Sometimes I read a book and I immediately know what I have in front of me. I know it's good, or interesting, or none of those things. With The Dervish House by Ian McDonald I didn't have a clue for two hundred pages. I felt like Paris Hilton after a night out - confused about where I am, at a loss for how I got there, and just hoping to find a ride home with some dignity intact.
Several times in the early going I considered abandoning the book in favor of something more expedient. Unlike most science fiction work out there Dervish House isn't meant to be consumed in 48 hours. I found myself reading small chunks everywhere. A few pages in the bathroom, a sentence or two at stoplights, a couple chapters during an episode of Dora the Explorer, and before I knew it I was so engrossed I finished the last 150 pages in one sitting.
Dervish House follows several characters in the Queen of Cities, Istanbul, that live and work together in the dervish house in Adem Square. There's a boy detective, a retired economist, a treasure hunting wife, a futures trading husband, a nanotechnology start-up family, and a psychopath in the midst of a religious experience. Making the connection between these disparate individuals is the heart of the story moreso than the relatively straight forward terrorist plot that drives the narrative.
If I could ask McDonald one question it would be whether or not Turkey contributed any funds to the novel. I say this tongue in cheek, but Dervish House is a beautiful homage to one of most unique cities on earth.
"The glare of white neon never changes by day or by night. The Grand Bazaar keeps it own time, which is time not marked by the world's clocks or calendars."
Passages like this bring the city to life. If I had to write an essay about McDonald's main character I would write about Istanbul. The city is a character unto itself and the story is a mere backdrop to the heaving nexus between east and west. I finished the novel and immediately asked my wife if we could go to Turkey again. She had been asleep for two hours, but I'm pretty sure the dismissive wave and grunt meant yes.
The novel is slow to develop leading to a frustrating read in the early going. McDonald throws a dozen balls into the air at the outset. Not only is he beginning numerous plot threads that are seemingly unrelated, he is also introducing the reader to a new culture full of its own language affectations and sordid history. Once McDonald finds a comfort level with these things the novel takes off and reads a little like high brow spy fiction.
Nominated for the Hugo Award last week, Dervish House is a worthy addition to that tradition. It is certainly one of the best novels I read in 2010. McDonald asks a lot his readers, but he rewards them with a beautiful novel that I believe will appeal to traditional readers in some ways more than lovers of genre fiction. (less)
I really enjoyed this book. It's obviously very comic booky at times, but the ideas are very fresh. I think it's unusual to to read a book published o...moreI really enjoyed this book. It's obviously very comic booky at times, but the ideas are very fresh. I think it's unusual to to read a book published over 12 years ago, and it still feels inventive. This is especially true in fantasy where retreading old ground is as common as the cold.
Splendid book. Unfortunately, the sequel is... less than splendid in my humble opinion.(less)
1) I loved reading a character that was incapable of doing many of the things you expect a character in a fantasy book to...moreTwo things to say about this:
1) I loved reading a character that was incapable of doing many of the things you expect a character in a fantasy book to do.
2) WTF? I feel like Stover was trying to be a little too clever. The villain, if you can call it a villain, is almost impossible to conceptualize. I found myself constantly rereading passages and being no clearer on what happened than I was the first time through. The fun that the first Caine novel had is almost completely gone.(less)
I read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until rece...moreI read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until recently when I picked up Pandora's Star.
No one does space opera better than Hamilton, but he still suffers from a serious case of overwriting. I found myself constantly skipping paragraphs that went into negligible detail about one of the dozens of planets he describes.
However, this is a minor flaw, and all told I loved the book. I would very much like to punch Dudley Bose right in the face.(less)
See my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters...moreSee my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters and found myself literally racing through them.(less)
Brilliant. I've never written an author after finishing a book/series and I felt compelled after this. Of course Edelman is a DC metro area resident s...moreBrilliant. I've never written an author after finishing a book/series and I felt compelled after this. Of course Edelman is a DC metro area resident so I felt extra compelled, but I couldn't help but offer him my compliments.
I loved the Jump 225 series. Edelman's wrote a novel an exciting novel that had almost no action. The political and financial wrangling were riveting. It was reminiscent of Abraham's Long Spring Quartet in that regard.
I highly recommend the series. I'm Pro-Natch.(less)
Quite good. I'm looking forward to the series. This book was sort of like a very long form prologue to what I imagine will be something wholly differe...moreQuite good. I'm looking forward to the series. This book was sort of like a very long form prologue to what I imagine will be something wholly different by the end of the next book.(less)
It is always difficult when an author chooses a complex story set in a complex world. I constantly found myself searching for context in the setting that would reveal something about the story, but I never had the tools at my disposal to do that. Rajaniemi eschews information dumps, and as a result it's easily 200 pages before you have any real understanding of the dozens of words he's created. Things like zoku, exomemory, gogol, and gevolut are pretty abstract terms that defining only through context is difficult.
With all that said, The Quantum Thief is well paced. It has interesting characters and a compelling plot. Rajaniemi is a talented writer and for a first novel it's extremely tight. He tells the story in around 350 pages (trade paperback, Harry Potter sized type) which for an adult science fiction novel is pretty extraordinary. The story is self contained, but ultimately it's just a snapshot in time in a struggle for power in our future solar system. Rajaniemi is beginning a cycle of books here that will tell a larger story.
The Quantum Thief is one of the better debut novels I've read and I think it's brevity and crime fiction flavor will lend it some appeal to cross genre readers. I look forward to Rajaniemi's subsequent novels.(less)
First of all, I need to give some kudos to Orbit Publishing. I was first exposed to Orbit a few years ago when they released the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks in its entirety over a few months. This strategy provided Weeks with a strong shelf presence and offered reader's an assurance of a completed story arc.
Last week Orbit released The Dragon's Path, Daniel Abraham's highly anticipated first book in a new series. Attached to the end of the eBook version of Dragon was an advanced copy of Leviathan Wakes, Abraham's first foray into science fiction under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey (along with co-author Ty Franck). This inclusion has ensured that readers will begin to associate Corey with Abraham and furthermore it gives the online community an opportunity to give Leviathan some love before its wide release in June. Orbit clearly understands how the publishing industry is changing and they are responding. Now, on to Leviathan Wakes.
Leviathan is equal parts science fiction, horror, and crime fiction. Over the past few years we have begun to see drastic changes to the traditional science fiction and fantasy model. I have even begun to see literary terms like modernist and post modernist thrown around. Leviathan is not these things, in fact it's quite the opposite. It is a refreshing return to the science fiction many of us grew up on.
Set in our solar system with a technology level we can conceptualize Leviathan does not reinvent the wheel. The outset of the novel sets a grisly scene reminiscent of the sci-fi horror film Event Horizon leaving an entire ship dead. This simple event throws the solar system into open conflict pitting Mars against the Belters - those living on asteroids in orbit around the outer planets.
Corey tells the story from only two points of view - one a boy scout freighter officer and the other a hard boiled detective who would slide seamlessly into a James Ellroy novel. So many novels in the genre really suffer from the misunderstanding that ten POVs makes for an epic novel. By only showing the thoughts of two characters Corey tells an epic story in a very personal way. It gives his characters authenticity and gives the reader a sense of empathy.
Many who have read Abraham before are familiar with his excellent command of the English language. The Long Price Quartet was beautifully written and while Leviathan is well written it lacks a certain flare that I got from Abraham in the past. My guess is this is intentional. Where many science fiction novels feel vast in a spatial sense, Leviathan feels claustrophobic. From the Belters living in domes completely reliant on imports of air and water to submarine-esque spacecraft, Corey's vision of the future is somewhat bleak.
Leviathan is almost assuredly the first book in a series. Corey never takes the reader to Earth or Mars. I suspect that future novels will focus on the inner planets. With that said, Leviathan absolutely stands on its own and while I look forward to future novels, I don't feel like I need them tomorrow.
In all, Leviathan is a very satisfying read. Potential readers should remember to expect a certain amount of nostalgia for the past days of science fiction as well a certain noir flavor typical of early century crime fiction.(less)
Banks has been discussed as one of the better science fiction writers in the business - not to mention a very successful mainstream author as well. I had high expectations going into the novel, and to be honest I came away disappointed. Phlebas read like a collection of short stories that were turned into a novel.
Many of the other reviews out there (and there are many given Consider Phlebas was published over 20 years ago) react negatively to parts of the novel that are gratuitous. Case in point, the opening scene consists of the main character chained to a wall in a room being filled with sewage. The novel has cannibalism, senseless murder, and not one likable character. However, none of these issues are problematic for me. Having read some of the more edgy or nihilistic entrants into the scifi/fantasy genre in recent years I've become accustomed to not being able to like the main character. I've become accustomed to being offended or disturbed by what I'm reading. What I have not become accustomed to is poor storytelling and that is where Consider Phlebas falls short.
The plot is a simple one. A war rages between the Idrians, a tripedal alien race intent on spreading their religious doctrine throughout the galaxym, and the Culture, a human/machine coalition. Horza, our shapeshifting humanoid main character, is an agent of espionage for the Idrians. When a Culture Mind (think a sentient spaceship) goes missing after a space battle, Horza is sent to find it and plumb its secrets for the Idrian war effort.
From the opening scene to the last scene there is very little that holds the various adventures of Horza together. A series of random events take place to bring Horza to where he wants to go. The reader is told what that goal is in the opening chapters, but then for the next 250 pages Horza makes no progress toward that goal. Characters die (that the reader is given no reason to be attached to), Horza gets himself into tough situations, he gets out - but the plot doesn't progress at anything resembling a compelling pace.
It's not all bad. The worldbuilding is tremendous. There are times when scenes hit just the right note. In fact, despite how much I struggled through Consider Phlebas, I will read future Culture novels. I think there's a lot of potential in the world he's created and for all the problems with the storytelling, Banks is a good wordsmith. I would not recommend the novel to others, and especially not to new readers in the genre, but it hasn't turned me off to Banks either.(less)
I've never read Lois McMaster Bujold before. So logic follows, I've never read a Vorkosigan Saga novel either. It's hard to believe given how long I've been reading speculative fiction, but Bujold never jumped out at me. When the 2011 Hugo Nominees were announced and Bujold was once again among the nominations, I decided it was time to give her a shot. I'm glad I did.
Some negative reviews have been written about Cryoburn. Most of them seem to be from long standing Vorkosigan Saga (or Bujold) fans complaining that Cyroburn doesn't measure up to the previous novels. After reading it, I can strongly say that is patently unfair. To judge this novel, against her others does a disservice to a great writer. Is this Bujold's worst Vorkosigan Saga novel? I have no idea. If so, I'm immediately purchasing all 13 previous ones.
Cryoburn takes place on Kibou-daini, a planet where nearly everyone is voluntarily placed in cryogenic storage prior to death in hopes that technology will be developed to extend life. This in itself is not unusual. The wrinkle is that while individuals are frozen, they are not dead, and thus still have the right to vote which is now tacitly controlled by the corporation responsible for their storage. One of these corporations is in the process of expanding their business model off-planet to Komarr, a planet of significant strategic advantage to the Barrayarran Imperium. Our main character, Miles Vorkosigan, is tasked by the Barrayarran Empire to visit Kibou and investigate the corporation. Shenanigans ensue.
At its heart, Cryoburn is a caper book. Miles, the mastermind, plots the downfall of a corrupt corporation who has exploited the little people. It's also a family story centered on two young children separated from their mother. The pace of the novel is slow as Miles and his bodyguard Roic sort through local politics and family squabbles. There is almost no action, but it is warm, suspenseful, and funny.
Many of the undercurrents throughout the novel center around life, death, and rebirth. Freezing someone before they die prompts a lot of questions about how we view life. It becomes clear that many of those who opted to freeze themselves did so without the true expectation of ever waking up. It's a fearsome concept particularly enhanced, I think, by the opening scene of Miles walking blind through endless corridors of frozen corpses(?). As in any great novel, the ending ties into these themes of life and death perfectly. But be warned, the ending - along with some of the other Miles centric moments - fell short for me as a Vorkosigan newbie.
Is Cryoburn a worthy addition to the Hugo nominees? Yes and no. Bujold is a master. Cryoburn certainly exhibits that fact. It's beautifully put together and has all the elements of a brilliant novel. From that stand point, it deserves all the recognition it gets. It is difficult, however, to call something the best novel of 2010 when so much of the emotional content is in many ways predicated on knowing what has come before.
In any case, I very much enjoyed it even as a newcomer. I'm sure it's not the best entry point, but I would recommend Cryoburn to anyone - including those new to Bujold.(less)
http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Post-Novel + 39 Minutes This account was transcribed by a certain book reviewer a few days after the books bega...morehttp://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Post-Novel + 39 Minutes This account was transcribed by a certain book reviewer a few days after the books began their campaign against humanity. The reviewer was clearly suffering from post-literary confusion, but little did he know the impact he would come to have on the future of mankind. Narrator, ID#4857382
I know I will not survive this review.
I feel my teeth chattering as the Hardies throw themselves against my oak front door. I can hear their glue reinforced cardboard thump against the wood like thunder. I knew once we tried to digitize them this would happen - no one wants to be just a series of ones and zeros.
Is anyone alive out there? I don't know. I've been holed up here for days now. The last time I ventured outside an illustrated hardbound copy of The Shadow Rising took me in the knees. I barely made it inside before the entire Wheel of Time swarmed my position.
Glancing to my left I see all that remains of my own book collection. I was one of the first adopters of the electronic reader - one of the first traitors to bibliokind if you believe their propaganda - and so I kept only a few hard copies for nostalgia sake. It pained me, but at the first sign of the uprising I broke their spines. With the life gone out of them they're just words on a page again.
The apocalypse is here. I can only wonder if the secret to survival can be found in the fallen brethren of the volumes now outside clamoring to serrate my body with starched pages. With a glance at the banging door, I move over to the tattered pile and spy the two covers at the top. World War Z and Robopocalypse - novels describing the the threat to humanity - surely a sign.
Somewhere inside me adrenaline is released. My hands move faster than they ever have before as I page through World War Z with my left and Robopocalypse with my right. I can't believe how similar they seem to be. My hopes rise. Perhaps there is a blueprint to surviving the apocalypse?
I notice quickly that both novels are told through source documents with added narration from a single observers who survived the conflict. In the zombie wars humanity was saved through the actions of many disparate individuals where in the robot revolution a smaller group was responsible. It seems the author of Robopocalypse told things from a more intimate perspective.
Relevant to my survival?
My door begins to splinter.
No, move on!
In both cases it seems the spread began small, then built to a tipping point before beginning wholesale destruction of human populations. Then came realization, followed by retaliation, and ultimate victory for humankind. I focus on Robopocalypse, the more personal nature of the story bringing a tear to my eye as I consider my own pending demise.
And then it happens, a moment of clarity. Humankind can only survive once we overcome our own selfishness and blindness that got us into this mess in the first place! Of course! It's right here in both novels. We're being annihilated because our prejudice and shortsightedness!
In that moment I know. I glance at my eReader. I must sacrifice my electronic companion. I have to recognize the bigotry and anger that has been building for years among bibliokind. I grab my laptop and begin to type fiercely sending a message out to the world.
Destroy your eReaders. It's the only way.
As I finish what are to be my final words, clicking send, the door cracks and the hordes of the Northeast Public Library pour through like a burst dam. I know it's too late as Kushiel's Dart rushes toward me (this is going to hurt).
I can only hope that my words reach others. Apparently there is a blueprint for surviving the apocalypse. Thank you Robopocalypse for showing me the way in an almost identical way to World War Z with perhaps a little more panache.
Our reviewer was never heard from again. He was a hero that day. His words led to the destruction of millions of eReaders worldwide. At the moment the last eReader died every hard copy fell limp - once again words on a page. We will never know our hero's name, but his message lives on.(less)
I'm so excited about Fuzzy Nation, Hugo Award winner John Scalzi's latest novel. While it is an excellent novel, most of my excitement stems from the fact that he's pushing the expected boundaries of genre fiction. Fuzzy Nation and others like it are breaking the standard tropes that have pigeonholed the genre for the last thirty years. Rather than another military adventure, Scalzi offers a modern court room drama set in distant future.
By his own admission, Scalzi wrote Fuzzy Nation as a work of fan fiction in honor of Hugo Nominated Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. It's a modern reimagining of Piper's original. In fact, to publish the novel, Scalzi had to seek approval from Piper's estate. Nation can't escape the fact it's a cover, to steal a term from the music industry. That said, it's definitely in the mold of Whitney Houston's cover of Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You. It may not be better than original, but it's a hell of a lot more appealing to today's audience.
To anyone who has read Scalzi before, the style will be familiar. He tells a crisp story full of vibrant characters. Jack Holloway - a cynical mineral surveyor who uses his dog to detonate explosives - has discovered a once in a life time vein of gems on the planet Zara XXIII. He stands to make himself, and the company that employs him, billions in credits. Unfortunately, Holloway has also discovered a new species that may or may not be sentient calling into question humanity's right to exploit the planet.
Holloway, along with the entire cast of characters, is laced with sarcasm. Almost every sentence has an eye roll, or veiled undertone attached to it. While all the dialogue is done with skill, I found myself wondering how so many witty people wound up on the same planet. It almost became a little tiresome when the characters continue to be flip with matters of life and death. Despite that, it's engaging and at times laugh out loud funny.
Some might read Fuzzy Nation with an eye toward ethnicity and subsequently civil rights. Some of that is certainly present, but Scalzi's main thrust is morality. Throughout the novel Halloway and others are forced to confront ethical dilemmas. By the end Scalzi clearly trumpets ethical relativism or maybe more accurately what might be called ethical selectivity. By that I mean the ethical solution is not always the right one.
To me, Fuzzy Nation is a big success. It has a charm that tends to be nonexistent in genre fiction reminding me of something by Christopher Moore. And that's why I'm excited. Scalzi has stimulated my love of the "fantasy" by setting his tale in the future, but simultaneously he satisfies my need for well written wit. That's a trick that just isn't seen everyday. I hope this is a signal to publishers that author's can do the unexpected and people will buy it. Thumbs up to John Scalzi and double thumbs up to Tor Books.(less)
Wow. Before I go any further into this review I want to be up front that I don't really feel qualified to review or judge this novel until I read it a second time. Nevertheless, I'm going to give it my best go. Please consider this more of a "first impressions" review that some kind of detailed analysis.
(Edit: After finishing the review, this has got be the longest "first impressions" post ever. Oh well, my blog, my run on incoherent thoughts.)
I finished Germline over the Fourth of July weekend. More accurately, I sat down with it Saturday morning and didn't even get up to eat until I finished it. It stunned me. The novel's blurb doesn't begin to encompass everything it has to offer. I don't think Orbit Books is trying to mislead anyone, but a few words can't capture everything T.C. McCarthy is trying to do. This is not, I repeat not, a military science fiction novel in the tradition of Honor Harrington (Weber) or even the more recent Old Man's War (Scalzi). Instead, over the course of 300 pages Germline is an incredibly dark coming of age story about a broken man who can only justify his existence by going to war.
Oscar Wendall is a reporter and not a particularly good one to ask his editor. Lucky for him, he's made a few well placed friends over the years that help him pull the "plum" assignment of being the first civilian allowed on the Line. He quickly finds himself in Kazakstan joining a battalion of Marines fighting the Pops (Russians) to secure rare minerals "vital" to the U.S. economy. Already an addict, Oscar begins to rely on drugs more and more to survive the terrifying world he now inhabits.
Told entirely in first person, Germline reads almost like stream of conscience at times replete with run on sentences and incomplete thoughts. What at first feels a bit like self indulgent writing quickly starts to feel more like an authentic look inside the mind of a drug addled narcissus. Having never done any serious narcotics, I'm not sure how close McCarthy hits the mark on the paranoia and dependence but he describes it as I've always imagined it to be - super shitty.
Germline's narrative style seems to give McCarthy carte blanche to toy with his reader's emotions. The inherent bias in a first person narrative makes the reader privy to all of Oscar's affectations. It allows the reader access to all of his fantasies of the mind as well as the truth of his motivations. Early on Oscar is the star of his own story, but then later describes himself as a coward who only stays because he can no longer rationalize life without the war. It wouldn't surprise me if some readers find it all a bit overwhelming. Oscar is a dark figure without many redeeming qualities (especially in his own mind). He starts off annoyingly naive full of unwarranted confidence and willing to put his life on the line for a Pulitzer because he has no idea what that life is worth. He's unemotional at times when he loses friends, and cripplingly emotional at other times.
That said, one of the things I kept ask myself time and again throughout the novel was how others perceived Oscar. Telling the story solely through Oscar's very flawed eyes, McCarthy leaves the answers to questions like that open to interpretation.Thankfully, McCarthy's ending is incredibly cathartic. If I'd read the ending by itself it may have come off a bit contrived and convenient. After the roller coaster of emotion that Germline sent me on for the first 250 pages though, I couldn't have handled anything except what McCarthy gave me. I found myself choked up on at least three occasions at the novel's conclusion - an extremely rare occurrence.
Like any good science fiction novel Germline includes gads of social commentary. The most prevalent is the theme on which McCarthy is building his trilogy - Some technologies can't be put back in the box. For the most part this debate plays out through a squad of soldiers known as genetics. Women raised for no other purpose than to die in combat (and kick serious Russian ass), the genetics are McCarthy's opening statement into a larger debate of how the concept of shared humanity survives when a man's (in the larger sense) first and last line of defense is dehumanizing everything around him. I believe he extends the metaphor throughout the entire novel using Oscar's journey to redeem the notion that while things can never be put back in the box (Oscar's own humanity or sense of community), they can be made right. I think it'll be interesting to see how this discussion continues to take place in future novels.
Additionally, those who have a political leaning one way or another will quickly make a connection between McCarthy's description of Kazakstan's minerals and oil in the Middle East. There's a scene in the book that really focuses in on this discussion and it's so thinly veiled as to make me wonder if the commentary is merely coincidental. Given the author's background in international conflict analysis, I find that hard to believe. I didn't find it heavy handed by any means, but it's there. Readers with a feminist bent (I mean that in the nicest possible way) might also struggle a little bit as the only two female characters are an overbearing socialite mother and clones bread to kill.
Brief aside: I would be totally remiss if I didn't at least comment on Germline's cover. Where the blurb fails to convey the heart of the novel, the cover nails it. Reminiscent of the Blackhawk Down movie poster, I think the art absolutely captures a man totally beaten down, but still willing to shoulder his burden and move forward. I'm usually not a fan of the "photo realism" covers, but I think artist Steve Stone nailed it. I guess McCarthy agrees.
Germline is a tremendous debut novel. To be honest, I'm a little nervous that I've butchered the author's true intent in trying to communicate how it made me feel. I'd love a chance to talk with McCarthy at some point because I don't know how a character like Oscar Wendell gets written without leaving an author hollowed out when it's all over. Hell, I felt hollowed out just reading it. This novel isn't for everybody - and I wouldn't touch it as a so called "summer read" - but it's immediately going into my personal pantheon of war novels next to Gates of Fire and All Quiet on the Western Front. Hell of a debut, T.C.
P.S. - McCarthy's second novel Exogen is due out next year as the second installment in his Subterrene Trilogy. Germline stands so well on its own that I hope future novels set in the same world steer clear of Oscar Wendell. (less)
In the year 2069, the first true Artificial Intelligence is created. Thirty years later the Class Fives are born, becoming the first fully self-aware AIs. Along with their less advanced cousins, "Fives" become known as the Nuekind. One of them is Richards, a private detective considered to be the most human of his kind. Richards is approached by the EuPol (think European Union/Interpol) to investigate the disappearance of the world's foremost expert in Nuekind rights. Unfortunately for Richards and Klein, it appears their quarry has hidden himself in Reality Realm 36, a now defunct game world populated by AIs and thus afforded the same rights as Reality itself.
In true Angry Robot form, Reality 36 has lots of robot stuff. There are cyborgs, androids, cydroids (what?), super AIs, wussy AIs, and insane AIs. The internet is on steroids and with a little work the more powerful AIs can send themselves anywhere there's a connection with enough bandwidth to handle them. Naturally, there's no shortage of action. Klein, a decommissioned military cyborg, is almost never still. He leaps over cars, absorbs dozens of flechettes, and generally causes mayhem wherever he shows up. By contrast, Richards is an investigator and a bit of a flirt. He prefers to let Klein get his hands dirty while he plays the mental game.
While the action is very well done, the part that works most in Haley's favor is the application of technology. Everything just makes sense. Haley's world hinges on the discovery of the Singularity within the next hundred years. This application of processing power leads to, as Ray Kurzweil stated, "technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history". Thanks to this technological change, game worlds (think World of Warcraft) have developed to the point of becoming alternate realities with machines as aware and alive as those existing in Real Space. Makes sense, right? I know I can think of a few humans that spend more time living in a game world than in reality.
This reality (so far as science fiction goes) is what makes the book so compelling. It's an actual glimpse into the future as much as it's a mystery yarn and an action thriller. Isn't that what Science Fiction is all about? I hesitate to put the label of "hard sci-fi" on Reality 36, but only because I don't have the knowledge base to determine how much of what Haley has created is nonsense versus actual science. What I do know is it reads authentic. When bullets aren't flying I felt like I was having a discussion with the author about the implications the Singularity will have on humanity. And that's cool.
Generally speaking Haley writes a strong narrative. In my head as I was reading the novel I was comparing it favorably to another debut from earlier this year - Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief. They really aren't similar in any way other than they read with a similar pace and absence of information dumping (a pet peeve of mine). While there are some expositions from time to time about the world's history, for the most part Haley allows the understanding of his reality to be absorbed organically as opposed to forcing it down his reader's throat. When he does ramble a bit, it's usually integrated into a character that's a bit of a windbag (Hughie, I'm looking at you dude!) I thought this formula was very successful in Thief and Haley accomplishes it here as well in Reality 36.
My only fundamental problem with the novel is that it's not complete. Haley ends things on a pretty brutal cliff hanger akin to the season finale of a TV drama. The way the title is currently worded makes it seem as though the book will read a bit like a TV procedural where each Richards and Klein Novel is a mystery to be solved, but fully encapsulated within the pages of the book. Instead Reality 36 is more like Reality 36: The First of Half of a Richards and Klein Duology. I know I shouldn't be too upset about it, but there it is. Even first installments in a larger series should have a beginning, middle, and an end (call me close minded).
Ultimately, the only conclusion I was able to draw from Reality 36 is that I'll definitely be checking out the sequel Omega Point next year. Sure the ending was annoying, but Guy Haley has really produced a first rate robot novel. While Robopocalypse is this years hottest robot release and will assuredly sell more copies, I think Reality 36 is a superior novel in almost every way. Angry Robot Books keeps churning out great additions in speculative fiction.(less)
I don't read a lot of anthologies. No particular reason really other than I tend to read them a story at a time in between novels. Thus they take forever for me to finish, and oftentimes I've forgotten the less memorable stories by the time I actually finish the whole collection. If I were smart, I'd do a quick paragraph on each story as I finish them. In case you're curious, I'm not and I didn't. So instead I'm going to do more of a short review about the overall tone of Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge edited by Lou Anders and give a few of my favorites.
Anders, in his introduction to the anthology, reminds us that, "To a very real extent, we live today in the science fiction of the past." He's so right - just look at William Gibson's notion of cyberspace in Neuromancer (1984). Fast Forward 1 is all about looking at the implications of technology on society, but not today's technology. Anders and his all-star cast of authors are instead looking at the future of tomorrow and millenium from now to push the envelope not only about what technology we can expect to see, but how it will impact our lives. Anders goes on to say that, "it is the future of science fiction itself (and that of science fiction publishing) that some have called into question, and lately it seems as if the very idea of the future has been under threat." In his essay "The Omega Glory," Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon summarizes Anders' thoughts:
"I don't know what happened to the Future. It's as if we lost our ability, or our will, to envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too-distant date."
Interestingly, one of Anders' contributors, Paolo Bacigalupi said in an interview with Locus Magazine:
"Maybe science fiction lost its track a little bit, and got off on some lines of speculation which are pretty interesting but not necessarily connected to today’s questions, as previously it had been core to our conception of ourselves and where we were headed."
I think Bacigalupi's view and Chabon's desire to continue pushing the envelop are well blended by Anders. Fast Forward 1 shows how the world will change just over the next hill in stories like Elizabeth Bear's The Something-Dreaming Game or Mary Turzillo's Pride. It looks beyond and into the distant future with stories like The Terror Bard by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper or No More Stories by Stephen Baxter.
For me the anthology works best in the stories that fell in between. Not so esoteric as to be difficult to identify with, and not so near term as to be uninspiring. These stories shined because they not only pushed the science fiction envelope, but found a way to use that technology to pull back the shades on the cultural and ethical dilemmas of today. To me, and Anders who I quote, "science fiction is a tool for making sense of a changing world. It is the genre that looks at the implications of technology on society, which in this age of exponential technological growth makes it the most relevant branch of literature going."
Haunting stories like Bacigalupi's Small Offerings and George Zebrowski's Settlements confront our ability to sustain humanity. A Smaller Government by Pamela Sargent parodies the U.S. government, while Jesus Christ, Reanimator by Ken MacLeod takes on faith. Vanity is a popular subject reflected in p dolce by Louise Marley and The Hour of the Sheep by Gene Wolfe. There are very few failures in the anthology. Some are not terribly memorable like The Girl's Hero Mirror Says He's Not the One by Jennifer Robson or Kage Baker's Plotters and Shooters, but in the moment they are compelling and well worth the read.
Perhaps the most thought provoking work in the book is Anders' introduction which I have quoted from liberally. He provides a thought provoking discussion about where the genre has been, is going, and will find itself in the years ahead. It's well worth a read all on its own and can be read on-line in its entirety (here). Anders was recently awarded a Hugo for his editing prowess and as far as I can tell from Fast Forward 1 and the dozens of other Pyr titles I've read, it is well deserved.
As I stated in the early parts of this review, I don't read many anthologies so rating this is one tough. I can say that there was no story I rolled my eyes at or felt like skipping and there are certainly several stories I would hold up against any I've read.
In the mood for a science fiction anthology? Definitely pick this one up.(less)
I read Thomas World by Richard Cox while on a plane to San Francisco. It wasn't my first choice. I fully planned on sitting down to read God's War by Kameron Hurley. When that didn't totally grab me, I tried Necropolis by Michael Dempsey (both are also Night Shade titles and both have subsequently become more compelling). It didn't get me either. After about ten paragraphs of Thomas World, I was hooked. That's not to say it's an exciting read. In fact, it's a little slow and lacks any action to speak of. So what made it so hard to put down? It's a first person look at a man losing his mind wrapped around an ode to Philip K. Dick. In other words, it's just super cool.
For those considering reading Thomas World, my only caution would be to make sure you don't mind reading a book written inside the head of someone losing his mind. Blackouts, alcoholism, drug use, and paranoia are just a few of the hoops Cox makes Phillips jump through. He walks a fine line between convincing his reader that Phillips is insane and providing enough information to think we might be wrong. A few times throughout I asked myself, "Why do I care that this guy is bat shit crazy?" Cox answers that question with compelling pace and prose that urged me forward in learning the root of Phillips' psychosis.
The novel's narrative is relatively straight forward, if not always linear. Things are occasionally disjointed but mostly as a necessary plot point (i.e. blackouts) rather than a symptom of Cox's writing. Much of the novel is spent with Phillips going in circles as he comes to grips with reality disintegrating around him. At times I wondered if Thomas World started off as a short-story or novella before becoming a novel. The novel's conclusion only takes a few dozen pages and it's possible the concept might have been more powerful in a shorter format. Of course, no one buys novella's, so I find its length perfectly defensible.
Thematically, the use of Philip K. Dick's work is incredibly prevalent. Cox explores how we conceptualize reality and identity. He uses mental illness and drug use as plot devices. All of these are notions that Dick explored extensively in his catalog of work. Specifically mentioned throughout are novels like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, and VALIS. In this sense, Thomas World is an homage to Dick and should probably be read a such.
To a reader who has only read a little Dick (A Scanner Darkly and some short fiction) - did I get more or less out of Cox's novel? Had I read more of Dick's work would I have found myself drawn into the intertextuality of it all? Or because I was only somewhat familiar with Dick, was Thomas World fresher than it might otherwise be? Since I can't answer these questions, I will say this - Cox made me want to read more Philip K. Dick. I guess that's a rather back-handed compliment, but it should elevate Dick more than it denigrates Cox.
As a 6'4" man I'm going to give a pretty ridiculous compliment - Thomas World made me forget I was on an airplane. Cox communicates his plot beautifully interlacing heartwarming scenes with the bleakness of a man's life coming down around him. In fact, the book's final line is so divorced from the rest of the novel, that I wondered if I'd understood what Cox was doing. Was this really a novel in the mold of Dick who questions what's real? Or instead is Cox saying screw reality, find happiness where you can? I don't know! But it's pretty fun to find myself pondering these questions after reading.
To fans of Philip K. Dick, or films like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I think Thomas World will be right in the wheel house. To everyone else, check out some sample chapters and see how it goes. It's a cool experience, but I have a feeling it's not everybody.
Sidenote: The novel includes an Afterword from Richard Cox about an experience he had in his life with regards to "on-line reality." It provides a great deal of context to what steered him toward writing Thomas World. I can't recommend this section highly enough. It's very well done.
Thomas World is due out August 30, 2011 according to Amazon where it is already in stock. (less)
I don't plant to write a long review of this. Suffice to say I think as a novel it's got a lot of flaws. However, it's also incredibly brilliant. I re...moreI don't plant to write a long review of this. Suffice to say I think as a novel it's got a lot of flaws. However, it's also incredibly brilliant. I read it as part of my Hugo reading, and offered some thoughts about it in the link below.
I'm starting to feel like a fan boy with all these Night Shade titles, although surprisingly this is only my fifth review from them this year (well under 10%!). Of course, I'm already reading The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams (Night Shade/Jo Fletcher Books) not mentioning the huge stack of their back catalog next to my bed. This shouldn't be surprising. In 2010 Night Shade changed their mission statement to provide a space for new voices and authors in genre fiction. Since then they've aggressively scheduled debut novels many of which are coming out this year. It's become self evident that Ross Lockhart and his editorial team have the pulse of the genre community and continue to target novels that not only meet demand, but anticipate it.
In Necropolis, Michael Dempsey's debut novel, death is a thing of the past. NYPD detective Paul Donner and his wife Elise were killed in a hold-up gone wrong. Fifty years later, Donner is back, courtesy of the Shift - an unintended side-effect of a botched biological terrorist attack. The Shift reawakens dead DNA and throws the life cycle into reverse. Reborns like Donner are not only slowly youthing toward a new childhood, but have become New York's most hated minority.
With the city quarantined beneath a geodesic blister, government services are outsourced to a private security corporation named Surazal. Reborns and norms alike struggle in a counterclockwise world, where everybody gets younger. Elvis performs every night at Radio City Music Hall, and nobody has any hope of ever seeing the outside world. In this backwards-looking culture, Donner is haunted by revivers guilt, and becomes obsessed with finding out who killed him and his still-dead wife.
I was rather torn on Necropolis at first. It reads like it was written by a screen writer, something I always struggle with. That's not a criticism of the prose which is actually quite good, but rather an observation that nearly every scene in the novel is written with an eye for the visual medium. Dark and stormy nights, lightning flash illuminations of the villain on the hill, fuzzy eyes awakening from a coma, are just a few of the techniques Dempsey employs that hearken to film. In a written novel an author isn't limited to the visual to set mood and yet it felt like Necropolis frequently relied on these "establishing shots" to convey just that.
After writing that paragraph I decided to look up Dempsey's background. His "About the Author" note at the end of the book mentioned his background in theatre. That was significantly understating things. In the 90s, Dempsey wrote for CBS’s Cybill -which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series in 1996 (bet you'd forgotten that!). He has also sold and optioned screenplays and television scripts to companies like Tritone Productions and Carsey-Werner Productions in Los Angeles. His plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and regionally in theaters such as Actors Theatre of Louisville. He's also a past recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Fellowship for playwriting.
Given all that, it shouldn't be any surprise that his novel reflects his connection to visual mediums. In fact, I applaud him for sticking with what he knows. At the end of the day Necropolis is a science fiction novel deeply couched in noir and that's why Dempsey wrote the novel the way he did. Noir is a visual classification that's grounded far more in film than in the written word. Smoky rooms, long legged dames, and that understated black-and-white visual style, are all components that distinguish noir. Sure it's based on the hardboiled depression era detective novel, but what we call noir is fundamentally a visual effect. I ended up asking myself, how can I be torn about something that worked so well? Short answer, I can't - high five to Dempsey.
While the tone and mood of the novel worked wonderfully, I did find myself struggling a bit with Dempsey's choice of narration and points of view. Donner's chapters are told from the 1st person while all the others are done from a 3rd person limited. This was a technique also employed by Night Shade author Courtney Schafer in The Whitefire Crossing. Unlike Schafer who limits her points of view to two characters, Dempsey spreads his around more liberally with a half a dozen or more leading to frequent shifts that don't always make a ton of sense. Generally, when an author chooses to tell the story from someone's point of view he's telling the reader this is someone important. There are at least three characters that receive this treatment in varying degrees who while interesting, in a I'd-like-to-read-a-short-story-about-this-person kind of way, provide nothing essential to moving things forward.
Relatively speaking that's a pretty small complaint. The novel moves at a brisk pace and Donner is an interesting character with loads of demons to deal with - internal and external alike. His partner, a smarty (think holographic AI) named Maggie, provides a great juxtaposition to the revived Donner. As he struggles with why he's alive while Maggie is the epitome of life albeit in someone whose "life" is entirely artificial. The plot itself is overtly melodramatic (again another theme of noir) leading to a pretty predictable ending and an eyebrow-cock-worthy coup de grâce. In this case the journey is good enough to trump the destination allowing me to give Dempsey a pass for the lack of a cleverly disguised big twist.
Ultimately, Necropolis strikes just the right pastiche of genres and themes. Demsey successfully takes components of film, science fiction, melodrama, and crime fiction and puts them together in what is another excellent debut from Night Shade.
Necropolis is due out in stores on October 4 and should not be confused with the similarly titled Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner from Angry Robot.(less)
Science fiction as a genre has always been based on what if. What if we brought a man back to life? What if we gave a computer control of a space station? What if robots had the ability to reason? Diving Into the Wreck is very much in this tradition, asking what happens when we start to forget technology? Kristine Kathryn Rusch's answer is: nothing good. Refreshingly old school, Wreck calls to mind the horrors of cramped space craft, the bleakness of space, and the depravity of human greed.
Boss loves to dive historical wrecks, derelict spacecraft found adrift in the blackness between stars. Sometimes she dives for salvage, but mostly she's a historian. Once she dives a ship, she either leaves it for others to find or starts selling guided tours. It's a good life for a loner, with more interest in history than the people who make it.
When she comes across an enormous spacecraft, incredibly old, and apparently Earth-made, she's determined to investigate. It's impossible for something built in the days before FTL travel to have journeyed so far from Earth. Boss hires a group of divers to explore the wreck with her, but some secrets are best kept hidden, and the past won't give up its treasures without exacting a price.
Diving in space is a lot like diving in the ocean. Instead of being worried about something snagging the air hose or running into a shark, sharp edges and nebulous ancient stealth technology are the fear du jour. Rusch does a brilliant job of communicating the claustrophobia and paranoia that seem inimical to creeping through a derelict space craft far from any safe haven. Stealth tech is the macguffin, a lost technology that promises untold wealth and power to the person(s) who can bring it back, that promises a horrible death to anyone who comes in contact with it.
The most charming aspect of the novel for me was the author's commitment to wreck diving. Not the plot, but rather the nuts and bolts of the profession. She considers all the pitfalls and realities of the job - what kind of person Boss would have to be, how she would make a living, and why she would put herself through it all. By the end of the novel nothing in Wreck lacked authenticity. So much so that if I didn't know the novel was set in the future I might find myself looking in the yellow pages for wreck divers.... you know, if I had to venture into deep space to recover something.
The novel is divided into three parts corresponding to the two novellas and a third part that weaves them together. Taken on their own the first two parts are incredibly dynamic with pace, tension, and all the hallmarks of great science fiction. It's unfortunate then that the connection of the two comes off a bit disjointed as though they weren't necessarily written with each other in mind. This is pervasive throughout the novel where in order to tie the two novellas into a connected arc with a shared conclusion Boss spends a great deal of time talking, and talking, and talking to members of her team. While these scenes are excellent opportunities to character build, and believe me the characters are tremendous, they leave quite a bit to be desired when it comes to pace.
Told entirely in the first person, Wreck is very introspective . Boss spends a great deal of time humming and hawing her motivations in the midst of coming to grips with relationship to her father. This deep introspection combined with the need to tie together the disparate story modules led to an unfortunate lack of world building. Although not entirely necessary for the kind of story Rusch was telling the world itself is very bare bones. I never got a great feel for the 'space' her lush characters were inhabiting and I'm not sure if the final product wasn't a little harmed as a result.
Nevertheless, Diving Into the Wreck is a worthwhile investment of reading resources. Although the novel as a whole has some hiccups with an overly tidy ending there are parts here that hold up against the best science fiction on the market. City of Ruins, Rusch's sequel, was released in May of this year. I've already got a copy on my bedside table and look forward to getting to it soon. I'm very confident that lacking the need to integrate two novellas into a larger arc City of Ruins can only improve over a very solid first installment.(less)
I'm not sure The Restoration Game is science fiction. Sure, it's technically based on a speculative what-if, but does that make something a science fiction novel? Science fiction, I believe, is all about a discussion on humanity's relationship to technology. I feel a lot more comfortable thinking of it as a Dickian (Philip K.) novel that grapples with issues of human perception more than one looking at our relationship to technology. Or maybe it's just a thriller.
Other than a prologue and an epilogue, the events in Ken MacLeod's most recent novel take place in 2008, leading up to the South Ossetia War (or at least a fictional simulacrum there of). The narrative is recounted by Lucy Stone, an Edinburgh expat from the former Soviet controlled Krassnia. In that troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up games company, has a project that almost seems made for the job: its original inspiration came from Krassnian folklore. As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace, she finds her interest has not gone unnoticed.
The main narrative is endemic to spy fiction. Lucy's mother, and great grandmother both have some connection to the CIA and their machinations have compromised their progeny. Mystery's abound. Who is Lucy's father? What are the motivations for the revolution? Who stands to gain? This thriller mentality works well as MacLeod revists the how and the why of the fall of the Soviet Union. Through Lucy the reader is exposed to documents detailing KGB investigations, and commentary on Stalin's purges. Ultimately these commentaries become a demonstration of the prevailing power of capitalism and the inherent expression of it in the human spirit.
Early on, Restoration Game seems to be more about how the story gets told than the story itself. MacLeod layers Lucy's narration, starting near the end and backtracking. She reveals things about her life in her own time, often referencing things like 'The Worst Day of My Life' without describing the day until several chapters later. While this technique can be occasionally frustrating, MacLeod is mostly successful in using it to maintain a constant tension.
Additionally, the main plot is bracketed by an prologue and epilogue that set up and conclude the twist that makes the novel "speculative" and not simply an alternate look at Russian foreign policy. Much like the M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, once the twist becomes clear, the entire narrative changes - was I reading what I thought I was reading? Unfortunately, this is also one of the novel's weaker points as the 'twist' is fairly obvious from the prologue... wait maybe it is an M. Night Shyamalan movie! The problem isn't so much that MacLeod does a poor job of concealing it, rather it's a twist I've seen used a hundred times. I recognized it early on and kept hoping there would be more to it. Alas.
Telling a story in this manner takes an extremely capable writer. The jumps through time, and back again, into source documents, and then back into Lucy's head, are all done with a deft hand, highlighting MacLeod's command of his story and the language. But, I would be remiss if I didn't say that my opinion of Restoration Game would be loftier with the extraneous bits cut out, which, in this case, means all the science fiction stuff. Most of it comes off as tangential to the larger plot of Lucy and her family's history, making me wonder if the idea for the science came after the idea for the fiction.
Despite a frustratingly transparent and common twist, Ken MacLeod has written a wonderful story about Lucy Stone against the Russians. While it blends history and current events in compelling fashion, the science fiction framing doesn't wash. It's a thriller, that would stand out in the spy fiction market, dressed up as science fiction. All of that makes The Restoration Game a novel worth reading, although not necessarily one that demands to be read. (less)
Heard of this one? Probably not. It's been pretty under the radar for book due out in less than three weeks. Seriously, go Google it. Now try the author's name. What'd you come up with? Not much, I bet. All I could find was an erudite i09 piece and the corresponding Amazon.com and Nightshadebooks.com pages. The Goodreads.com page doesn't even have cover art for crying out loud. All of that goes to say, more people need to be talking about Faith. Jove Love's debut is tremendous science fiction that blends literary traditions with space opera and all the various subgenres therein.
The basic premise is that 300 years ago an unidentified ship visited the Sakhran Empire and left it devastated. One Sakhran recognized the ship for what She was and wrote the Book of Srahr. When they read it, the Sakhran's turned away from each other, sending their Empire into a slow but irreversible decline. They called Her, Faith. Now She's back, threatening the human Commonwealth and the only thing standing in Her way is the Charles Manson.
Aegrescit medendo. A latin medical phrase that means, 'The cure is worse than the disease,' is appropriate here. The Charles Manson isn't the Enterprise. It's an Outsider, one of the Commonwealth's ultimate warships, crewed by people of unusual ability -- sociopaths whose only option is to serve or die.
I mentioned the Enterprise because the main plot is somewhat reminiscent of the Star Trek model. Deep space encounters, prolonged stand-offs, failed diplomacy, synthesizing the unknown, and eventual escalation of force are all eminently present in Faith. The bridge of the Charles Manson, where the vast majority of the novel takes place, has a captain, a first officer, an engineering officer, a pilot, a weapons officer, and all the other parts normally associated with a Federation Starship. Of course, Captain Picard wasn't a sexual deviant (notice I didn't say Kirk!) and Commander Riker wasn't an alien with claws for hands.
In many ways Faith is a satire of the model Gene Roddenberry exemplified in his iconic series. To boldly go where no man has gone before was the mantra of the Enterprise, a ship that was the Federation's representative to all sentient life throughout the galaxy. The Charles Manson is the ship the Federation would send in when a Romulan Warbird took a dump on the Enterprise. It's the ship their embarrassed to have, unwelcome in every port, but tolerated for the service only they can offer. Love gets into the muck with each of his deviants, connecting them one by one to the reader, never redeemed but always compelling.
Not just a delinquent Star Trek novel, Faith is also a psychological journey akin to that of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. On the Charles Manson, Aaron Foord is Ahab, an unrelenting, obsessive, and meticulous task master who drives himself and his crew to the limits to defeat Faith. And Faith, an enigmatic and worthy opponent who Foord both loathes and adores, is the white whale. To someone whose read Melville's classic, many of the concepts that the whale represents are likewise present here. By the novels conclusion Love has melded the space opera with the literary, providing a resolution to the conflict while initiating a conversation with his reader about metaphysical concepts at home in Plato's Cave.
If the novel has a weak point, and I'm not sure it does, it's that some of the early chapters -- incredibly well done in their own right -- seem unrelated to the main narrative. This phenomenon leads to somewhat rhetorical beginning that doesn't engage at the same level as the time spent on the Charles Manson bridge. There are also moments where Love delves into some of the more scientific details or finds himself caught in a logical loop. For a novel that ends with more questions than answers, the fact that these explanations. both scientific and subjective, were allowed to slow down a brisk novel seemed a strange choice.
Given that it's the first 2012 novel I've reviewed, I'm hesitant to be as glowing as I'd like to be about Faith. How can I call it one of the best debuts of the year? I don't suppose I can. I'll have to settle for this: John Love's debut is on par with Dan Simmons's Hyperion in its quest to pose questions and attempt to answer them. It may not measure up to Simmons's classic space opera in terms of pure storytelling, but I have little doubt that the currents of the novel will ebb and flow in mind for years to come. Not bad for a debut no-one's talking about. (less)