When I started reading this book, I realized I'd tried it once before and bounced off the beginning. Not a surprise; the first few chapters have LOTSWhen I started reading this book, I realized I'd tried it once before and bounced off the beginning. Not a surprise; the first few chapters have LOTS of things I don't like in them (endless scene-setting, lots of violence and death, the story doesn't actually start for quite a while, forced introduction of too many characters). This time, because it was recommended to me by Jenne, who said if I liked The Steerswoman, I might like this, I persevered.
And, as it turned out, I liked it a lot. I liked the main character, I liked the complexity of the problems (as the story progresses, we find out that nothing is as simple or black-and-white as it initially seemed). I also liked that Marks found a way to bring some novelty to elemental magic, which is the fundamental magic of this book; the four elements have non-standard but totally believable properties. And I was happy to see multiple queer characters. (Main characters, even! Super awesome.) Solid story all the way around.
Problems with the book: holy COW the proofreading was awful. I have the ebook, and it's possible it's a problem just with that, but it drove me to distraction. This book deserves actual editing. For me, also, the level of violence in this book was over my limit; I got through it, but there's a LOT of battle and suffering and death. And the sex scenes are -- um. Look, if you're going to write sex, yay! I'd love a great fantasy novel with explicit queer sex. But then you have to actually WRITE THE SEX. If you're going to use a lot of vague metaphors and flowery language to avoid writing the sex, spare us all and just fade to black. Also, the reason for my warnings tag: (view spoiler)[significant animal harm. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I enjoyed this a lot. Definitely going to read the next one in the series. If you're looking for a high fantasy novel that's sort of reminiscent of Chalion except the queer characters a) get laid and b) are main characters, this might be for you. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
If this book was made into a movie (and it will not be), the tagline could be: "We're theoretical cosmologists. We get it right or universes die." BecIf this book was made into a movie (and it will not be), the tagline could be: "We're theoretical cosmologists. We get it right or universes die." Because that's what this is: a suspenseful thriller based on physics, metaphysics, philosophy, and cosmology. Admit it, you're impressed.
So. In Distress, a disaffected science/pseudoscience journalist goes off for what should be a peaceful, easy assignment: a documentary on a physicist who is about to announce her Theory of Everything. Except, well, shit gets weird.
For the first quarter of the book, I didn't think I'd be giving it four stars. The opening scene is dynamite, but -- not really indicative of the kind of book it's going to be. And I found the relationship stuff (the narrator and his girlfriend) honestly repelling. And the discussion of autism -- that is a WHOLE other bucket of issues, and while the ending made me get why he thought he needed to include it, I think that was, at best, a bad idea.
But. BUT. Then the book started to gain momentum. Partly it was that the worldbuilding started to take hold. I loved the detailed near-future world; the science advances, the biology changes, the sex and gender stuff. (I'm reading so much hard SF with great, interesting, thoughtful takes on gender these days, like, what even HAPPENED to this genre? If two genders ("normal" and "sex object/plot device") were good enough for the grandmasters, they are surely good enough for you, Greg Egan and Kim Stanley Robinson and Chris Moriarty.) And then, while I was wallowing in the glee of the worldbuilding, the actual main plot kicked in and started accelerating and every neuron in my brain shrieked "YES! MORE!" in unison.
As it happens, I've read a number of books lately about singularities. This is the best portrayal I've seen of one. It was great and I enjoyed the hell out of it. This story is too much the kind of thing I like for me to recommend it to anyone else, but I can say this: if this is your kind of thing, this is REALLY REALLY your kind of thing. ...more
Okay, so the opening of this book is really damn solid: telephones raining down from the sky on a repressed backwater colony world, all of which say,Okay, so the opening of this book is really damn solid: telephones raining down from the sky on a repressed backwater colony world, all of which say, "Entertain us." And from there it's all a bit...standard. And dull.
I get this feeling from Stross every time I read him, which is that he has great ideas in isolation, but no way to string them together to form an interesting and novel setting, culture, world, universe. Or plot. So what you get is a very standard book with some extremely shiny frippery grafted onto it: singularity! A wish-granting telephone repair system! Godlike beings obsessed with preserving causality! But it all boils down to the same sort of story Ian Fleming was telling in the 1950s.
I don't know. I found this mildly entertaining, but it didn't give me what I hope for from hard SF: new ideas, new worlds, new futures. And it didn't give me what I hope for from espionage and thriller novels: heart-pounding tension that compels me to keep turning the pages. And it didn't give me what I want from every novel: interesting characters who feel like people. What it did give me was some words to move my eyes over that reminded me of better things I've read. And for me that's not enough. ...more
Okay, so let's start with the best news: this isn't going to haunt my dreams and make me feel nauseated every time I think of it. That's excellent, beOkay, so let's start with the best news: this isn't going to haunt my dreams and make me feel nauseated every time I think of it. That's excellent, because the last novella I read by Alistair Reynolds (an author whose work I generally love), Diamond Dogs, left me on a years-long break from his work. So, for me, the best news here is that I can probably read him again. I was fine reading this, which is quite similar to Diamond Dogs, so I guess I truly am cured.
Beyond that -- okay, I enjoyed this. I did. It was gripping, it was plausible, it was very Reynolds. But it didn't feel finished. Yes, okay, the usual twist ending, but -- nothing got solved, nothing got done, but there were hints that things would. It was frustrating not to get that part of the story, too. I got to the "You've finished this book!" page (Kindle edition) and went, "Wait, it's OVER?" It felt like a first chapter, not a complete story.
There's still a lot to like here, though. I did like the twists. (And I'm going to navigate this review carefully to avoid including any spoilers.) I liked the device the cosmonauts were exploring. I liked the worldbuilding, as far as it went, and I liked the setting. And, well, exploring mysterious devices is Reynolds's wheelhouse. He's got the moves down, and it shows.
But that non-ending, though.
Basically, this is a four-star story with a two-star ending. So: three stars. And it's time to see what else he wrote during the period I was cringing away from his name. ...more
This book is big, and sprawling, and maybe a little out of Robinson's control, but it's also both grand and individual, and I love a lot of what it'sThis book is big, and sprawling, and maybe a little out of Robinson's control, but it's also both grand and individual, and I love a lot of what it's doing.
The plot: the death of the Lion of Mercury (the planetary leader, basically) sends her grandchild, Swan, on a tour of the solar system. And -- seriously, there's both a lot more than that (plots thwarted, plots enacted, politics, sociology, love, drama, death, sabotage, terrorism, climate change amelioration), but that's basically the heart of the book for me. That tour provides an amazing look at a potential future for humanity, one in which the solar system teems with life and humans have expanded in all directions. And transcended, too.
Robinson doesn't fall into the trap so many SF writers of old used to; the humans of this future are still clearly human, but they're culturally, sociologically, and mentally different than we are. Humans in this book are expanded, expansive, and amazing, and still exploring who they are and what they can be. I love what Robinson did with gender here, for example; I don't want to spoil the slow reveal, but it's great. And it's only one small aspect of this book's carefully-imagined future for humanity.
My favorite part of this book was probably the travelogue aspect of it, though. As Swan and others move from place to place, we learn about the settlements on Mercury, the Vulcanoids (asteroids very close to the sun), Venus, Mars, Saturn and its moons, Neptune, Earth, and the terraria -- hollowed-out asteroids that reproduce various Terran biomes and serve a variety of purposes. I also liked most of the characters. And, to my surprise, I didn't tire of Robinson's various stylistic tricks; I actually enjoyed them right up to the end.
My least favorite parts? Well, the last 10% was not nearly as engrossing as the first 90%; there was just no way to wrap this one up for a satisfying ending, and that was simultaneously Robinson's point (humans and culture and life don't work that way) and kind of frustrating to me as a reader. And, to be honest, some of the descriptions of the Earth -- oh man. Like, clearly well-researched, clearly based on scientific modeling, and just. Climate change is terrifying. Reading pages upon pages of description of it kept me up at night. It's like reading an explicit story about a zombie attack would feel if zombies were real and scratching on your window while you read.
Overall: enjoyable, with a grand scope and narrow focus. A book that tries to do big things and mostly succeeds. And it has great science and science speculation to roll around in (or hide from, in the case of the climate change stuff). I'm so, so glad I gave Robinson another try....more
I really wanted to like this. I *still* want to like it. In fact, I suspect it's actually a two-star book for me and I gave it an extra one because itI really wanted to like this. I *still* want to like it. In fact, I suspect it's actually a two-star book for me and I gave it an extra one because it's just depressing to give such an awesome concept two stars. But the fact is: I found reading this book either mildly entertaining or straight-up disengaging. Damn it.
Part of the problem is that I didn't know what I was getting into. The summaries I'd read made it sound like a sort of steampunk-and-magic-and-vampires detection duo. And that is not the case. First, this is, for the most part, a book of short stories with the same protagonists (mostly) but no connection between them. (Except just as I'd adjusted my expectations to that, the stories did start being connected. Inconsistency kills this book in so very many places; that's one of them.) I didn't get the sense they were written with any planning, so there's some minor retconning and recharacterizing as the stories progress, and also some tonal shifting. It's nothing so major it'd be noticeable, unless you read one story right after the other. Which is what this book has you do. So, yeah, I noticed. It made the reading experience bumpy and uneven, and each story became slightly less tempting to read than the last had been.
Also, I went in expecting a speculative fiction-mystery hybrid. It isn't. The mysteries, such as they are, are simply framework. They don't work as mysteries -- they don't follow the classic Detection Club rules at all -- and they aren't difficult to solve; they're pretty much at the level of Encyclopedia Brown. (Except the first one, which is a step above that: just interesting enough to mislead you about what's coming.) And, look, maybe it's just me, but when you give me a character billed as the Great Detective and another character who is a magical investigator, I expect actual detection to take place. It doesn't. Bear doesn't appear to be capable of delivering on the mystery half of the hybrid at all, and that's a serious flaw given that it is the entire plot of the stories.
Also, I hated the last story in this book, which features both (view spoiler)[major character death and animal harm in BUCKETS (hide spoiler)]. Thanks to that story, the book ended on such an incredibly down note that I switched from "yeah, I'd try another in the series for the sake of the characters alone" to "um, probably not, unless I get assured things get MUCH better."
It all comes down to: I loved the idea. I loved the concept. I wanted to love the books. But I didn't, and I couldn't, and I'm sad. I deeply, deeply wish to see this concept in the hands of a writer who can write it. Write this, someone else! Please! And write it better!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This book was what lightreads calls a grudgeread. I knew it was bad at 20% but I kept on reading just to prove it was as bad as I thought. Ha ha! It wThis book was what lightreads calls a grudgeread. I knew it was bad at 20% but I kept on reading just to prove it was as bad as I thought. Ha ha! It was actually worse.
Here's what reading this book is like:
Drama with bracelets and weirdos! Inexplicable apocalypses! Lone survivors in a strange new world!
THERE'S THIS LADY NAMED HANNAH. SHE'S QUITE ATTRACTIVE. SHE HAS BOOBS.
The lone survivors are called Silvers! For some reason! It's pretty stressful being in a new world after yours is destroyed!
BOOBS. SHE HAS BOOBS. GOSH, HER BOOBS. THEY'RE SO GREAT. LARGE AND GREAT.
Introduction of characters! Among the dudes, we have: socially clueless but incredibly hot teenaged genius, sarcastic and socially awkward web cartoonist, and Sir Not Appearing for the First Half of the Book (an alcoholic and the only main character of color, so obviously you've got to keep him separated). Among the ladies, we have: self-righteous Christian, teenaged girl who is fat and sad because she's fat did I mention fat, and
BOOBS OH MAN THE BOOBS LIKE THESE BOOBS WOW NO ONE ANYWHERE HAS BOOBS THIS GREAT OBVIOUSLY THE LADIES ALL HATE HER AND THE DUDES ALL WANT TO BANG HER BECAUSE OF HER BOOBS WOW BOOBS
Also there's the antagonist, who is the world's most annoying supervillain. He's basically Gamergate Dude. His powers come from his incredible memories of the future, and he turned bad because of
And now there's some extremely spurious science talk but
BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS
So I guess I'd recommend this to anyone who likes mediocre writing, an interesting central concept, characterization of dudes via authorial self-insert, characterization of ladies via extensive study of Cosmo, random strangely misused words, and, most of all, boobs.
Although I have to tell you, as a boobs owner, operator, and enthusiast, this book mostly made me boobsick. (And also worried about Hannah; the characters were given clothes, including underwear, but they weren't given bras. But I guess your truly exceptional boobs are fine without support.)
Some years ago, I made a conscious effort to switch my home genre from hard SF to fantasy. Fantasy had more women writing in it,Oh my yes. Oh MY yes.
Some years ago, I made a conscious effort to switch my home genre from hard SF to fantasy. Fantasy had more women writing in it, and it seemed to be growing and developing as a genre, while SF stagnated. There seemed to be far fewer fantasy books where women existed only as prizes, as nonsentients, as set dressing, as motivation for the Man to do Manly Things for Manly Reasons. There were fewer (though still many, sadly) fantasy books where queer people and brown people just didn't exist. There was heart in fantasy, too, that hard SF seemed to have lost.
At first it was rough, trading spaceships for dragons. But I adjusted.
But this book. This book is everything I once hoped to find in hard SF and gave up on ever seeing there. It's smart and fun and imaginative and there's enough science to make you salivate. The characters are real people, the future comes in all colors, and queerness appears to be standard-issue. The technology and science affect society and politics. People remain people, but the world has changed.
And this book is good. It's compelling, it's twisty, it's smart. (Yes, okay, there was a point at like 60% in where I went, "Okay, that's it, that's one twist too many," but I got better.) I read it in a day. (After waiting several days to start it because it begins in my least favorite place: Right Before Everything Goes to Hell. But it's all up from there.) And I finished it wanting more. (And realized it's basically just the setup, and I'm not sure the rest of the series can follow through on the promise of this one. But I'm looking forward to finding out.)
And at the end there was a delightful bonus waiting for me. Most SF books are other genres filtered through an SF lens. Action adventure (but in space)! Court intrigue (but with clones)! Mystery (but with robots)! Literary fiction (but by Philip K. Dick)! It took me until the last 10% of this book to see what genre it's blended with, and once I did, I loved it even more. (view spoiler)[It's a romance, a romance between an AI and someone who genuinely believes she's incapable of love and has put so much distance between herself and her feelings she can't remember where she put them. (In other words, a romance between my two favorite kinds of people.) And that's something I hardly ever saw in SF in the bad old days (romance is for girls, don't you know). I love it. (hide spoiler)]
Basically, this was awesome and satisfying and made me happy in a way SF hasn't in years. Yes, please, thank you.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This book was just really fun. It had a fun plot, great characters, enough depth, and a great hook -- I mean, amnesia, one of my very favorite tropes!This book was just really fun. It had a fun plot, great characters, enough depth, and a great hook -- I mean, amnesia, one of my very favorite tropes! -- but the thing that stands out for me most is that it's fun. It's lighthearted supernatural bureaucratic intrigue, a subgenre I had not previously experienced. I'm happy that now I have.
The basic plot: a woman opens her eyes. She's standing in the rain, surrounded by corpses wearing latex gloves. She has no idea who she is. But there are letters in her coat pocket written by the body's previous occupant, intended to provide guidance. And she really, really needs the guidance. Fortunately, she's in the best possible hands.
The amnesia is just the beginning, though. There's tentacle monsters and superpowers and finance spreadsheets and traitors and spies and loyal secretaries of legendary skill and just everything, all stirred together into a delightful, frothy, refreshing beverage. Of a book. Sorry, that metaphor got away from me.
I loved this book most of all for the characters; not just the main character, but the many distinct, believable people around her, and, by the end, her past self, too. There were many places this book could have bogged down -- long letters, areas where the main character doesn't know what's going on, battle sequences. It never did. Even the inevitable embarrassment squick that goes hand in hand with amnesia as a trope is neatly curtailed; there's just a bit of it, and then you're past it.
This book is engrossing and page turning and yet you never truly believe anything irrevocably bad will happen to the main character. (Well, anything else. She's already been through quite a lot of irrevocably bad things.) This book is not deep or poignant or filled with profound reflections on the nature of humanity. It's just. It's just really fun, that's all.