My favorite dystopian future...one which still looks likely from some perspectives. Overexposed, desensitized, commercialized; a technicolor nightmare...moreMy favorite dystopian future...one which still looks likely from some perspectives. Overexposed, desensitized, commercialized; a technicolor nightmare which produces brutality, beauty, absurdity and squalor.(less)
This is my favorite Stephenson book, and I very much enjoyed it. The central plot was fascinating, and I found the child character compelling and deli...moreThis is my favorite Stephenson book, and I very much enjoyed it. The central plot was fascinating, and I found the child character compelling and delightful.
However, once the child grew up, she didn't feel as real or interesting. The end was hurried and unsatisfying, with a few very jarring notes. Thus, though the book delighted me much, I'm unlikely to reread it, because I'd have to grimace through the disappointing ending again.(less)
A little slow at the start, and I found the form -- flipping between diary entries by a detached Oxfordian and close 3rd person focused on same -- unn...moreA little slow at the start, and I found the form -- flipping between diary entries by a detached Oxfordian and close 3rd person focused on same -- unnecessarily complex. That said, it was enjoyable, and some of the detail of the speculation on the societal effects of the loss of posterity was striking, unexpected and insightful.(less)
I usually hesitate to give star ratings to books I read long ago. But I wanted to make sure my recommendation and praise were on record here.
This is e...moreI usually hesitate to give star ratings to books I read long ago. But I wanted to make sure my recommendation and praise were on record here.
This is excellent science fiction. Cherryh's great achievement here is the creation of not one, but two mindsets that are believable, yet pervasively alien. The mri and the regul are so consistent and convincing -- not to mention interesting -- that this trilogy is still the first book that comes to mind when discussing beautifully crafted alien races in fiction.(less)
What a book. At first it just seemed fun -- the unexpected synergy of hard-boiled lingo and mordant Jewish humor. But beyond its wit, its well-paced s...moreWhat a book. At first it just seemed fun -- the unexpected synergy of hard-boiled lingo and mordant Jewish humor. But beyond its wit, its well-paced series of frying pans and fires, its over-the-top (occasionally too far over for me) descriptions and lovingly detailed worldbuilding, this is a book with characters you care about. Landsman is a familiar archetype, the loose cannon cop down on his luck, but he's vivid and vulnerable, likable. Bina manages to be both somebody's dream girl and a real, vital, smart woman. Even the dead have voices and a grip on your heart.
I'm a contrarian reviewer, predisposed to be dubious about bestsellers, but I found this novel to be imaginative, distinctive and compelling.(less)
This science fiction classic is beautifully written and beautifully constructed. It's world-driven and character-driven, so the experience of the book...moreThis science fiction classic is beautifully written and beautifully constructed. It's world-driven and character-driven, so the experience of the book builds up over time as you get to know both. It took me a little while to feel at home in the narrative as it switched from the visiting Terran's report to the native Gethenian's diary, but once I got my bearings I enjoyed it a great deal, especially the bright, hard-edged folk tales that are larded throughout.
The Terran narrator's gender essentialism -- his need to define himself by traditional masculinity, his rather stereotyped descriptions of Terran women -- was jarring to me, especially in the context of a far future narrative. However, the book is forty years old, and in Le Guin's words "the rather naive male narrator is a deliberate authorial outreach to male readers" [interview with Guernica magazine:]. Perhaps I took him too literally.
The Gethenian cultures are fascinating, not only for the androgyny of the people, but the societal results of living in such a bleak environment, with so few animals and so many hardships. The world has been carefully thought out, and the results are fascinating.
The book is moving and thought-provoking, and succeeds in creating a powerful sense of place and landscape. Not only do I guess that the spaces visited in the book will linger in my mind, but I find that many of the cover illustrations I've seen look familiar -- the artist and I have both been to Karhide.(less)
This is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, is...moreThis is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, is easy for a science fiction reader to identify with: technologically advanced, socially progressive, inventive and aesthetically pleasing. But it's hard not to see some reflection of our own Earth in the 'barbaric' Empire that the Culture's Player of Games visits. Some of his pecularities, Culturally speaking, make the protagonist seem a bit more like a man of our world and time than of his own. Those ambiguities and similarities are richly plumbed. I found my liking or disliking for the nuanced characters was seldom allowed to set firm, which added to the tension and played off the themes of the book.
The book's slowly building plot is engrossing, the concepts fascinating and epic. It has some cogent yet wildly imaginative settings and intriguing bits of worldbuilding that hint at insights into power, society and politics. It leaves much of this unsaid and unpacked, the plot central and the themes gathered tightly around it. In short, it's beautifully crafted. One of the things I admire about it most is the way it uses language, from the first, to demonstrate attitudes and ways of thinking. An artificial intelligence's tiny physical body is not small enough to fit in your hands, it's small enough to hide in your hands. It is after all not an object, but an entity, sentient and independent-willed. Tiny notes like this are hit throughout the narrative, illustrating the power of language to shape thought before the plot ever touches on that power. It's elegant, challenging, and entertaining. (less)
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and...more4.5 stars
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and the sorts of people it creates and requires. It's memorable, exciting, and packs an emotional punch.
A gripping book when you get into it, but a difficult read at first. The chapters vary between non-chronological and often chaotic episodes from the life of warrior-protagonist Zakalwe and the more accessible, easy-to-follow narrative of his Culture contact and handler, Diziet Sma. Diziet's chapters are perhaps less interesting, but give more context clues and reference points for constructing the narrative. That's why I call this book a difficult read: it requires more of your help in constructing itself than the average book. I believe it rewards the effort, and by the middle, I was far more interested in the bizarre and often brutal life of Zakalwe than in the Diziet storyline.
Zakalwe reminds me of a Roger Zelazny hero: competent but self-deprecating, jumping from frying pan to fire and getting burned, bruised and broken in the process. Wise-cracking in the face of death, and escaping, albeit scathed. I found most of the book hard to put down while I read it, and haunting afterwards.
I've only read a few Culture Novels thus far, but this one is part of a pattern I see emerging: protagonists who are outsiders, completely or partly, to the Culture. It's a good way of telling stories around a rather utopian setting. Due to the challenging beginning of this book, my current recommendation is that new Culture Novel readers read Player of Games, my favorite of the books so far (and one of my two favorite books read this year.)(less)