**spoiler alert** One of the best books I've read all year and a fascinating concept. Mieville has conceived of two "eastern european-ish" city-states...more**spoiler alert** One of the best books I've read all year and a fascinating concept. Mieville has conceived of two "eastern european-ish" city-states (Beszel and Ul Qoma) that are physically co-located, but logically and legally separated. Some streets belong entirely to one city while others share the space, with adjacent addresses in completely different countries. Residents of one city scrupulously try to "unsee" the other city's members. Flagrant failure to do so results in "breach", enforced by an all-seeing but never-seen police force.
Amidst this amazingly-effective plot device is Inspector Borlu - a Besz detective investigating the murder of a girl whose body was dumped in a poor section of Beszel, but who (as it turns out) was murdered in Ul Qoma. When the cross-jurisdictional authorities astonishingly refuse to handle the case, Inspector Borlu knows he's involved in something far more serious that a simple murder and he'll have to violate nearly every one of his beliefs to solve the problem.
Mieville is the best right now at gritty urban-lit. You can smell the alleyways and feel the scraps of paper flutter by in the cold morning wind as you read this book. But this book is more than just a well-told and readable story; it's a brilliant allegory about the unseen white spaces in our own perceptions. It's about how we struggle without the pre-conceived boxed we all use to simplify our daily existence and about how these preconceptions can be exploited. The citizens of Beszel and Ul Qoma have trained themselves since birth to see only what should be seen. Mieville's message here is that we all do the same thing -- only they're more honest about it.(less)
OK, that's not as helpful. I learned about Alan Moore when I was collecting comics in the 1980s and read Watchmen in the original...moreAlan Moore is a god.
OK, that's not as helpful. I learned about Alan Moore when I was collecting comics in the 1980s and read Watchmen in the original serial form.
This graphic novel is not just a well-written story about aging superheroes in a world that no longer wants them mixed with well-meaning megalomania -- it's told visually as well as verbally and mixed with numberous literary references. Really one of the most brilliant and complete pieces ever produced.
China Mieville's first novel is typical of the dark, urban fantasy that he's become known for. But this one had a special intensity that amazed me.
I'...moreChina Mieville's first novel is typical of the dark, urban fantasy that he's become known for. But this one had a special intensity that amazed me.
I've always thought that villains are far more interesting than heroes. In King Rat, the villain was heinous and irredeemably evil in a peculiarly personal way. The story builds up slowly, teasing you with one face of evil and then another. And when the full scope of the drama is finally unveiled, you're involved with the story in a very personal way.
The story was also enriched by Mieville's blurring of the line between man and beast in ways that are not entirely comfortable to the reader. He drags us down into the animal world so vividly that you want to take a shower when you're done.
For all that, it was an intense story, one that reads very quickly. I raced through this book in just a few days, blind to my surroundings each time I opened the book. And when the bad guy finally gets what's coming to him, I sat there on the plane, reading the words as fast as I could, seeing the scene in my mind, curling my hand into a tight fist, and whispering "Yes!".(less)
Like most of Peter F. Hamilton's works, this one is huge in scope, with dozens of characters and about five or six concurrent plotlines that, for the...moreLike most of Peter F. Hamilton's works, this one is huge in scope, with dozens of characters and about five or six concurrent plotlines that, for the most part, weave in and out of each other. You will want to have read his previous Pandora's Star series, as it ties into characters and concepts from those books.
But I always get hooked badly by his novels, unable to put them down and reading far later into the night than I intend. This one is no exception. Great storytelling.(less)
The thing I continue to love about Iain Banks is that he never underestimates the intelligence of his readers. Maybe this is more common in British au...moreThe thing I continue to love about Iain Banks is that he never underestimates the intelligence of his readers. Maybe this is more common in British authors, but his novels are crisp, witty, and require the reader's attention. He expect us to be an active part of the process. Not easy, but always engaging.
As with many science-fiction authors, Banks has created a "universe" that he returns to in several of his novels. This is a "Culture" novel. The Culture is a very advanced civilization, presumably human, who have freed themselves from want to the point of being able to meddle in the affairs of others. They live on massive ring habitats and in intelligent continent-sized General Systems Vehicles.
In Use of Weapons, our protagonist is Zakalwe, a mercenary soldier for the Culture's Special Circumstances division -- roughly equivalent to the CIA or MI-5. A brilliant tactician and soldier, but extremely troubled individual, Zakalwe's past continues to haunt him through assignment after assignment. Banks peels back the story in layers -- a chapter of the current challenge, a chapter of Zakalwe's past -- one at a time until they come together in the very end and we learn what has truly haunted Zakalwe is not what we expected.
My favorite of Banks' novels so far is The Player of Games, which is a grown-up version of Ender's Game and, for my money, even a little better. Use of Weapons is more aggressive, more physical, and less cerebral. But that just shows how wide Banks' range is.(less)
When I play computer games, I'm forced to admit that sometimes I go back to an earlier save point when things aren't going perfec...moreCouldn't put it down.
When I play computer games, I'm forced to admit that sometimes I go back to an earlier save point when things aren't going perfectly. Peter F. Hamilton seems to have taken this concept to a new level with his Void trilogy.
The idea is that, at the heart of the galaxy, lies this void in which the governing laws are quite different. Humans have psychic abilities, but machines don't work too well. And humans can "reset" back to a previous point at will.
The problem is that this reset requires mass and energy and the void gets it by expanding to gobble up surrounding star systems. Naturally, the soon-to-be-made-extinct folks living on those star systems don't cotton to such behavior. So, outside the Void, there's a strong desire to stop it.
Now, couple this with Hamilton's epic storytelling ability and you have a cannot-put-it-down kind of story. Well, many stories, actually. Hamilton regales us with the outside-the-void struggle while, at the same time, giving us a serial novel-in-a-novel with the life of in-the-Void Edeard who goes from country bumpkin to king, essentially. Either of these would be excellent tales, but woven together like they were, it was even better.
When I finish a book and feel the pain of regret and loss, it's usually because the characters were so wonderful, so rich, and so memorable that they...moreWhen I finish a book and feel the pain of regret and loss, it's usually because the characters were so wonderful, so rich, and so memorable that they had become part of my life. In The Dervish House, the characters are wonderful, but it's the Queen City of Istanbul and the way that Ian McDonald has drawn it that I'll remember forever.
One of the things I liked about this is that it's so un-American and un-Western. The west does not hold a monopoly on science fiction, yet it often seems that way. McDonald goes out of his way to tell us about the future in other cultures, in this case, Turkey in 2027.
The story follows about a dozen characters through seemingly unrelated dramas over the course of a week. Their only obvious connection (and it's a red herring) is that they're all somehow tied to this ancient mansion in Istanbul called The Dervish House. Each story line marches along in its own fashion, rich and compelling, only to swerve together at the very end and become part of a single, unified whole (as it really was all along).
There's Can, the nine-year-old with a heart condition and a very clever nano-formed robot; Adnan, the testerone-aholic trader in search of the ultimate deal; Ayshe, his wife and trader of sometimes illicit relics; Georges, Greek expatriot and suspected traitor; and Necdet, who sees djinn and ancient saints. But it's the city and its wonders that is the everpresent character.
Really well told. Makes me want to pack a bag and fly off to Istanbul immediately.(less)
One of Reynolds' most structured books, The Prefect takes place in his Revelation Space universe (before the time of the Melding Plague. Yellowstone i...moreOne of Reynolds' most structured books, The Prefect takes place in his Revelation Space universe (before the time of the Melding Plague. Yellowstone is a human-colonized planet orbited by ten thousand individual habitats that comprise the Glitter Band. Each habitat is its own world, ranging from communities of peaceful artist-voters to Voluntary Tyrannies.
Policing all of this is the habitat of Panoply, where the policemen are called Prefects. Tom Dreyfus is a no-nonsense Prefect whose current assignment turns out to be far more complex than he thought. Eventually, Dreyfus is dragged into a fighting war that threatens to overwhelm the entire population of the system.
This book is fraught with politics and intrigue set in a fascinating science-fiction universe. Eminently readable and highly entertaining, as are all of Reynolds' books.(less)
Very nearly five stars. Alastair Reynolds has kicked off another epic science-fiction series with a story about Africa and how they have colonized the...moreVery nearly five stars. Alastair Reynolds has kicked off another epic science-fiction series with a story about Africa and how they have colonized the stars. I always like when science fiction is not US or Europe centric. It tends to add a nice touch.
In this story, the Akinya family are heirs to a space mining empire founded by their legendary grandmother, Eunice. The book begins with Eunice's death. Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya are corporate outsiders, showing no interest in the family business. But when Eunice leaves behind a clue that only Geoffrey and Sunday are poised to investigate, it becomes clear that Eunice was up to far more that just digging out old rocks and ice.
This is a nice "local" story with rich characters and that goes interstellar at the end. It's an excellent read and many interesting times await us in the sequel.(less)
I tend to choose books by author. While I'm always looking for new people to read, if I like an author, I'll read pretty much everything they've done....moreI tend to choose books by author. While I'm always looking for new people to read, if I like an author, I'll read pretty much everything they've done.
Alastair Reynolds is one of my current favorites. He writes hard sci-fi that tends to get a little weird sometimes and he's not beyond using the quantum ex machina device to write himself out of a jam. But, generally speaking, he tells excellent stories.
Century Rain is not what I expected from him. It starts off as your standard Earth-has-been-destroyed-and-now-we're-living-in-space-with-people-we-don't-like kind of novel. But it quickly adds a 1950's Paris detective noir story line that begins to weave into the present-day line in very interesting ways. Plus, I have to admit it, there's a little romance to spice things up. Now, girl-meets-boy, boy-helps-girl-escape, boy-and-girl-together-thwart-nefarious-plot isn't standard, either, but it all works really well together.
All in all, this is one of Reynolds' most readable stories and one I enjoyed tremendously. Plus, the ending was really just perfect. I hope he writes a sequel in this universe.(less)
Yet another of the cadre of great British science-fiction writers (which, I maintain, is where all the best new sci-fi is coming from these days).
This...moreYet another of the cadre of great British science-fiction writers (which, I maintain, is where all the best new sci-fi is coming from these days).
This is a spy story. The protagonist is James Bond-ish, but with a critical weakness -- he's been hooked into the AI net for so long that he's lost his connection with his fellow humans. So, the AIs cut him off and he's now forced to do his job -- which involves thwarting the plans of an enigmatic alien -- without his usual advantage. Kind of an interesting twist and I have a fondness for flawed heroes.
Anyway, the story is quite well told and one of those things you have a hard time putting down.
Terrific book. The first few pages left me a little bewildered, as if I were reading the second half of a story having missed the first. But, once I g...moreTerrific book. The first few pages left me a little bewildered, as if I were reading the second half of a story having missed the first. But, once I got into the flow, it really was, as they say, a "ripping yarn".
If you like space opera with lots of interesting characters, battles with fearsome weapons (biological and otherwise), and short, tense action scenes that end on cliff hangers, this is the book for you. Plus, Mr. Crane is an excellent character and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him.
I've got to get my hands on more Neal Asher as he keeps engaged, even when the window seat on the exit row is freezing cold.(less)
This is the story of a little boy whose parents and sister are murdered in the first two pages of the book and who finds refuge in a nearby graveyard,...moreThis is the story of a little boy whose parents and sister are murdered in the first two pages of the book and who finds refuge in a nearby graveyard, to be raised by ghosts and ... others. It wasn't until I read the afterword that I realized that this was The Jungle Book with the dead replacing the jungle animals. (Gaiman points out in the afterword that he's talking about Kipling. If you've only seen the Disney movie, you're really missing out on the richness of the original story.)
It's a very nice story with a terrific ending. I felt the main plotline (who killed Nobody's parents and why) was a little contrived, but the journey was really excellent. And in Neil Gaiman's typical style, there is the sense of a compelling otherworld just outside our everyday perceptions. I think that's the thing I like about Gaiman the most.(less)