Overall, this collection of "constellation"-themed stories is OK, and none rate more than three stars in my opinion.
"A Heritage of Stars" - Eric Brown...moreOverall, this collection of "constellation"-themed stories is OK, and none rate more than three stars in my opinion.
"A Heritage of Stars" - Eric Brown - This one starts out well enough about a near-future where aliens have given humans immortality and how that might affect the relationship between two people. Brown drops the ball, however, ending the story with a sappy, feel-good resolution that could have been much more interesting.
"Rats of the System" - Paul McAuley - This is an episode from a time when humanity is divided between interstellar colonies established after AIs took over Earth and humans who have made those AIs gods and are bent on destroying the infidel. (The AIs apparently take no notice of this, going about the galaxy doing their inexplicable things. On the plus side, they're good enough to leave human-colonized stars alone and only work with uninhabited systems.) The story in itself is good. McAuley is an accomplished writer and I've enjoyed what I've read of him but this feels like a chapter in a longer book and leaves the reader hanging.
"Star!" - Tony Ballantyne - A tale about a human who wants to be a star and the AI who helps her out.
"Lakes of Light" - Stephen Baxter - An episode from Baxter's Xeelee future history.
"No Cure for Love" - Roger Levy - An elliptical tale about a man who may or may not have caused civilization to collapse.
"The Navigator's Children" - Ian Watson - A decent story about a future where humans have learned that we're all part of a simulation (a la The Matrix) and the navigator of the title - who has serious issues with children and dolls - inadvertently reconfigures reality.
"A Different Sky" - Keith Brooke - A tale of alien abduction.
"The Fulcrum" - Gwyneth Jones - This story reminded me of Frederik Pohl's Gateway books.
"The Meteor Party" - James Lovegrove - Except for meteors, there's nothing particularly SF about this story. Instead, it's a meditation on the place of humans and their worries compared to the universe.
"Written in the Stars" - Ian McDonald - This is another story that raised some intriguing ideas but ultimately left me wanting more. In this future, astrology works - people receive daily horoscopes that guide their lives, and one day the hero of our story gets the wrong one.
"The Order of Things" - Adam Roberts - Competently written if not overly memorable tale about a future ruled by a theocracy that believes its God-given mandate is to make the world conform to its ideas of what He wants - both physically and mentally.
"The Little Bear" - Justina Robson - This is a story about quantum mechanics, teleportation and alternate worlds.
"Kings" - Colin Greenland - This is an allegory based on the Three Wise Men of the Christian Bible.
"Beyond the Aquila Rift" - Alistair Reynolds - I enjoyed this story the most. Humans have discovered and are using an alien network of (what may be) wormholes to colonize our nearby stellar neighborhood. Occasionally, however, a mistake occurs and a ship finds itself far from its intended destination. This is a story of a crew that finds itself a long, long way from home.
Not a bad collection but not one that stands out. If any of the authors mentioned above are favorites, you might want to check this book out (and I mean that literally; I wouldn't lay down money for this).(less)
I picked up this novel from the library shelf on impulse.
But I can't finish it. It's not that the writing is bad, which is why I've given it two stars...moreI picked up this novel from the library shelf on impulse.
But I can't finish it. It's not that the writing is bad, which is why I've given it two stars. Usually, if I can't finish a book, it gets one star. But there's nothing here that's engaging me on any level, and I don't want to waste my time with it when I have so much on my shelf that promises to be more interesting.
Obviously, I'm not recommending The Drowning City but I wouldn't want to deter anyone from reading it. It may be just the thing for some reader.(less)
“This is the original Game of Thrones,” or so says the man who would know, George R.R. Martin, and The Iron King certainly has more than its share of...more“This is the original Game of Thrones,” or so says the man who would know, George R.R. Martin, and The Iron King certainly has more than its share of murder, adultery, conspiracy, star-crossed lovers and bloody-minded cruelty. The only thing it doesn’t have is dragons (unless you count the ones on heraldic devices). It’s an account of the last days of the Capetian dynasty of France, when the feudal society of the Middle Ages was giving way to the modern state, and England and France became locked in the deadly embrace of the Hundred Years’ War.
The Iron King opens a generation before the war, in 1314, when Philip the Fair successfully concludes his persecution and destruction of the Knights Templar, one of the most powerful organizations in Europe. On his pyre, its last Grandmaster, Jacques de Molay, curses the Capetians unto the 13th generation. (And, within a year, all three architects of the Templars’ fall would be dead. Coincidence? Well…yes. The curse is the stuff of urban legend; and does it really make sense that a man brutally tortured for seven years and being burned alive would have the presence of mind to enunciate a curse against his tormentors? But it does make for a good story.) Between the death of de Molay and Philip, the royal family is torn apart by adultery. The wives of the king’s three sons are implicated in affairs. Two are condemned to convents, and the third is put under house arrest (she hadn’t had a lover but she helped the others conceal the trysts), and the hapless lovers are tortured and brutally executed. Meanwhile, the king’s daughter, wife of Edward II of England, is taking advantage of the situation to put herself and her young son (future Edward III and instigator of the Hundred Years’ War) in a position to claim the crown of France.
I would love to recommend the book wholeheartedly but I cannot. The translation is not very good. It reads like a school exercise. Something I’d expect from a student in a (admittedly advanced) French class. It competently translates the French, I’m sure, but that’s all it does – there’s no life in it. Times like this I wish my grad-school French was up to reading the original.
Nevertheless, I’m interested enough in the story – and the translation does on occasion rise to the level of excellence the story deserves – that I’ll persevere through the 2nd book – The Strangled Queen – at the very least.
* As an aside: One of my favorite books about the period (the 14th century) and one I’d eagerly recommend is Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. If a bit dated, it brings the period to life by following the life and career of one of France’s premier – if now obscure – nobles, Enguerrand de Coucy, who dies a prisoner of the Turks in 1396 (if I recall correctly).(less)
R.K. Narayan’s abridged, prose version of India’s national epic, The Mahabharata, is concise, fast paced, well written, and – unfortunately – passionl...moreR.K. Narayan’s abridged, prose version of India’s national epic, The Mahabharata, is concise, fast paced, well written, and – unfortunately – passionless. Narayan has excised nearly everything not directly related to the Pandavas (Yudhistira, Bhima, Arjuna, and Nakula and Sahadeva) and their wife, Draupadi. In the process, he’s also stripped the story of any emotional power. For the most part, it’s like reading a book summary rather than a proper story. For example, there’s the chapter that has come down to us as The Bhagavad Gita, one of the more profound scriptures by anyone’s reckoning. In Narayan’s telling, it’s reduced to:
When Arjuna fell into a silence after exhausting his feelings, Krishna quietly said, “You are stricken with grief at the thought of those who deserve no consideration.”
Krishna then began to preach in gentle tones, a profound philosophy of detached conduct. He analyzed the categories and subtle qualities of the mind that give rise to different kinds of action and responses. He defined the true nature of personality, its scope and stature in relation to society, the world, and God, and of existence and death. He expounded yoga of different types, and how one should realize the deathlessness of the soul encased in the perishable physical body. Again and again Krishna emphasized the importance of performing one’s duty with detachment in a spirit of dedication. Arjuna listened reverently, now and then interrupting to clear a doubt or to seek an elucidation. Krishna answered all his questions with the utmost grace, and finally granted him a grand vision of his real stature. Krishna, whom he had taken to be his companion, suddenly stood transformed – he was God himself, multidimensional and all-pervading.
Time, creatures, friends and foes alike were absorbed in the great being whose stature spanned the space between sky and earth, and extended from horizon to horizon. Birth, death, slaughter, protection, and every activity seemed to be a part of this being, nothing existed beyond it. Creation, destruction, actity and inactivity all formed a part and parcel of this grand being, whose vision filled Arjuna with terror and ecstasy. He cried out, “Now I understand!”
The God declared, “I am death, I am destruction. These men who stand before you are already slain through their own karma, you will be only an instrument of their destruction.”
“O Great God,” said Arjuna, “my weakness has passed. I have no more doubts in my mind.” And he lifted his bow, ready to face the battle. Krishna then resumed his mortal appearance. (pp. 147-8)
If all you’re looking for is a readable English synopsis of the epic, then I would recommend this book. But if you’re looking for an English version that captures the gravitas of the original, you won’t find it here.(less)
A decidedly "bleh" homage to Sherlock Holmes, which reaches a nadir of unreadability with "The Startling Events in the Electrified City." I couldn't f...moreA decidedly "bleh" homage to Sherlock Holmes, which reaches a nadir of unreadability with "The Startling Events in the Electrified City." I couldn't finish the story and thought of giving up on the collection entirely.
I persevered, however, and the remaining stories weren't too bad. Just not "too good."
Except for one story, "The Last of Sheila Locke-Holmes," which has nothing to do with Holmes but is about a young girl dealing with her parents' marital problems, and quite good.
And I will mention one more story - "The Adventure of the Concert Pianist" - to say that it shamelessly steals the murder plot from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, except there's no insane monk.(less)