Reviews – Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson and Date Night on Union Station by E.M. Foner

I had intended to put this week’s review up on Monday, but I had some fairly major trouble getting through one of them, and eventually had to give it up as a DNF(Did Not Finish). As you might have noted from the “one of them” comment, or from the post title, I chose to read two different works in an attempt to break the pattern of bad/good/bad/good I’ve been getting with the books I review. Sadly, the result of the attempt was…mixed, at best. One, “Perfect State” by Brandon Sanderson, was a novella. The other, “Date Night on Union Station” by E.M. Foner, was supposed to be humorous. Note that “supposed to be,” it’s the one I didn’t finish. Onto the reviews! Oh, and both of these were/are Science Fiction works.

“Perfect State” by Brandon Sanderson

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book, to be honest. The technical execution was flawless, as is to be expected from a well known name like Sanderson. It was also a bit different, a slightly unusual perspective that I, personally, could appreciate. On the whole, however, I was lukewarm to it for the first half. Then I started liking it from perhaps halfway through up until the final couple of chapters. Then, in an even more startling about-face, I went from enjoying it to loathing it after the author pulled a weird sort of reverse deus ex machina. There’s not a way to explain that without a very mild spoiler, so if that concerns you, skip to the next paragraph. A typical deus ex machina, for those not familiar with the term, is defined as “An unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.” I called what happened at the end of “Prefect State” a reverse version as, instead of a contrived plot device to save the day, instead the climax of the book ended in a contrived plot device to ruin the day. It was somewhat the equivalent of the Sauron’s mother-in-law popping up at the end of LoTR:Return of the King and saying, “Thanks for freeing me you poor fools, I’ve been trapped in that ring forever. Hold still for a second while I take over the world. Yep, there, I’m finished, good luck living in slavery!”

Worse, the really screwy thing is that the reverse deus ex machina that spoiled the book was completely unneeded. The general message/theme would have been exactly the same without the said reverse deus ex machina (which I really need a better name for, it’s getting a bit unwieldly). Add in the reasons I was lukewarm about the book at first, such as every single character being kinda a jerk, none of those characters being remotely relatable, and the setting not being remotely strong enough to carry the weak characters, and I was ultimately left tasting the ashes of what should have been a good story. I very much wish that this hadn’t been my first exposure to Sanderson, as I’ve been putting off reading the final books of my favorite series of all time (Wheel of Time) for fear his taking the series over after Robert Jordan’s death would ruin it for me. I’d heard nothing but good about the final books, and have them waiting on my shelf to read, but now I’m more afraid than ever to actually pick them up.

Final Rating Breakdown:

Setting: 5/10 – The unique elements were not fleshed out enough, leaving more questions than answers.

Characters: 5/10 – Pretty much ALL the characters are jerks. The only decent one…never mind, spoilers.

Plot: 6/10 – Technically sound, fairly interesting. Lost major points for the unnecessary reverse deus ex machina.

Overall: 5/10

Score Adjustments for Misc:

Final Score: 5/10

Personal Recommendation: Only use as toilet paper, or as a slightly better alternative to an unsubtitled foreign film on an international flight. Okay…that’s probably be a little harsh. But this is my personal recommendation area, so I’m allowed to be harsh.

“Date Night on Union Station” by E.M. Foner

So, despite this being my second mention of a DNF since I started reviewing, it is fairly unusual for me not to finish a book. I think, counting the most recent two, that the total number of books I didn’t finish (out of some estimated 2500 lifetime reads) is hovering at the staggering number of 7. However, in this novel’s case, the fact I didn’t finish it really isn’t a fair marker to use as a measure of its quality. Whereas, most of the time, when I don’t finish a book it is on account of that book being utterly horrible, in this case there’s actually nothing wrong with the book. The simple, unfortunate truth is that I just wasn’t the right audience for the material within.

The novel was well written, with very solid characters, and a premise that many would find interesting. It even had some unique ideas that I really wanted to enjoy. Unfortunately, I’m a classic introvert, who finds moments of supposedly funny awkwardness in movies and books to be horrifying rather than humorous. As the humor of this book was focused on a series of bad dates on a space station, I probably should have given it a miss. I admit, however, that I was thinking more of the “holy crap aliens attacked during dinner” sort of bad dates, rather than the near-malicious tone of the dates the novel actually contains. Some people would likely love this book to bits, but I’m not one of those people. As I only got about 54% through the book, despite my best efforts, the ratings below should be taken with a grain of salt. I tried to be fair, and I think I was, but it could easily have taken a downward spiral later on and I wouldn’t know.

Final Rating Breakdown:

Setting: 8/10 – A very strong, interesting set of ideas pulled together. I really wanted to enjoy the setting, despite my being the wrong audience for the book, overall.

Characters: 7/10 – While none of the characters were truly exceptional, they were still solid and there was a nice mix-match of oddballs that I really wanted to like.

Plot: -|- I’m not going to rate the plot, I have a strong suspicion that much of what I read tied together for an ending that I didn’t reach. Rating just the half I did read would not be fair to the author.

Overall: 7.5/10

Score Adjustments for Misc:

Final Score: 7.5/10

Personal Recommendation: I’m not sure of the original source (and Google was surprisingly unhelpful, no two places seeming to agree who said it first) but it has been said that, “Comedy is tragedy that happens to someone else.” I even agree that this is sometimes quite true. Pratfalls and cartoon violence, even absurd ends to nasty villains, can all be extremely hilarious. There is, however, a bit of a variation in where each individual applies this truth. If you’re the type to find…let’s say Harry Potter’s trouble finding a date, immensely funny, there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy this novel. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and feel for the poor character, often skipping those bits of the book or movie on a a second play or read in order to avoid such painfully awkward moments, you should probably give this one a skip.

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