Ever had a book you disliked that redeemed itself with its ending? I was ready to lay some hate on Unwind until the last 10 pages. Now I can grudginglEver had a book you disliked that redeemed itself with its ending? I was ready to lay some hate on Unwind until the last 10 pages. Now I can grudgingly admire where the book ended up and some of the things the author accomplished along the way, but I can also honestly say that I didn't enjoy the ride getting there.
First, and this is odd for me, I had a hard time buying the premise. The idea of "unwinding" people as unwilling organ donors is hardly new to SF and isn't any more outlandish than concepts like Logan's Run, but something in Unwind's presentation of it didn't jibe with me. Maybe it's the idea that unwinding was a solution to the pro-choice / pro-life debate: for the first quarter of the book I kept trying to figure out whether the author had a personal axe to grind (he doesn't seem to). Maybe it's the fact that the world presented in the book is too similar to present-day America, despite the fact that it's supposed to take place after a second Civil War: there are no scars from this war on the landscape and the society of the future is hardly distinguishable from the present, other than a few token changes.
What started to grate me after I figured out that this wasn't a "message book" about abortion was that it's really just the same old teen-fic trope of "Adults are evil and want to kill you" that's present in so many other dystopias, only turned all the way up to 11 in this case. By playing on the "adults are the enemy" feelings I'm sure many kids have, this struck me as a gratuitous exploitation novel (and not in the sense that it's a book about exploitation, which it also is). This felt confirmed every single time an adult character turned out to be just another evil drone of the system, or worse.
The ending turned that around for me, but I almost didn't make it that far. There are some things in the book I did like: the character Lev's cross-country journey in the middle third of the book would have made a great stand-alone story, and the detailed, minds-eye experience of someone being unwound while fully conscious was brilliant. Still, the book was a slog for me and I don't expect to pick up the next volume....more
Really enjoyed this first volume of Judge Dredd reprints. As my only exposure to Dredd before this was the two movies, I wasn't prepared for how tonguReally enjoyed this first volume of Judge Dredd reprints. As my only exposure to Dredd before this was the two movies, I wasn't prepared for how tongue-in-cheek the series is. It almost reads like you would expect a Sunday-morning comic strip would in a propaganda-ridden, totalitarian police state future. The only long-form arcs to be found in these early strips are the Robot Rebellion and Dredd's six-month tour of duty on the Moon. Looking forward to future volumes and some of the more epic storylines I've heard about....more
I can’t remember the last time a book was this much fun. Ready Player One is a straight-up, old-school Grail Quest wrapped in 80’s pop culture and vidI can’t remember the last time a book was this much fun. Ready Player One is a straight-up, old-school Grail Quest wrapped in 80’s pop culture and video game nostalgia. And it’s AWESOME. (Yes, my inner 14-year old is contributing to this review. After reading this book, he already made me dig up an Atari 2600 emulator online. I’ll have to put my foot down before he drags out all my Gatchaman DVDs.)
In a way this book was manipulative in the same way that Jo Walton’s Among Others was manipulative, but this time I didn’t mind so much. My complaint about Walton was that all the nostalgia buttons she pressed were too literary, and not trashy enough. That’s not a problem with Ready Player One, certainly not after the hero pays a visit to a classic Gygax D&D module.
The book is set in a dystopian near-future where the world is on the brink of total economic and environmental collapse, and everyone who is able to spends all their time online in the OASIS, the ultimate in MMORPGs, in which all the aforementioned tributes to 80s geekery take place. It would be presumptuous, of course, to make the classic Baby Boomer mistake and imagine that generations of the future would share the same fixations as those of the past, but in the novel it makes sense: the Quest revolves around the hunt for an Easter egg left by the OASIS’s deceased designer, a Howard Hughes/Bill Gates type who was himself a child of the 80s and who couched all of his clues to the egg’s whereabouts in terms of his childhood obsessions. The prize: to inherit the designer’s billion-dollar fortune and control of the OASIS.
And so you have a Hero: the poor kid from a trailer park. There’s the Girl he longs after, and the trusty Best Friend. And of course, there’s the Villain in the form of an evil corporation that wants control of the OASIS for itself and won’t stop at anything – even murder in the real world – to get it. If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s that the story follows the familiar Quest structure so faithfully, that the heroes aren't very conflicted on moral grounds about what is basically a greed-driven quest, and that the bad guys are so totally, irredeemably eeevil. But then, that would be like going to the best hamburger joint in the universe and complaining about the lack of selection on the wine list.
So just shut up and read the book. If at all possible, listen to the audio version narrated by Wil Wheaton. ...more
There have been many times when I’ve made a point to read a novel before watching a film adaptation, but this may be the first time I’ve seen a movieThere have been many times when I’ve made a point to read a novel before watching a film adaptation, but this may be the first time I’ve seen a movie and then immediately ran out to buy the book it was based on. As such, there’s no way to know how this book would have struck me if I’d come to it “cold” but the novel and the film both blew my mind, so I’m pretty happy.
There are serious differences, of course, the first being structure: the book takes a nested-dolls approach to the six stories whereas the movie kept all its plates spinning at once. The film also made significant changes to how one or two of the stories ended in order to make the overall tone more uplifting. Taking the original novel in chronological order would lead to a pretty bleak experience, and yet Mitchell still manages to end the whole piece on a note of hope.
And yes, you can play the “find the connections” game if you want but I chose not to, since that’s not really the point. They’re nice little Easter eggs when you come across them, but as long as you pick up on the theme that everything we do has consequences, positive and negative, that we could never realize or imagine, then the book has done its job. (Yes, it’s a story with a moral, but the way Mitchell gets there is so original and entertaining that I never really felt preached at.)...more
I hate giving bad reviews, but I had deep, deep problems with this novel. Which is a shame, because I think we need more teen science fiction to countI hate giving bad reviews, but I had deep, deep problems with this novel. Which is a shame, because I think we need more teen science fiction to counteract the overabundance of teen fantasy out there and to get young people thinking about the future again.
First with the good: Across the Universe starts out with absolutely the best description of people going into cryogenic freeze I've ever read, as a daughter watches her parents get painfully frozen for a 300-year journey and then must decide whether or not she wants to join them. Beth Revis doesn't pull any emotional punches in this scene, and its an incredibly effective hook for the rest of the novel.
And then we skip a bit, and the troubles start. It seems the freezer ship is also a generation ship, and while the heroine, Amy, has been having centuries of funky dreams, the waking civilization on board has been sliding into a totalitarian, mind-controlled dystopia, because this is a teen book and dystopias are cool. Sure, why not? Amy wakes up decades too early, and instead of getting the new world she was hoping for, she gets a claustrophobic version of the classic Star Trek episode "Return of the Archons" where she meets a male heartthrob her own age who is being groomed to be the ship's next "Elder."
Problem 1: Amy is a weak character, and the author spends an inordinate amount of time micro-analyzing Amy's feelings instead of moving the story. Amy can immediately see that something is severely wrong with the shipboard society, but instead of explaining to Elder why things are wrong and how things were different in the past, she simply screams "This isn't normal!" and sulks. Like, twenty times.
Problem 2: The second half of the book is full of plot twists and surprise reveals that (maybe this is just me) weren't that surprising at all. The whole book is peppered with obvious conclusions that the characters should be drawing and don't. (What do you mean that old people never come back from the fourth floor of the hospital? I wonder what could be happening? Gosh, I've really got not clue.)
The book does pick up in the last hundred pages, and there was one plot twist I didn't see coming. I was happy about that until I realized that the whole twist depended on -
Problem 3: A fundamental misunderstanding of the physics of spaceflight. Now you might say, "Come on, Jared, it's only science fiction." But I'd say that if you're going to play in a Star Wars or Star Trek style universe where the rules differ from the real world, fine - just establish that up front and I'll be happy. However, if you're writing about a generation ship on a 300-year journey to Alpha Centauri, the implication is that you're playing by the known laws of physics. Revis is obviously aware of Einstein's lightspeed limit, but the big twist underlying the reason behind the ship's totalitarian society hinges on completely ignoring Newton's first law of motion.
If you ask many scientists what got them hooked into science as a kid, they'll probably point back to the science fiction novels they read as a child. I get that this book is a primarily dystopian love story, but if you're writing a teen science fiction book (and not a space fantasy like Star Wars) it's important to get the science right....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
It's been a long, long time since I've been sucked into a novel so completely as I was with this one. Talk about narrative drive - Suzanne Collins hasIt's been a long, long time since I've been sucked into a novel so completely as I was with this one. Talk about narrative drive - Suzanne Collins has it in spades. For the most part, I think of myself as a slow reader, but this one makes me think that maybe I've just been reading slow books.
The Hunger Games is not only engaging, but probably the most brutal book I've read in years. In a way, it's manipulative - gladiatorial combat to the death involving children is an automatic emotional sucker-punch - but Collins goes for tension over shock value. The level of suspense in this book is as sharp as a knife-edge, and doesn't let up - even on the last page.
The trick she plays, I think, is that she never completely takes away all the main character's sense of hope. That's the mistake most dystopian fiction makes: if the protagonist's situation is too bleak, the reader will often shut them out and stop identifying. By occasionally restoring Katniss Everdeen's hope that she can get out of the Games alive, Collins sucks us back to her hellish future, page after page after page....more
I've read lots of classic SF, but now, at last, I've found the missing link between Isaac Asimov and E.E. Smith, the transition stage between thoughtfI've read lots of classic SF, but now, at last, I've found the missing link between Isaac Asimov and E.E. Smith, the transition stage between thoughtful, character driven science fiction and the Atomic! Age! of Super! Science! Van Vogt's prose is just far enough on the clunky side of pulp to make it jarring to modern ears, but the main thing that might hold a modern reader back from this book is that so many of the ideas Vogt introduces have since passed into the realm of cliche. If you put the book in its historical context, it becomes clear how much of a debt Van Vogt is owed.
Super-powered mutants fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them? Check. An oppressive totalitarian government that uses fear to control the populace? Check. A eugenics program aimed at creating the perfect super-being, destined to one day avenge his parents and come into his ultimate power? I could go on, and that's without even getting to the underground cities, hypnosis crystals, disintegration rays, conspiracies within conspiracies, and the secret colony on Mars.
What I enjoyed most in Slan is that, while there is a clear-cut protagonist, the sides of "right" and "wrong" are murky and indistinguishable right up to the very end - a far cry from the pulp adventures of the Lensmen or John Carter. My one complaint is that the hero, Jommy Cross, lacks anything like an equal or counterweight to play against. Still, it's a quick, enjoyable, Slam! Bang! and yet surprisingly thoughtful read....more
You have to stand in awe of the way Cherie Priest managed to tap into the pop culture zeitgeist with her steampunk zombie pulp-fest. Anyone who thinksYou have to stand in awe of the way Cherie Priest managed to tap into the pop culture zeitgeist with her steampunk zombie pulp-fest. Anyone who thinks she was simply following these trends doesn't appreciate exactly how long it takes to get a book from idea to the shelf. It feels as if Priest was trying to write the definitive steampunk novel, with solid, logical reasons for all of the standard trappings: goggles, airships, advanced weaponry, and mad science. It will be interesting to see where she goes with the series. Boneshaker loses a little bit of steam (heh) in the middle, but picks up again toward the end to a satisfying conclusion.
There are only two quibbles that I have with the story: One, Priest postulates an entire society of people living "on the edge" in a zombie-infested Seattle, but she never (to my mind) gives a pressing reason why any of these people would choose to remain. They're not trapped, since there is commerce with the outside world. Supposedly this society exists because the zombie-gas that caused the problem in the first place can be refined into a narcotic, but if they're staying in Seattle for the money, what do they plan to spend it on?
Two- I don't really feel that Priest did right by her villain, Minnericht. He stays in the shadows for most of the novel, and when he finally does appear on the scene, he breathes a burst of new life into the story. Unfortunately, the mystery of Minnericht's identity is revealed a little too easily, and the way that it happens effectively emasculates him as an antagonist.
Nevertheless, the final chapters in particular are beautifully written, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes in volume 2....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