The Strugatsky brothers are for Russian sci fi Phillip K Dick and Isaac Asimov rolled into one. Dabbling in both Space Operatic political infused sciThe Strugatsky brothers are for Russian sci fi Phillip K Dick and Isaac Asimov rolled into one. Dabbling in both Space Operatic political infused sci fi and weird science fiction they have left a legacy in Eastern Bloc countries literature that maybe only Stanislaw Lem can be said to equal. Roadside Picnic is perhaps their best known work, though I would argue that it isn't the best overall. It has however spawned a Tarkovsky Masterpiece, three incredible videogames and is slated for a tv series next. Tis in addition to the clear impact it has had on sci fi both Russian and western. So it is required reading for sci fi aficionados or fans of the above.
The short novel is a bit disjointed in both structure and plot but it mostly revolves around Red, a Stalker (grey market artifact hunter) in one of the six Zones. The mysterious Zones formed after the Visitation, an event where incomprehensibly advanced aliens seem to have come to earth, then soon left, leaving behind mysterious artifacts, some deadly, some wonderful and forever altering the rules of reality in the Zones. Red's is bound to the zone, as his livelihood and, ultimately, his destiny.
Roadside Picnic is, at times verbose and dull but much like the cultural artifacts (movie and games) it spawned after its own Visitation creats a masterful atmosphere and a sensation of dread and human frailty that i've rarely experienced outside the works of Jeff Vandemeer or Lovecraft himself. Its central metaphor of a roadside picnic with the humans as the ants picking through alien scraps is slowly unwrapped throughout the novel, and the frailty and insignificance of individuals when faced with the cosmically unknowable reveals itself at every corner. The book meanders back and forth between several storylines and one can't help but think that maybe the structural problems could have been well served by the attention of a hack western sci-fi editor. But considering the difficulties in seeing the press, the rewrites and the censorship the novel faced during communist days it's surprising the novel is even as good as it is. And it is good, despite its flaws.
Jeff VanderMeer has created a very interesting world, a biopunkish Picnic at Hanging Rock eerie reality where the laws of the world are fluid and frigJeff VanderMeer has created a very interesting world, a biopunkish Picnic at Hanging Rock eerie reality where the laws of the world are fluid and frightful. But he doesso little with it. It's not the fact that he doesn't wrap up the mystery of Area X, sometimes mysteries are more interesting when they remain just that, but the interplay of personal drama, inner turmoil and Walden-esque wilderness basking amounts in the end to very little, a nice little setting but a stunted story. Nonetheless Acceptance was enjoyable, especially as I experienced most of it in audio-book form on a long tiring drive with little sleep and my altered state of mind intermingled withthe altered state of the Brightness-afflicted POV characters. The voice cast was also quite good....more
A middling Star Wars book that does little to deliver on its premise of presenting the 'journey' to the Force awakens. Although interesting and smallA middling Star Wars book that does little to deliver on its premise of presenting the 'journey' to the Force awakens. Although interesting and small scale and full of expanded-universe style nods and vignettes it is a hard book to like and a dull one to read at times....more
The rise of Ransom city is another delving into Gilman's amazing weird west but it is equally a supremely captivating and disappointing book. While thThe rise of Ransom city is another delving into Gilman's amazing weird west but it is equally a supremely captivating and disappointing book. While the self-told, annotated narrative artifice serves the book well and it shows the author as being very comfortable with different styles and a proper writer's writer it nonetheless does disservice to the world so carefully crafted in the first novel. The eerie dread that the Gun and Line inspired in The Half-Made World evaporates instantly in the haughty preening autobiographical voice of Harry Ransom and the whole action seems a bit rushed at times. Perhaps some John Brunner-like inserted metatextual vignettes, like descriptions of videographic pieces or newspaper clippings would have helped to maintain an atmosphere.
This does not mean that The Rise of Ransom City is not a book worth reading, on the contrary, it's just that it does not have the same nerve wracking immagination boiling effect as the first book in the series. Even the voice actor (i listened to the book on a cross-continental drive) is inferior, something evident if you listen to the two books back to back. The first, even as i listened to it a third time was more engrossing than the one that i had never listened to before and eagerly awaited.
Stross' first book in the Scotland Detective-Weird (Tri/Duo?)logy is a fun near future procedural that is as redable as it is convoluted. Also, predicStross' first book in the Scotland Detective-Weird (Tri/Duo?)logy is a fun near future procedural that is as redable as it is convoluted. Also, predictive, insanely predictive. If the Scottish referendum would have passed I would have been immediately convinced that Stross is an oracle and that we should all bow down to him. Long story short, Halting State is good and very much readable especially if you're into believable, near future cyber-punk-but-believable police/spy/corporate action....more
An interesting little mundane science fiction parable that awkwardly straddles the line between Young Adult novel and philosophical diatribe. The beasAn interesting little mundane science fiction parable that awkwardly straddles the line between Young Adult novel and philosophical diatribe. The beast with nine billion feet is a profoundly south asian glance at an edge-of-transhuman future. Despite being written from two young viewpoints that practically beg for a young adult audience the book raises some important questions about the rights of man to meddle with genetics as well as the implications of such meddling at both a personal and societal level. The prose is elegantly naive and dashed with teenager incertitudes and parkour and the alternating viewpoints of the two main characters manage to present a well rounded and believable 'five minutes in the future' world. My only problem with the Beast with Nine billion feet would be the very thing that initially drew me into buying it: its unapologetic 'Indian-ness'. I'm a big fan of south-Asian culture but the overall tone and language of the book marked it as an overall domestic market aimed title, that is, a future parable that would be easy for a native Indian to picture. For a foreigner the short descriptions and summary explanations of several storybuilding elements taken for granted by a native can leave a reader unfamiliar with Indian intricacies with less than the whole picture. In any case this was more of an observation rather than an annoyance on my part. An engaging, at times a bit challenging read, the Beast is a story of biotech, language and the bounds of what it means to be human and, indeed, alive. Very much recommended....more
Ready player one is a near future story with a near past basis. It's cover description sums it up real good: It's the Matrix (or Second Life) meets ChReady player one is a near future story with a near past basis. It's cover description sums it up real good: It's the Matrix (or Second Life) meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a severe amount of nerdness seasoned in. The premise seems believable: It's the near future and the earth is in bad shape therefore everybody escapes to the OASIS, a VR video-game that has become a significant slice of the world economy. Kids go to school in the OASIS, businesses sell things and people develop relationships. This world, created by a reclusive 80s pop-culture obsessed billionaire is thrown into chaos when said billionaire dies and creates the mother of all easter egg hunts, the winner becoming sole inheritor of all his billions. As the man was severely obsessed with all things 80 and geek so too become the millions of people searching for clues amongst his obsessions. This is the explanation that Ready Player One uses to justify its unashamedly retro focus, and while it is a little (read: a lot) stretched it nonetheless manages to pull it off without breaking suspension of disbelief too many times.
The book tackles many common nowadays themes like escapism, anonymity and its repercussions and the slow commercialisation of free online environments (though personified by a cartoonishly evil corporation with hilariously stupid business practices). It tries to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy for this generation of geeks set two generations from now and to some extent succeeds but there are some things that could have been done significantly better. The POV character is a Marty-Stu-ish perpetually poor yet noble geek who wants to find the easter egg in order to become famous and save the internets. His friends and enemies are one dimensional: the noble samurai-obsessed japanese otaku, the sidekick, the love interest and of course the evil, corporate drones that all have identical avatars apart from their ID numbers. At some point this all became extremely annoying but the seasoning of geek trivia kept it bearable.
Long story short, the book has an interesting premise and it is worth reading but so much more could have been done with it. Hopefully the sequel will be better......more
A vividly post-modern near-future rant on a plethora of subjects. Stross weaves a spider's web of plot lines to build his narrative, intersecting throA vividly post-modern near-future rant on a plethora of subjects. Stross weaves a spider's web of plot lines to build his narrative, intersecting through grimy pubs, bunkers in breakaway central Asian republics and high-tech augmented reality police stations. The characters are compelling and well constructed, be they cops or psychotic criminal-CEOs. The second person narrative is oddly effective, I would have not expected it to work had I not just read this book. The setting... Well it has been said that sci-fi presents to us an eerie challenge, that it either shows us the best or worst futures that we can imagine. Rule 34 oddly hits in the middle . It is undoubtedly way to generous with the tech and the willingness of people to accept drastic changes in policing and everyday life but it doesn't presume to indirectly lecture us on what we should do. Agreed, it delves into government regulation and imposing 'good citizenship' rules on banks and corporations but it doesn't do this in such an in-your-face manner as, say a near-future author like Brunner. Instead it uses it's background pieces as just dat, elements to help frame a story about illegal 3d printing, AIs and murder. My only direct criticism of the book would be its abuse of the disjointed narrative structure that it is built around. Sometimes it feels as if you're reading novellettes instead of a novel and the importance of some characters becomes obvious only in the end. I still don't understand what the purpose of the Eurocop was in this book. Maybe I'm dense. I could also raise a point about how difficult it became at some points to follow the cognitive computer science stuff... I felt as if I was reading Foucault. It didn't bother me but it might have bothered others...
All in all this was a good read. It's nice to see a near future cyber-thriller that is more Goatse than Neuromancer (reflecting the state of the internets today, n'est ce pas?), with decidedly modern archetypes for characters ( the single working, "heterosexually challenged" , to use the book's own term, career woman rather than the haxxorz with implanted pit-bull teeth for instance) and a relatable setting (Scotland as opposed to the Sprawl). Read it, folks....more
The half made world is an amazing read and an excellent exercise for an author that clearly has a firm grasp of literary style and genre mixing in addThe half made world is an amazing read and an excellent exercise for an author that clearly has a firm grasp of literary style and genre mixing in addition from the hyperactive imagination necessary for a good fantasy writer. Despite its steampunk trappings it is an eminently readable allegory for the west and how it was won and i highly recommend it to just about anybody....more