* Four stars for Neil Gaiman's always-terrific, ever-engaging writing skill * Three stars for the plot * Two stars for the length...moreHard to score this one.
* Four stars for Neil Gaiman's always-terrific, ever-engaging writing skill * Three stars for the plot * Two stars for the length. Really felt like more of a novella than a full novel, particularly for what it costs.
As with many of Mr. Gaiman's works, this is an adult fairy tale where the mysterious and the mystic hide next door behind the neighbor's grandmotherly smile or the hedge that rustles out of the corner of your eye. If you like his previous works, you'll like this one.(less)
I've long been a fan of Peter F. Hamilton and this one doesn't disappoint. In fact there are two key things I particularly enjoyed:
1. That this book h...moreI've long been a fan of Peter F. Hamilton and this one doesn't disappoint. In fact there are two key things I particularly enjoyed:
1. That this book had a little bit of everything -- interstellar portals, genetic modifications, police procedurals, data mining with coll visualizations, survivalist adventures, scary alient monsters, swarming inscrutable aliens, snotty rich people, and a she-will-kick-your-ass heroine with (understandable) social issues.
2. It's a standalone novel. (At least, the sequel isn't out yet...) But the story does stand alone nicely and is a great, long read.(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)
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)
Random reactions: Felt kind of like a steampunk western for most of the book. Would have liked to see more of the higher technology stuff. Ending kind...moreRandom reactions: Felt kind of like a steampunk western for most of the book. Would have liked to see more of the higher technology stuff. Ending kind of weird and unsatisfying. Clearly set up for the sequel.
Net net: Hard book to describe. Spearpoint is a big tall spire that extends from deep within the earth out beyond the atmostphere. Humans have built a city clinging to its sides, spiraling up higher and higher. The city is ruled by "zones" which govern what technology works -- the higher zones have nanotechnology while the lower zones have horses. All in all a cool concept that I would have liked to explore.
Quillon is an angel -- winged, high-tech humans who zoom around the "celestial levels" of Spearpoint. He's been modified to live in the lower levels as part of an advance invasion force. But, as rogue angel agents try to kill or capture him, he's forced to flee the city. And he finds himself an actor on the global stage that will eventually determine the fate of the city itself. (less)
I'll always read China Miéville, but this was not one of his best efforts. The "hidden London" or "city within a city" is one of his more common theme...moreI'll always read China Miéville, but this was not one of his best efforts. The "hidden London" or "city within a city" is one of his more common themes. Kraken one deals with the secret religions that breed in London's shadows, each with its own gods and special magics. When a preserved giant squid mysteriously vanishes from a London museum (container, preservative, and all), it stirs up the London cults like a hornet's nest. Who has the squid? What secrets will it yield? What power will it grant? It turns out the squid is one of the more powerful gods, even dead.
I felt this book went on too long. Its story line was convoluted and unnecessarily complex. The dialog was particularly British in this story as well, with aphorisms I occasionally found hard to follow. I finished it because I wanted to see what happened, but it was a bit more painful than Mieville normally is for me. Still, I look forward to the next book of his with relish.(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.
**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)
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)
I heard a recent interview with China Mieville that put this book into perspective for me. In this interview, he talked about writing in a different g...moreI heard a recent interview with China Mieville that put this book into perspective for me. In this interview, he talked about writing in a different genre for each book and I began to see the pattern. The Scar is a romance (of sorts); The Iron Council is a western; Perdido Street Station is horror.
Un Lun Dun falls into that category of young adult fantasy stories like Inkheart and the recent Abarat series by Clive Barker -- slightly creepy alternative worlds in which the child becomes the hero and all the adults are clueless.
While I enjoyed this book, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did his others. I liked the fact that he set up a classic story ("the chosen comes to save the shadow city") and then veers off road almost immediately. As always, his settings are richly drawn, cloaked in shadow, and slightly scuffed. And his characters are utterly believable.
What I didn't like about this book as much (though I should have), is that the entire thing was a series of puns -- Black Windows infesting the creepy Webminster Cathedral; the UnGun that fires nothing; Smoglodytes.(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)
A collection of 8 stories from Reynolds' Conjoiner-Demarchist universe that he'd written over time. A mixed bag in my opinion. Some, like "Weather", a...moreA collection of 8 stories from Reynolds' Conjoiner-Demarchist universe that he'd written over time. A mixed bag in my opinion. Some, like "Weather", are just terrific. Some, like the title track, "Galactic North", are weak and come across more like an outline for a future series than a tightly constructed short story.(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)
Having enjoyed Ian Cormac in Gridlinked and later in Brass Man, I thought I really ought to get my act together and read the entire Ian Cormac series...moreHaving enjoyed Ian Cormac in Gridlinked and later in Brass Man, I thought I really ought to get my act together and read the entire Ian Cormac series in order. This starts with Shadow of the Scorpion in which Cormac, an 8-year-old with a dysfunctional family begins to notice that this scorpion-shaped war drone keeps showing up where it isn't supposed to and it has something to tell him.
Or does it? This book does two things really nicely:
1. Tells us the story of how Ian Cormac came to join ECS and how he came to be the person he is.
2. Explores the angles of memory editing in a striking way. I won't post spoilers, except to say that it can play havoc with your narrator's time flow.
Among the more difficult of Banks's works, but still a good read. Essentially a war novel (as so many of his are) that relies on Culture technology. G...moreAmong the more difficult of Banks's works, but still a good read. Essentially a war novel (as so many of his are) that relies on Culture technology. Good interplay here between lesser-developed societies (steam engine) and the uber-advanced Culture.
Ending was abrupt (and that was kind of the point). Don't miss the epilogue that is cleverly situated after the glossary of people, places, and dates. (At least it was on the Kindle edition.(less)
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)
I'll begin by pointing out that this was not an easy book to read. Multiple protagonists, long flashback scenes, and multiple story lines that came to...moreI'll begin by pointing out that this was not an easy book to read. Multiple protagonists, long flashback scenes, and multiple story lines that came together in the end. While it was challenging to read, it furthered my appreciation of Mieville's skill as a writer. This was also an awfully hard story to pull off.
On the surface, this is a story about freedom. Readers familiar with Mieville's world (Iron Council, The Scar) will know that autocracy, repression, brutality, and economic disparity are strong themes of his. In Iron Council, a multi-ethnic group of workers manages to free themselves from the establishment and escape to their own lives. They become a symbol for the oppressed in New Crobuzon as well as a target for the authorities. The story is about how they came to be and what happens in New Crobuzon when they finally return amid war and civic unrest.
But this is also a story about groups and identity. It's a story about how any group has its oppressors and oppressed. It's a story about making hard personal choices and understanding who you really are.(less)
Judge concludes Karen Traviss's six-book cycle about ecologically-responsible, Vegan aliens come to Earth to "help" (read: use military might to force...moreJudge concludes Karen Traviss's six-book cycle about ecologically-responsible, Vegan aliens come to Earth to "help" (read: use military might to force Earth to) clean up its global warming, reduce its teeming population, and repopulate some extinct species from a gene bank taken from Earth centuries earlier.
But the story line is not what makes this series so compelling. It's really about the people and Travis does characterization really well. This book is a closure and a farewell to the characters we've come to know over the years and she ties everything up nicely, dealing smoothly with issues like increasing age differential between one friend who travels through space and another who does not.
In light of the current situation on our own 21st century planet, this story line is also very timely. Really makes you think.(less)
**spoiler alert** Wow. Two dark books in a row for me. Still, I can never, ever resist Iain Banks. He's just so good.
This is a dark, dark story of war...more**spoiler alert** Wow. Two dark books in a row for me. Still, I can never, ever resist Iain Banks. He's just so good.
This is a dark, dark story of war and betrayal. Sharrow, our protagonist, is an aristocrat on a distant world named Golter. (Aristocrats get to have only one name.) She comes from a tainted family and grew up under a gothic cloud of madness and death.
Even though she grows up relatively stable and together, her big problem is a religious cult called the Huhsz. The Huhsz have decided that their Messiah cannot be born until the female line, of which Sharrow is the last, is extinguished. Worse, the Golter World Court has recently given the Huhsz legal permission to hunt Sharrow down and kill her. Can she survive for the year that the "hunting passports" are valid? Can she find the lost artifact that will appease the Huhsz?
This is really a book about the horrors of war and power. In the end, everyone, every single character, except for Sharrow dies. And she's been betrayed in nearly every conceivable way by her own family. In the end, she's more alone that she's ever been. It's a sad and powerful testament to the darkest side of human nature, because I can see much of this kind of thing happening.
In many ways, this reminds me of China Mieville's The Scar: Female protagonist who's used and betrayed by a society that really doesn't care about her. I suspect Mieville is a fan of Banks from reading the books so close together.(less)
Iain Banks continues to impress me with the range of his prose. This was different still from his other works -- yes, it is science-fiction space oper...moreIain Banks continues to impress me with the range of his prose. This was different still from his other works -- yes, it is science-fiction space opera, but it takes place primarily inside a gas giant among the Dwellers who live within. And the thing about this novel is that there are parts of this very serious war novel that are quite funny. The Dwellers are a very odd bunch -- brilliant, cagey, but with a facade of buffoon-ery that causes everyone to underestimate them. Some of the scenes with the Dwellers are so light-hearted that brighten up what is, otherwise, a very dark story.
There were elements to this novel that made it seem less complete or hurried compared to his others: a story line about revenge for a childhood crime that seemed forced and didn't really relate to the rest of the story; an overarching theme about persecution and freedom that seemed to miss the mark.
That said, it was a wonderful novel. While it started slowly (as his novels almost always do), I couldn't put it down at the end. And the ending was perfect. (I have a weak spot for crisply-concluded long novels and Banks is a genius at it.)
If you're tired of the space opera genre, then try this one out for a refreshing perspective.(less)
A very long, but thorough enjoyable conclusion to the two-volume story that began with Pandora's Star. Hamilton writes the kinds of stories I just lov...moreA very long, but thorough enjoyable conclusion to the two-volume story that began with Pandora's Star. Hamilton writes the kinds of stories I just love to read -- a relatively positive future for humanity, some good technology (which we could use now), but the focus is the intricacy of the plot.
This volume had no fewer than 40 primary characters (theres a Dramatis Personae listing at the front so you can keep track) and took more than 1000 pages to conclude. Couple this with his oh-so-comfy writing style and you get what amounts to a terrific literary journey - great scenery along the way and an exciting destination once you get there.
What is this about? Classic inter-species conflict with a twist. One is us. The other is a hive mind with genocidal tendencies. Throw in a hidden alien that's secreted its agents throughout human society and worked to bring about the whole conflict and you have a pretty wicked story.(less)
Karen Traviss is another of those classically-educated British sci-fi writers that's captured my attention lately.
Her series, that begins with City of...moreKaren Traviss is another of those classically-educated British sci-fi writers that's captured my attention lately.
Her series, that begins with City of Pearl, is an unusual blend of vegeterianism, ecological responsibility, mutating symbionts, and interspecies war. Humans are, for the most part, the bad guys here, though it takes a while to figure that out. And our protagonist chooses her sides very quickly, putting her at odds with her people.
As with many of other female science-fiction writers, there's more of the what-I'm-feeling and how-this-affects-my-relationships than I like in my novels, but she does weave it into the story well. I'm looking forward to the concluding book in this six-part series.(less)