Today we have another audio review from Andrew and Alex. This time we are digging into the critically acclaimed The Priory Of The Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon. It is a giant standalone book that serves as a great introduction to epic fantasy. The review is without spoilers, so jump on in and find out if this gigantic book about dragons and fruit is for you. As always, you may want to turn down your volume as we have trouble controlling the volume of our voice at the start. We’re working on it.
We are back with another audio discussion. This time we are doing book two, The Neutronium Alchemist, in The Night’s Dawn trilogy, by Peter Hamilton. You can find the spoiler-free written review here: Neutronium Alchemist review. The goal of this discussion is to dive a little deeper into the book to better explore what makes them good, bad, and unique. There are a lot of spoilers for the books in these discussions, so if you wish to remain ignorant I recommend you check out the written review. Otherwise, here is the discussion of book two:
And if you are looking for the discussion of book one, it can be found here: The Reality Dysfunction
Nearly two years ago, I sat in Chicago’s beautifully ornate Music Box theatre at the peak of the venue’s 70MM film festival eagerly waiting for the lights to dim and for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to begin. Next to me sat Ian Simmons, a friend, a coworker, and a movie critic/superhero capable of producing three or more podcast reviews per week for his site, Kicking the Seat. Just a few months prior, Ian and I exchanged a few messages about possibly partnering on a podcast series that paired my blog (the now-defunct ColeTries.com, where I posted about my adventures into the unknown and the uncomfortable) with his site. Our first toe-dip into the waters of the collaboration was a viewing of The Fate of the Furious, which we both enjoyed, though for my part (and hopefully Ian’s), not nearly as much as we enjoyed the prospects of our joint interests in storytelling and what makes something “good” or “bad.” Enter Late Screening, a monthly podcast series in which Ian would subject me to a movie I’d never seen before and, by most accounts, should’ve seen long ago. I’m talking classics like Jurassic Park, The Godfather, Citizen Kane, and countless others. We cooked up a list of missed movie opportunities and started scheduling showings.
That first experience led to a cavalcade of horizon-broadening movie-binging that completely changed my outlook as a reader. Game-changing literary or cinematic favorites appear with such irregularity that it’s easy to dismiss new experiences as “not my thing.” On one night I’m tempted to call fateful, 2001: A Space Odyssey, both the film and its prosaic treatment, looked me dead in the eye and overhauled my entire bookish world for the better.
Kubrick’s sci-fi epic fell somewhere in the first few months, and I distinctly remember sitting in the Music Box’s butt-numbing chair hoping desperately that the film wouldn’t bore my brains out. 2 hours and 45 minutes later, I walked home fueled by an insatiable appetite for fan theories, reviews, any piece of content that would tell me more about 2001. The following day, still jarred by Kubrick’s cinematic journey into deep space and what lies within it, I spoke on the podcast and came to the determination on-air that this was a storytelling masterpiece.
And then I read the book.
Perhaps out of sheer aggravation that I wouldn’t shut up about 2001, my then girlfriend (now fiancee–please hold your applause) bought me Arthur C. Clarke’s unique prose treatment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unique is probably an understatement here–Clarke wrote the novel as he and Kubrick developed the film, so neither is a true adaptation of the other. Instead, they exist as slightly different expressions of the same idea. Kubrick’s film boasts incredible scope paired with audiovisual mastery. Clarke’s novel paints a stunning panorama of space’s enormity relative to the human race and somehow makes it entirely relatable.
For me, this one-two punch of near-flawless filmmaking and delectable writing sparked a hunger for a first-class ticket to the massive pantheon of science fiction.
Clarke’s prose in 2001 delicately orbits perfection, often to the point of leaving characterization in its lyrical wake. World-building through resonant and poetic descriptions of space takes control from start to finish. It’s not the best book ever, and it’s not my all-time number one, but it’s damn close. And to me, what matters more is that Clarke’s work left a permanent mark on my bookworm psyche and busted open a page-devouring stargate (editor’s note: Cole has not seen the movie Stargate) in the part of my brain that sees a book on a shelf and demands it be read. 2001 ushered me on a personal interstellar maiden voyage into a genre I would previously avoid for no good reason. While Kubrick’s film made a meteoric rise to the top of my favorite movie list, Clarke’s book ignited a completely new reading frontier. I explored other classics like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to fill the HAL- and Bowman-sized void on my to-read shelves. I’ve plunged headfirst into Peter F. Hamilton’s The Night’s Dawn trilogy (thanks to an added push from the rest of the QTL staff).
Immediately after I came down from the interplanetary high of movie and novel alike, I devoured the remainder of the series in a matter of weeks (regretfully in the case of 3001: The Final Odyssey–stay away at all costs).
Like some of my other favorite stories–Harry Potter, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Fables among them–2001: A Space Odyssey provided me with an endlessly chaseable adrenaline rush. I knew the film was special even as I was watching it for the first time, and I knew the book would change me from the first page. And the results are tangible. Ian and I launched a second series, Page2Screen, to showcase and discuss book-movie adaptations. Notably, A Space Odyssey earned a slot on the schedule, and more recently, that same podcast series opened up yet another genre to me with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.
My fantasy-filled world opened up to include a pillar of the literary world I was content to leave unexplored. To imagine a world without 2001 feels impossible now, and the series of events that brought me there felt like a story worth telling to fellow readers. If you’ve held off on that off-kilter, unread, unfamiliar book, pick it up. It may be your next game-changer.
On March 1, 2019, I metaphorically set aside my library of 300+ physical books to prepare for a deep dive into the world of digital-only reading. Spurred by genuine curiosity, I read strictly on my Kindle for a full quarter of a year, ending on June 1.
As a former paper-only apologist, my 90-day excursion into Jambly McReadalot’s (I had to rename my Kindle after discovering I had about 50 different Kindle-enabled devices connected to my Amazon account, all with generic names) paper-white screen left me shaken to my core. Quite frankly, I enjoyed the whole experience with a few hesitations. Making the abrupt switch–and sustaining it for three months–fueled my newfound appreciation for digital books while simultaneously reminding me of the wonders of physical editions.
Along the way, I read a grand total of three books: Pet Sematary, There’s Seamen on the Poop Deck, and The Neutronium Alchemist. Typically I’d chide myself for low productivity after seeing those numbers, but 1) The third book was more than 1000 pages of dense Sci-Fi prose and 2) I never wanted to set a productivity goal for the project; instead, the point was to see whether good ol’ Jambly acted as a stimulant or a hindrance. Turns out I ended up at about the same reading speed in either medium.
I understand there are factions of digital evangelists that rival paperback purists, but I want to be clear that this piece isn’t meant to sway anyone from one side to the other. I wrote this for the reader who has a Kindle gathering dust, subject to occasional utterances of “Maybe I’ll try that out sometime.” I wrote it for the other reader who’s afraid to bring a beefy paperback on that morning commute but won’t take the digital plunge. It’s an exploration of the ups and downs that inevitably accompany your chosen reading medium, and if you’re wavering even slightly, I hope I can give you the nudge you need open up to the best of both literary worlds.
The Coffee Table Effect (Or The Kitchen Counter Effect)
I devoured Pet Sematary just two weeks after embarking on my adventure with Jambly McReadalot, bolstered by the high of reading in a new way and reading my first Stephen King book. Following that binge and leading into April, I’d look down at my coffee table and see Jambly sitting there, idle, destitute, unused. During a three week stretch, whenever I had a bit of free time, I’d reach instead for my PS4 controller or the TV remote. Simply by virtue of being a device, my Kindle had a distinct disadvantage.
When I’m reading any book, it has a near-permanent space on my coffee table or kitchen counter. Somewhere visible, so it begs for my time. With physical books, this keeps me accountable and effectively steers me away from other content that fights for my attention. There are times when I stare at my bookshelf and just think about the possibility of reading all the tales within. My Kindle? Different story. That mental draw, almost a calling, to read a book contained within the Kindle’s plastic walls diluted to the point of near non-existence.
Eventually, this limitation subsided, perhaps sparked by my growing interest in The Neutronium Alchemist. Still, the psychological roadblock hindered my early interest in my little e-book library.
Train (or Car, or Bus, or Plane, or Boat, you get it) Brain
My morning commute usually gives me 25 to 30 minutes of built-in reading time that I previously used to play mobile games and listen to podcasts. As soon as I switched to digital-only and started reading on the way to and from the office, I doubled my productivity by filling my otherwise free time with a book.
As an added bonus, reading on the train conditioned me for shorter reading spurts than I was used to. I’ve always been a “big chunks” reader, plowing through books in irregular 100+ page bursts. Now, Kindle in-hand, I can easily knock out 20-40 pages during the time I’d otherwise frivolously waste on Clash of Clans. That shift has seeped into my other reading habits as well; now I’ll sneak a quick chapter before dinner or flip through a few pages while I wait for a friend at the movie theater.
The most challenging aspect of this monumental shift in how I read is returning to physical volumes during my commute. I’m just starting Peter Hamilton’s The Naked God, which, at 1300 pages, is a brick of a book. Reading on the train is comparatively clunky and taxing, but my longing for paper currently outweighs my need for convenience.
Progress At A Glance
I’m stuck in the mental purgatory of constantly wishing to know how far I’ve read while also hoping not to see unwelcome reminders of said progress. A physical book’s page numbers offer the tried-and-true solution.
The Kindle offers various methods of progress tracking. The percentage measure seems to reign supreme based on my limited research, and I assume the option exists to turn off any progress meter completely.
During my readings of Pet Sematary and There’s Seamen on the Poop Deck, I welcomed the percentage meter because it rose steadily at a reasonable pace. When The Neutronium Alchemist entered the fray, the soul-crushing reminder that I hadn’t even ticked that meter up by 1% after what felt like 20 pages wore me down. It’s simple math, of course, but seeing my progress felt more like an obstacle than an encouragement.
Purchasing a novel on a Kindle is the book-buying equivalent of a one night stand. It happens quickly, gives you a fleeting jolt of satisfaction, then leaves you feeling empty.
This gripe, in all likelihood, is personal to me, but buying any book on Jambly McReadalot left me feeling vapid. Half of my love for reading stems from trips to the bookstore with the anticipation of a new literary discovery. I can remember where I bought most of my books, the others I considered purchasing, and why I chose the book at hand. The Kindle makes this experience robotic, and I felt drained, rather than excited, after buying a book and waiting for the download meter to reach 100%.
Best of Both Worlds
By no means an expert after three months, but now seasoned enough to make some sort of judgment, I’m happy I’ve started to explore the possibilities of digital reading. I’ll put it as simply as I can: reading Kindle-only for three months took me from my extreme paper-only point of view and opened up a new, convenient option with its own inherent benefits. I may not be an e-book radical, but I’m certainly warming up to the possibility.
Fresh content is coming your way!
“But where have you all been?”
Andrew, Chief Contributor/Supreme Quill To Live Leader had an important wedding to attend…and plan. Last week, he tied the knot! And most of our readers/writers have been on the East Coast to celebrate his next chapter. So we’ve been a bit behind, but the good news is we’re back on track!
Starting tomorrow, we’ll be back with new content on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“What have you been reading?”
Most of us are still head-down in Peter Hamilton’s The Night’s Dawn trilogy. Check out our discussion about the first installment here, and read Andrew’s review of the second one here. Plus, sneak peek—we’re MUCH more divided on book two than we were on book one. More on that to come.
In between the long reading sessions required to plow through a 3000+ page epic sci-fi trilogy, we’re catching up on our personal TBRs. On top of all that, one of us took a three-month plunge into a Kindle-only reading schedule after years as a paper-or-bust apologist. Expect a write-up of that experience in the coming weeks!
What we’re really going for here are a few points:
- Thank you for your patience as we were away for a while.
- Great content to come, and we can’t wait for you to share your thoughts with us!
The Quill To Live Staff
As I mentioned back in my Reality Dysfunction review, we are trying something a little different this year. Here is the first of a series of audio discussions that we will be putting up on the site. The goal is to dive a little deeper into some books to better explore what makes them good, bad, and unique. If you have some time and fancy a listen, take 45 minutes and check out the first ever Quill to Live discussion:
…and the punchline is an 850-ish word essay about his inaugural experience with The King of Horror, which Google tells me is one of Stephen King’s nicknames.
It’s admittedly difficult to kick off a piece like this knowing full well that Stephen King has a body of work large enough to be called a pantheon (58 novels!) and a following loyal enough to produce curated meme listicles, “read this if you like Stephen King” listicles, and other clickbait about the guy’s storytelling prowess. Case in point: Stephen King has a fanbase that rivals the likes of Tolkien or Rowling, and for good reason. As a first-time Stephen King reader, Pet Sematary (review to come) acted as the Jud Crandall to my Louis Creed, leading me into a world of creepy spooky stuff that I don’t fully understand.
I closed out Pet Sematary with a newfound appreciation for an author whose work I should’ve started reading years ago. And it’s still early, but to borrow some corporate jargon, I have three key takeaways.
Practice Makes Perfect Prose
There’s no way around it: the dude can write. Pet Sematary boasts a heavy plot and complex themes, but King navigates those rough waters with breezy prose. His writing bears telltale signs of a seasoned veteran. King can describe human thought and stream of consciousness with unmatched skill. When you write as much as King does, you’ll inevitably learn a few tricks of the trade, and that firm grasp on the craft of writing radiated throughout my first foray into King’s work. I won’t belabor the point here, but check out my coming review for more on the technical aspects of his writing.
On a more conceptual level, King’s wordsmithery does wonders to destroy barriers of entry into the horror genre. Despite the wishes of Will, The Quill to Live’s resident horror expert, I’ve steered wildly clear from anything remotely scary because one time I watched The Conjuring and couldn’t sleep for three days. Pet Sematary may not have prepared me for a deep dive into the vast pool of horror writing, but it’s moved the needle from “Absolutely not” to “tentatively excited about the genre’s prospects.” King’s prosaic guidance into an unfamiliar branch of literature opened my eyes to new possibilities. Perhaps more importantly, he convinced me that the horror genre can play host to meaningful explorations of difficult concepts and lofty themes.
Motifs, Mo’ Problems? Not Quite
Speaking as a reformed Fantasy purist with a years-long preference for Young Adult writing, I’ve read my fair share of books that simply present ideas without deeply exploring them. Now, following my reformation, I’ve ventured into new literary territory and learned the difference between merely presenting concepts and actually grappling with them. Pet Sematary fortified my relatively recent love for complex adult (no, not that kind of adult) fiction thanks to King’s thematic prowess.
Reading Pet Sematary, I felt the crushing weight of death on my shoulders. It’s omnipresent through the novel, and it rears its head in unique, intriguing ways. The doctor protagonist’s no-nonsense attitude toward death balances exquisitely with his wife’s terror at a minuscule hint of it. His young daughter’s reluctance to accept it as a possibility rests in the middle of her parents’ views, neatly filling in the spectrum.
When death rears its ugly head, which happens at various points in various ways, I feel prepared to analyze the events through the lenses Stephen King so elegantly builds. His motifs rise in volume chapter by chapter in a deft crescendo of prose that feeds directly into the novel’s climax.
King treats all of his motifs with equal care. And while death plays a starring role, others join the fray to create a food-for-thought tapestry that’s punctuated by the terrifying story that lies beneath.
It’s one thing to make me jump in my seat with a well-timed scare, and it’s another thing to inject a sense of looming dread and doom into every paragraph. In Pet Sematary, King does both quite well, but his appreciation for balance makes this one of the most powerful tools in his arsenal.
There were three very specific moments in Pet Sematary that scared me enough to raise my heart rate and compel me to look around the house for intruders. These scares are spaced out and surprising, even when I sensed something scary around the next narrative corner. I literally hesitated to pet my own cats as I read the book.
The story that resides in between these scares, though, is violently eery. King weaves a narrative that’s laced with horrifyingly unsettling moments, concepts, and occurrences that had me on edge, turning digital pages as fast as I could.
This probably boils down strictly to personal preference, but King’s foundation of creepy atmosphere sprinkled with truly jump-worthy scares is a recipe for page-turning greatness.
(Read the) Rest in Peace
Pet Sematary expanded my literary horizons into the realm of horror, and I have King’s skilled craftsmanship to thank for it. Reading one of the lauded author’s titles has me amped up for more, seeking that next rush of adrenaline, thought-provoking concept, and layered prose. If you’re somehow on the fence about Stephen King, do yourself a favor and jump down to the “I’ll give him a try” side.