Volume 4 of the esteemed Questionable Content has an immediate difference over its predecessors: it's a completely different format. Rather than a larVolume 4 of the esteemed Questionable Content has an immediate difference over its predecessors: it's a completely different format. Rather than a large square book, with two comics to a page, it's a much smaller but thicker book, putting a single comic over each two-page spread. This undeniably makes it easier to read (with less squinting over the text), but it does mean that the books will look different on my shelves, something I detest (I'm looking at you, Laundry Files and SF Masterworks).
As for content, this volume collects comics #900-1200 and both the storytelling and art continue to mature. We see Hannelore's mother for the first time, and while we don't see her father, he's definitely involved. Marten and Dora's relationship matures, as do Dora's insecurities. Speaking of insecurities, we also get to see a different side to Steve as he worries about his relationship with Meena. Faye's drinking gets spotlighted as well, but it's not all doom and gloom. There are a lot of laughs, especially where Pintsize and Wimslow are involved.
Some of the author commentary is quite interesting as well, especially where says that he wouldn't do a joke like that again (often to do with trans issues) or where he disagrees with his characters. I've been binging on QC as I got the whole lot of paper collections in one go. So I've got one more paper collection to go, and then it's back to just one strip a day :-/....more
My Great Questionable Content Binge continues with the third collection of the slice-of-life webcomic. So Marten and Dora have become a couple, but itMy Great Questionable Content Binge continues with the third collection of the slice-of-life webcomic. So Marten and Dora have become a couple, but it's interesting to see just how early that Dora's insecurity over the situation raised its head. I had forgotten about that, from when I was reading it online. (view spoiler)[I had to skip ahead on the webcomic to find out when they broke up, and it's not until about #1800 or so, so there's a good couple of more volumes of Marten/Dora coupledom to come, but if he sticks with the 300 or so comics to the collection, volume 6 will end on a downer :(. (hide spoiler)] It's also interesting to see how early the seeds of Faye's hard-drinking and her friends' worrying about it were sown. That's something that will get reaped 2000 or so strip down the line. Blimey, that's some forward planning, going on there!
The enlargement of the cast continues with Penelope (or is that Pizza Girl?) joining the Coffee of Doom crew as well as Tai and Angus making their débuts. QC has turned from a will they/won't they romance into, effectively, a humorous soap opera, albeit a soap opera with murderous scooters, mischievous PCs and semi-feral roombas. It's a lot of fun to read, and so much quicker on paper than on-screen (those waits between page loads cumulatively add up).["br"]>["br"]>...more
The second three hundred strips of the excellent Questionable Content see the format shift. We finally get a resolution to the will they/won't they thThe second three hundred strips of the excellent Questionable Content see the format shift. We finally get a resolution to the will they/won't they thing between Faye and Marten and the introduction of the rather awesome Hannelore. The art starts to mature as well and by the end of this volume we start to see the characters as we know and love them today. The cast also starts to expand as not only Hannelore appears, but we start seeing the family of our already established cast, with Marten's mum, Dora's brother and Faye's mum and sister. This starts to make our cast start to feel like rounded people with real lives that we care about (especially after we find out about Faye's history) and this is something that Jacques has been very good at maintaining to this day. So still early days but evolving rapidly....more
I've been reading Questionable Content for several years now and have read it start to end online a couple of times since then, but I've decided to spI've been reading Questionable Content for several years now and have read it start to end online a couple of times since then, but I've decided to splurge on paper copies. The book is physically attractive, being a good size, although I was disappointed by the size of the comics within, with the text sometimes making me squint a bit (especially in some of the wordier ones). But QC is a vertical strip, so having two strips side by side like that on a page seems like the best way to make it work. The art is a bit wobbly in this volume, a long way from Jacques' later work (as seen on the cover and some of the early strips here, where the originals weren't of good enough quality to print, so he redrew them) but something I always like about webcomics is the way that we can literally see the artist getting better in front of our eyes.
The plot concerns indie kid Marten and his pals (including sociopathic AI pal Pintsize) just trying to get on in life, find love, a job that they don't hate and talk a load of crap about music. I'd forgotten just how much time the early comic spends talking about music and bands that I've never heard of. Thankfully, this fades away later on, but if that's not your geekdom, those strips are skippable. I'd also forgotten just how small the cast is at this stage. QC's cast grows arms and legs over the years, but here, it's pretty much just entirely Marten, his flatmate Faye and her boss Dora forming the core love-triangle cast, with Marten's friend Steve and Pintsize as the supporting cast.
The book is funny, interesting and shows flashes of the greatness to come, but it's still definitely worth reading on its own merits....more
This is a small collection of four short stories set in Fenn's 'Hidden Empire' universe. The first three stories all directly involve Angels, the offiThis is a small collection of four short stories set in Fenn's 'Hidden Empire' universe. The first three stories all directly involve Angels, the official assassins of the City, while the last focuses on a musician and only references them indirectly. I've not actually read anything else by Fenn, but she's going to be a Guest of Honour at Satellite 5 so I thought I should read something that she's written before the con and I enjoyed the collection quite a lot.
Fenn is excellent at both storytelling and worldbuilding without exposition. Despite it never really being mentioned, I picked up a fair bit about the City that the stories are set in, and I enjoyed reading about this city whose elected officials all have a Sword of Damocles hanging over them. If they fail to do what is expected of them, the Angels carry out "the will of the people" and "remove" them from public life. Permanently. The three linked stories see a few characters recurring, from the newly appointed Angel, Malia, to the shadowy Minister, the master of the Angels.
Collateral Damage starts with a newly appointed Angel and an accidental friendship that she strikes up with a woman in a bar and deals with love and betrayal. Death on Elsewhere Street has a downsider getting accidentally involved with a "removal" and the repercussions that she has to deal with following it. The final linked story, Angel Dust sees a young downsider have to complete a mission for a wounded Angel to the Minister himself. This is probably the widest in scope of the three stories, the one that gives us more than a very narrow view of the City and whets the appetite the most.
The fourth story, The Three Temptations of Larnier Mier shows us a musician who was injured while witnessing a removal and who must decide between her career and her faith. I found this one somewhat less interesting than the Angel stories. Perhaps I was hoping for a different outcome, but you can never entirely win with religion.
I enjoyed the collection a lot, and I'm intrigued now to read Principles of Angels, the book from which these stories are spun off. However, I'm somewhat put off after discovering that that is the first in a series that currently spans five books, and it's not clear if it's finished or not. I don't know if I want to commit to yet another ongoing series, but that's a question that I can perhaps put to Fenn at the con :).
Oh, and I'm still not entirely sure if the cover art is fantastic or awful....more
In the fourteenth (fourteenth!) volume of the Foglio's epic Girl Genius series, our heroine, Agatha Heterodyne, has escaped from the time-locked MechaIn the fourteenth (fourteenth!) volume of the Foglio's epic Girl Genius series, our heroine, Agatha Heterodyne, has escaped from the time-locked Mechanicberg and is trying to get to Paris, where she hopes to learn enough to free her city. The logical way to get there is by train, but these aren't just any trains. They're run by a monastic order, who have their own views about the sanctity of the timetable, and have the firepower to back them up.
The introduction to this volume says that it would make a good jumping on point for new readers, but I think that's crazy talk. We're thirteen volumes into an ongoing story with well-established characters and a pretty damn complex plot (besides, the whole thing can be read for free online).
The story is as fun as ever, as we rejoin Agatha, Gil, Martellus and the rest of the cast, each with their own, complex stories, motives and machinations. There's not nearly enough Jägers in it for my taste, but then I've always had a soft spot for the Jägermonsters. Now, roll on the next volume! (You see what I did there...? 'Cos they're on a train...? I'll get me coat...)...more
This is a small collection of three short one-act plays that Bradbury wrote in the 1970s that I was completely unaware of, although in saying that, IThis is a small collection of three short one-act plays that Bradbury wrote in the 1970s that I was completely unaware of, although in saying that, I recognise both the title play (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit) and one other (The Veldt) as short stories. I don't know if they started off as plays and were converted, or the other way around but both still work very well as plays. I'm not so experienced at reading plays but it does feel like there's dialogue but not much in the way of stage direction.
The title play follows six young Latino immigrant workers who pool their resources and buy a single white suit that they share out amongst themselves. It's about friendship and poverty and what can be learned through sharing and is a sweet little play. The Veldt is an altogether darker affair. It has themes of parental affection, misuse of technology and the tension between work and family life. The final play, To the Chicago Abyss has elements of Fahrenheit 451, although from a different perspective.
I would love to see these performed, just to see how they'd work on stage, rather than on the page, especially the technological magic of The Veldt. Even without that, though, they're still very enjoyable to read....more
This anthology brings together short fiction that was nominated for, and some that won, the James Tiptree Award for "science fiction or fantasy that eThis anthology brings together short fiction that was nominated for, and some that won, the James Tiptree Award for "science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender". As well as that, there are a number of essays both relating to the award itself and the wider genre. There were a number of stories here that I enjoyed a lot, and some less so.
Looking Through Lace, by Ruth Nestvold, was probably my favourite story in the collection. This is about a young xenolinguist trying to understand the complexities of an alien language while also having to overcome the prejudices of her superior. This one reminded me of some of Ursula K. Le Guin's anthropological stories and I liked the characterisation and deft worldbuilding.
I also enjoyed both the retellings of The Snow Queen (itself also included in the collection) preferring the modern Travels with the Snow Queen over the Japanese-set The Lady of the Ice Garden.
I was less keen on The Catgirl Manifesto: An Introduction by Richard Calder. This was written as an academic-style introduction to a fictional work that seemed to have a few layers of fiction to it. Perhaps I would get more out of it on a second reading, but as it stood I found it difficult to follow and somewhat incoherent.
So a good collection if you're interested in exploring gender or just want some challenging SF....more
I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this book to start with because of the change to Louis Wu's circumstances at the start of the novel (he's a junkie,I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this book to start with because of the change to Louis Wu's circumstances at the start of the novel (he's a junkie, addicted to the pure pleasure of electrical stimulation of the brain). But that actually turned out to be one of the more interesting things about the book. Why would a character as obviously strong as Wu turn to the wire? That question does get answered, along with the other obvious question of what he does next. Perhaps his escape from addiction was a little too easy, but, as I've said, we know from the previous book that Louis has a very strong will.
The return to the Ringworld itself is interesting if not novel. The quest that Louis and his alien companions find themselves on is, eventually, to deal with the instability of the Ring and save its trillions of inhabitants from doom as it crashes into its star.
The one moment of pure 'sensawunda' in the book, for me equivalent to learning about the Fleet of Worlds from Ringworld, is when we learn how the Ringworld's meteor defence system works. That left me giggling to myself in awe for quite a while.
This sequel is, in no way, essential. Ringworld stood on its own perfectly well. The only reason I picked it up was because it was very cheap at a book sale and I needed another book to get the four-for-a-pound deal. I don't regret having read it, but I doubt it'll leave much of a mental impact....more
Writing reviews of Saga is starting to get a little dull, really. Each volume is brilliant and moves the story in new directions that throw me off-balWriting reviews of Saga is starting to get a little dull, really. Each volume is brilliant and moves the story in new directions that throw me off-balance but never to a degree that I stop enjoying the story or caring for the characters. Fiona Staples' art also continues to be gorgeous, bringing the characters to life in their weird, sexy, horrific glory.
Alana and Marco have been separated by the wannabe revolutionary, Dengo, of the Robot people and while Alana tries to deal with him to recover Hazel, Marco has to team up with his enemy, Prince Robot IV whose child Dengo has also kidnapped.
This all happens in parallel with Gwendolyn and Sophie's quest to find something that can save The Will, and doesn't that storyline come with a kick to the gut!
I basically like all of these people and just want them to all talk over their problems, work them out and all live happily in a Friends-style apartment block where they'd be in and out of each others' homes all the time. Yeah, I know. A guy can daydream though!
I don't know how much Saga there is to come, but I look forward to the time when I can basically sit down with a bit pile of graphic novels next to my chair and just work through the whole story in one sitting. ...more
Picking up pretty much directly from where Ancilliary Sword left off, the conclusion to Breq's trilogy again changes the direction of the series a biPicking up pretty much directly from where Ancilliary Sword left off, the conclusion to Breq's trilogy again changes the direction of the series a bit, with things that have been rumbling a little in the background coming more to the fore. Breq is now publicly known as the last remaining piece of Justice of Toren and she must move quickly to protect Athoek system from the inevitable attack by Anaander Mianaai.
There's a lot to love in this book and I pretty much want to just pick up the first book again and read the whole trilogy in one go, although I think I'm going to resist doing that until I make more of a dent in my to-read pile.
I think this book brings Breq's involvement in the wider story of the Radch to an end. There's lots more that she could do, of course, but I suspect that she'll be quite tied up in the aftermath of what happened in Atheok, and its fallout, to take any further part in wider events. And I can't imagine that there won't be further events. The story of the Radch and its ruler at war with herself is rich pickings for further storytelling and I look forward to reading it.
As for this one, it was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Not just Breq, but those around her got decent character development and all got a chance to do something cool....more
The fifth collected volume of of the utterly marvellous webcomic takes us to the end of Annie and Kat's year nine at Gunnerkrigg Court. Annie is now mThe fifth collected volume of of the utterly marvellous webcomic takes us to the end of Annie and Kat's year nine at Gunnerkrigg Court. Annie is now medium of the forest and her friend Andrew is medium of the Court. She has to balance her new duties with her education, not to mention all the ups and downs of being a teenage girl.
There are some lovely stories in this volume, especially that of Mort and how Annie helps him find peace, while at the same time finding out more about Jeanne, the ghost trapped in the Annan Water. The new romance between Kat and Paz is incredibly sweet and Annie's initial reaction to it is very believable for the girl that we've come to know over the last forty-something chapters.
The chapter that followed Renard and Hetty was beautifully told as well, with Renard's obvious pain over his past choices contrasting with the selfishness of Hetty. Renard is now one of my favourite characters in the story, which is saying something, in a story that has so many wonderful characters to choose from.
The final chapter is a suitably dramatic end to the year for the kids of the Court but it's the last couple of pages that really make it, with the revelation of the deepening of Robot's involvement in the cult that grown up around Kat.
Every time I think that Gunnerkrigg Court can't get better, it does. Siddell is growing as both a storyteller and an artist. However, now that the volume has ended, it'll be at least a year until the next one. Many webcomics work okay running a few pages a week (and Siddell has been nothing if not reliable at doing so) but I find GC impossible to read on such a schedule. I usually let a chapter or two build up and read them then, but it's really when you have a whole book in one go that you can appreciate the story properly. I don't know how much more there is to come, but I look forward to the day when I can put the entire set next to my chair and just work through them all in one giant binge. Until then, I'll keep reading one chapter, and one book, at a time....more
Of the three books in this omnibus volume, I definitely enjoyed the first the most. That one seemed to have the same sort of ethos as the Callahan's sOf the three books in this omnibus volume, I definitely enjoyed the first the most. That one seemed to have the same sort of ethos as the Callahan's stories, and the same sense of empathy. I felt that that got somewhat lost in the other two volumes and in particular, I found the protagonist of the second book somewhat annoying and difficult to relate to.
The idea of dance and art more generally was quite central (it being the Stardance books, after all) but I've never really been able to appreciate dance to a particularly high level. In particular, I've never found it particularly expressive of abstract concepts, something which is quite central to these books. I guess that's a failure of imagination on my part, though.
It was slightly uncomfortable having Chinese people be the villains across all three books. Admittedly, they were all members of the same family across time, but still, it felt a little uncomfortable to read, but it still felt a little off.
If I were to score each book individually, it would be 4 stars for Stardance, 2 stars for Starseed and 3 stars for Starmind....more
I'm a very recent convert to Callahan and his place, but I already adore it. These stories, all centred around Callahan's Place, its weird and wonderfI'm a very recent convert to Callahan and his place, but I already adore it. These stories, all centred around Callahan's Place, its weird and wonderful regulars and how they all go out of their way to help others are a joy to read. Warm, witty and humanist, Robinson shows a depth of feeling and empathy that really resonates with me. And the puns, oh goodness, the marvellous truly awful puns! I love puns (even if I'm not very good at them myself) so seeing them celebrated here was a(nother) wonderful thing about the book.
I've read many of the stories here in another collection but this is a superset of that, containing all the stories from there and a few others. This means that I can give away the other book, to let somebody else experience the joy of finding Callahan's Place while I go on and get hold of both the Lady Sally and Mary's Place books to continue the journey.
The unofficial motto of Callahan's Place is that pain shared is lessened while joy shared is increased. I'll get a glass of something, step up to the chalk line and raise a toast to that any day....more
I liked the second volume of Ursula K Le Guin's self-curated collection of short stories better than the first. This volume contains her more overtlyI liked the second volume of Ursula K Le Guin's self-curated collection of short stories better than the first. This volume contains her more overtly SFF stories, which are definitely more up my street than the Literary stories of the first. Le Guin's writing remains beguiling and a joy to read and these stories have the combination of character and plot that I prefer over focus on just character. Favourites include the Hainish stories, particularly The Matter of Seggri, a classic SF what-if story asking what would happen on a world where women vastly outnumbered men; Solitude, where a field ethnologist takes her two young children to a pre-contact planet where the adults are split by gender and rarely talk to one another; The Wife's Story is a different take on the werewolf genre; and, of course, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Call it a fable, a warning story or what you will, it's a beautiful, and immensely chilling story. Not a word is wasted and it remains with the reader long after the last page. It makes us question ourselves, and I have the haunting feeling that I wouldn't have the strength of character to be one of those who walks away.
So, a marvellous collection and both worthy addition to a fan's library and an excellent jumping-on point for those new to Le Guin's work (I include the first volume in that as well, to get the full range of her writing)....more
The Long Earth series is a bit of an oddity in the oeuvres of both Pratchett and Baxter, and I struggle to see aspects of either author, although whatThe Long Earth series is a bit of an oddity in the oeuvres of both Pratchett and Baxter, and I struggle to see aspects of either author, although what there is is very definitely Baxter over Pratchett. In this book, there's another voyage into the distant parts of the Long Earth, Joshua Valienté goes in another quest at the behest of the strange AI known as Lobsang and Sally Lindsay finds herself on the Long Mars.
Like The Long War, the title is somewhat misleading. Although Mars does feature in one of the several parallel plot threads, it's neither dominant nor the most interesting. In fact, one might say that it's actually sort of pointless. They go to Mars, step along it, find the macguffin and come home. There were many possibilities for story along the way (not least the giant monolith that defies approach that they find on one) but they never really got a look in.
Back on Earth (or the Earths), there's a new perceived threat from a number of superintelligent young people who call themselves the Next. I feel this was handled clumsily and that the idea of the military crapping themselves over a bunch of smart kids was hardly sensible (not that the kids helped themselves with their arrogance and unlikeability, but then they were teenagers, so maybe that's not a huge stretch of the imagination).
The big thing though, as with the rest of this series, is that I'm not seeing anything connecting the different story strands. They're all little vignettes of the Long Earth but there's nothing coherent about the whole thing, nothing to grab me and make me want more. The characters who should have developed over the course of three books are still mostly ciphers.
The Yellowstone eruption of the previous book has changed (the Long) America in so many ways, and could result in so many interesting stories, but here it's just sort of brushed under the carpet. It's referenced every so often, but it doesn't really feel like it's made much of an impact on the Long Earth.
At this stage I'm ready to give up on the Long Earth series. It was chance that got me this book, and although it's better than The Long War, it's still not satisfying for fans of either author's work. I'll see what the reviews of the next one say before I think about whether or not to continue....more
An ex-astronaut, some would say washed-up ex-astronaut, has turned detective in this novel, in which a number of men of a similar background and physiAn ex-astronaut, some would say washed-up ex-astronaut, has turned detective in this novel, in which a number of men of a similar background and physique have all died in the same area. Our narrator (who I don't think is ever fully named) is involved in the investigation to try and solve the mystery.
There is a sort of 'feel' to East European/Russian novels (SF or not) that I've read of this period and The Chain of Chance fits into it. The book feels very impersonal, especially in the early sections where this narrator is driving around Rome with electrodes attached to his chest, wearing a dead man's clothes, for no obvious reason. The plot is mostly infodumped on us as the narrator goes to seek the assistance of a French computer scientist in the middle of the book and we get a bit more warmth being injected into the protagonist at this point. Once I got through the infodump, I started to care a little about him and feel that his world was more than just monochrome and emotionless and I was somewhat drawn into the mystery, but even the solution to that feels very Eastern bloc (view spoiler)[with the idea that everything is chance (hide spoiler)].
The scene in the airport with the girl was quite random and didn't really fit with the rest of the book. It seemed like it was just there to inject a bit of action into an otherwise dry story. For me, it felt too jarring to do that properly, though.
So an odd book. It's the third Lem novel that I've read, after Solaris and Tales of Pirx the Pilot and probably the one that I've enjoyed the most, but that cold, impersonal feeling is still there. I probably won't read any more of his work, I think (although maybe I'll give Pirx another go).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Everett Singh is a young geek whose physicist father is kidnapped before his eyes. But his father has left him something: an app on his tablet that tuEverett Singh is a young geek whose physicist father is kidnapped before his eyes. But his father has left him something: an app on his tablet that turns out to be a map to the multiverse, something which some people would literally kill to get. A combination of skill and luck gets Everett to one of the parallel Earths where he falls in with the crew of the airship Everness. He must win their trust to help him in finding his father and escaping his enemies.
This was a pacey written book with lots going on to keep the reader interested. Everett is a likeable enough young protagonist and there are stacks of geek and pop culture references interspersed that would probably endear the book to the YA audience that it's aimed at.
I couldn't help thinking at times, however, that Everett is a bit too competent and calm under everything that happens. Or maybe that's just me projecting (I'd fall apart, I suspect).
A decent enough book but not one that made me immediately want to go and find the next in the trilogy....more
I got this book free in a GoodReads giveaway, without knowing anything about it. Unfortunately, it appears to be the follow up to another book, The AI got this book free in a GoodReads giveaway, without knowing anything about it. Unfortunately, it appears to be the follow up to another book, The Age of Scorpio. Perhaps if I'd read the first book, this one might have made sense, but as it was, it was very difficult to keep up with what was going on (although I think that's as much just the author giving very little ground to the reader, and throwing you in at the deep end).
And, alas, I also just didn't really like it very much. The book is spread across three different time zones, usually with two different strands going on in each one, and there are few links between the storylines. In the past, some sort of disaster has befallen the Celts and the land is mutating everything that gets in its way, with a small band of survivors trying to escape and even stop it. In the present, two super-powered agents of a shadowy organisation are searching for a killer and in the far future, a murderous bounty hunter has acquired a girl: who may be the most precious thing in Known Space.
I think I found the sections in the past most difficult to follow. I'm not familiar with Celtic mythology or words, so I had to keep looking things up to see if they were made up or were an actual word. This was also the one that felt most like I was entering half way through a story and had no idea what was going on.
In the future, Scab and Vic are unpleasant and pathetic respectively and while we keep being told just how evil and nasty that Scab is, we see very little of this. And Talia (the aforementioned most valuable thing in Known Space) hardly helps her own case, by constantly whining and trying to manipulate others.
The story in the present is probably the most interesting, with Malcolm DuBois probably the most well-rounded of the characters, but it really doesn't help that his quarry, Silas Scab, is (probably) the same one in the future, so you know he's going to survive.
Speaking of surviving, the violence throughout the book is considerable. Smith seems to feel that because most of his characters have magic nanites in their blood that can repair injuries, he can just tear off limbs and tear holes in people with impunity. After a while it just becomes repetitive. I didn't find the action scenes particularly effective because of this. Also, the future described in this book, and the bits of the present that (loosely) tie to that future are incredibly unpleasant and set up in the present to bring about that future. I found reading about it quite unpleasant (although I accept that this is very much just me, as I don't like dystopia)
I appreciate that I'm coming to this half way through a story without seeing the beginning, but what I've read has given me no inclination to read the previous book and certainly not the next book in the sequence....more
In the near future, the world isn't a hugely nice place, with the oil running out and job security a thing of the past, so most people who can spend tIn the near future, the world isn't a hugely nice place, with the oil running out and job security a thing of the past, so most people who can spend their time in the OASIS: a virtual environment where they can escape real life. The OASIS was created by James Halliday and upon his death, he left the whole thing, and the multi-billion dollar company behind it, to whoever solves the puzzle he's left in the OASIS. Wade Watts is one of the millions of hopefuls who leaves the real world behind to try to be the one who does it.
This was a fun book that I raced through once I got started. It's easy to read, with a likeable protagonist. Halliday was obsessed by the 1980s, so Cline has an excuse to throw in huge numbers of pop culture references which are pleasing to someone of my generation (although one has to wonder how the book will date).
The book has a (somewhat cartoonish) villain in the form of IOI, the evil ISP that is hiring hundreds of people and spending huge amounts of money to try and solve the puzzle, to the extant that they'll take actions outside the OASIS as well as within it.
Opposing them, Wade is a nice enough guy who hasn't got much to live for in the real world. When we meet him, he's living in the future version of a trailer park: one where trailers are piled up on top of each other to make maximum space in a twisted sort of skyscraper. He's in his late teens and spends every waking moment in the OASIS, researching the puzzle, which mostly means watching and memorising 80s films, TV shows, anime and playing computer games of the era. After a while, you do wonder at the obsession of Wade and other 'gunters' ([Easter] egg hunters) in their search, but it's a nice way to indicate just how much they don't want to live in the real world.
Wade's other rivals are a friendlier bunch and despite the bravado from them to start with, it's obvious that they're going to end up buddies from early on.
As most of our viewpoint is spent inside the OASIS, we don't get to see much of how badly the world is collapsing, with just hints as to how corporations have become more powerful than nation states although one rather neat window to this world is the reintroduction of slavery in the US, via 'indentured servitude': if you are in debt, large corporations can own you, and make you work to pay it off (which you'll never do). Subtle this book ain't.
But it is fun and a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys computer games and/or has moderately fond memories of 1980s pop culture....more
This anthology has an interesting gestation. It came about after Neal Stephenson published an essay called Innovation Starvation and was on a panel wiThis anthology has an interesting gestation. It came about after Neal Stephenson published an essay called Innovation Starvation and was on a panel with Arizona State University president Michael Crow. Crow challenged Stephenson on his essay and so Project Hieroglyph was born, to create a space where writers and scientists could mingle and share ideas, ideally hopeful ideas for a better future. The first output from this project is this anthology of stories.
Mostly the stories are plausible in a near-ish future, and they tend to have some sort of optimistic thread or conclusion to them, harking back to the Golden Age SF days where the future was a great thing that we wanted to happen, rather than the dystopic dread that so much of modern SF is.
Stephenson's own contribution, Atmosphæra Incognita kicks the collection off starts as it means to go on, with an entrepreneur deciding to build a tower twenty kilometres high, the challenges and rewards of such a structure. Of all the stories, I think only Lee Konstantinou didn't get the memo about being optimistic. His Johnny Appledrone vs the FAA has a sort of grimness to it that was missing from the other stories, although I can see a sort of hope in its conclusion.
Highlights included David Brin's Transition Generation about how technology that is innate and obvious to one generation is difficult and alien to the previous; and Bruce Sterling's Tall Tower about a guy and his horse who climb the Tall Tower on the way to the Ascended uploaded humans in the stars. This feels very much like a fable and it's a lovely story that washes over you. Lots of fun.
A decent collection all in all, and each story had URLs at the end linking to discussions and further reading at Project Hieroglyph. I must confess that I didn't follow many of these, but it's good that they're there. (It would have been nice if the links had been shorter though)....more
Jack Havig is a most unusual man. He is a man who can travel through time, without any artificial aid. At first content to just satisfy his own curiosJack Havig is a most unusual man. He is a man who can travel through time, without any artificial aid. At first content to just satisfy his own curiosity, he eventually discovers a great threat to Earth's future and must band together with others of his kind to save the future of civilisation.
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. The rules of time travel are quite well defined and the author uses them effectively, for example the fact that anything touching the traveller will go with him, but he can only "lift" so much with him through time, so a piece of wire attached to a wall and looped around his ankle is enough to stop him time travelling.
The story is told through a third party, Jack's family doctor and childhood friend to whom Jack returns every so often to relate the next part of his adventures, and the old sawbones is a likeable narrator and doctor of the Bones McCoy variety.
Jack's emotional trauma in Constantinople is believable and well-related, making him a very human hero. His relationship with the Eyrie is interesting and the story keeps you guessing where it's going all the way through.
A fun story of time travel, with some meat on the bones and decent characterisation....more
Three strangers find themselves drawn to Bay Beach in Lagos to make first contact with an alien race and find themselves, their city and their world cThree strangers find themselves drawn to Bay Beach in Lagos to make first contact with an alien race and find themselves, their city and their world changed forever.
This was an enjoyable first contact story set in the Nigerian city of Lagos. It's not immediately obvious what a marine biologist, a soldier with a conscience and a rapper have in common, what brings them to the beach to become ambassadors for the Human race, but we learn more as the story goes on.
As it transpires, this isn't a straightforward SF first contact story, as it adds some fantasy elements. At some points, various African mythological figures/gods appear and there's a rather creepy road that literally kills and eats people travelling on it. These work oddly well, as you can imagine these things not being out of place in Lagos, a city whose energy and life spring from the pages of the book.
The aliens are a catalyst, and a bit of a deus ex machina, in the story. Their aims aren't really all that clear, other than possibly wanting to settle on Earth, but they bring change with them, as their ambassador, the woman named Ayodele, repeats several times. Some of these changes are to bring the potential of our three protagonists to the surface and others seem like they could affect the world.
There are many threads left dangling at the end of the book, the narrator explicitly points this out, but this appears to be deliberate. I had wondered throughout what the rest of the world is making of the giant alien spaceship hanging over Lagos and the aliens entering it, and the narrator at the end implies that some people are going to be very unhappy about this and that the story must wait as it goes to join the fight...
This was an interesting and original (not to mention very Nigerian) take on first contact. The pidgin English was difficult to read at times, and I did have to make extensive use of the glossary at the back, but I found it a worthwhile read....more
I sort of wish I'd liked this more than I did. It's a short story collection, some genre, some not, all themed around Scots words. The idea for the coI sort of wish I'd liked this more than I did. It's a short story collection, some genre, some not, all themed around Scots words. The idea for the collection is great, but I just failed to get on with many of the stories themselves. Several were horror stories, which I'm just not a fan of, and many just left me scratching my head. The most memorable story for me was probably the very horrific (in many senses of the word) Maw which left me feeling icky and really needing mind-bleach. My favourite story was the somewhat more whimsical Fallen Through a Giant's Eyes about a miner who's tunnelling, searching for his lost love.
A book that take a vaguely similar theme (that of Scottish writers, or people associated with Scotland) that I enjoyed much more was Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction from a few years ago. That had its moments of darkness, but was more balanced than this book. I think a good word to describe this collection is possibly dreich. There was very little cheer amongst the gloom. There are those who might say that this reflects the Scottish character and landscape, but this is unfair. Scotland is a wonderful country full of warm and welcoming people. It's a shame that that's not reflected in this collection....more
I am a child of the late 20th/early 21st centuries, and I love living in the future. The idea of living at any point in history other than now fills mI am a child of the late 20th/early 21st centuries, and I love living in the future. The idea of living at any point in history other than now fills me with some horror. The idea of not having painkillers, antibiotics, functioning medicine and surgery, not to mention missing instantaneous worldwide communication and an ether surrounding us that we can tap into with a hand-held device that allows access to the sum total of human knowledge fills me with horror. So I really don't understand why the colony world of New Ceres decided that the 18th century was a good time to go back to.
Not just the aesthetics, but the whole shebang. Apart from the spaceport, which keeps them in touch with the rest of human civilisation, the populace (are supposed) to have no technology beyond that of the Enlightenment period. This is something which mostly doesn't happen as just about every story in this collection is about the use or misuse or suppression of some forbidden technology by the semi-religious guardians, the Lumoscenti.
The first story in the collection tries to offer a rationale for this, but it wasn't convincing to me, and the fact that so many of the stories are based around the tension around the use of illegal technology suggests that the authors aren't entirely sure where to go as well.
This is a shared world (although the website seems to be dead, although archived by the Wayback Machine) where multiple writers and artists could collaborate on the world and its history. You can see that in this collection, where characters in one story may turn up as myths or legends in another, providing a pleasing sense of continuity.
The stories themselves were mostly entertaining, although I hadn't heard of many of the writers involved, with Aliette de Bodard being the only exception. My favourite stories were probably "The Sharp Shooter" by Sylvia Kelso about a native beast terrorising a farmstead and the man sent out by the local aristocrat to deal with it; and Smuggler's Moon by Lee Battersby, once again bringing into sharp relief the tension between the ideals behind banning technology and the effect that has on the real populace.
So a decent enough collection, but I have no real urge to dig up more about New Ceres....more
Goodness me, I think this may be the best Girl Genius volume to date! Agatha has jump-started the castle and as it returns to full power, the full migGoodness me, I think this may be the best Girl Genius volume to date! Agatha has jump-started the castle and as it returns to full power, the full might and power of the fully armed and operational Mechanicsburg is unleashed upon the Wulfenbach hordes. In the middle of all this, the Storm King pretender, Martellus, kidnaps Agatha and teleports her to his refuge, far away. As you'd expect, it all goes horribly wrong.
What with a fully operational (and as twisted as ever) castle, and a full complement of Jagers, this book does not lack for action. The humour knob has also dialled up to 11 and there are many laugh out loud and 'punch the air' moments. The story is racing along and getting ever more complex, making these paper collections all the more important for those of us who struggle to remember what happened three hours ago, never mind the days between pages online. That doesn't stop me from reading them online, but you definitely get more out of it when you can read a whole volume.
The art, as always, is beautiful and the double page spreads definitely make an impact (moreso on paper than online). At the time of writing, this is the last available Girl Genius collected volume. No more binging, I'm going to have to start waiting a year or so between them which is nearly as frustrating as reading the story a page at a time. Ah well, I'm off to go and relieve the frustration by starting again from the start....more
I very definitely admire and appreciate this book. Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy it very much. This isn't a novel, it's written like a social sI very definitely admire and appreciate this book. Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy it very much. This isn't a novel, it's written like a social science notebook, containing fragments of songs, stories, pictures and maps about a small community in California. What makes this different (possibly unique) is that the community doesn't exist. It's all a fragment of Le Guin's mighty imagination. This is something you have to remind yourself of while reading, as it's very easy to forget, in amongst the breadth and depth of the book.
Unfortunately, I don't think it's really for me. I found the book quite frustrating because of its structure and lack of narrative (even though I knew what to expect going in). I enjoyed Stone Telling's story (which makes up a significant chunk of the book, split into three sections) but found myself skimming (or even skipping) other bits, especially the poetry.
Le Guin has obviously put so much work into the world, its back story and the people who populate the valley of the Na. Unfortunately, I've never been much for poetry, and that (along with ritual song) makes up a significant chunk of the narrative parts of the book (and, now that I come to think about it, the 'back of the book' sections as well). Those more appreciative of disjointed narrative, myth and sociology will get much more out of this than I did....more
And so Agatha Heterodyne's journey brings us to the siege of her home town of Mechanicsburg. As she continues to try and repair the castle that co-ordAnd so Agatha Heterodyne's journey brings us to the siege of her home town of Mechanicsburg. As she continues to try and repair the castle that co-ordinates the town's defences, Gil and Tarvek are trying to sort things out on Castle Wulfenbach. And the Jagers are back! Properly! This book has a surfeit of Jagers, if such a thing were possible, although is sadly counterbalanced by a smaller role for the castle, which I've come to grow very fond of as a character.
The story is still flying along at breakneck pace, and the siege is pretty tense. There are some great moments though, like Franz (the monster) telling invaders to rejoice at the return of the Heterodyne as he stomps all over them, and the ongoing character moments with the minions (von Zinzer's progress to chief minion not least, and the blossoming romance between Airman Higgs and Zeetha). The Foglios definitely know how to do a cliffhanger too, and the mad-scientist lightning here is as effective as the Doom Bell from last volume.
At the time of writing, there's only one more volume left that's been published, so the question is whether to get it now or to wait and savour it? Ah, who am I kidding, I'm only good at self-denial when it's something I don't want......more
The eleventh volume of Agatha Heterodyne's adventures see her racing against time to repair her castle while dodging the machinations of the imposterThe eleventh volume of Agatha Heterodyne's adventures see her racing against time to repair her castle while dodging the machinations of the imposter Zola and the remaining parts of the castle not under the control of the central mind. Meanwhile, armies gather outside Mechanicsburg waiting to strike.
There's one heck of a pace to this story. You really feel the pressure that Agatha is under, although the ongoing battle between Gil and Tarvek about who should be her suitor helps to lighten the mood as you get the feeling that despite their own agendas (of which they have many), they both desperately care for Agatha and do want to help her. This volume also has (just!) one Jager scene where things are set in motion and we get to see the fun, crazy monsters doing politics. One Jager scene is better than no Jager scene, but I'm looking forward to seeing them come back to the fore.
The pace is neck-breaking, the characters great fun to watch and the story as engaging as ever, especially the final double-spread page. No spoilers, but DOOOOOOOOOM :-D....more
Adam Roberts is good at short stories. In the introduction, he says that this collection contains his attempts to write a story in each of the myriadAdam Roberts is good at short stories. In the introduction, he says that this collection contains his attempts to write a story in each of the myriad genres within SF, and although I haven't counted, it certainly feels like he's succeeded. Each story has a new idea, from the Biblical Adam of robots to time travel, space opera, dystopia and more. The only problem, for me, at least, is that eventually it becomes wearing. I found myself longing for a run of a few good, simple, adventure stories. However, I readily accept that this is my failing, not the book's (nor the author's). There were a few stories towards the end that I really didn't like, Wonder: A Story in Two is probably the one that made me want to throw the book across the room the most. This felt very experimental and "New Wave-y", but since I've never really been a fan of the New Wave, it totally left me cold.
There is, however, an awful lot to like. From the very meta Review: Thomas Hodgkin, 'Denis Bayle: a Life' (a review of a biography of a fictional SF author) to And Tomorrow And, a very funny retelling of Macbeth. So as I say, there's an awful lot to enjoy, but it's probably worth taking your time over....more