Great sci-fi is that which stretches your brain into new shapes. This book's plot is the familiar territory of the pirate/naval sea adventure, but set...moreGreat sci-fi is that which stretches your brain into new shapes. This book's plot is the familiar territory of the pirate/naval sea adventure, but set in such an alien environment that every scene and setting is fresh and new. Highly recommended.(less)
Resnick's back in African territory again, this time to tell the story of the next 7,000 years of human history through the point of view of a researc...moreResnick's back in African territory again, this time to tell the story of the next 7,000 years of human history through the point of view of a researcher trying to locate the tusks of the giant Kilimanjaro Elephant on behalf of the last Maasai. This book is classic Resnick at his most engrossing.(less)
I couldn't make myself finish this book, and I hate that. Hideyuki Kikuchi is a wonderfully imaginitive writer who knows how to keep the action rollin...moreI couldn't make myself finish this book, and I hate that. Hideyuki Kikuchi is a wonderfully imaginitive writer who knows how to keep the action rolling. I love Vampire Hunter D, I love the far future post-post-apocalyptic world he inhabits, and I love the film Bloodlust that was based on this very novel.
I hate the translation.
As I understand it (and this is what I heard from a translator at a convention I went to) Japanese does not in any way, shape, or form translate directly into English. The translator has to absorb the meaning and intent of the Japanese writer and rephrase it into a way that makes sense to an English reader, and vice-versa. Therefore, when translating prose from one language to another, especially languages as alien to one another as the two in question, it's not enough for the translator to have a firm grasp of each language. He also has to be a halfway decent prose stylist in his own right.
Even at his best, Leahy delivers slightly jarring turns of phrase reminiscent of an early pulp writer, and for the first two books in the series that worked to add to the effect. In this one, his writing seems rushed, and just clunky enough that it continually got in the way of the story.(less)
If nothing else, this book should serve as a primer in world-building for up-and-coming SF writers. Aside from that, it fits nicely into the post-New...moreIf nothing else, this book should serve as a primer in world-building for up-and-coming SF writers. Aside from that, it fits nicely into the post-New Wave, pre-Star Wars era of science fiction, which might be what takes some readers aback if they come here looking for another Fire Upon the Deep. It lacks the epic scope of the books that made Vinge famous, but it makes up for it in sheer pulpy goodness.
"Pulpy" is doubly apt, since the planet Tu on which the book takes place is a metal-poor world where humanity has had to adapt using ceramics and wood for everything. The first half of the book is set on a giant traveling publishing barge that sails the oceans of the planet and sells, among other things, a speculative fiction pulp mag called Fantasie. I was afraid at first that this was going to turn into another of those "writer writes about writing" things, but it's really not. The barge picks up a feral savage from the wilderness named Tatja Grimm who turns out to be a godling learning in leaps and bounds about the world around her.(less)
I first started reading The Book of the New Sun almost fifteen years ago but never finished. Not because I didn't like it - I love these books beyond...moreI first started reading The Book of the New Sun almost fifteen years ago but never finished. Not because I didn't like it - I love these books beyond reason - but because I was reading it wrong. Usually I never read a series straight through; I take at least a year or so between books so not to get burned out on the author. You can't do that here. The New Sun cycle is really one big book broken up into publishable-sized chunks, but you've got to read the whole thing in one go. Otherwise you'll get completely lost.
It's easy to describe the premise, but hard to nail down the plot. In the distant future, when the Urth is old and the sun is dying, Severian is an apprentice in a guild of torturers until he is cast out for showing mercy to a torture victim and thereby disgracing their order. As Severian sets out toward his new position as resident executioner in a distant city, what follows is a road-novel coming-of-age story that is episodic in much the same way that The Hobbit is episodic. There is no earth-shattering quest to drive the story, although there is heavy foreshadowing as to Severian's ultimate fate. And while there is also a rebellion against an all-powerful ruler, it isn't a story driver so much as a device to illustrate Severian's youthful passions. After all, when the world is a few billion years older and the sun is going out, ruling everything you survey doesn't quite have the same urgency as in the standard epic fantasy.
What The Book of the New Sun has going for it in spades is one of the most wonderfully drawn settings in speculative fiction, some of the best writing the genre has ever known, not to mention some truly fascinating (and untrustworthy) characters. The sense of antiquity that Wolfe infuses into his world-building is staggering, all the mysteries and surprises, the throw-away ideas that other writers would build whole stories around... Look, I'm just going to keep piling superlatives here and embarrass myself.
Now onward to the second half and maybe I'll finally find out how this damn thing ends.(less)
Have you ever loved a book entirely, but were reluctant to recommend it to anyone because you were sure they wouldn’t “get it?” That’s how I feel abou...moreHave you ever loved a book entirely, but were reluctant to recommend it to anyone because you were sure they wouldn’t “get it?” That’s how I feel about Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. It looks, smells, and tastes like an epic SFF adventure, it has all the right parts, the right characters, the right kinds of incidents making up the story, and yet when you put it all together it’s something so utterly other from what decades of genre and storytelling conventions have taught us to expect that when my SF book group read the first volume a few months ago, most of the reactions were along the lines of “Uh, what the hell is this?”
In my review of Shadow & Claw, I called the New Sun cycle a “coming of age” story, but I no longer think that’s true, at least in the traditional sense of a young man setting out to discover himself. If anything, Severian the Torturer spends the entirety of the second half of the story losing himself, shedding his old identity piece by piece until he has no choice but to replace it with an entirely new(old) one. I commented on the fabulous sense of antiquity that Wolfe gives his dying Urth, but in Part 2 the focus flips so that Severian is drawn time and again to images, relics, and beings from the future(s). A central theme (though not the only one) in the New Sun is how the future influences us just as much as the past.
It’s not giving anything away to reveal that Severian becomes the Autarch, ruler of Urth, by the end of the story, since it was heavily implied right from the beginning of vol.1. How he gets there, and what it actually means, are the true revelations. Definitely going to read this one again. Many times.(less)
It's been long enough since I first read Hyperion that I'd forgotten virtually everything about it except for the "Canterbury Tales" structure and the...moreIt's been long enough since I first read Hyperion that I'd forgotten virtually everything about it except for the "Canterbury Tales" structure and the Shrike himself (who tends to stick in the mind). I just listened to the brand new audio production, and it really made me remember why I've considered this one of my favorite books and certainly one of the best science fiction novels of the 90's.
It's amazing, though, that the book works at all. Simmons throws everything and the kitchen sink too into the mix, using enough backstory, sci-fi tropes, and world-building to fill six novels (or six short novels, as the book might be viewed). That he ties them all together coherently in the end and manages to NOT anger the reader with his abrupt (But What Happens Next!!) cliffhanger, is nothing short of astounding.
Now I've got to wait until June for the audio of the sequel to come out. Maybe someone could wrap a copy in an anti-entropic field and send it backward in time to me so I can go ahead and get started? Thanks.(less)
Dan Simmons certainly thinks big, and this book is a prime example of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink scifi that could have gone horribly wrong but so...moreDan Simmons certainly thinks big, and this book is a prime example of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink scifi that could have gone horribly wrong but somehow holds together. It's got two dozen major characters, up to eight or so parallel plotlines, space battles, time paradoxes, galactic teleportation networks, civil wars between A.I.s, an invasion from space, nuclear holocausts, the machinations of not one but two Gods from the far future, and possibly the coolest and most iconic implacable killing machine since the Terminator. And John Keats.
The fact that Simmons was able to keep all these plates spinning kind of makes the "aspiring writer" in me want to crawl into a closet and hide. Of course, Simmons' later attempts to pull off a similar stunt (in the Endymion and Ilium duologies) met with less success, but still... The Hyperion books combine the fun of space opera, the intellectual workout of hard-sf worldbuilding, and the artistic health-food of serious literature into one "all you can eat" buffet.(less)
I enjoyed re-reading E.R.Burroughs so much last summer, that this year I decided to dive into some classic Asimov. Of cou...more(2013 Asimov Re-Read, book 1)
I enjoyed re-reading E.R.Burroughs so much last summer, that this year I decided to dive into some classic Asimov. Of course, I begin with Foundation. I haven’t read the Foundation novels since high school, and mostly what I remember is the opening story in book 1, then a little bit about the Mule and Arkady from the later volumes, so it’s not quite like coming to it fresh, but its close.
The story is rightfully a classic, and I was amazed how well it still holds up. Yes, there’s the standard pre-50s misunderstanding about what nuclear power is and what it does, but that’s not the point. The point is Asimov’s take on the grand sweep of history: what forces are beyond anyone’s control and what role and value an individual life can make in the grand scheme of things. He trods a lot of the same ground that Frank Herbert would later revisit in Dune, re: the pitfalls and promise inherent in knowing the future too closely, and possibly being trapped by it.
Also, I appreciated the idea he discusses toward the end of Book 1 that the solutions of one era can become the problems of the next, especially if they become enshrined into dogma. (God, how I wish today’s politicians had read Asimov as teenagers instead of Ayn Rand.)
P.S. I’ve spent some time diving back into old pulp these last few years, and you usually have to do that with the understanding that you’re going to have to forgive some really shoddy writing in order to enjoy a good story. Asimov is, in my opinion, the earliest of the 20th Century SF writers (save maybe Bradbury) for whom there’s nothing to forgive. Not that he’s a master stylist or anything, but in comparison to his contemporaries, Asimov’s words slide right off the page with nary a clunk.(less)
Life and circumstances may have derailed my original intention to re-read tons of Asimov over the summer, but damned if I...more(2013 Asimov re-read, book 3)
Life and circumstances may have derailed my original intention to re-read tons of Asimov over the summer, but damned if I’m not going to at least get through the Foundation trilogy.
Foundation and Empire does just what it says on the tin, and marks the point in the story where Asimov throws a big old monkey-wrench into the gears of Hari Seldon’s master plan for the future, probably sensing (and rightly so) that predestination can only take you so far before it gets boring. The second volume in the trilogy contains two longer novellas (as opposed to the multiple short stories of book 1) that focus on the Foundation’s encounter with not one, but two empires – the last gasp of the Old and the sudden, unexpected new Empire of the Mule. In the former, the inevitable Sweep of History wipes the threat of the dying Galactic Empire off the board despite the futile efforts of the story’s players. In the next half, things get a little hairy as the Foundation runs into something that Seldon’s psychohistory could never have predicted – a genetic mutation that changes the rules of the political-historical game.
Once again, Asimov’s ideas take center precedence over his characters, but his characters are more than simple mouthpieces to spout theories (a common failing of most of Asimov’s contemporaries). They fare better here than in Pebble in the Sky, though F&E does share that book’s unfortunate lack of a narrative through-line. Introducing the Mule and undermining the basic premise of the series – that an individual cannot affect the tide of human history – was certainly a gamble on Asimov’s part, but it paid off by preventing the series from falling into formula, removing the “security blanket” of the Seldon Plan, and letting book 2 end on an existential cliffhanger for the Foundation and the whole of human civilization.
Seriously, you’d have to wait thirty years for Dune to come back around to this level of High Concept.(less)
So I finally finished the Asimov re-read I started over the summer, although I never got around to any of the Galactic Empire novels I wanted except ...moreSo I finally finished the Asimov re-read I started over the summer, although I never got around to any of the Galactic Empire novels I wanted except Pebble in the Sky. It took so long to get through this last volume partly because of National Novel Writing Month, and also because Second Foundation doesn’t hold up as well as the first two volumes. Gone is the optimistic, rip-roaring exploration and Machiavellian problem solving of Foundation, and also gone is much of the tension of the Seldon Plan running off the rails in Foundation and Empire. The main driver of the action in book 3 is solving the mystery of the titular Second Foundation, and it all hangs on a final plot twist that only carries weight the first time through.
The first novella, “Search by the Mule,” fares better because the Mule and the Foundation are such clear antagonists. Viewing the problem from the point of view of the Mule’s own agents puts the reader in the place of empathizing with the bad guys, which is never not fun. The second half of the book, “Search by the Foundation,” lacks that driving punch because it’s never really made clear why the conspiracy of Foundationers (and we, the readers) should view the Second Foundation as an existential threat. Sure, the First Foundation would like to control its own destiny, but its own mythology is based on the idea that that can’t happen anyway. Since the conspirators’ motives are apparently selfish (they want power) it makes it hard to empathize, and they don’t have the Mule’s charisma as a villain.
The saving grace of the last Foundation story from the Golden Age of SF is the character of Arkady Darrell, the plucky daughter of the conspiracy’s leader who outthinks the adults at every turn and could easily have been the star of her own series of YA novels. I’d have read them, for sure. (less)
So when I decided to revisit Asimov this year, my battle plan was to do the original Foundation Trilogy interspersed with...more(2013 Asimov Re-Read, book 2)
So when I decided to revisit Asimov this year, my battle plan was to do the original Foundation Trilogy interspersed with the three Galactic Empire novels in the order of publication. I enjoyed Foundation as much as I did back in high school, but I remembered having a hard time with Pebble in the Sky. I'd hoped that I'd appreciate it more coming to it as an adult, but while it has plenty of interesting ideas, they don't quite fit together as a novel. This was Asimov's first stab at a novel-length story, and it shows that he still hadn't quite figured out what to do with the longer format.
The book opens in the "present day" of 1950 or so, when due to a nearby nuclear accident, retired tailor Joseph Schwartz gets zapped 50,000 years into the future to an Earth that has been ravaged by radiation and marginalized by the rest of the Galaxy. This is a great hook and would have been a fascinating premise had Asimov stuck with it as the main thrust of his story. However, instead of sticking with Schwartz finding himself in a strange new world, the plot veers all over the place, bringing in an archaeologist from Sirius, a scientist experimenting on enhancing people's brains, his plucky daughter, a family of farmers hiding an elderly relative from the law, and a power-mad politician planning to wage a one-planet war against the whole of the Galactic Empire.
Seriously, Pebble in the Sky has about as many plot threads and point-of-view characters as a Tom Clancy novel, but at 200 pages has none of the length required to do any of the book's ideas justice. What's worse, none of the characters except Schwartz are sympathetic in any way, and he vanishes from the story for chapters at a time. The book picks up steam toward the end when most of the plot threads converge, but the resolution happens completely "off stage" while the reader is subjected to twenty pages of pompous, annoying characters screaming at each other.
Oh well. Can't win 'em all. Next stop: Foundation and Empire.(less)