I you liked the Math SAT, boy are you going to love this book! Scientifically-informed problem solving is one of the cornerstones of science fiction gI you liked the Math SAT, boy are you going to love this book! Scientifically-informed problem solving is one of the cornerstones of science fiction going back to the days of the golden age, but The Martian takes it to a whole new level. Barely a page goes by without our crafty, smart-ass protagonist Macgyvering his way through another high-stakes engineering problem. It's like that scene in Apollo 13 where a team of NASA engineers are herded into a windowless room and given some plastic bags, tubes and a roll of duct tape and told to make an oxygen filter. But in the movie we cut away immediately, probably because Ron Howard didn't think people would want to watch a room full of nerds work through the mathematical minutiae of the problem for some reason. Reading The Martian, however, is like being in that windowless room, but instead of a team of smart people there's only one super-resourceful person. And the room is on Mars....more
This is such a lovely book. On the one hand it is a brilliant intellectual accomplishment: a re-purposing of a classic epic poem from a feminist perspThis is such a lovely book. On the one hand it is a brilliant intellectual accomplishment: a re-purposing of a classic epic poem from a feminist perspective, and a clever interpolation of contemporary narrative with ancient literature and myth. On the other hand, it’s just a beautiful novel: a portrait of a shattered family, an unconventional love story, and a frank depiction of the often violent ways societies respond to change. Add to this a rich, loving portrayal of ancient pre-Roman Italy that feels somehow true, and it has earned a place next to Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian as one of the best fictional depictions of ancient Rome out there. ...more
It's like the Hobbit, but about love and memory and trauma and forgiveness, instead of an invisible-making ring, and starring old people instead of hoIt's like the Hobbit, but about love and memory and trauma and forgiveness, instead of an invisible-making ring, and starring old people instead of hobbits. But it is about killing a dragon. Ishiguro seeds several little mysteries into the opening and then sets the reveal to "leisurely", to gratifying effect. Also starring: Sir Gawain, of Green Knight fame, for some reason. The ending made me misty-eyed. ...more
This novel gets all the stars. Since reading Station Eleven I’ve taken to describing it as a post-apocalyptic pastorale, a sub-genre that to my knowleThis novel gets all the stars. Since reading Station Eleven I’ve taken to describing it as a post-apocalyptic pastorale, a sub-genre that to my knowledge contains only this novel. I tend to avoid post-apocalyptic and disaster stories in general because I feel (fairly or not) that writers often let the drama of the setting do most of the hard work of creating tension and fomenting dilemmas for their characters, and the narrative arcs from one story to another seems same-same.
Which made Station Eleven a relief: after a parge-turning introductory chapter in which a deadly virus sweeps the planet and sends some 99% of the planet’s human population to an oozing, mucus-y death, Mandel hits the fast-forward button past the immediate aftermath and the lean years of raw survival to a point where society has stabilized a bit. Her travelling theater troupe moves through a kind of collapsed wild west landscape with a kind of esprit and camaraderie that was downright Lonesome Dove at times.
But it was not just a relief from over-done genre beats, it was also a joy to read. The cast of characters Mandel follows are vivid and lively, and the intricate web of interconnection (woven over the course of several pre-collapse flashbacks) provided more than a few a-ha! moments. The first thing I did after finishing this book was to add Mandel’s back catalogue to my TBR pile. ...more
The best, most reliable way to get me to buy a book is to compare it to a John le Carre novel. There are writers I like better, but the sly thrill I gThe best, most reliable way to get me to buy a book is to compare it to a John le Carre novel. There are writers I like better, but the sly thrill I get when the intricate and far-ranging puzzle pieces of a le Carre novel start falling together is rare enough for me to find in novels outside of le Carre's that I reach for it when promised. You think I'd know better by now. For whatever reason the effect of a le Carre novel seems to be impossible to imitate.
So that's how City of Stairs ended up in my hands. Specifically, I heard an interview with the author where he spoke about the influence The Spy Who Came In from the Cold had on his novel, and within the hour I had downloaded it and started to read.
To cut to the chase, this is not a fantasy spy novel. It's actually more of a murder mystery, or police procedural, than it is anything else (moreso almost than even a fantasy novel), where a character who we are told is a spy foregoes the black arts of tradecraft for the gum-shoe trail-following of your average shamus. And as a fantasy procedural it's pretty good, though a little too upbeat and banter-reliant given the case at hand.
The secondary world fantasy setting is intricate and well-developed, if that's your thing (it's less and less my thing), featuring something of a power reversal between a former quasi-Euro-tinged colonial power and a distinctly Indian subcontinental-flavored colonial subject. It also features gods, the fascination with which in fantasy literature I don't for the life of me understand. The fact that it was about gods more than anything sapped my interest from the book more than its unearned le Carrean pedigree (and which I admit is entirely a problem with this particular reader than with the novel).
The one consistent irritation I had with City of Stairs that I'm pretty sure is the fault of the book's rather than with my expectations/tastes are the massively clunky expositional passages. Barely a chapter passes without a relentlessly informative "As you know, Bob" lecture that runs over multiple pages and which characters launch into at the slightest hint of an interrogative. I know it must be difficult to have a complex and elaborately worked-out world while lacking a stylistically suave way of getting it onto the page, but when push comes to shove I vastly prefer the third person, textbook-style infodumps....more
I feel like some of the best, grittiest, most gonzo science fiction you can find these days is in comic books. You've got Brandon Graham's Prophet rebI feel like some of the best, grittiest, most gonzo science fiction you can find these days is in comic books. You've got Brandon Graham's Prophet reboot and Multiple Warheads, Rick Remender's Black Science, Eric Stephenson's Nowhere Men, and now this one. The Manhattan Projects is an alternate history of the Manhattan Project, layered in with post-apocalyptic, conspiracy theory, intergalactic warfare plot threads. So much fun....more