Tuesday, February 27, 2018

UDATE: GOT SANDERSON?

For the month of February, I decided to dive into two of Sanderson's shorter works of fiction: FIRSTBORN, a short story/"novelette" about the officer of a space fleet, and SNAPSHOT, a futuristic detective story where the main characters are the only "real" people in the whole world.

For my thoughts on each of them, just click the images below:

   




REVIEW: SNAPSHOT

This isn't CSI...


INTRODUCTION 
Detective dramas are nothing overly special to anyone who's a fan of contemporary novels, television, or film. Shows like CSI have formularized this kind of story to an extent where it sometimes feels like the genre that's all about mystery has very few surprises left to share. Brandon Sanderson takes some of these expectations and tropes and plays with them in some interesting ways in his novella, SNAPSHOT.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 Part cop drama, part science fiction, and arguably part speculative fiction as well, this piece of short fiction makes the most out of it's bizarre concept and toys with some interesting ideas about life and how our choices affect it.

CHARACTERS
Detectives Davis and Chaz are the only real people in a simulated world where all of the people and events of a particular day play out just the way they would have in real life unless the detectives create "deviations" through actions that they take which would not have occurred during the day that they're reviewing. Their mission is to solve crimes by visiting where it happened, when it happened. Although this sounds strange and exciting, like THE MATRIX with detectives, the story humorously depicts how the job is actually pretty boring for these two. "Snapshot duty" isn't really viewed as real police work since the crimes have already happened and the real detectives have already figured out who probably did it along with where and when the crime took place. All that's left for Chaz and Davis to do is show up and perform preordained tasks like bearing witness to the crime, or following a murderer to see where they dumped the murder weapon. The only thing they really need to worry about is making sure their presence within the events of that day does not trigger deviations which lead to events turning out different than they did in real life. I found the banter between them to be both funny and useful for understanding the way these Snapshots work without having a tech-heavy exposition dump. I also enjoyed the way it's slowly revealed how each of these men found themselves stationed as a Snapshot detective and how those pasts played into who they are in the present tense of the story. Davis's arch felt especially rewarding though I would maintain that they are both main characters as is the case with a lot of detective serials. 

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of the Snapshot is definitely weird. Virtual realities and such may not be groundbreaking, but I can honestly say that I've never read one of those kinds of stories where the "virtual" world is actually comprised of physical matter. Every person Davis and Chaz meets is sort of a clone of their real-world counterpart, everything they touch is actually there, and everything they eat provides very real sustenance to them. It's a bizarre twist on this type of a setting that builds up to some dark implications when it's revealed that the detectives must "shut it down" at the end of each day. Sanderson explores these through Davis as his perception of reality grows murkier with each passing moment. It's a fascinating world that is mercifully unhindered by explaining the finer points of how the snapshots work or even building out complex politics. It all feels very relateable in spite of it's pseudo time travel  strangeness and while it does require some suspension of disbelief, the landscape starts to take solid shape shortly after the story begins. 

PLOT/TONE 
At it's core, Snapshot is a story about two detectives cracking a high-stakes case. They find a lead on a dangerous serial killer they're not supposed to know about and can't resist the prospect of seizing the chance to find something out about them that will help end their reign of terror. Along the way is some funny social commentary, excellent character development (especially when it comes to Davis), and plenty of mystery and suspense to fill the pages. Somewhere along the line, readers will get a sense that this is not quite like the sort of detective stories they've grown accustomed to. There's this foreboding sense that something is just not what it seems (even for a world like this one), but the ending still managed to sneak up and surprise me in some awesome ways. If there's one thing this story does right, it's setting firm, albeit predictable expectations and then dashing them in the most unexpected way possible. 

CONCLUSION 
If you're just in the market for a good, fun read then this one is probably an instant winner. The characters are great, the world is intriguingly dark, and the sinister twists the story takes make for an explosive ending. I feel like this one could appeal to a pretty wide audience and I'm quite pleased that I randomly stumbled upon it and gave it a chance.

MINI REVIEW: FIRSTBORN

5/5 A little bit of STAR TREK, a little bit of ENDER'S GAME, and some GAME OF THRONES style politics thrown in for good measure makes for a short story that's entertaining, bright, and to the point.

Technically this would be categorized as a "novelette" (a story that is about 15,000-20,000 words in length), but I've always had a hard time recognizing this category of fiction just because it really feels like a longer short story whereas a novella distinctively sits between a story and a full novel. For all intensive purposes, what you really need to know is that this is a very brief read which is great if you're like me and try to balance reading time against a very busy schedule. There's a fair bit of substance packed  into this smaller package which I've found to be a trademark of Sanderson's shorter works of fiction which keeps me coming back for more. 

The story stars a young officer named Dennison who, in spite of how hard he studies the arts of war, can never slip out from the towering shadow of his older brother, Varion who has single-handedly managed to conquer the vast majority of non-imperial space. In contrast to Varion's stellar reputation and monumental successes, Dennison fails at just about everything he tries. I found it interesting to be thrown into a world where the hero of the story is so incompetent at what he's setting out to do. More interesting is how instantly likable and relateable of a character he is in spite of his perpetual inability to succeed. He's fully self-aware of all of his shortcomings and finds himself always beneath the pressures of his father (a High Admiral), his fellow officers, and even the Emperor himself. The familial drama is really what stands out here though. It's something new for me in terms of other things I've read by Sanderson and I loved how he pushes it out to an almost STAR WARS esque level of larger-than-life tension. There are also a couple of really nice twists which feel extra special given how they are unwoven in such a small space. 

This little gem is not something that should be missed by any fan of science fiction. It has basically everything you could want in a story and manages to even work in some surprises here and there.