(Add another star if you are an SF geek. You know who you are. Take one off if you think fantasy is for children. You know who you are.)
Every so often...more(Add another star if you are an SF geek. You know who you are. Take one off if you think fantasy is for children. You know who you are.)
Every so often you read a book and realise that the author wrote it just for you. Not for anyone else, just for you. Among Others is one of those books. It's a paean to all those of us who grew up without the slightest understanding or interest in the pop-culture trivia or sport that obsessed our peers, and instead read. A lot. Jo Walton doesn't bother to explain her references, she just assumes that you have read them too.
A beautiful character study that, whilst not being intricately plotted (indeed, it seems a little slapdash at times), sucks you in and keeps you interested. Sure, the school sections are a little shallow, but the bookclub is a joy and the diary format feels convincing. The fantastical elements are cleverly understated - to the point that even at the end you aren't entirely sure how "true" they are meant to be, which is unusual. I guess my only real complaint is that, with the exception of Miss Carroll the librarian (and, I suppose, Auntie Teg), the women are largely all horrible and the men are largely all ideal. Which may be intentional, of course, but it read oddly (to this man.)
But the real gem is the way she vividly recaptures a time when stumbling across a new title by a favourite author was an unexpected delight - hard to remember in these days of instant blogs and promotional campaigns on the sides of buses... (less)
Man, I hate trying to review books like this. Partly because the "star" rating I have given is completely unrepresentative: for me, the high concept i...moreMan, I hate trying to review books like this. Partly because the "star" rating I have given is completely unrepresentative: for me, the high concept is worth 5 stars, but the execution was average enough that I felt disappointed to the extent that it almost didn't work at all for me.
Let's start with the basics: this is a meta novel that uses an SF conceit to have fun with ideas around identity and free will. And I love meta novels because at heart I'm a gamer and that's what they are: puzzles and games that are disguised as prose. And I appreciate the effort that goes into constructing something like this - it's not even a case of starting at the resolution and working backwards, it requires a different sort of construction (and one in which, ironically, the characters cannot be allowed to break the structure because it is incredibly fragile, even as they comment about the structure...)
The fundamental problem for me is that Scalzi is writing at least three books here, but doesn't seem sure which one he would like the reader to take away from the experience. Is it the bad TV SciFi parody (mainly the first half), the meta-narrative philosophy (mainly the second half) or the ever-so-slightly-heavy-handed self-help mantra (the codas)?
Because none of them are quite strong enough to sustain the narrative on their own (oh, the even bigger irony of that) and when he tries to sneak in an ultra-ridiculous meta-meta-conceit, it almost made me abandon the whole thing (luckily that's only in a one page aside and it's very unclear to me why he didn't just cut the whole character involved anyway.)
In essence then, I definitely enjoyed the three separate books, but together they added up to less than the sum of their parts. And that's a shame.(less)
Any series of books that has reached #9 is one (or both) of two things: successful enough to have a readership base to sustain itself / intricate enou...moreAny series of books that has reached #9 is one (or both) of two things: successful enough to have a readership base to sustain itself / intricate enough to mean that new readers should absolutely not start here. Whilst I have no idea about the first condition (although I imagine it can't just be vanity publishing!), the second is most definitely true. Although the basic plot is sufficiently independent to be comprehensible to newcomers, the universe building is not explained at all, and several crucial parts of the dénouement do require background knowledge to understand.
Duane's Wizard series is very strange in one particular way - the first book was written nearly 30 years ago* but the timeline of the story is very compressed: only a couple of years have actually elapsed in "real" time. But she has been forced to make the technology upgrades that have transformed our life in the last few decades, which makes for a weird experience if you read the first one now. *I think that it was only the mid90s reprint that reawakened interest in the series and led to the new books though.
Still all that hardly matters. This is another solid entry in a generally pretty solid series, with some proper character development and tantalising hints of what is to come. The core story is a fine romp, albeit a tad predictable, and the resolution is satisfying even if Kit and Nita come across as being far too nice given what has gone before.
And the major loose end still dangling is nicely set-up for the next volume. Can't wait.(less)
A fun homage to 80s geek culture, combined with some nice riffs on the Hero's Journey. The only thing is that all the way through I was getting this d...moreA fun homage to 80s geek culture, combined with some nice riffs on the Hero's Journey. The only thing is that all the way through I was getting this distinct sense of deja vu - that I had read this book over a decade ago, when it was called Wyrm (by Mark Fabi.) Not in the sense of plagiarism, but in the basic structure and narrative style of the story, even down to the scattergun approach of dropping as many references as possible. Mind you, I didn't think this was a bad thing, given that Wyrm is one of my favourite books, so I was already predisposed to like this.
Apart from the opening sequence in which Cline tries to build a plausible alternate future world (that doesn't quite hang together although it is nicely dystopian), the story is pretty relentlessly focussed on the actions of our hero (and his trusty band of allies/sidekicks) in the online world which has become the escape valve for much of humanity in the future. There are a couple of excursions into the real world (including an admittedly excellent and tense sequence in the heart of the enemy camp) but these feel a little perfunctory. There are countless plot devices that are introduced almost from thin air - especially the one that enables the ending to work - and a little too much self-indulgent "research" on show (although at least a good proportion of the references shoe-horned in are left for the reader to appreciate.)
Indeed there is practically nothing here that isn't subordinate to plot. There is a minor element of character development for the hero, but it is mostly irrelevant as he doesn't really have much of a character to begin with. There are a couple of nice curve-ball moments relating to the other characters but they aren't quite as surprising as perhaps they should be. But in the end you aren't reading this for the characters or for emotional revelation. Like a good Hollywood Blockbuster (as opposed to, say, an arthouse/indie flick), you're here for the roller-coaster ride, and it's a good one.(less)
An amazingly depressing book in the unerring way it nails our inability as a species to evolve beyond selfishness. But I also find it extremely satisf...moreAn amazingly depressing book in the unerring way it nails our inability as a species to evolve beyond selfishness. But I also find it extremely satisfying as a clever blurring of the SF/Fantasy boundaries, with ideas bursting out all over the place. The slow-burning horror of Fidipur is especially well-handled.
One thing I am uncertain about is that I first read this in one edition but purchased a different edition - and I think that several sections (presented as some sort of plot exposition) that I recalled from the first version were definitely not present in the version I bought. (And their absence makes the book far, far better.) Can anyone tell me if I am dreaming about these excisions?(less)
I have a very soft spot for the computer game on which this novel was based. It was over-ambitious, flawed and frustrating but it did some things that...moreI have a very soft spot for the computer game on which this novel was based. It was over-ambitious, flawed and frustrating but it did some things that even all these years later have yet to be equalled in terms of conversational AI.
And I also have a soft spot for this novelisation because at the time of the game they posted the entire text of the novel on the official website. But they did it by sorting all the words into alphabetical order first. It was a typical Adams idea - funny and off-beat but which also made you think, just a little.(less)
This is a historical curiosity as well as a piece of mind-blowing hard SF. I first read it soon after it was originally published, and although I coul...moreThis is a historical curiosity as well as a piece of mind-blowing hard SF. I first read it soon after it was originally published, and although I could still clearly remember the jaw-dropping parts, I had clearly forgotten most of the actual plot.
The premise is exactly the same as that of Arthur C.Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama - an alien spacecraft enters the solar system and we follow the stories of those sent up to explore it. But, of course, that's about where the similarities end. In this case, the "Stone" has a very different background and reason for existing, and it's a doozy, and the theoretical physics employed in the explanations are almost graspable (to this layperson, at least.)
But the human tension is the story is driven by something that now feels rather quaint. Originally published at the height of the "second" Cold War - the mid 80s when Star Wars (the space laser defence system, not the movie!) was a theoretical possibility and tensions between East and West were very real, Eon offers us a vision of a world in which the Berlin Wall never fell, but where the arrival of the "Stone" generates a whole new level of paranoia and overreaction, leading to disaster.
To his credit, Bear does create a very good "alternate history" of the twenty years or so after the original publication, but we can read it now and perhaps laugh rather than be scared by the vision he offers.
Once the action has shifted to the Stone proper, I think the book falls down by using the old stand-by of simply taking two parallel storylines and switching between them, which I found somewhat annoying rather than tension building. And the political plot which drives the second half is extremely difficult to follow, although some of the neat paradoxes inherent in the main idea are cleverly introduced and explained (indeed, he's obviously so keen on one of them he explains it twice!)
Overall, I enjoyed my revisit, but that's about all I can say really.(less)
The five volumes of Dick's collected stories are a masterclass in how to write short stories from intimate character studies to massive universe spann...moreThe five volumes of Dick's collected stories are a masterclass in how to write short stories from intimate character studies to massive universe spanning plots, all wrapped up in a few pages.
And even more impressive is that very few of them take place in the same world. So often a massive amount of backstory has to be sketched in for us, or sometimes simply left for us to infer, and yet almost every time it works and is consistent.
Not every story is perfect, but more than enough of them are to justify the five stars.(less)
I must confess that I don't really like PKD's novels. His genius was in the field of the short-story where a single idea can be explored in multiple w...moreI must confess that I don't really like PKD's novels. His genius was in the field of the short-story where a single idea can be explored in multiple ways. Novels require the collision of multiple ideas, and too often those ideas simply don't mesh properly.
But for me, this is a notable exception. And it may simply be because it is really a single idea, but one that is large enough to survive the expansion to the novel format. In addition, the background world is important enough to justify the effort taken to fill in the details without feeling forced.
It also joins that elite group of novels where the film adaptation brings a better understanding of the book, and vice versa. And I am now starting to meet people who don't know either the film or the book and I get the pleasure of introducing them to both. That's a rare treat. (It's happened with The Princess Bride.)
Not his best work, but what he will be remembered for. And that's no bad thing.(less)
For heaven's sake, don't expect great writing from this book. For all his talent, Clarke wasn't a wordsmith (heck, even Asimov could write better!) In...moreFor heaven's sake, don't expect great writing from this book. For all his talent, Clarke wasn't a wordsmith (heck, even Asimov could write better!) Instead, simply glory in one of the cleverest conceits you will ever read - an encounter with an alien civilisation in which the aliens are absent and there is no convenient "universal translator" to explain things. Slowly you can begin to piece things together, keeping maybe one step ahead of the astronauts, but you become aware that trying to understand Raman culture is like trying to appreciate the Sistene Chapel ceiling without ever having read the Bible - you could create an explanation, but it would be utterly and magnificently wrong.
All I ask is that you don't make the mistake of going on and reading the pointless sequels. Yes, I understand why they were written, but I can never forgive them for ruining the magic of the original. Just take this one and enjoy.(less)