Wow. Seriously, wow. This book was something I really wasn't expecting: one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever enjoyed. It's almost as iWow. Seriously, wow. This book was something I really wasn't expecting: one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever enjoyed. It's almost as if Charles Portis decided to write science fiction under a pseudonym. I've had some Simak on my to-read shelf for a while, but this one I just happened to stumble across on a library shelf. So glad that I did.
Enoch Wallace is a Civil War vet who gets tapped to man a teleporter "way station" in his family home in the backwoods of Wisconsin. The price is isolation from the human race, but the reward is near immortality and the company of the endless stream of non-human travelers who stop off on Earth for brief visits during their sojourns elsewhere. Wallace's station isn't a big, central hub - more like a gas station on a back highway. Nevertheless, Simak evokes a large-scale galactic civilization all from the confines of an isolated farmhouse, which is no small feat.
He also evokes rather well the seductive draw of hiding from the human race and the personal toll that can take over time. I'm sure Enoch Wallace is a stand-in for any kind of outsider, but he feels especially relateable for the lonely SF fan, isolated and "weird" but with access to his own hidden world of alien marvels. Of course, everything can't stay blissful and static, as the outside world eventually encroaches on Wallace's serenity and he's forced to take a stand, either for his native world or the wider Galactic society. Good stuff, all around....more
I'm really torn on how I feel about this book. It's a beautifully constructed nonlinear novel and is just dripping with style - which isn't always a gI'm really torn on how I feel about this book. It's a beautifully constructed nonlinear novel and is just dripping with style - which isn't always a good thing. Neither is having too many unreliable narrators. When not a single detail of a story can be trusted, even on its own terms, it's really difficult to connect with it emotionally. What you're left with is a book that's so artful and clever that you're constantly aware of how artful and clever it's being and therefore can't lose yourself in the story.
The story itself is so crazy that it's nearly impossible to describe, but I'll try: Set in an alternate universe where humans went to the stars in the 1800s and the movie industry blossomed on the moon (while never moving beyond silent pictures), Severin Unck is a documentary filmmaker who disappears while filming a movie about the unexplained mystery of a missing town on Venus - in the process becoming and unexplained mystery herself. The book is composed of film snips, interviews, and fictions-within-the-fiction created by those she left behind in their attempts to deal with her disappearance.
One problem, articulated in the book itself by one of the characters, is that in this kind of story the heroine isn't a character at all, but just some sort of idealized Grail that everyone else is seeking after. The other problem is that the main character doing the seeking, who would have been the hero in any normal narrative, is himself a fictional character created by the missing woman's father. Though based on a "real" character in the story, the "protagonist-version" of Anchises St. John (say that three times fast) is nothing but a tool for one of the "real" characters (who we never really meet directly) to come to terms with his loss. Since none of his sections of the book (the longest, most stylish, and most boring) really count, I almost gave up on the novel more than once.
I hate that I'm bad-mouthing this book so much. In the end, you can look back on Radiance as a beautiful work of fiction and a very original intellectual exercise. The experience of reading it, however, was 50/50 between being a chore and being a joy....more
After such a glorious beginning to Moore's Miracleman saga, the ending stumbles and falls unexpectedly flat. What's frustrating is that there's so mucAfter such a glorious beginning to Moore's Miracleman saga, the ending stumbles and falls unexpectedly flat. What's frustrating is that there's so much potential goodness here - the alien space-gods, the slow death of Miracleman's "normal" life, the horrific return of Kid Miracleman. There are many ideas here that would find a better expression later in Moore's career.
What killed Miracleman III for me was the framing device: the hero is recounting all these events from a vantage point five years in the future (1987) after every problem in the world has already been conquered and where Miracleman himself lives as a benevolent god. These passages are couched in some of the most overwrought, overwritten, bad-MFA prose that you'd think one of the long-winded Marvel house writers of the 1970s had taken over. It feels as if Moore was so focused on The Point He Was Trying To Make that he sacrificed any kind of emotional immediacy in the story itself, so that even the corpse-strewn London that Kid Miracleman leaves in his wake doesn't prompt any stronger response than "Oh, that's neat" - nothing nearly as powerful as what a similar scene towards the end of Watchmen would achieve.
The rumor is that we'll get to see Neil Gaiman's short lived follow-up reprinted soon, and that he'll get to actually finish the Miracleman story he started in the 80s. If true, can't wait....more
I love a road trip, and I love a good road trip novel. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is definitely that - instead of an overarching plot, theI love a road trip, and I love a good road trip novel. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is definitely that - instead of an overarching plot, the book is structured as a series of episodes through which a cast of fascinating, well-developed characters grow, mature, and come to terms with whatever is going on in their lives. In this case, the cast are the crew of a ship that slogs from star to star drilling wormholes through space so everyone else can travel at their leisure. The crew is going after the Big Score - a job at the heart of the galaxy that will pay enough to let them upgrade to a higher level of work and prestige. This is set in a universe in which the human race itself is the low man on the totem pole, slowly pulling itself upward in galactic respectability.
The book opens with the obligatory new crewmember showing up for her first day of work, which of course gives the author an excuse for an introduction to everyone else and a tour of the ship. Each of the characters is flawed and no one quite assumes the role of 'protagonist,' though the newbie and the captain hog the limelight a little more than the others. In some ways this is a feel-good book, but not in a sugary-sweet way. It's a long year's journey with hard-knocks deep spacers, and it's a universe I'd love to spend more time in. Just before writing this review I noticed there's a sequel slated for later this year. Not complainin' one damn bit....more
You know, a book with a title like The End of All Things shouldn't be nearly this anticlimactic. Also, the follow-up to a killer cliffhanger like theYou know, a book with a title like The End of All Things shouldn't be nearly this anticlimactic. Also, the follow-up to a killer cliffhanger like the one that ended The Human Division should have had as much, if not more, punch than the previous installment. As it is, this duology ended up feeling like a Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter: awesome set-up, perfunctory resolution.
Scalzi's often been compared favorably with Heinlein. In my own review of Old Man's War I said that it came across as a rebuttal to Starship Troopers. However, End of All Things felt much more like Asimov's original Foundation novels. It's got the same structure: interrelated novellas with different protagonists and a little bit of overlap. Also like Asimov, the book boils down to a bunch of talking heads having reasonable conversations with very little interpersonal conflict between the characters who are on camera - and even when there is, it's very one-sided.
I think it's the novella structure that dooms this book in the end. I enjoyed the serialization in The Human Division, but this book wasn't truly serialized. Each novella stands on its own, and while at least one of them ("The Life of the Mind") is fantastic, the stakes always stay novella-sized and never truly blow up to apocalyptic, novel-sized proportions. In the last novella, when the butcher's bill should finally come due, the shadowy evil organization behind all the threats has already been defanged as a serious threat. The good guys sit down, make a plan, the plan works to perfection, and everyone is happy with a minimum of tension or fuss.
Oh well. A friend of mine said recently that every good author has at least one bad novel in them. I wouldn't call The End of All Things bad, exactly. It just didn't live up to its promise....more
Definitely recommended for fans of Remender's Fear Agent comics, or just lovers of pulpy, twisty SF in general. Black Science is basically a take on tDefinitely recommended for fans of Remender's Fear Agent comics, or just lovers of pulpy, twisty SF in general. Black Science is basically a take on the same idea as that old TV show Sliders, but with Remender's trademark black humor, cruelty to his characters, and all-around bloody-mindedness....more
Another fun book from Ernest Cline, with another great audio production by Wil Wheaton. I want to start out by saying that I did enjoy this book - itAnother fun book from Ernest Cline, with another great audio production by Wil Wheaton. I want to start out by saying that I did enjoy this book - it was a pleasant way to spend my drive to work for two weeks, because I can't help but spend the rest of this review trashing it.
The complaint that I heard as soon as this book came out, and what kept me from reading it immediately, was that Cline had simply gone back to the same well of 80s nostalgia that he mined in Ready Player One and basically pigeonholed himself as "that 80s guy" in just two novels. The complaint is absolutely valid, but I'd point out that the flavor of the nostalgia this time around is more geared toward 90s paranoia. However, where the book falls down is that the nostalgia elements aren't as well ingrained and essential to the story as they were in Ready Player One and therefore feel much more gratuitous this time around. To finish things off, the protagonist in Armada is more of a reactive character than an active, self-motivated hero. The result is a book that feels too much like a slacker gamer's wish-fulfillment fantasy that all those days, weeks, and months spent playing Halo weren't wasted....more
Oh that was painful, but I finished it for my book club, and for science. And make no mistake: the science in this book is mind-bendingly excellent. ROh that was painful, but I finished it for my book club, and for science. And make no mistake: the science in this book is mind-bendingly excellent. Robert L. Forward's ideas (life on a neutron star, contact between cultures who exist at different time-scales, etc) are the kind of top-notch speculation that makes science fiction great.
But his writing is dreadful beyond belief.
I have never come across a writer in such desperate need of a co-author. Seriously, this book reads as if it were written by Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. Forward handles his aliens well enough, but when it comes to writing human beings he seems to understand that humans have these things called "personalities" but he isn't quite sure what they are or how they work. To be fair, many of the other greats of SF (Asimov, Clarke, Niven, etc.) aren't known for Hemingway-levels of depth in characterization, but at least their characters could probably pass a Turing test. I'm not sure that Forward's could. All of Forward's characters speak their thoughts aloud to themselves in stilted, perfectly grammatical monologues on a par with "Oh my. I seem to have fallen and I cannot get up." The man seems to have a disdain for using contractions the way some people are uncomfortable using profanity.
Urgh. How did this ever get past an editor? Like I said, what Forward needed was some other writer to use this draft as a plot outline and write in actual human touches for the humans, and this could have been a fantastic novel....more
As a kid, I gobbled up anything I could get about UFOs, ghosts, cryptozoology, and the like, so of course I had to pick up a copy of "the book that stAs a kid, I gobbled up anything I could get about UFOs, ghosts, cryptozoology, and the like, so of course I had to pick up a copy of "the book that started it all" re: the 1950s UFO craze. Keyhoe's prose is so straightforward, dogged, and journalistic that had I read it at the time of publication, I would have probably been convinced. Seeing it now through the lens of 65 years of hindsight, it still stands as an interesting historical artifact. The little green men have yet to land, no government conspiracies to hide them have been revealed, and we've yet to invent anti-gravity propulsion, even though Keyhoe insists in the 1966 addendum that top scientists are on the verge of a breakthrough. What this book really drove home for me was how much the America of the 1950s was an alien planet to the world of today.
One thing I caught on to about 2/3 through the book was that whatever Keyhoe's strengths as an investigative journalist, he didn't understand jack about science. Sure, we knew less in the 50s than we do now, especially about the other planets in the solar system, but he throws around terms like "atomic power" and "electromagnetism" as if he learned about them chiefly from Ed Wood movies. When he invokes that crackpot-of-all-crackpots Immanuel Velikovsky as a credible scientist, it made my eyes roll so far back into my head I could see my own medulla oblongata.
It also struck me as odd that all of Keyhoe's evidence for UFOs and aliens comes from eyewitness accounts related from witnesses. Did no one own cameras in the 1950s? Were there no recording devices? From reading this book, I have to conclude they did not. ...more
There's a fine line between accurately depicting military life and fetishizing it, and while the first half of Orphanage felt to me like the latter, BThere's a fine line between accurately depicting military life and fetishizing it, and while the first half of Orphanage felt to me like the latter, Buettner dives straight into "War Is Hell" territory in the second half. If you're a fan of military SF who can't get enough of Robert Heinlein and has watched the boot camp segment of Full Metal Jacket more times than you can count, you will love this book and should run out and buy it right now.
As for me, while I always stop channel surfing for R. Lee Ermey, I don't dig the Heinlein and I don't get much out of military SF, so it was harder for me to gloss over some of the book's contrivances. The main character's a total washout who just happens to be friends with the world's top space pilot, and whose judge in juvie court just happens to be a Medal of Honor recipient who can pull strings for him whenever the plot requires; he just happens to stumble across the most intact alien artifact found in the war, becomes pals with the army's best gunner, falls in love with the best pilot, etc. etc.
I could gripe, but the book was honestly too engaging for all that to really get in the way of enjoying it. One could make the complaint that the author doesn't bring anything new to the military SF genre, or that his overarching conflict is a little too black and white, but you know what? If this book is your kind of thing, you're going to eat it up....more
I got the impression that Dan Simmons had a blast with this novella. It certainly doesn't have the depth of characterization you'd expect from his lonI got the impression that Dan Simmons had a blast with this novella. It certainly doesn't have the depth of characterization you'd expect from his longer works - the dramatis personae are clever sketches at best. They're basically just there as an audience eyepiece through which to view the barrage of big-idea, space opera, "sensawunda" high concepts Simmons throws at you, as if you were on a high-speed sightseeing tour of ancient, ultra-advanced, godlike civilizations.
That, and Shakespeare. As much as I love the Bard, I'm not sure I believe that his plays would carry as much weight as Simmons suggest once removed from any sense of cultural context (for example, performing them for non-humanoid aliens). But still, it's a fun conceit and a nice way to illustrate what value we tiny humans might offer when confronting the sheer scale of the universe and its denizens....more
2014 Reading Project: Finally Getting Around To... (Book 1)
So, my goal for 2014 is to clear off some of the books that have been sitting on my to-read2014 Reading Project: Finally Getting Around To... (Book 1)
So, my goal for 2014 is to clear off some of the books that have been sitting on my to-read shelf for what feels like forever. (My real world to-read shelf, that is, not my Goodreads list.) With that in mind, I chose to kick things off with the one that's been on the list since about 1979.
When I was a kid at Denham Springs Elementary, the tiny public library across the street had exactly three science fiction paperbacks: Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids, E.E. Smith's Spacehounds of IPC, and this one, Iceworld by Hal Clement. I eventually read the other two but never did crack this one, even though 4th-grade me found the idea of approaching Earth from an alien's point of view intriguing. For my "Finally Getting Around to" project, I even managed to track down a copy with the same cover that my old library had.
As a hook, it's fantastic: beings from a super-hot planet who find even Mercury chilly discover life on Earth and try to solve the mystery of what kind of beings could exist on a planet so cold that sulfur is a solid. Clement throws another twist in: the aliens who contact Earth aren't scientists or military, but drug dealers from a species for whom tobacco is even more addictive than it is for humans. One of their smugglers has been trading platinum for cigarettes with a family of Earthers for years, but he employs a science teacher named Sallman Ken (who's actually a narcotics agent) to discover a way to grow this "tobacco" substance offworld.
So basically, Ken spends the whole book trying to solve a mystery that isn't a mystery at all for anyone from Earth. Oddly, that makes the story work better than it would have otherwise - all of Ken's convoluted science experiments would have been awfully boring if the reader wasn't constantly itching to jump in over his shoulder and say "that blue stuff is water!" or something like that. The weird gyrations that Clement has his protagonist go through just to determine the elemental structure of Earth's atmosphere are particularly strange, since you'd think the aliens would have understood basic spectroscopy. (We've had it on Earth since the 1860s.)
That probably makes Iceworld sound like a boring technobabble book, but it's not. It's actually a fun, forgotten Golden Age gem about first contacts, misunderstandings, and plucky problem solving.
Finally got around to: "Three Hainish Novels" book one
I read Le Guin's two more famous books in the Hain cycle back in high school (The Left Hand ofFinally got around to: "Three Hainish Novels" book one
I read Le Guin's two more famous books in the Hain cycle back in high school (The Left Hand of Darkness of course, and The Dispossessed) and while I was aware there were three earlier books in this universe I never cracked them open. I can't imagine why.
Rocannon's World, to my utter surprise, is a full-on planetary romance with nothing less than an Edgar Rice Burroughs plot structure, albeit with Le Guin's much more lyrical writing. The book opens with the stand-alone short story that inspired it, about a native of Fomalhaut II who goes on a quest and loses herself in the process. Generations later, the Hainish ambassador Rocannon does the same, setting off to strike back against the high-tech invaders who wiped out his anthropological survey team.
Rocannon "goes native" among one of the many indigenous species, a flying-cat-riding race of bronze-age Lords with a fixation on acts of heroism. Rocannon takes up his own heroic quest, losing each of his companions and pieces of himself along the way to his quest's inevitable, bittersweet ending.
More than Trek or Star Wars, I've always been a hardcore Whovian. You'd think it wouldn't be an issue for me to enjoy a Who tie-in written by a hardcoMore than Trek or Star Wars, I've always been a hardcore Whovian. You'd think it wouldn't be an issue for me to enjoy a Who tie-in written by a hardcore SF star (such as this) but I did struggle through a big chunk of this book through no fault of the author. Harvest of Time is set during the Third Doctor/UNIT era of the series, which is much beloved by many Brits but is actually my personal least favorite period of the show. (Yes, I like Colin Baker more. Sue me.) Reynolds's story really takes off and the book comes together as a whole only when the Doctor and the Master get swept away to another planet in the far distant future - and that's usually how all Pertwee stories run for me.
But my, does Reynolds nail the Pertwee era of the series perfectly, with the mix of the alien and the mundane - heavy on the mundane - and the Brig, Jo, Benton & Yates taking almost as much precedence in the story as the Doctor himself. But this is Pertwee with a budget - exploding oil rigs, nuclear attacks, legions of robot crabs surging from the sea, and life-or-death battles at the End of Time.
You can also tell from this book that Reynolds really loves the Master, especially the Roger Delgado version who the author paints as the "Sean Connery" of Masters. I'd go so far as to say the Master is treated with far more depth and nuance than any other character, including the Doctor. The Doctor in this novel is only really interesting when considered in terms of his relationship with the Master. Since every other incarnation of the Master also has a cameo, it'd been nice if we could have got some actual dialog from some of them (a Delgado/Ainley team-up perhaps) but that might have overshadowed the title character far too much. It still says "Doctor Who" on the cover after all....more