Archive for July, 2011

Fantasy Runs Amok

Eldest by Christopher Paolini
The writings of Eragon are the lamentations of readers…

NOTE: I listened to this on audiobook, so espect to find the names and places probably hideously misspelled. I would make an effort to correct the spelling if I cared.

Eragon and the Vardan have defeated Galbatorix’s forces at Farthen Dur. But Eragon’s journey has only begun. He must now travel to Ellesmera to learn the ways of the dragon riders from the Elves. Meanwhile, his cousin, Roran, must defend his home of Carvahall from the Raz’ac.

But you might recognize it better as:

Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance have defeated the Empire’s Death Star. But Luke’s journey has only begun. He must now travel to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi from the last remaining Jedi Master, a crazy old alien, Yoda. Meanwhile, Leia must defend the Millennium Falcon from Darth Vader and retrieve Han, her true love, from his clutches.

I strove hard and long to find something admirable, enjoyable about this book. After much head-scratching I have one thing: Oromis teaching Eragon magic. Don’t ask me why those parts interested me, but they did (few and far between though they be). Oh, no, wait, I have another favorite part: Vanna (White?) the Elf smack Eragon around. God, that almost makes the book worth reading. Well, not really…

Other than these two very teeny, tiny blips on the Eldest radar, I found the “story” painful to listen to, hour after agonizing hour. I must be an ascetic, for mustering through almost 24 hours of this mess. Actually, I probably listened to less, as I tended to wander off mentally only to return and find that absolutely nothing had happened! It’s sad, when you’re reading a novel only to learn that half of what you are reading isn’t even important to the story. It’s either a big, red warning sign that the author is writing piles and piles of fluff or that the editor fell asleep while editing the draft. In Eldest’s case, I believe it was both.
As we saw in Eragon, the characters in Eldest are terrible, starting with Eragon, our loosely-defined “hero” and a pitifully concealed variant of Aragorn/Luke Skywalker. (NOTE: Be prepared for copious comparison to LOTR and Star Wars, as Paolini loved both so much, he decided to write a fanfic about them hooking up and having babies. Eragon and Eldest are those “babies.) Unlike either Aragorn or Luke, he is the most boring, bland, uninteresting, emotionless, stupid, insipid (yes, I can use big words too!) protagonists I’ve ever read. Eragon never feels anything, he just cries out in anger or pain. The audience never feels any of his anger or pain, we are just told he has it. We suffer through his never-ending descriptions of descriptions of descriptions of everything around him, told with wide-eyed awe that made me wonder if this guy had been locked in a box as a child. We grimace as he stumbles over wooing Arya. We wince as things that are obvious, such as whether the Twins are traitors (they are, it’s not a secret, you could tell in Eragon), are completely beyond him. We are belabored with reading him study such anachronistic subjects like electricity, magnetism, modern physics (Gravity!), and microbiology (milk spoils because of tiny organisms). I suppose if this novel had been established as a steampunk novel like The Golden Compass, this could have worked, but as it stands, this only shows how “enlightened” the Elves and Eragon are, to be studying these odd subjects (Medieval Elves know about microorganisms that spoil milk? People don’t think electricity and magnetism are magic?). My head spent most of these sessions impacting a desk. I have the bruises as proof. And when Eragon becomes an Elf in the most contrived manner…I am still recovering from that one.
Then we have Arwen—I mean, Arya. We learn here that she is—GASP!—a princess. Really, did no one see that coming? About the only other plot twist they could throw at us is if she is Eragon’s sister. She is the most distant, cold, uninviting character (not Elf, not female, not protagonist, character) I’ve ever encountered. How are we supposed to want Eragon to fall in love with her when I’ve seen granite with more personality?! How are we supposed to think she is so much better than dwarves when she is the one to start a fight with a dwarf about religion (she barges into their temple and begins to tell them how stupid they are to believe in gods with no provocation)? Why are we supposed to feel anything when she reunites with her mother, Queen Iszlanzardi? And what the heck was the beef between them anyway? Why bother to bring it up if there isn’t even going to be a fight or a growth or a purpose to the difference of opinion?
Then we have the poor forsaken Gimli-clone that accompanies Eragon. He is almost completely forgotten in the book, so much so that the author at one point finally remembers him and has Eragon comment on it. Why is he even in this book? What does he contribute to the story? Oh, right, can’t knock a story when there really isn’t one.
Then we have all the characters that are basically carbon-copies of Star Wars and LOTR. Eragon is Luke with Aragorn’s name, Arya is Arwen/Leia, Murtagh is Han, Galbatorix is the Emperor/Darth Vader, Morzan is Darth Vader, Brom is Obi-Wan, Nasuada is Eowyn, Ajihad is Theoden, the Twins are Wormtongue, Orik is Chewbacca, Oromis is Yoda, Roran is Leia, Katrina is Han Solo…about the only character that could possibly be considered his own is Angela, but even she is supposedly based off his sister. That doesn’t even include the Dwarves, Elves and Orcs (called Urgals) from Lord of the Rings. In the hands of a good author, this could be done decently, so that the characters pay homage to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings without being half-@ssed rip offs, but Paolini is far from a good author.
Worse than the characters, which I could at least stand in Eragon (I’ll admit, Brom was my favorite and it was shame when he died), the story is hideously, mind-numbingly boring. Absolutely nothing happens throughout the book! It’s all a long, boring retelling of journeys: one of Eragon’s and another of Roran’s.
Eragon is sent to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi under the tutelage of Yoda, the Last Jedi.
Oops, I meant Eragon is sent to Ellesmera to learn the ways of the Dragon Riders under the tutelage of Oromis, the actual last Dragon Rider. It’s so easy to make that mistake, since not only did Paolini steal SW characters, but also stole the entire plot of The Empire Strikes Back.
Now, I realize that Eragon’s plot was pretty much identical to A New Hope. But I could at least ignore the similarities by yelling profanities at the offending sections or getting lost in the fast pace of the novel. Eldest doesn’t even bother to disguise the plot, preferring to spend pages upon pages on nothing. It lingers too long in Farthen Dur, too long on the journey to Ellesmera, so that Eragon doesn’t even reach it until around Chapter 27 (which might not sound like much since the book is a freakin’ 77 chapter doorstopper, but when you are listening to it hour after agonising hour, it is forever). So what happens in those 27 chapters? Well, if you guessed fighting battles, intense chase scenes, or standoffs with the bad guys, go to the corner and sit there and think about what you just did!! No, Paolini fills his “epic” fantasy with each agonizing step of the journey. I wouldn’t be surprised if Paolini detailed each day of the journey. Every stop is given in excruciating detail. Every race Eragon meets gives him long, boring lectures about their culture, their language, their religion, their clothes…anything and everything to pad this story out. Every trip down a river, every haul up a hill is recounted, every time they sent up camp…be prepared for a nap, folks!
Even when we finally get to Ellesmera, the story doesn’t pick up. Instead, we trudge through Eragon’s thoughts about ants (THRILLS!), Oromis’ mind-boggling lessons on morality and ethics (CHILLS!), and Paolini’s barely concealed opinions on religion, veganism, and marriage (may I climb out the window SILLS?). No wonder my favorite part was where Vanna whips Eragon. That’s the only scene where anything happens!
The second “story” is Roran’s story of what happened in Carvahall. Wasn’t that the guy who scooted off at the beginning of Eragon to try to make money to marry that chick? So…why is he here? Why was he ignored all through Eragon but now his story is important? Roran leads his people, Moses-like, out of Carvahall to the South to the safety of the Vardan. I have loads of insults for the stupidity of the townfolk, leaving their village at the whim of one man, to the clichéd motivational speech Roran gives, to yet another damsel-in-distress (women in these novels are just terrible, they can’t keep themselves from being kidnapped for the life of them), to another horrible, awkward romance, to the complete misunderstanding of how the world works, but I really don’t care enough about this part to dredge them up. Insert your own witticisms here.
By the way, has anyone noticed that there is little explanation to why the Empire is bad? Okay, so we have the Raz’ac killing the folks of Carvahall, but that is only because of Eragon/Roran, and only because the dragon egg was stolen from Galbatorix. Last time I checked, thieves were punishable by law. If someone had stolen something from Eragon, he darn well would have gotten a horse and rode off to beat that thief’s @ss…why wouldn’t the government do something similar? If given the mind, one could reason that the Vardan are the enemies, for stealing, for being terrorists, and for being traitors to the government (and with how corrupt the Council are, an odd bit of realism in this stereotypical fantasy, it’s not a hard thought to wrap your head around). If you are going to make bad guys, you show them being bad guys. You show Galbatorix and Morzan killing people, oppressing people, stealing for no reason, burning down rows of pretty blue flowers, etc., not just tell the audience they are bad and expect us to root for Eragon and the Vardan.
Now we get to the fun part: the writing style. Oh, God Almighty, the writing style. Paolini is very aware he’s trying to write an epic, because it sounds just like an epic should. Well, a quick glance shows it sounding like an epic should. If you read with any modicum of attention, you’ll see that it reads like the worst LOTR fanfiction on the internet. Too much time is spent on needless descriptions (Oh, yes, let’s describe each of the Dwarves gods and goddesses!), padded wording, and clichéd phrases. Some of the worst passages I’ve found include:
“Slippers flashing beneath her dress, like mice darting from a hole.” WORST. DESCRIPTION. EVER. Mice now dart out of a hole, back into the hole, and out of the hole, all in quick rapid succession? Was this really the best way to describe…what is Paolini describing???
“Eragon surreptitiously watched the Elf, curious to what he looked like without his clothes.” Uh, and why is Eragon hitting on Arya and pouting when he fails disastrously?
“Eragon savored the epics as he might a well-cooked meal.” Who said you couldn’t eat what you read?
“Anxiety ran through his voice like a taut bow string.” Run, Anxiety, run! Get away from the bad simile!
“gyrating walls of ebony water” No, I would say “purple”, as in “purple prose”.
And then, of course, as I’ve briefly touched on earlier, Paolini breaks some of the author’s Golden Rules. “Show, don’t tell”. “Good prose should be invisible”. “Don’t lose the pacing by trying to describe your setting”. “The word ‘said’ is your best friend in dialogue.” And so on.
And now, I get into the audiobook. Most of the time, I don’t bother to comment, as the narrators do a good job at narrating. But I absolutely hated one thing about this narrator: his voices. They weren’t bad, even if the women were nearly impossible to tell apart from the men, but the absolute low point was the dragons. For the dragons, the narrator growled in a low, deep, raspy voice. This wasn’t bad for a short sentence here and there, but for long, long, long passages (which Paolini writes a lot of), it was so bad, I was very close to skipping over the section, just to stop listening to the horrible voice.
If you are interested in reading a cross-over fan fiction of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, I recommend you go to fan-fiction.net. If you want to read horrible characters, unending descriptions, bad romance, and a thin as plastic wrap plot stretched over 71 chapters that reads like Star Wars with characters and settings from Lord of the Rings, read Eldest. If you didn’t like Eragon, Eldest will only make you madder.
(Review submitted by a Shelf of Shame blogger!)

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7th Son: Descent by J. C. Hutchins
I honestly think this book gave me a concussion. But first, a plot summary.NOTE: I received this from the Amazon Vine program (and regret every moment of it).Seven men are abducted and find out they are all clones named John Michael Smith. A supersecret government organization (and really, what ones aren’t?) has created them to…look cute in Christmas cards? To say “I’m in two places at once”? I’ve finished the book, and I’m still not sure. Anyway, John Michael Smith Alpha, the original source material, has gone mad science experiment, kidnapped their “mother”, and is generally wreaking lots of havoc. So our seven clones have to band together and stop him.The One Reason Reading This Book Wasn’t a Horrible Decision:The cloning idea was interesting (hence, why I requested this book in the first place). I’ve always been a nerd for cloning stories. Also, when the action FINALLY gets into gear, Hutchins writes it well.

Okay, so that’s two, but frak it, after all the damage this book has done to my brain, I think I have an excuse for being unable to count.

The Ten Reasons Why Reading This Book Is Totally Not Worth the Above One Reason:
(in absolutely no order because I don’t want to bother to take the time to try to rank all these horrors to humanity)

1. The Introduction. When I first tried to read this, I couldn’t get two pages past the first chapter. Not only do we have the most unbelievable intro (a four-year-old CHILD kills a PRESIDENT and yells obscenities?!), but then we are thrust into the post-coital life of John. He has just finished boinking Sarah and is off for more cigarettes. Number one, the child assassin is completely unbelievable, even if it is later explained in a semi-understandable way. Number two, I don’t care about this John character and mentioning his amazing sex life as an introduction to him is NOT going to make me care about him more. If I hadn’t been so desperate to get this book out of my to-read shelf, I would never have come back to it.

2. Stereotypical characters. Every. Single. Character. Is a stereotype. I am not joking. It’s disgusting and frustrating. No wonder I smacked my head so much with this book (Note to self: Punish the BOOK not YOURSELF when reading)! No wonder I found myself screaming at it. And in case you don’t believe me, here’s a slice:
Michael: Marine. Says “hoss” and “fubar”. Can organize a strike force and invade any building, even if he may or may not be trained for that because Marines can do ANYTHING. The only thing that breaks him from the mold is his homosexuality, but that is another topic for discussion.
John: The “free-floating” musician. Bartender and self-proclaimed “black sheep”. Must be the resident Marty Stu or Author Avatar, because he damn near narrates the whole thing (including going to a Club for a military-ish mission) and pretty much is uber awesome despite doing zippo.
Thomas: Pudgy priest. Bawls on command and rubs rosary beads so we know that, like, he’s totally into God. Oh, yeah, and he worries about being soulless, because, you know, he’s totally into God.
Kilroy2.0: The computer geek. Constantly called a lunatic and giggles. Oh, yeah, and obscenely overweight because, you know, all of us that spend a lot of time on the internet or with computers are 300+ pounds. Oh, yeah, and lives in a room with no lights, no windows, and no human contact (fortunately, it is NOT his parents’ basement). How did this book get so many podcast downloads? This is basically like smacking everyone who does stuff on the computer in the face with a brick.
Jay: UN simpering wuss–I mean, “lobbyist” (or whatever, it doesn’t ultimately matter). The wife wears the pants in the relationship. I’m surprised he doesn’t regularly wet himself with the way he acts in here.
Jack: The pot-belly, bearded geneticist. Oh, he also has a family…not that that fact is very important except for the random times he wants to throw it in there to remind us.
Dr. Mike: Criminologist occasionally called a “politician” for whatever reason. He’s loud, obnoxious and unlikeable. Oh, and he doesn’t have a sig-o, probably because he’s so loud, obnoxious and unlikeable.
John Alpha: Crazy mad clone (sorta) who runs away with technology that makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE for him to be able to obtain.
Not to mention, we also get a racist Texan oil tycoon who comes down on presidents who don’t call in two days time, a 70+ year-old vice president who gets a hard on for a buxom Indian woman even though he is married and has children/grandchildren, a fat, smoking Russian soldier, and an evil, insane Nazi scientist (because NO good conspiracy story is without one of those). Atrocious.
3. Pop culture references. I swear to God, Hutchins must have gotten paid by the reference, because the pages are littered with them. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Frankenstein, Ben Affleck, Short Circuit, Star Wars…and those are only the ones I recognized/remembered!
4. Excessive amount of time dedicated to “backstory”. The first chapter is over, and all seven clones have been kidnapped. The next almost 200 pages then hem and haw around the shiny new 7th Son facility, the cloning tanks, the cloning technology, the mind transferring technology, several bigwig meetings, a bunch of asking the same questions over and over again, and other padding that made me want to scream when one of the bigwigs goes, “Oh, and we have to find your mother QUICKLY”. QUICKLY?!?! Yes, let’s brood for 200 pages and THEN get on to finding that mother of yours. I don’t care if the in-book time is a whopping one day, I, as a reader, am sick of reading about all this made-up science and canyon deep plot holes!! Let’s get to the thriller part already!
5. Unclear objective. At one point, the clones’ “father” reveals that the men were cloned to “make a team”, but that is one bullsh!t of an answer if I’ve ever heard of one. I almost prefer the “nature vs. nurture” idea, but, of course, that doesn’t have enough government conspiracy in it (and is REALLY a stupid use of bajillions of government money). WHY would being around 6 other copies of yourself mean that you are more efficient? Wouldn’t they also have your flaws? Wouldn’t they have developed their own differences that would make them potentially less able to work together? What if all the men had chosen different paths from their life plan? And if you are one of the clones and don’t KNOW the other 6 men until you are randomly thrown back together after, say, 16 years, how can you say you would IMMEDIATELY start working well with them, like our seven idiots do here? There are so many unspoken questions I have about this great “plan”.
6. The puzzles are either ludicrously simple or just plain ludicrous. The first “clue” is a Morse Code bit that translates into music which translates into other stuff. This takes our 7 clones a whopping 5 minutes to decipher. I guess NO OTHER SCIENTIST was a musician (because, you know, scientists are just geeky science nerds who have no other hobbies than their job) or knew Morse Code or was a psychiatrist or all the other things that were SUPPOSEDLY needed to solve this puzzle. Laughable. And then, when John Alpha leaves a second clue (this time five months prior), I have to go, “Huh?! What is THIS all about?!”
7. Out for REVENGE! Villains never have any real good reason to be villains anymore. They are always out for that simple “revenge”. And it’s no different here. John Alpha wants to kill because of revenge (and Nazis, because Nazis are so easy to identify as being BAD and make writing SO EASY and UNIMAGINATIVE). Every scene with him or Devlin is groan-worthy (and what is the POINT of including them, anyway???). I could have identified the “bad guys” in a blind line-up just by the way they talked and acted!
8. Almost exclusively written in John’s point of view. John had to be one of the most boring of the seven. Which must have been why EVERYTHING was written from his point of view (or if it wasn’t, the viewpoint character drooled all over his awesomeness). It particularly made the scenes were EVERYONE calls his sig-o awkward, as we hadn’t seen their point of view since they got captured 200 pages prior. And what the HELL was up with that scene, anyway? I don’t CARE what ALL seven clones are doing in the 15 minutes they are allotted to speak to their loved ones if the conversations are essentially THE EXACT SAME!!
9. Michael the Marine. So I don’t have a problem that he’s gay. I do have a problem that he so easy-going about revealing his orientation while being in the military. I don’t see how he would avoid getting bullied and teased if he were so carefree about his sexuality (it’s a sad world, I don’t like it, but it happens–I’ve gotten that impression from my father, who is retired Navy). Furthermore, I hated how Hutchins often would go something like “The conversation Michael and Gabe were having were just like the one Jack was having with his wife”. Oh, REALLY?! Why would it ever NOT be? Gabe and Michael are in a serious relationship; I would never have thought their conversation would be anything BUT intense, just LIKE Jack and his wife’s conversation. Thank you for needlessly clarifying this, Hutchins. Lastly, I hated how Michael and Gabe were the only couple “struggling” because of Michael’s absences (at one point, Gabe says one day he won’t be home waiting for Michael when Michael returns). Why is it that all the other clones’ women can provide unending encouragement and understanding, but the one gay couple can’t? I don’t think Michael’s character deserved to be treated like that.
10. Plot contrivances/holes/chasms. Just a sampling of what is jingling around in my brain: How did John Alpha leave the facility with cloning equipment? How is he able to download Devlin’s data from inside a high security prison? How can he download Devlin’s mind into so many people with practically NO ONE knowing? Why does no one mention the FOUR YEAR OLD CHILD he stole and KILLED more often? Why are NONE of the victims and their families mentioned? Why is Dania allowed to leave 7th Son with her knowledge? Why does no one suspect her? How does John Alpha know so much about the 7 clones? Why were 7 clones created? If the goal was to make efficient teams, why, when the experiment was proved a success, did they not try to form a team out of these men and test their teamwork abilities? Why are there no other teams of 7 in production? Where is the new technology that would have taken over the 3 football sized storage room? Why did the 7th Son team let John Alpha “help” in the cloning process? How did NO ONE see him becoming a psychopath? If he was raised perfectly, wouldn’t that have been “weeded out” already?I didn’t honestly want to give this one star nor did I set out to. I get no joy out of dissing on an author’s hard work. But I honestly haven’t read something so mind-bashingly awful since…well, probably Eldest (the sequel to Eragon). Only this book is better written. The characters are barely one dimensional, all interchangeable, the story is absurd, the villains are mind-numbing obvious. Although the book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, I am most assuredly NOT going to find out how this series/trilogy ends. Not recommended.Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence: Many f-bombs, particularly by Dr. Mike. John is riding off after some Saturday sex with Sarah. Lots of violence from the prologue, including the death of the president at the hand of a four-year-old.
(Review submitted from a Shelf of Shame reader!)

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