Friday 20 February 2015

Mini Reviews #2: Mistborn - The Final Empire, Valis, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Having been away for a prolonged period of time, it's time to play catch-up again with some more mini-reviews. Round two.

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Here I am embarking on another epic fantasy series after swearing to myself that I would avoid them after several disappointing encounters with other works in the genre. However, the first novel of the Mistborn series proved to be surprisingly entertaining with a well-conceived world and characters that don't fall into typical fantasy cliches. They are flawed and contain a lot more depth in contrast to the usual fanfare. Sanderson proves to be a very capable writer and he can certainly spin a good story full of intrigue, suspense and action but with this novel he seems to be setting the stage for the rest of the series so it feels underwhelming as a whole. I wanted more. I suppose that means the author should be complimented for writing a compelling enough story to keep me interested.

I also want to note that the magical system he creates here is probably one of the best I have ever come across in a fantasy novel albeit, slightly confusing at first. Even though Sanderson doesn't bring anything new to the genre in terms of story (a ragtag group of rebels plan to overthrow a Dark Lord, sound familiar?) I am still curious to see where he goes from here with the next two novels in the series. The best part of the novel for me is the final few chapters which builds up nicely to an explosive finale revealing a lot of key components that opens up the story to countless possibilities. This gives me hope that Sanderson knows what he is doing and actually has a clear idea of where the story is heading instead of other authors who tend to have no clear resolution in sight and just drag the series along. That's right, I'm looking at you Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin. 

Valis by Philip K. Dick

This novel is insane and only the brilliant mind of Philip K. Dick could have written it. Semi-autobiographical, hallucinogenic and overflowing with ideas, the story follows Dick's alter-go named Horselover Fat (Philip in Greek translates to "fond of horses" and Dick in German is "Fat") who believes that he has been touched by the hand of God or some kind of supreme being through a beam of a light that enters his brain. He embarks on a theological quest to seek the "truth" but of course, he is seen by others as a crazy person. Or maybe he is the one who is sane and everyone else is crazy. For those out there who think that science-fiction is cheesy or has nothing significant to offer, look no further than Philip K. Dick to shatter those preconceived notions. Like several of his other novels, this one is far from perfect, containing various flaws in terms of plot development and a lackluster ending but Philip K. Dick has never been renowned for his story-telling abilities. First and foremost he is a philosopher, a man of ideas. Philip K. Dick is one of those special writers dear to my heart. He possesses such a wild and creative imagination and always leaves the reader contemplating the BIG questions of existence, reality and the universe: Valis is unlike anything I have ever read before and there has been nothing ever written like it since.

 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I seem to be in the minority here but I absolutely adored this novel. Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 2008, Junot Diaz came out of the nowhere to snatch the coveted prize much to the disbelief and outrage of the literary world. I'm not one to follow these prestigious book awards but I think the committee might have made the correct choice for once. Granted, Diaz's novel isn't groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination but he has a unique voice, writes beautifully even when using excessive profanity (no small accomplishment) but above all, he packs such raw emotion into the story and characters. You can tell that he really loves his characters, which makes it easy to sympathize with them even though they aren't exactly the most honorable or likable individuals. The title is meant to be facetious because the protagonist's life really isn't all that wondrous--in fact, its actually quite ordinary without a happy ending, full of  sadness and heartbreak. Oscar Wao is a character that I can personally relate to, which helps to explain why this novel resonated with me on a such deep level: he's a book nerd who loves Star Wars and fantasy, shy, introverted,  an outsider, socially awkward, hopeless when it comes to women. Hey, Mr. Diaz, are you sure you didn't happen to base Oscar on me? 

Anyways, the story also doesn't just focus on Oscar himself but contains several flashbacks of his different family members living in the Dominican Republic (his mother, grandfather) and the narrative moves towards the present day when the Wao's eventually immigrate to America. At one point, Oscar's cousin even becomes a narrative voice. This now brings us to the footnotes. You see, not only is the author interested in telling his story, he also wants to provide a history lesson at the same time. Many people are bound to be annoyed by the long, detailed notes that provide a historical background concerning the tumultuous social and political landscape of the Dominican Republic as it transitioned from corrupt fascism to democracy but I actually found it quite informative. Diaz also uses playful rhetoric and humor as well within these footnotes so it's not as if one is being forced to endure a dry and tedious lecture. Furthermore, Diaz manages to touch upon some very important issues such as social displacement, the diaspora, racism, religion, cultural barriers, even the conflicts that arise with generation gaps. Funny, intelligently written, poignant. Diaz has a bright future ahead of him and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. Don't let the hype get to you, this is a great novel that stands tall on its own merits.


  1. Sanderson intrigues me but I honestly can't say that I'll ever read him. Dick on the other hand, is different. I'd like to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. And I just LOVED the movie Total Recall, based on his book We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. ~~~ you'd probably be astounded at the types of movies/series I like to watch. There's quite a few that don't conform to my usual "classics" mode. :-)

  2. To be honest, I have a feeling Sanderson wouldn't be for you. Just a hunch...

    The fact that you are actually interested in reading PKD has made me so happy. You have no idea, I am positively beaming right now. Blade Runner was of course adapted from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" but the book is so much better. Don't get me wrong, the movie is still pretty darn great but I felt they changed too much and didn't stick with the books true vision. Most would probably say it is the best novel to start with but personally, I think "Scanner Darkly" is a little more accessible, gives you a much more vivid sense of his style and it stands as his most "polished" novel. It also happens to be his best, at least in my opinion.

    Total Recall is another great adaptation of his as well. That movie freaked the hell out me out as a kid. I am also surprised you like it so much, this is like a whole new side to you Cleo. :P

    Minority Report with Tom Cruise was pretty underrated. Have you seen that one by any chance?

    Ok, now you got me curious. I must know what movies and tv shows you like! Just don't tell me you are one of those closet Trekkies or Firefly head would explode.