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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Off the Bookshelf: A Memory of Light, The Bowl of Heaven, The Way of Kings

by Ken Newquist / March 19, 2013
The cover of A Memory of Light. Credit: Tor Books

It's spring and I've been trying to get back in shape in anticipation of three months spent coaching my daughter's softball team. This in turn has led to a resurgence of book reading as I download new audio books to listen to while working out at the gym or taking the dog for 45-minute walks. My current reading has a decidedly fantastic bent, with Robert Jordan's A Memory of Light and Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings dominating my digital bookshelf. Science fiction hasn't been forgotten though: Gregory Benford and Larry Niven's The Bowl of Heaven is at bat on my Kindle.

A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light is the 14th and final book in Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series, a series so huge that Jordan died before he could finish it. Fortunately, he took voluminous notes and passed those on to his chosen successor, Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson’s done a fantastic job finishing up the series, and I’m looking forward to this last volume. It’s bittersweet though; this series has been a part of my life for more than a decade. To have it be finished is just ... mindboggling.

I'm about two-thirds of the way through the book, and the thing that's struck me about it (as well as the last two books Sanderson wrote) is how it really, truly is ending. In books 7-10 Robert Jordan spent far, far too much time wandering through the world, spawning new plot lines when he should have been finishing up old ones.

Not so so A Memory of Light, which sees our heroes reach the final battle. There are epic fights and nefarious schemes aplenty, and our heroes actually talk to one another!. I'll reserve judgement until I finish reading the book, but so far I'm enjoying it.

The Way of Kings

As noted above I've enjoyed Sanderson’s work completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; he’s nailed the town and narrative stye of Jordan while simultaneously taming many of the author’s meandering story lines. I was eager to see how his own books read, and decided to pick up the The Way of Kings audiobook. It’s a big book — 45 hrs and 37 mins in audio form, 1280 pages in print — and it took me most of August and September to listen to (and that’s with a 16-hour round trip car ride to Lake Champlain thrown in).

I loved that Sanderson’s crafted a non-standard fantasy world. Like his earlier Mistborn books he’s eschewed standard magic to create something wholly his own. In The Way of Kings magic of a kind exists but it’s tied to an epic force known as stormlight. This light, generated by massive storms that wrack the world, can be trapped in gemstones and then used to fuel “shardplate” — essentially medieval power armor — as well as mystical abilities that can manipulate gravity and transform physical objects.

The book uses the same rotating point-of-view approach of The Wheel of Time and A Song of Fire and Ice to tell the stories of Dalinar Kholin, a high prince whose people are fighting an unending war, Kaladin, a slave who fights in the self-same war, and Shallan, a woman who’s seeking to restore her faltering royal house. Each POV is broken up by short vignettes examining other parts of the world.

I could have skipped all of Kaladin’s self-pitying flashbacks, and I’d have preferred he introduced us to his downtrodden hero at the time he joined the war, rather than his initial time as a slave. That said I can’t argue with the destination; Sanderson expertly brought these threads together in a satisfying conclusion that expertly sets up the next book ... which I’ll be sure to read when it’s released in late 2013.

The Bowl of Heaven

I've always been a sucker for "giant alien object in space" stories (see Ringworld, Rendezvous with Rama, Hull Zero Three) so when I saw Larry Niven and Gregory Benford's The Bowl of Heaven I knew I was going to read it.

The plot is about what you'd expect. One of Earth's first intersteller seedships, packed with colonists in coldsleep hibernation, encounters a massive "bowl" enveloping a red dwarf star. The Earthship detects a Terran-compatible atmosphere inside the bowl. This, combined with the fact that the ship is running low on supplies because of unexpected inefficiencies with its ramjet drive, leads the crew to rendezvous with the strange object.

Naturally there are aliens aboard the Bowl that the humans are going to have to deal with; I just go to the point where they make first contact. So far it's an OK read; you can see Niven's influence (the giant object in space) as well as Benford's (down-to-earth characters and a focus on the logistics of space travel).