chunk of Kvothe’s life, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot happens of any significance. The event that sets the real plot in motion happens fairly early in the book, and though it’s brought up several times throughout, it doesn’t feel like it’s the main driver for everything else. There’s a lot of dead time in there. It’s still fun to read, but other than supporting this idea of “building the legend”, there’s not much to it.
Still, despite that, it’s a fantastic read. Even when it feels like nothing is happening, you can’t help but enjoy it simply to keep reading about this fascinating character. When something as mundane as a college lecture can become a page-turning, thrilling (and in this case, hilarious) read, you know you have something special. I only hope that the real good stuff starts creeping into the second book. But hey, even if it doesn’t, I don’t think it’ll matter. This story is about Kvothe, and whatever is happening to him, that’s what I want to read about.
Make sure and join me next time as I wander through Middle Earth with the BBC radio-play dramatization of The Hobbit, and put my thinking cap on for (what else?) the next chapter of the Kingkiller Chronicle series, The Wise Man’s Fear.