Rick Remender is a purveyor of what I often think of as "misery porn" - putting characters through one ringer after another, squeezing the knot tighteRick Remender is a purveyor of what I often think of as "misery porn" - putting characters through one ringer after another, squeezing the knot tighter and tighter until you think their situations can't get any worse... and then it does. Remender gets away with this because he's got a knack for creating characters you can actually care about, no matter how much misery gets heaped on their lives (see Fear Agent).
That's the case again here in Low, but this book (if you read the letters page in the monthly issues) is actually Remender's commentary on this very issue. The defining characteristic of his protagonist is her unshakable hope in the face of overwhelming odds as the human race itself approaches its inevitable end.
Greg Tocchini's art gives a surreal, dreamy haze appropriate to a story set in the murky depths of the ocean (where the last dregs of humanity survive). In keeping with the theme of humanity's last days, there is quite a lot of debauchery along with quite a bit of gratuitous nudity. You won't hear me complain, but others might....more
I was bad-mouthing baseball, so a friend of mine recommended this book, probably to straighten me out. I'm glad they did. I'm still not keen on followI was bad-mouthing baseball, so a friend of mine recommended this book, probably to straighten me out. I'm glad they did. I'm still not keen on following baseball as a sport, but The Art of Fielding does an outstanding job of depicting it (and athletics in general) on an intellectual, literary level.
The thing is, this book didn't have to be about baseball at all. The sport is just the framework for an examination of life's turning points and what happens when long-worked-for aspirations collapse under their own weight. The story centers on a handful of characters at a small liberal arts school (buckets of nostalgia: that's where I went to college). There's the captain of the baseball team who inspires everyone else but can't get into law school, the idiot-savant short stop whose abilities dissolve at the first hint of a life outside of college, the president's daughter who's starting life over after a failed marriage, and the president with a romantic fixation on one of his own students.
If there's a complaint to be made, it's that the concept of the elder professor finding life again in the arms of a young protegé is such a horrible cliche of literary fiction that even I know it's a cliche and I don't even read litfic. The only other possible gripe is that the book takes an awful long time to get where it's going, but then that time was well spent painting the picture of all these interconnected lives, none of which ended up where the people in question ever thought they would.
This second (or third, depending on which you count) collection in Subterranean's Silverberg retrospective hits the transitional period where you canThis second (or third, depending on which you count) collection in Subterranean's Silverberg retrospective hits the transitional period where you can see RS making the deliberate switch from unabashed-pulp-hack Silverberg to literary-Silverberg. The transition's a little rough, but it's early days yet and it's fun to see him experimenting and stretching himself. (Since the story notes serve as biography, it's also neat to see how events in his real life were directly or indirectly affecting his writing.)
It's also a product of its time. The Sexual Revolution was heating up, and as I imagine a lot of the men of his generation did, Silverberg seems to have taken to it with about as much maturity as 13-year-old me did when I discovered my cousin's stack of Penthouse magazines. The sexual politics that made The World Inside an uncomfortable read are on display here (the first story of that collection is included). The openness of sex hasn't lost its shiny novelty yet in this era, but Silverberg's (and all his contemporaries', I'm sure) views on gender roles are still locked in the 50s. Men have all the agency and women are simply now sex objects instead of mere damsels in distress.
So, knock off a star for icky gender stuff. There are still a plethora of gems here....more
I can imagine that this is a great book for starting arguments. I can also imagine that lots of people wouldn’t want to wait until finishing the bookI can imagine that this is a great book for starting arguments. I can also imagine that lots of people wouldn’t want to wait until finishing the book to let the argument begin. All through reading it, I kept wanting to tap the author on the shoulder and say, “but wait a minute! Here’s what I think.” This is a book that demands discussion, and earns an extra star on that point alone.
Despite the sensationalist title, the book is basically a progress report on the state of modern feminism – how far women have come, how far is left to go, and how many feel about it right now. The facts of the case will be surprising to those who haven’t been paying attention to the numbers: modern colleges are dominated by young women, and single, childless women under 30 make more money than single, childless men in the same demographic. The Great Recession, at least initially, impacted male workers far more than women – Rosen argues that women are successfully adapting to the new economic realities of the 21st century and men, as yet, have not. And we all know what happens to species that don’t adapt to changes in the environment, don’t we?
It’s obvious why the numbers should scare men, but Rosen’s thesis hits a raw nerve with women as well. I don’t normally read the other reviews on Goodreads until after I’ve written my own, but this time I was curious. (Again, that need for discussion.) Some critics seem to worry that lauding so many advances for women might cloud the truth that there’s still a lot of work yet to be done. Some might be too heavily invested in the old feminist narrative – that we live in a world dominated and controlled by an evil, all-powerful patriarchy. While it’s true that our politics and corporate boardrooms are still male-dominated, Rosen portrays these groups as the last gasp of the old guard, desperately clinging to the bow of the Titanic as it goes under the inevitable tide of the young, majority-female educated workforce.
I could go on forever, and that’s exactly what this book tempts me to do. The Battle of the Sexes will always be a hot topic of discussion, and right or wrong, Rosin deserves lots of kudos for reframing the debate into one not rigidly locked into our grandparents’ conceptions of who and what men and women should be.
P.S. I was pointed toward this book by Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish. Read it....more
I adored this book, but I can easily see where a lot of readers wouldn't. 2312 is a triumph of worldbuilding over storytelling, but Robinson's everythI adored this book, but I can easily see where a lot of readers wouldn't. 2312 is a triumph of worldbuilding over storytelling, but Robinson's everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink worldbuilding (expanding on the milieu of his Mars trilogy) creates such a rich, detailed future that I didn't mind exploring it a little aimlessly at times. Unlike his Mars books, Robinson focuses on a smaller handful of protagonists and hangs the story on what first seems to be a standard genre adventure framework - solving the "whodunnit" of a terrorist attack on Mercury. Nothing is that simple, however, so anyone expecting a ticking clock adventure story ending, with Bruce Willis triumphant, is going to be disappointed.
Meanwhile, you get to spend time with people who walk just ahead of sunrise on Mercury (for fun), travel the solar system in hollowed-out asteroids designed to mimic extinct Earth ecosystems, surf a wave in Saturn's rings, play lawn-bowling with people who can't quite pass a Turing test, and cruise the canals of Manhattan.
Interesting note: I read this book while spending a month in East Africa, and Robinson's description of a balkanized, desperate, and struggling Earth really resonated with what I was seeing around me in present-day Tanzania, Zambia, and Kenya. The only real problem I had with the story was that in my mind's eye, the two main characters looked just like Amy Wong and Hermes from Futurama....more
Lewis knocks another one out of the park. I'm starting to notice that these Void City books come in duologies - Staked ended with a cliffhanger and unLewis knocks another one out of the park. I'm starting to notice that these Void City books come in duologies - Staked ended with a cliffhanger and unresolved plotlines that ReVamped neatly tied up. Crossed felt very much like a "middle book" with lots of setups that Burned does a good job of wrapping together. The story ends with a big, shiny hook for the series to continue, but there is also a stronger sense of closure.
What propels the story this time, and what sets the pace for this one higher than the previous novels, is that for once Eric has a Plan (with a capital P). In the past, Eric merely reacted to what was going on around him and made the best of a string of crappy situations. In Burned, he takes the magical hierarchy of Void City by the horns (literally) and bends it to his own benefit. That kind of intricate conniving doesn't come easy for an immortal part-time vampire with Alzheimer's, but like it says on the cover - there's an app for that.
Also: more Greta. Thankfully, she's still growing as a character. Greta's fun, but could easily fall into a rut as a one-note killing machine. J.F. doesn't seem to be taking her in that direction.
My only minor gripe would be that the setting is becoming so crowded with supernatural species that the human characters are fading into the background. This might lead to Void City turning into a twisted, Burtonesque version of Xanth. On the other hand, who doesn't like chupacabras?...more
All my “out of my comfort zone” reading this year has put me in the mood for a straight-up, quest-driven, heroic epic fantasy, which it feels like I hAll my “out of my comfort zone” reading this year has put me in the mood for a straight-up, quest-driven, heroic epic fantasy, which it feels like I haven't read in forever. And here's Wrath of the White Tigress to fit the bill. It has an interesting setting (somewhat but not strictly Middle-Eastern / Persian / Indian in flavor), conflicted protagonists (guilt-driven heroes are so much more interesting than those going for simple revenge), a tight, self-contained plot (wonder of wonders!), and a cool villain with clearly defined goals and abilities.
I really liked the bad guy, Salahn. If you had to pick an Evil Overlord to work for, this one strikes me as a better boss than most. None of that “you failed me in the slightest way, so now you must die” crap. Here's a guy who recognizes loyalty among minions, and I imagine he probably offers a pretty good compensation package. Yeah, he's evil and cruel, but at least you can respect him. (I guess it's a sign that I've been working for the City of Birmingham too long, that I'm considering Faceless Minion of Darkness as an alternate career path.)
Two other things I appreciate about this novel: 1) The story world is bigger than the story being told. The novel's Big Bad and the quest to destroy him aren't the end-all be-all of the setting's existence. The characters cross path with others who have quests, lives, concerns, and missions of their own that only intersect the main story in passing. It gives great depth to the milieu to know that everything you see isn't merely a prop for the story at hand. And 2), this is a biggie: the author doesn't promise a happy ending. Even though “fate” and various flavors of predestination are all on the table, Hayden makes it clear early on that happily-ever-after probably isn't in the cards. You gotta love it....more
Here's something you don't see much of any more - Social Science Fiction. The World Inside is a product of the era that also gave us Logan's Run and THere's something you don't see much of any more - Social Science Fiction. The World Inside is a product of the era that also gave us Logan's Run and THX-1138, and is something of the same ilk. Several centuries into the future, the human race has moved into giant monolithic city-buildings called "urbmons" that each house almost a million people. Society has made some rather extreme adaptations to living in such close confinement: every freedom is supressed except for one - sex - and on sex, the only restriction is that no one is allowed to say "no."
Silverberg posits an interesting situation and commits to it, exploring as many consequences of his idea as he can come up with. The book is structured into seven chapters that act as inter-connecting short stories, each focusing on a different inhabitant of Urbmon 116. It lacks a traditional plot structure, but Silverberg is going for the "literary" here, and it mostly works. The World Inside is a book that keeps you thinking.
As intriguing a vision of the future it presents, The World Inside is very much a product of its time. Published in 1971, it straddles the psychedelic '60s and the swinging '70s in a lot of its attitudes. So far as I can tell, there are no non-Euro-American characters, and while there's an awful lot of sex, women are relegated to a passive, domestic role with essentially no power. Whether those were deliberate choices by the author or just a 1960's blind spot, it's hard to say....more
I have to hand it to J.F. - once again, he's made bloodbaths fun. The plot of Void City 3 can be boiled down to "Eric and Tabitha try to honeymoon inI have to hand it to J.F. - once again, he's made bloodbaths fun. The plot of Void City 3 can be boiled down to "Eric and Tabitha try to honeymoon in Paris. Things go wrong." There's a lot more going on, of course, and lots of build-up to a sea change in the direction of the series as a whole. Unlike the first two volumes, which stand mostly by themselves as complete stories, this one feels more like a "middle book" in a series, with lots of subplots floating up to the surface and a general sense that the story as a whole is To Be Continued...
The great achievement of Crossed, and what's going to make it stick around in my head, is what it does with the character of Greta, Eric's daughter. She's been in the series all along, but this is the first book in which the reader is allowed inside her head. Let me tell you, it's a scary place to be.
Most of the middle section of the book is told from Greta's point of view. Abused as a child, Eric made her undead when she turned 18, but very much she's still a broken child on the inside. A cruel, sadistic, spoiled child with a taste for blood that doesn't stop and a desire to play with her food before she eats it. What's startling is that Lewis is able to simultaneously keep her sympathetic and frighteningly alien. We can feel for her, but we certainly wouldn't want to be anywhere in her line of sight.
I understand Book 4 is in the works. Can't wait....more
A fun read that never quite rises above the level of "enjoyable fluff." The setup in particular has a lot going for it: contact between humanity and aA fun read that never quite rises above the level of "enjoyable fluff." The setup in particular has a lot going for it: contact between humanity and an alien race as moderated by a space station junk food vendor. What could have been Clerks in Space instead goes the route of alien political intrigue and a clash of two cultures who can't even agree on the definition of basic concepts like "death." The Kishocha are fairly well thought-out in terms of fictional alien races, right down to the depiction of a graphic alien sex scene (in a chapter titled, appropriately enough, "Perverts"). It did strike me as odd, though, that Kimberling begins by implying that this alien race is technologically and developmentally superior to humanity, and then presents them through most of the book as primitive, superstitious, spear-throwing savages....more
So much for the future. Forget space travel - in fact, forget traveling very far from your home, except by horse or sailboat. Anything else requires cSo much for the future. Forget space travel - in fact, forget traveling very far from your home, except by horse or sailboat. Anything else requires cheap fuel, which probably won't be around for much longer. You can also give up on pizza night. When the cost of transporting food becomes as prohibitive as the cost of transporting anything else, we won't be eating much of anything that we can't grow in our own backyard. Oh, but wait... we don't have backyards any more since (in urban areas, at least) we paved over all our arable farmland to build subdivisions, shopping malls, industrial complexes, and parking lots.
Basically, we're screwed.
Terry Goodkind commented that people will believe something because a) they want it to be true, or b) they're afraid it might be true. I believe the future of The Windup Girl because it scares the crap out of me. In the 22nd century, energy is scarce and food is scarcer. "Calories" are now currency, and to make matters worse, a cabal of big-Agri companies, not satisfied with flooding the market with their patented, infertile crops, have released engineered plagues into the environment with the goal of wiping out any food source for which they don't own the monopoly.
With the help of a renegade gene-hacker, the Kingdom of Thailand has managed to keep out the plagues of the West and remain a viable nation, but its grip on independence is slipping due to corruption from within. Into this mix comes Emiko, a genetically-engineered New Person - a "windup" - one of a new species designed to not only live, but to thrive in a future altered beyond recognition from our own. The question is: will the windup girl and her like be able to survive the death throes of the original human race?...more
This was an excellent flat-out space adventure of the kind that's getting harder to find on MegaBookStore shelves. This book reminded me both of MikeThis was an excellent flat-out space adventure of the kind that's getting harder to find on MegaBookStore shelves. This book reminded me both of Mike Resnick's "frontier-style" scifi and the Diadem novels of Jo Clayton, but with a heroine more vulnerable and human than either of those authors normally offer. Also a plus: unlike most scifi authors, Tyree Campbell balances his violence with an appropriate amount of sex - something sadly lacking in the classics of the genre.
This being a small-press release, there are a few technical glitches in the production - minor formatting errors in the print run and the like. But who cares? If you're as sick as I am of paranormal-teen-vampire-romance-urban-fantasy clogging the SF shelves, give this and other Sam's Dot publications a try! (www.samsdotpublishing.com - Yes I just advertised for them. Get over it.) ...more