I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I've been waiting for this one for a while. This is a sequel to Blindsi...moreI received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I've been waiting for this one for a while. This is a sequel to Blindsight, and it probably is a good idea to read that book first, since some of the concepts (vampires) and plot points (first contact with alien life) are continuations of that work.
I'm pretty sure that this book will benefit from being read twice- once unspoiled, and once after the reader knows what happened and wants to see the progression unfold from the vantage point of that knowledge.
The word "echopraxia" really doesn't come up until the climactic scene of the book, and I'm still trying to figure out why it's the title. Maybe someone brighter than me can help?
The main character is Daniel Bruks, a parasitologist living in the desert away from a world gone mad with designer viruses that turn people into zombies that only perform brainstem type activities, post-human people who have left scientific paradigms behind as ultimately less useful than tuning into their intuition/faith (they're borne out on this too with amazing advances in tech) and a wife who's gone to Heaven, a data repository for consciousnesses. He quickly gets swept into a flight across the stars to find out what happened to Theseus, the ship from Blindsight. However, Bruks is brought along- why? Accidentally, out of pity, as a parasite, as a baseline human (roach)/survivor? Bruks can't figure out the answer to this question throughout the book, and the answer is ultimately vital.
The plot zips right along, but what really gets you are all the concepts being thrown at you while you scramble to keep up. This is not an easy book; it's about as hard a science fiction (in several meanings of the word hard) book as you'll find. Watts is a scientist, and he backs up his imagination with more than 30 citations at the end of his book. You can look it all up. I had some help with reading, because I've been following his blog and have seen a lot of the concepts upon which he's been ruminating while creating this work- it might help you too if you check it out.
I was continually surprised as Watts changed the situation on me and made me see what had been happening from an entirely different perspective. There's only one place that I think he might have cheated- and it has to do with re-entry to Earth and events that happened shortly afterwards- let me know if you agree.
There's maybe a little bit of talkiness in the book- Watts has lots of ideas that he's merging and he does have to tell you a bit about them, and I'm not sure there was a more graceful way to do it. In some ways, it's a relief to have an info-dump here or there- it slows things down and gave me a bit of reassurance that I really did understand what was going on.
Echopraxia reflects Watts's grim view of the present and future, and the end of the book does not disappoint in that regard, although Watts somehow manages to make the ending both horrendous and triumphant, hopeless and yet with some grace for our protagonist. How does he do that? What happens next?!?!? (less)
**spoiler alert** I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Well, this lived up to the hype as far as I'm concern...more**spoiler alert** I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Well, this lived up to the hype as far as I'm concerned. And I'm not a fan of zombie books, nor did I especially enjoy the Mike Carey book that I tried.
So this book is indeed a zombie story ( I don't feel like that's really giving much away, but comments on another review thought that was spoilery) and takes place after the great disaster/infection has happened. Melanie, one of our main POV characters, is a little girl, but she is locked in a cell every evening and in order to go to school, she is fastened into a wheelchair by arms, legs and neck. Melanie loves school, though, and especially loves Miss Justineau, her favorite teacher. She fantasizes about rescuing Miss Justineau from terrible danger. Here I must give kudos to the author, because I daydreamed about exactly this thing when I was a little girl- rescuing my day-to-day heroes. I never needed to be saved in my fantasies; I always did the saving.
Anyway, it probably won't surprise you much that Melanie has a chance to make her daydreams real, although not in the way that she imagined. And the title of the book does give away the ending, although I won't say more than that- even with that clue, I didn't quite see the ending coming.
We do have other POV characters: Miss Justineau has a voice, and so does Parks, the sergeant in charge of securing the environment surrounding the school, along with Private Gallagher and Dr. Caldwell, who is trying to find a cure for the world.
This book got to me. I dream about zombie stories when I read these books (one reason I don't like to read a lot of them) and got creeped out reading this book in the house alone. Melanie was utterly heartbreaking, and I felt the tension ratcheting up in the book as the stakes grew higher. This book could have felt mawkish or manipulative, but it didn't. This is a 28 Days Later or World War Z type of book- is it possible to rebuild after the world has ended for all but a few?(less)
This isn't a perfect book, but it certainly kept me turning pages eagerly, so five stars for it!
There are two stories going on here. In one, a teenage...moreThis isn't a perfect book, but it certainly kept me turning pages eagerly, so five stars for it!
There are two stories going on here. In one, a teenager living in Tokyo, Nao, is writing in a diary about her past, her messed-up family, her wonderful grandmother/buddhist nun/superhero, and whether or not she wants to live.
In the other story, a novelist named Ruth, living on Desolation Sound, BC, with her naturalist husband, find a diary, among other objects, washed up on shore, sealed carefully in plastic baggies. As Ruth begins to explore the contents of the baggies, she gets drawn into the story of Nao.
Nao's name is also a play on words, as is the title of the book. Time being is a way of saying the present, or the "now", as well as a phrase that Nao uses to think of herself as a being traveling through time, as are we all. There's both Zen philosophy and the physics of time intertwined in a very interesting way- there's a lot to chew on in this book.
Nao is absolutely heart-breaking, and felt very real as a character, and was actually more sympathetic than Ruth, as far as I was concerned. I think that Ruth Ozeki, author of ATFTTB, used some autobiographical material that she had compiled and grafted that material into this book the way her naturalist husband character grafted different sorts of trees together. This probably made for a better novel than the original autobiography idea would have been, but I got impatient at character-Ruth's lack of comprehension about the diaries and herself, written that way to give another character the chance to explain something to her for the benefit of the reading audience. I'm not sure it was necessary, and the readers could have been trusted a bit more. I would get impatient to get back to Nao's story.
Although this was nominated for several speculative fiction awards, except for one scene in the book, nothing that I considered to be unreal or magical happened. This is science fiction in that it's fiction written about science and philosophy, not a book that explores ideas by inventing things or making the impossible happen. And that's okay. I'm a science fiction fan, but I really enjoyed how this book explored the concept of time, causality, and loneliness.(less)
I wouldn't call this a hard science fiction book. The main character is an engineer, or "sky surgeon", but in the book she mostly just talks about how...moreI wouldn't call this a hard science fiction book. The main character is an engineer, or "sky surgeon", but in the book she mostly just talks about how much she loves ships, and doesn't actually work on them very much. It feels more like a romantic obsession and is sort of mystical, and I suppose much of the book feels that way in general.
It's hard at first to figure out why Alana is so dead set against working for Transliminal, which could provide her with health care and the medicine she needs. About 100 pages into the book, we find that Transliminal actually seems to be from another alternate universe, and that their technology is as much spritual and magic as anything. At that point, I could understand a bit more why Alana didn't want to deal with them.
Mostly, Alana reminds me of a teenager. She's romantic, all about being an individual and a sky surgeon instead of caving in and getting a regular job which might take care of her better. She talks about her disease/disability in a way that seemed slightly whiny to me. I have a chronic health condition too. Maybe it's that Alana talks a lot about it, while I don't usually mention it except to people I know well. It's a private thing for me, but we're reading Alana in first person and get inside her head. I guess I wanted a bit more thoughtfulness from her about her disease, if she was going to talk about it a lot. Mileage may vary, and my reaction may say as much about me as anything.
Alana falls in love with ships, and more than anything wants to go to space. Again, it's very romantic, but her POV doesn't feel much like an actual engineer's. She talks about learning a ship by drawing her hands along its corridors and wires, almost sensually, but there's no talk about how to actually fix anything. It's certainly a different perspective, but again, I felt like there was something missing.
Also, I had almost the opposite emotional reaction from Alana to most of the other characters in the book. I thought that Tev was kind of a jerk, tasing Alana, refusing to give her any information, and pretending to poison her. Alana gets over all this pretty quickly and focuses on how gorgeous Tev is, but after all the abusive and deceptive crap that happened, I wanted more judgement from her. Alana's sister, Nova, is a spirit guide, has psychic perceptions and can heal and create illusions. She's a bit flighty as well. But Alana's resentment of her seemed disproportionate to what Nova actually did, and Nova seemed like she understood a lot more about what was going on than Alana did.
The good parts of the book are the original ideas about spirituality and technology mixing, and there are some original ideas for characters. However, I couldn't like the main protagonist and the plot was by the numbers. I'd be interested to read more about this setting from a more mature character's perspective. (less)
If you want to be transported to a tiny Irish island, where a witch lurks in her croft and there's a bit of eerie magic in the air, this is the book f...moreIf you want to be transported to a tiny Irish island, where a witch lurks in her croft and there's a bit of eerie magic in the air, this is the book for you.
The village of Rollrock Island has a history with witches. So much so that when a girl is born with the physical markers, older folks fear her and her classmates mock her. Her family is horrible to her as well, seeing her appearance as a condemnation of their own past choices. So what's a girl to do but follow through on the witchiness? It's what everyone expects, she's lonely and resentful, and at least this way she can make some money.
The magic she does involved selkies. You may be familiar with the legend of women who are trapped by a man who steals their seal skin. They are trapped in human form until they can reclaim their skin and return to the ocean. Once the witch brings up one selkie, no man can resist their beauty, and a cycle of magic and shame begins again on the island.
It takes the children of these ensorcelled unions to try to make things right again.
The book is set into chapters that each show one character's point of view. Through these different lenses, we see how a witch is born, how the men of the island make their terrible choices, and how the consequences play out. It's sad and terrible, and everyone is partly to blame (except the selkies, the victims in all this along with their children).
Here's a look at how relationships and how power can play out in relationships. It's a melancholy look, but there's some hope at the end. And Rollrock Island took me under its spell in all its beauty and horror.(less)
This book pretty much does what it says on the cover- give an overview of why foods become popular. I thought that the author did a decent job of keep...moreThis book pretty much does what it says on the cover- give an overview of why foods become popular. I thought that the author did a decent job of keeping personal opinion out of the book until the very end and also had a lot of interesting things to say.
Fondue: the origins of its popularity are traced back into the mid-twentieth century as something fun and interactive to do at a house party (and maybe meet someone at the same time) to being considered old-fashioned and gloppy. Then we read about the Melting Pot, which brilliantly revamped the concept and made it about a special night out. As a bit of a food snob, I'm not a big fan of the Melting Pot (hideously overpriced) and I had to feel for the guy they hired as their executive chef. He can't actually cook anything! Just come up with broths and themes for dippers. What a nightmare for a trained chef.
Bacon: Ironically, the popularity of bacon is a direct result of the low-fat movement. As breeders raised leaner and leaner animals to meet demand of dieters, all the fat (what makes things taste good) disappeared, along with taste and mouthfeel. Meats ended up dried out and tasted like sawdust. What could fix this? Why, fatty, rich bacon, of course! Bacon has now ended up in everything and has reached much further than the original idea. Because it's bacon, and it tastes incredible! I also read a bit about the Chicago Baconfest, which I think will go on my bucket list, although it also sounds somewhat alarming.
Cupcakes: it's been predicted that the cupcake will be over for years now, but it keeps plugging right along at the peak of popularity. Why? Well, it evokes nostalgia and comfort (needed during this last recession) it's cute, and you can hold it in your hand and eat it. There was also some discussion of the Sex and the City bus tour and its stop near Magnolia Bakery, immortalized when Sarah Jessica Parker wolfed down a pink cupcake from there.
Well, there's more than this in the book. Discussion of what makes an apple a top seller, apparently chia seeds will be the next big diet thing (ugh), why Indian food isn't more popular than it is, a artisan food awards night, the food truck battle with city governments and established restaurants, and finally the Cronut (which I hope disappears before long). It's all fun to read, it's all well written, and we get a balance between individual anecdotes and analysis. I enjoyed it.(less)
Despite the jacket description, I really had no idea what this book was going to be like going into it.
It's hard to describe! There are necromantic l...moreDespite the jacket description, I really had no idea what this book was going to be like going into it.
It's hard to describe! There are necromantic lawyers, sentient gargoyles who are also the servants of a goddess, obsidian policemen whose minds are subsumed to an incarnation of Justice, vampirates!!, and gods who live and respond and enter into legal contracts with their worshippers. The pace was fast, the characters were smart, the imagery was keen. It was one of those books where you feel a bit like the protagonist at the beginning of the story- hurled into the narrative and left to sink or swim. I didn't find it too difficult to figure out what was going on, and I loved the uniqueness of this world one dimension away from our own. There's a bit of a steampunky feel, but the world is quite unique among the books I read. It reminded me a bit of "Heroes Die" by Matthew Stover in that there are gods that interact directly with humankind and the pace is fast.
Now I must go read the second book in the series!(less)
The book frames itself around a girl who wants to make a living breaking and "finishing" horses. She ends up in Oregon (19-teens) and essentially does...moreThe book frames itself around a girl who wants to make a living breaking and "finishing" horses. She ends up in Oregon (19-teens) and essentially does circuit riding with her horses between several farms and ranches. This allows the reader to get to know the dozen different families that the main character knows through riding by their homes and through their lives. The laconic, pragmatic feel to the writing reminded me of Kent Haruf. It's a short book, but a good and quick read that leaves you feeling satisfied. It never goes into mystical territory- no special ability to understand horses, just good observation, and the horses act just like horses do. It's as much a portrait of the type of person who settled and worked their own land as anything.(less)
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
This is a difficult book to get a feel for. It's set in a sort...moreI received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
This is a difficult book to get a feel for. It's set in a sort of classic Greek/Roman type of city, but there are also trams, vacuum based document carriers, and other technological advances. New Weird probably describes it best.
Probably the best part of the book is the city, Caeli-Amur. Davidson invests the city with a life and character all its own. It's got grimy slums where street kids will try to sell you hallucinogenic fudge, a beautiful artists' plaza which overlooks the blazingly lit ocean, pleasure gardens which give the illusion of being under the sea, and factories where dangerous magics are used in order to manufacture technology. I loved reading about the city and would actually like a map so I have a better idea about locations within it.
This is a story about revolution. Workers are forced to use magics which slowly alter them and eventually kill them without proper protection. There are three great houses, Technis, Marin, and Arbor, which have a tight grip on the poverty-stricken population. The atmosphere is tense and things are about to come to a head.
We have 3 POV characters. Kata is a philosopher-assassin (cool concept) who has been hired by Technis to spy on the revolutionaries. Boris is her employer, a director of Technis house who is becoming more embroiled in the schemes of the inhuman creatures who provide power to the houses. Maximilian is a revolutionary and a magician. He wants a better life for the inhabitants of Caeli-Amur, but he also wants more magical knowledge and is somewhat naive to the grim realities of politics.
Magic in this world is an amorphous, frightening thing which isn't fully understood. It's a bit lovecraftian in it's access to a different dimension containing both power and monsters. Maximilian longs for a sort of unified theory of magic, which may allow casters to work without the hideous side effects that are now the consequence of magic.
This is a great world. There are minotaurs, sirens, tritons, and furies from classic myth, but these creatures are all a bit different than you'd expect. I loved the juxtaposition of the ancient culture with a steampunky tech feel.
The character writing is a little choppy, which is why I haven't given the book 5 stars. Boris and Maximilian felt just a bit shallow as characters, and dialogue wasn't always smooth. However, I'm eager to read more by this author.(less)
I tried this book because I wanted something kind of spooky for October. It fit the bill nicely.
The novel is a frothy little combination of sparky Vic...moreI tried this book because I wanted something kind of spooky for October. It fit the bill nicely.
The novel is a frothy little combination of sparky Victorian dialogue with a bit of romance, steampunk and the penultimate mad scientist, catching up to Frankenstein's monster (who just wants love), a ripper-esque detective story, and a dash of Cthulian elder gods from a next-door dimension. Oh, and a plague that randomly changes the gender of its victims.
It's great writing from a debut author, with some extremely well-written female (also formerly male?) characters. Our hapless detective hero was perhaps the least interesting character in the book, but so much was going on around him that he hardly had a chance to shine. London is even more foggy and Victorian than usual, thanks to an alchemical experiment gone awry that has ended up with Whitechapel being walled off entirely.
Despite the light nature of the writing, there are a few real chills as we see dead women being almost brought back to life in a subterranean lab, clockwork courtesans who have no minds of their own, and otherworldly eldritch horrors. It's an interesting trick with tone.
There's so much to address with the gender issues in this book alone- I could write a really long entry on that, but will spare you. I hope to read more from this author.(less)
**spoiler alert** The best thing about this book was the original POV character that we have. Our narrator is the last vestige of an AI that was once...more**spoiler alert** The best thing about this book was the original POV character that we have. Our narrator is the last vestige of an AI that was once a ship plus all the ancillaries (people who have been stripped of their personalities and supplanted with the AI's) that the ship controlled. Esk (I'll just call her that) refers to all people as female, because she has a hard time differentiating gender among people. She notes that some colors, hair lengths, etc have different cultural connotations and that she can't be expected to get it right every time. This way of seeing makes the reader aware of our own assumptions about gender without ever really confronting it in an in-depth way. But it kept me a little more conscious that I must interpret what I was reading.
Action-wise, the book is slow. There are two plots moving along different timelines- one is a past timeline catching up to the present so we can see why there is only one ancillary left of this AI. The other is Esk (the fragment) looking for a way to get revenge. I'll leave it at that, since I'm being spoiler-y enough. The trek involves a frozen planet, a character who never really manages to become sympathetic (I'm still not sure why he's around) and a weapon. Then we end up at a space station for the denouement.
Since other ships and space stations are also AIs, and some of them have ancillaries, we're in the interesting position of seeing how a being with more than one body operates. Esk definitely feels emotions: love, loss, rage. However, she thinks of herself as less than a person.
We also have the issue of ancillaries, also known as corpse soldiers. They are the product of an imperialistic society who begins occupation of different cultures by capturing some of the inhabitants, wiping their personalities, and turning them into ancillaries. Truly chilling and frightening. Imagine seeing a person you know as a soldier, only to realize that this person is no longer the same personality but part of a greater artificial intelligence. Esk never thinks about what she looks like (or what gender she is) because it doesn't matter- she's just part of a greater whole.
These concepts are original and fascinating. They're dealt with subtly- not a lot of direct questioning happens in the text. I'm not sure how great the plot itself is, but the book made me think. We are getting the POV of a character that is literally a tool of empire, but at the same time is a representation of the horror of conquest. (less)