I know I read this book back in the early '90s, but not much of it stuck with me, so thought I'd give it another try.
In this story set in a not-too-di...moreI know I read this book back in the early '90s, but not much of it stuck with me, so thought I'd give it another try.
In this story set in a not-too-distant future United States, Rod Lawrence is a hired companion (read: escort/sexual partner) who works for Leisure Services, part of a government agency that oversees all forms of prostitution. A sexually transmitted virus called "hives" has prompted this development, and both employees and their clients receive blood tests prior to their encounters to protect them from exposure. (Of course, the lower on the hierarchy one works - the equivalent of a streetwalker - the less reliable the testing is, and there's always the possibility of becoming infected by a previously-unknown mutation that would get past the test.) "Companions" are trained to interact with the upper classes, and receive extensive advance information on their clients, largely through documentation by cameras that monitor nearly every public space, and many private homes as well. The paramount rule under which such companions operate is to maintain a professional distance with the client - that is, don't fall in love.
Two weeks after the suicide of her lover, a would-be poet and possible political dissident, Rod is hired for an open-ended contract by Anna Baxter, wealthy daughter of the man whose company is responsible for building the concentration camps in which "hivers" are confined after diagnosis. Anna's political leanings are suspect, as are those of her friends, and Rod is quickly targeted by a powerful official, who pressures Rod to report on any behavior that would indicate involvement in anti-government groups. His involvement with Anna also brings him in contact with dissidents who would like to use Anna's connections for their own purposes.
Rod and Anna's complicated relationship rapidly moves beyond the regulations imposed by his employment. As his feelings for her grow deeper than he ever intended, the agendas imposed on him by both outside agencies make it impossible for him to commit fully to her, not to mention his uncertainty about Anna's own loyalties and intentions.
My main frustration with this story is that I never believed that either Rod or Anna was truly in love with the other - rather, that they both approached their deepening affections as simply a different role to be played in front of others: Anna's disapproving family, Rod's co-workers, employer and friends. Even by the book's end, I didn't see that, whether or not the obstacles to their continued relationship were resolved, they had any real shot at remaining together - nor did I feel that either of them was sure they *wanted* to stay together. And to be honest, I didn't really care whether or not they succeeded.
The most interesting aspects were the details of the impact of all that governmental oversight on daily life - sort of an expansion of the paranoia felt in totalitarian states, where anything you say to anyone might be reported to the authorities. (less)
Some real classics here, particularly Joanna Russ's "When It Changed." Pamela Sargent's intro gives a good overview of what was going on in SF at the...moreSome real classics here, particularly Joanna Russ's "When It Changed." Pamela Sargent's intro gives a good overview of what was going on in SF at the time (1970s), but can be skipped w/o any loss of appreciation of the contents.
The first story, "Screwtop", was probably my favorite of the collection. It read like it could have been part of a larger work - like there had been other stories set in the same world, or featuring the same main character, but thus far I haven't found any related works. It's set on a world where prison labor is employed in dangerous mining jobs, to produce energy for the ever-increasing needs of its population. Some of the prisoners we "meet" aren't strictly criminals in some cases, but rather individuals who have rejected the life path set for them by society. The overseers take full advantage of their positions, sometimes capriciously doling out both punishment and reward, and using their power to manipulate prisoners into doing their bidding.
"The Heat Death of the Universe" is told in alternating sections of scientific facts and comments on the life of one woman, Sarah, who has left a career in physics and spends her time tending house and raising her children (although exactly how many children she has is unclear, even to her.) Although her reflections on how her life has changed are often funny, there is an underlying and growing sense that all is not right, and eventually her thoughts and behavior become disturbingly bizarre.
"The Warlord of Saturn's Moons" is an entertaining glimpse into the head of an author as she follows the exploits of the characters in her space opera. "Songs of War" tells the story of an army of women, brought together by shared dissatisfaction with their societal roles, and the conflicts that have torn apart many revolutionary struggles. "Debut" is another disturbing story in which women and men live entirely apart. "Building Block" is about an architect whose valuable and visionary building plans have gotten "lost" due to memory loss, and her attempts to recover them prompt people she has trusted to take advantage of her. In "Eyes of Amber", a probe from Earth is mistaken for a demon by an outlaw on another planet, and the scientists monitoring it are aided by a musician in communicating with her. (less)
I picked this up secondhand and have started to read it twice, but thus far I can't seem to get hooked on it. I may try again over the winter - it "fe...moreI picked this up secondhand and have started to read it twice, but thus far I can't seem to get hooked on it. I may try again over the winter - it "feels" like a curl-up-on-the-couch kind of book. We'll see.
***** Nope, I give up. There are points here where I think I can see what Bear was trying to do, but it's just way too convoluted to hold my attention.(less)
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book. As I said in an earlier update, it reminded my in some ways of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy (sp...moreI'm not quite sure how I feel about this book. As I said in an earlier update, it reminded my in some ways of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy (specifically the first book, Dawn) - the basic premise of aliens coming to a dying Earth and transforming humans into something different, as a way of saving us. Also some hints of Stephen King's The Stand - isolated pockets of humanity making contact via ham radio, foraging for needed supplies, even (in a superficial way) the presence of a psychic bond between all of these very different individuals, bringing them to work together/share things they never would have before the triggering event. (On further reflection - also somewhat reminiscent of Greg Bear's The Forge of God.)
Beyond that - I don't know, it just seemed sort of incomplete; like there should have been MORE to the story. I liked the examination of different motivations for declining the aliens' offer of immortality, but thought Wilson could have done more with that.(less)
**spoiler alert** Pretty sure I have read this before, like maybe on a plane or something - some aspects of it seemed very familiar - but obviously it...more**spoiler alert** Pretty sure I have read this before, like maybe on a plane or something - some aspects of it seemed very familiar - but obviously it didn't stick with me if I did.
The premise is the existence of a humanoid race entirely distinct from homo sapiens, which has lived among humankind for 35,000 years, yet managed to hide its differences. In the face of modern challenges -- sophisticated medical diagnostics and the increasing difficulty of avoiding coming in contact with the medical establishment, plus the spiraling devastation of the natural environment -- these "Old People" have decided they can no longer just wait around for what they have always felt was inevitable: for humans eventually to succumb to their violent and rapacious nature and do away with themselves; they need to act to put an end to the human plague on the earth. More immediately, they need to prevent anyone from becoming aware of their existence. When an auto accident fatally injures one of their people, the physical anomalies observed as he is treated in the emergency room attract the attention of Dr. Larry Shea, who conducts an autopsy on the unidentified body and recognizes that he is seeing something unprecedented. To cut short his plan to publish his findings, the Old People call on their inborn talents for telepathy and remote neurological manipulation to bring about his death via attack by a pack of dogs.
Reporter Artie Banks, a long-time friend of Dr. Shea's, suspects there's more to Shea's bizarre death than meets the eye and begins to investigate. Before long, anyone who has been privy to Dr. Shea's plans or begins to suspect the existence of the Old People meets some violent end - prompting someone to murder or suicide is easily achieved when you can take over their mind.
Unfortunately, Robinson's characterization is superficial (particularly the women, who all seem weak, manipulative, and/or hypersexed), the global warming/environment destruction information is presented in a dreadfully pedantic manner, and any reader who doesn't instantly perceive Artie's blind spot is probably just not sufficiently involved in the story to see what's coming.
It didn't really take me a week to read this - I just misplaced it and went on to something else until it showed up again. (less)
Wow. This is such a tough book to review - it is unlike anything else I can think of at the moment.
Zhang is ABC - American-Born Chinese - in the 22nd...moreWow. This is such a tough book to review - it is unlike anything else I can think of at the moment.
Zhang is ABC - American-Born Chinese - in the 22nd century, after the United States has undergone a socialist revolution; the one-time world power has become a third-class nation, and the definition of of success is to be able to study and live in China. However, Zhang doesn't share that goal, except as far as a Chinese engineering education would help him get a secure job - he just wants to stay in New York City. Zhang also has secrets. Although his father is Chinese, his mother is Hispanic, and they spent a great deal of money on genetic therapy to adjust Zhang's genome to make him appear more Chinese (to enhance his future career/social prospects.) Zhang is also gay - or "bent", as he puts it - which is absolutely taboo in this future society, and could lead to loss of employment and housing, or even placement in a re-education camp, if anyone in authority learned of his sexual orientation.
Forced to accept a six-month work assignment at an Arctic Circle science station, Zhang unexpectedly gets the opportunity to go to China and study at Nanjing University, paving the way for him to achieve his goals despite a system designed to harness his skills for the good of the state, regardless of personal choice.
This is a wholly inadequate description; I cannot do justice to the scope of this story. Read the book. (less)
Different from the other Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath books I've read previously (I'm a bit perturbed that this series is still referred to as the Alex...moreDifferent from the other Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath books I've read previously (I'm a bit perturbed that this series is still referred to as the Alex Benedict books, because only the first was written from his viewpoint, and frequently Benedict has been not much more than a somewhat eccentric sidekick to narrator Kolpath). Usually Benedict has picked up a hint of the whereabouts of some major historical artifact, or an untouched cache of objects from an ancient star-faring race, or some other irresistably fabulous potential score, and he and Kolpath go haring off after it, untangling various mysteries in the process.
In The Devil's Eye, the mystery is the main story - why a celebrated horror writer would pay Benedict a huge sum of money, with no explanation, and immediately thereafter have her entire memory and personality irretrievably wiped away. Benedict is uncharacteristically compelled to backtrack the writer's recent history, traveling to a planet on the far edge of the galaxy and seeking to uncover what led her to take such a drastic step. Along the way we get a more detailed look at the future society in which they live, where remote worlds develop social structures that bear only a cursory resemblance to those closer to "civilization", and underlying distrust of an alien race of disquietingly un-human appearance can erupt quickly into armed hostilities with the potential to destroy both sides.
With the initial mystery "solved" just past the halfway point of the book, I was a little confused about where McDevitt was taking us, and was intrigued when, rather than introduce a second mystery or reveal that the original solution was wrong, he simply chose to explore how Alex and Chase's actions play out and their impact on the planet.(less)
Can't help but wonder if Joanna Russ (or her estate) received any royalties for this, as the underlying idea is pretty much lifted from her short stor...moreCan't help but wonder if Joanna Russ (or her estate) received any royalties for this, as the underlying idea is pretty much lifted from her short story, "When It Changed."(less)
Interesting combination of elements - science vs. faith; the ugly underside of scientific competition; the variety of responses in different cultures...moreInteresting combination of elements - science vs. faith; the ugly underside of scientific competition; the variety of responses in different cultures to impending, unavoidable death...
In a nutshell - a deadly infectious agent is unleashed when an ancient artifact is opened and, with 100% mortality, humanity is doomed to extinction unless the best and brightest scientific minds, cloistered the labs at Los Alamos, can come up with a cure.
Not a good choice for the "happily ever after" fan - this is a pretty grim book overall, although some hope is offered at the end.
(Another book with a misleading blurb, IMO - the man who claims to be Jesus Christ is a sub-plot that takes on a greater role as the book progresses, but is never the primary focus of the story. If you're looking for millenialist fare, this ain't it.)(less)
A gross disappointment after Native Tongue. I suspect Ms. Elgin didn't have much of a plan for the "long game" when she wrote NT, and how she resolved...moreA gross disappointment after Native Tongue. I suspect Ms. Elgin didn't have much of a plan for the "long game" when she wrote NT, and how she resolved her story in this third volume turned out to be not very satisfying. I re-read Native Tongue and The Judas Rose periodically, but don't even currently own a copy of Earthsong.(less)
Why is it that none of Peter Straub's books has ever been wholly satisfying? I've always been a little frustrated by his novels, even the one that mad...moreWhy is it that none of Peter Straub's books has ever been wholly satisfying? I've always been a little frustrated by his novels, even the one that made him famous (Ghost Story.) I think thus far Shadowland has come the closest to indelibility (is that even a word?) for me - but I thought this one might give it a run for the position.
Initial reflections: Mr. Straub is a tricky dude. You know the story is going to be a little eerie, tinged with occult overtones, unexplained occurrences, etc. In this instance, there's no straightforward bad guy - Straub makes you question everyone's actions, and avoids easy explanations. Is the otherworldliness a product of the unreliable 40-years-on memories of five childhood friends, then teens caught up in the spell of an itinerant philosopher/psychic/con man? Is the teenager who may be displaying signs of incipient schizophrenia having hallucinations, or is he actually encountering mysterious strangers who whisper warnings in his ears? Is one of the guru's hangers-on merely prone to violence, mentally ill, or possessed by evil?
The one thing I dread is an anticlimactic resolution - where the book misses its mark and sort of fades out at the end, like a sneeze that never gets completed. We'll see.
Outcome: Nope, not it. Another disappointment.
A Dark Matter deals with five teenaged friends and the aftermath, 40+ years later, of a horrific encounter with occult forces. Lee Truax, known to her friends as "The Eel", Howard "Hootie" Bly, Donald "Dilly" Olson, and Jason "Boats" Boatman all fell in love with charismatic metaphysical guru Spencer Mallon and followed him in his quest to reinvent the world to his liking. Only the narrator, Lee Harnell, resisted getting caught up in Mallon's glamour and thus avoided participating in a ritual Mallon said would "change the world" - and did, for all of them.
Decades later, Lee has long been married to The Eel, and is a successful novelist; The Eel has lost her sight, and works with a nonprofit that serves the blind; Dill works the same kind of con his mentor Spencer Mallon did, traveling from college town to college town, sharing his mojo and living off of credulous seekers; Boats is a career thief but has never been caught; and Hootie has spent the past four decades in a mental institution, speaking only in quotes from "The Scarlet Letter" and a dictionary of quirky and obscure words.
Searching for a new writing project to tackle, Lee Harnell is reminded of this period of his youth, and is moved to get in contact with the others, to finally get their stories of what happened on that day - a story even his wife has never revealed. In a Rashomon-like fashion, each recounts what they remember of the group fascination with Mallon, the other young people who shared that fascination, and finally the ritual Mallon conducted.
You know there's going to be a big "reveal" - even as Harnell's old friends share the hallucinatory visions they encountered, the bizarre apparitions seen in the days leading up to the ritual, the increasingly frightening behavior of one of their number - you can tell something big is going to happen. And it does - except, not really, and what does occur is described in such an obscure and disjointed way that you're left not quite sure what actually happened (if any of them knows), and what it is supposed to mean, and then the book is over. Really? That's it?
You're not supposed to ask, at the end of a book or movie, "what happened to them next?" The work is supposed to be complete unto itself (unless, of course, there are sequels.) Most of the time I don't have any trouble with that. But when the resolution of the book is so unsatisfying (and there's that word again - I find it comes to mind on pretty much all of Straub's books), I can't help wonder - isn't there more to the story? Did you leave something out? OK, so The Eel met God, or something like it - and that's all? Don't we get to know how that has affected her for 40+ years? Has she had a secret mission all this time, unknown to anyone? Will her revelation change her marriage?
I do plan of hanging onto this book and re-reading at some later date. Maybe a re-read, letting me fill in the early hints with the details I now know, will make more sense. Frustrating. Yet I keep reading him.(less)
Another fantasy/SF epic - except that I would like to point out that "epic" does not only mean "really, really long."
According to author Tad Williams...moreAnother fantasy/SF epic - except that I would like to point out that "epic" does not only mean "really, really long."
According to author Tad Williams, Otherland is not actually four books, but one book split into four volumes for the sake of publishing limitations (i.e., no one would want to carry around a single volume approaching 3,000 pages.) Well, OK, but from Book 1 to Book 4 there's a five-year gap - I would think, if this was a single book, that in the intervening years some serious editing could have been done. There's a lot of repetitive nattering going on, both here and in the subsequent volumes. (If you read other reviews of mine, you may find similar complaints elsewhere. I can't help but wonder if they've gone back to the pay-by-the-page method of compensating writers.)
That said: it's been pretty fascinating thus far to read Williams' projected future of the Internet. I suspect it may be perceived as less impressive now, 15 years on, than it was when the book was first published in 1996, just as the Internet was coming into its own. No year is specified for the books' setting (just "21st Century" - although there are some hints that I'm sure a determined fan could use in narrowing the range), but Otherland's massive development of and emphasis on interaction within Virtual Reality environments has not been borne out (at least to date.) However, the Middle Country (home to Thargor and Pithlit) bears a strong resemblance to online games like World of Warcraft, and many of the gathering places and shopping venues will probably seem familiar to anyone who built a Second Life online. The big difference is that Otherland's online experience is three-dimensional and can involve sensory input as well, assuming that one can afford the sophisticated equipment required, where we have to be satisfied with plain ol' 2-D.
Book 1 sets up this world and introduces the reader to the main characters: Renie, a college instructor in 'net architecture; her student, !Xabbu, a Bushman, who is surprisingly quick in learning from Renie, despite not having been raised from babyhood with net access; Orlando and Sam, two young friends who go on missions together in the Middle Country but live on opposite ends of the country; Renie's teenaged brother Stephen, who is running wild since their mother's accidental death and their father's subsequent alcohol abuse, and whose online experimentation is about to get him in serious trouble; Christabel, a precocious but sheltered little girl who lives in a gated military community and has a secret friendship with a very odd old man in a wheelchair; and Dread, a psychopathic killer who works for an extremely wealthy and powerful mentor and has the ability to interact with computers and other electronic systems without even touching them.
When Renie's brother suddenly goes into a coma, she traces the cause back to his activities on the 'net, and decides to tackle the problem by hacking into the online venue she believes is responsible for Stephen's condition, with !Xabbu in tow. Along the way she encounters Orlando and Sam, who are on a similar journey and seeking the same destination, although none of them realize it. From the viewpoint of each of the traveling pairs, as well as the activities of Christabel and Dread, Book 1 of Otherland leads the reader to the discovery of a massive and well-funded conspiracy, and reveals the existence of a mind-bogglingly detailed virtual universe called "Otherland."(less)