**spoiler alert** First and foremost, speaking as someone who just attended at least part of a horse-related panel at an SF con and who has been consc...more**spoiler alert** First and foremost, speaking as someone who just attended at least part of a horse-related panel at an SF con and who has been conscious of how horse folks get twitchy when people use horses in a stupid fashion in fantasy novels, I'm here to tell you I feel similarly when people screw up using computers in books. This one was not particularly geeky in the level of detail it used, but for me Andrews passed the basic sanity check of using a lot of terms appropriately. Like, say, debugging or compiling something. I liked her overall schtick of a search library on the market with AIs used as research helpers--as somebody long familiar with the Microsoft Office Assistants, it seemed like a fun and plausible extension of that concept.
And I'm a sucker for "sentient AI" stories, too. This one featured Turing Hopper (whose name was another indicator that the writer has at least a basic level of clue about the computing field), the only AI in the system who is as of yet fully sentient and who has been on the sly trying to look for signs that other AIs in the system are developing along the same path. She's a very charming character, and played well for me as a consciousness who was young and relatively immature (yet learning fast) and, most importantly, not human. I was very amused by her descriptions of trying to grasp the human sense of humor, even more charmed by reading about her trying to develop her intellect by studying recipes (and amusing the hell out of the human programmers at the company with such concepts as "pomegranates in chocolate sauce with cilantro"), and especially interested in the part of the plot where Turing must arrange to have herself downloaded into a laptop.
I liked the description of how Turing spends several fretful nights during the course of the plot waiting for the humans to wake up--since she doesn't need sleep, and since her perceptions of time are based on nanoseconds instead of minutes or hours, a whole night is an eternity to her and being forced to wait that long for further action drives her nuts.
I really liked the description of how it felt to Turing to be downloaded, and her fretting over whether she would be as intelligent if she had less computing power at her disposal--and less of the data she'd been used to working with. She had a very believable quandary over what constituted her actual sentience and what constituted the data she worked with, and a very real fear that if she didn't download all the right bits of herself that she might actually kill her own intellect.
So all in all, very engaging primary character there. Her crush on her programmer was not particularly surprising either--but on the other hand, the programmer is actually on camera for very little of the story, so that concept turned out to be way less annoying than it might otherwise have been in a cozy-style mystery. What little we see of the programmer shows that he's on the "swoonable" end of "nerd", just enough to show you why Turing has a crush of him, but he's actually not terribly vital to the plot.
The other two major human characters are far more critical. There's Maude, a pragmatic, no-nonsense older secretary in the company, and Tim, another programmer who starts off not believing that Turing is in fact a sentient AI--and who thinks that she's merely an extremely reclusive programmer. They're both fun characters, and Tim's initial crush on Turing, strangely mirroring her crush on her programmer Zack, was similarly lightly handled. Just enough to get you the idea without dwelling on it too long.
One more character is worth mentioning, and he's KingFischer, who seems to be rapidly shaping up to be Turing's very own virtual love interest. He's another of the AIs in the system, and he's one of the ones showing signs of becoming sentient. He starts off as a chess-playing avatar, and is good enough that there's a craze going on out on the Internet for chess champions to hold matches moderated by him (and for which Turing contributes snarky commentary for him to then channel out to the players, a concept which made me snicker a lot). He also shows active worry when Turing starts preparing to download herself out of the system.
And at the end, KF (as Turing likes to call him) winds up being involved in a double-barrel surprise that I was genuinely not expecting out of a cozy-style mystery: not only does Andrews kill off Turing's human programmer, Zack (she in fact has him shot at point-blank range by the primary bad guy), she then has Turing hand a fretful KF the pile of data she'd hoarded about Zack due to her crush on him. And at the very end of the book, KF starts incorporating Zack's speech patterns into his own. Yeah, I know. That latter bit isn't really surprising given the former bit, but on the other hand, it too showed the same lightness of handling that kept it from being cloying or annoying. What really made it work for me is Turing's own lack of gushiness about it; she's very matter-of-fact in handing the Zack data to KingFischer, mostly because he asks her plaintively what's going on, and she gives him the whole shebang and tells him to process it all. I find myself looking forward to seeing whether in the next book KF does in fact become a hybrid of his original personality--and whether he starts more active participation in Turing's adventures. ;)
All in all the plot almost wound up being secondary to me because I liked Turing as a character so much... yet there was some genuine interest value there too. As I said above, it did pull a couple of surprises on me. There were other things that were predictable, such as Zack's allegedly-recently-deceased best friend turning out to have faked his own death because he's actually one of the bad guys. But the overall conflict was decent, with more of the general light handling.
Access Denied is the third book in the Turing Hopper series by Donna Andrews, and so far it's been the only one that really never quite gelled for me....moreAccess Denied is the third book in the Turing Hopper series by Donna Andrews, and so far it's been the only one that really never quite gelled for me. Plot-wise, we've got Turing and her human allies trying to dig into what looks like credit card fraud on the surface--and what may actually be illicit activity on the part of Nestor Garcia, the criminal they last saw making off with T2, Turing's clone sister. There are some not half-bad subplots involving Turing needing to work at understanding when she's actually pissed off her human compatriots, and some side characters racheting up in importance as Turing begins to try to consider a controlled revelation of her existence.
However, for whatever reason, this time none of it ever quite clicked for me. Jumping back and forth a lot between Turing's POV as well as Tim's and Maude's (and occasionally those of other characters as well) made things feel a little scattered and superficial to me. And I suppose it doesn't help much that I'm actually way more interested in seeing Turing's fellow AIPs develop as characters than I am in the humans. C'mon, Ms. Andrews, work on KingFischer! ;) I'm not ditching the series yet, but it's definitely moved towards the lighter end of my reading spectrum. Two and a half stars.(less)
**spoiler alert** I must admit that the second in the Turing Hopper series, Click Here for Murder, did not strike me as quite so fabulous as the first...more**spoiler alert** I must admit that the second in the Turing Hopper series, Click Here for Murder, did not strike me as quite so fabulous as the first one. Many of the same reasons the concept of this series appealed to me were here as well, but the plot felt somewhat shakier and didn't hold together quite as well for me as the first time around. Let me get my objections out of the way first.
Online gaming and LARPing were a big part of the events of this book. As a longstanding MUSHer I was all about the comprehension of how addictive online gaming can be, so I had no trouble buying how many in the cast got sucked into checking out "Beyond Paranoia", the game around which the plot's central conflict revolved. On the other hand, I found it a bit much that all of the characters, including to a lesser degree Turing herself, got caught up with it. Tim doing so I could buy--he totally comes across as the sort of person who'd easily blow hours in an online game. Maude? Not so much.
Plus, once we got into the details of the LARP spinoff of the online game, I had a hard time really buying that the bad guys would be willing to commit actual crime, like breaking and entering, destruction of private property, and even assault for the sake of fulfilling game objectives. I realize that this objection doesn't mean much in the context of the underlying motives going on here, which led to Ray Santiago getting murdered in the first place--it's just that the idea of gamers getting so caught up in what they were doing that they'd be willing to do such things vexed me.
Meanwhile, I was kind of bummed that the plot thread of KingFischer absorbing all the data about Zack at the tail end of the last book seemed to have gotten dropped in this one! I was really looking forward to KF showing more effects from that, but in this story, he continued to mostly participate in the plot whenever Turing had a reason to ping him. I hope that'll change as the series progresses. It'd be nice to see him achieving the same level of sentience that Turing has--and heck, I just want to see if they're going to actually have themselves a virtual romance. I'm dying to see how Andrews would describe it.
Most importantly, I didn't quite buy into Nestor Garcia's position in the plot and exactly what was up with him. I may have missed something in my read through the story, perhaps--but I'm drawing a genuine blank as to what his overall motive was. And when you remember a lot more about the side details than you do about the motives of the actual villain, that doesn't speak well for the construction of the plot.
Now for what I liked about the book. Vexing as some of the behavior of the uber-gamers in the plot might have been, Andrews nevertheless did strike enough chords of realism with me in the description of the culture of "Beyond Paranoia" that yeah, it felt like familiar ground. So I have to give her props for that. I love how Turing and Maude have pretty much taken over the company, too. Their hiring an actor to put in periodic appearances as the company CEO is very giggleworthy.
The introduction of T2 as a plot wrinkle was pretty cool--and although it initially annoyed me a bit, it made total sense to me after I thought about it. Turing is young yet, and in the desperate rush to figure out how to download herself out of the UL systems into her robot and how to bring herself back again, I totally buy that she could have forgotten not to leave any part of herself behind on the robot. And this opens up a whole can of worms about the ethical ramifications of duplicating a sentient AI, too. I know this complication is coming back in a later book, so I'll be looking forward to seeing what happens with that.
So--not as cool as You've Got Murder, but still some goodness there, and I'll still be coming back for Access Denied!(less)
I'm not entirely sure how I would classify this book. I found it in general fiction, which I suppose is the best thing to call it--there are myriad el...moreI'm not entirely sure how I would classify this book. I found it in general fiction, which I suppose is the best thing to call it--there are myriad elements here, romance, suspense, mystery, Chinese history, the flavor of the modern-day political climate, and the Chinese porcelain smuggling trade. All of them blend together in such a way that one does not really feel dominant over another for me, which is what keeps me from pigeonholing this as a romance novel despite the fact that a love story is one of the most significant threads of the plot.
I say one of the most--not the most--because the main point of the story was not the blossoming relationship between our heroine Lia and her love interest Michael. Rather, it was the collection of valuable porcelain she is called to China to evaluate, and her attempts to determine where this huge and hitherto unknown collection of valuables has come from. There are plenty of intimations that the collection has a shadowy history, and certainly the glimpses into the workings of the porcelain smuggling trade add in some suspense... but that really isn't the main point of the story either. In a suspense novel you might expect that our heroine would be put into danger for what she is learning, but at no point in this plot is Lia ever in any sort of danger or even a hint of danger. The shadowy aspects of what's going on swirl around her and her investigations, but they never actually intrude upon her private, reclusive world.
And that was really kind of okay. I found Lia an interesting character, and I really liked reading about how the silence of her deafness was a refuge for her, not a prison--and how taking out her hearing aids was a private and personal act for her. Most of all I liked that she was refreshingly free of angst for the most part. She had her share of background foibles, tense history with both of her parents and an ill-fated near-marriage with a man who had been using her only for her access to fine porcelain objects... but the Lia we see in the novel seems pretty comfortable with herself and the current state of her life.
I think perhaps the one thing I didn't buy about Lia was the device of her retreating into her memory palace to pull up data on the pots. The flashbacks to the bits of history she was trying to remember were, I must admit, pretty interesting. But since they were presented as vivid, actual scenes rather than just data she had, it came across as if Lia had somehow witnessed all these things rather than just having read about them, and the details of these things seemed way, way too complex for things she might simply have researched. So it came across a bit as "Lia's remembering all this stuff by magic". It never got terribly annoying to me, but it was nevertheless there.
Enter Michael (surnamed Doyle, which couldn't help but make me partial to him even if he bore no resemblance whatsoever to my favorite bouzouki player). Now, I saw some people on the reviews for this book on Amazon making faces about a deaf woman and a cancer survivor being thrown together as love interests--and I can see where people might think that might be just too damned much angst thrown into one relationship. But as with Lia, so with Michael; although he has a lot of angst in his past, it only colors his present with nuances as opposed to dominating it. At no point do he and Lia ever come across to me as walking wounded; rather, these are people who have successfully handled their trials and tribulations, and who now have had the good fortune to find each other.
Plus, I thought they were rather charming together, and I easily bought what they saw in one another. ^_^
Meanwhile, we had some interesting side characters involved with the shadier aspects of the collection of pots. The ah chan Bai, the tycoon Gao Yideng, and others. All of them were deftly sketched in ways that made none of them come across as just "good" or "evil"; they felt like people to me, all with their own nuanced histories coloring their present day existences, as Lia's and Michael's colored theirs. I particularly liked the potter Lia goes to visit, and her discovery that the "Master of the Ruffled Feather" is in fact a young girl.
Plot-wise over all, I didn't find any real surprises here. There was no doubt that Michael and Lia would be together at the end (and I really did like the final phrases with that, I might add), and I never had any real doubt that Lia would successfully go through the whole collection and evaluate it, and that the sale would proceed as expected. I was vaguely disappointed that she never had any real challenges to overcome--for example, finding fakes in the collection never got her in any trouble, nor did we have any sign of her missing objects that actually were fakes. I thought for sure as well that Bai's attempt to switch in his own fake chicken cup would get her in trouble--but then, I was also kind of pleased that it didn't, and amused that the cup he thought was real was in fact another fake.
So all in all I was pleased to read this if nothing else for the various characters and the beauty of the prose. It's not a big flashy story by any stretch of the imagination, but then again, sometimes it's good to be subtle.(less)
Meanwhile, over in full-length story land, Creation in Death is the latest Eve & Roarke novel out in paperback. This one's a doozy, with a serial...moreMeanwhile, over in full-length story land, Creation in Death is the latest Eve & Roarke novel out in paperback. This one's a doozy, with a serial killer that Eve and Feeney had failed to nab nine years before resurfacing and going on another rampage through New York. Right out of the gate this plot ramps up the tension, and keeps it going until the end. Familiar territory, pretty much, though the territory continues to be satisfying.
Notable bits about this installment for me were improved amounts of Eve and Roarke really understanding each other, the general wtf-creepiness of the bad guy, and minor recurring characters even getting to contribute significantly to the manhunt--such as Trina, of whom Eve otherwise lives in terror. It is familiar territory, though, and unlike that clone story a few books back, didn't really bring anything new to the overall series. So I'm calling this one three stars.(less)