Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

My favorite books of all time are Stephen King's Dark Tower series. They're fantastic. The fact that my wife wasn't crazy about them only shows that her good taste in men doesn't carry over to books. That being said, when I heard that King was going to be revisiting the series years after it was concluded with another story, I was moderately conflicted. On the one hand, the fact that I like the books so much should mean that I'd enjoy a new book just as much. On the other hand, the series was over, the story had been told and I didn't want King to turn into George Lucas who can't seem to leave a good thing alone. My concerns proved to be unwarranted. The book was just as good as the rest of the series and it fit in perfectly.

Chronologically the book takes place between books 4 & 5. Roland and his tet are taking shelter along the path of the beam from a deadly storm called a Starkblast. While they're there Roland relates two stories, or rather, a story that includes within it, the telling of another story. The story he tells took place when Roland first became a Gunslinger. He and Jamie DeCurry were sent to Debaria to look into reports of a skin-man (a shape-shifter), who had killed dozens of its residents. A young boy named Bill Streeter survived one of the attacks and Roland needs him in order to identify who the skin-man is while in human form.

While he's keeping watch over Bill one night, he tells him a story that comes from the Magic Book of Eld. That story is about a young boy who went on a dangerous journey in order to seek out the magician Maerlyn who he believes can cure his mother's blindness.

Each of the stories contained within this book is great. The book illustrates once again why King is head and shoulders above all his peers. If you've never read the DT series, I HIGHLY recommend it. But not until you've read other books by King that tie into the series first: The Stand, Salem's Lot, Insomnia, It, The Eyes of the Dragon, & The Shining. There are several other books and short stories that have a connection to the series, but the connections are pretty superficial and it really doesn't matter which you read first.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A couple of years after introducing the world to the detective on Baker Street in A Study in Scarlet, Doyle followed up with The Sign of Four. In it Holmes and Watson are solicited by a woman named Mary Morstan, whose father died under unusual circumstances years ago and who for the past several years has been receiving an anonymous gift in the mail every year - a rare and beautiful pearl.

As the pair investigate both the death of Miss Morstan's father as well as the origins of the pearls, they discover that the pearls are part of a much larger treasure, a treasure that was discovered and hidden years ago by four men. Among those four men were Miss Morstan's father and the father of the man sending the pearls. Once again Sherlock Holmes uses his remarkable powers of observation and deduction to solve the mystery surrounding the four men and the treasure.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Long Earth

by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
(The Long Earth series #1)

You can do a lot with a potato. You can mash it, bake it (once or twice), broil it, turn it into french fries, potato chips, etc. If you're Dan Quayle, the "potatoe" was a source of never-ending torment and ridicule. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter use it to power a device that allows people to "step" across to alternate versions of planet earth.

See, the earth isn't a single planet, it's merely one in a series of planets that have existed linearly since the universe began. When this long chain of earths began, they were essentially identical, but as eons passed, they became wildly divergent. The things that happened on and shaped the world we live on, didn't happen on all the other earths. On some, the meteor strike that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs never took place. On some, life never made its way out of the oceans. Life on each planet, if it was able to, evolved along an independent path.

In the first quarter of the 21st century, this earth saw the invention of the "stepper." The stepper was essentially a box, simple enough that almost anyone could build. Throw in some wires, a spring or two, and a potato to power it, and it enabled a person to step to the next earth in either direction. The inventor of the stepper put the instructions for building it online to ensure that the ability to step was available to anyone who wanted it. And many did.

Inner cities started to empty as people sought a better life on supposedly uninhabited planet earths. Those burdened with debts sought a fresh start. Adventurers now had an unlimited number of places to explore and gradually the diffusion of humans across the Long Earth grew.

But there are some people who don't require a stepper to step. It's realized that some people can do it naturally and it's discovered that the ability to step has been around for thousands of years, and not every stepper is human.

I'll read anything with Terry Pratchett's name on it. He's one of my favorite authors and it will be a sad day for me if and when he looses his battle with a form of Alzheimer's. I had however, never read anything before by Stephen Baxter. I had heard about him and seen his name on books coauthored with Arthur C. Clarke, so I assumed he was pretty good as well. Turns out, he is.

For me though, The Long Earth took awhile to get going. For most of the book I felt like the plot was conspicuously missing. The premise of the story was great, and the description of the different worlds was wonderful, but I wanted a compelling plotline to follow too. This book also showed a different side of Terry Pratchett. It's humorous, but not anything like his Discworld series.

I shouldn't make it sound like I didn't enjoy the book, because I definitely did. It's incredibly creative and I look forward to follow-up books to be written. But I do feel like it took a little too long to get to the plot, and the pace of the story was a little too uniform. Hopefully that's just because it's the first in a new series and the authors wanted to take the time necessary to set the stage for things to come. Because the Long Earth offers an unlimited supply of future stories.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆