This novella violates one of my principles of alternate history, which I am about to make up. Here goes. If you write alternate history, the "what if"...moreThis novella violates one of my principles of alternate history, which I am about to make up. Here goes. If you write alternate history, the "what if" parts of the story should be central. So, good: The Yiddish Policemen's Union or most things by Harry Turtledove (at least from an alt-history standpoint). Not as good: Old Mars or The Fountains of Paradise. It distracts me from the rest of the story trying to figure out what's going on with the discrepancies, particularly in a work of short fiction.
I was torn between 3 and 4 stars. I found the story quite well-written but not compelling. It's an intricately-...moreA 2013 Nebula Nominee for Best Novella.
I was torn between 3 and 4 stars. I found the story quite well-written but not compelling. It's an intricately-woven tale of witchcraft, Jewish mythology, fairy tales and historical fiction. I was impressed with the craft, but I didn't come away caring much about the characters or the plot.(less)
I may just have to realize that the Conroyverse stories don't click with me. Like Barry's Tale, I felt unsatisfie...more2013 Nebula Nominee for Best Novella.
I may just have to realize that the Conroyverse stories don't click with me. Like Barry's Tale, I felt unsatisfied by this story. It's a light-hearted interstellar tale of a rogue (think Retief or the Stainless Steel Rat) and his pet "buffalito". But I didn't laugh at the jokes, and I found the aliens too one-dimensional.(less)
Wakulla Springs was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novella. The publisher made it available for free.
First of all, it was a well-written and...moreWakulla Springs was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novella. The publisher made it available for free.
First of all, it was a well-written and enjoyable story that spanned several generations and was particularly evocative in its descriptions of the Jim Crow era in Northern Florida and the filming of a couple of different old Hollywood movies on location there.
But...why, why, why do people keep nominating works that aren't SF/fantasy for SF/fantasy awards? There are exactly two places in the book where fantastical elements appear in the story -- one near the end, the other literally at the end. While both may be important to the feel of the story, neither is important to the plot of the story. So even though I enjoyed the opportunity to read the story, it's not on my Hugo nomination ballot.(less)
Take a computer game written by hilarious author Douglas Adams, get Monty Python's Terry Jones to write the novel (naked), and you get...a novel that...moreTake a computer game written by hilarious author Douglas Adams, get Monty Python's Terry Jones to write the novel (naked), and you get...a novel that reads like it was based on a computer game. Some talent shines through, but not worth it for me.(less)
This is near-future, hard (no "warp drive", ESP, or even nanotech) SF. Benford doesn't really milk the tension of the race to return from Mars, which...moreThis is near-future, hard (no "warp drive", ESP, or even nanotech) SF. Benford doesn't really milk the tension of the race to return from Mars, which is probably a good thing. Instead he mixes that drama with character development, the story of exploring Mars, and trying to survive on Mars. All in all, it's a fairly well-paced book. It never really elevates itself to a gripping, "just one more chapter before I go to bed" level. But it never really drags either, so I never really found myself bored and wanting to put it down.(less)
I read this for a couple of reasons. One, Hugh Howey is eligible for the Campbell Best New Author award, and I wanted to see if I wanted to nominate h...moreI read this for a couple of reasons. One, Hugh Howey is eligible for the Campbell Best New Author award, and I wanted to see if I wanted to nominate him. Two, I've been hearing a lot about Wool and Howey, and I wanted to see whether the work lived up to the hype.
For me, it didn't. The prose was a little clunky, and while the setting and plot twists were interesting, they weren't great. In particular, I gather that after putting up this novella, reader demand caused him to continue the saga. Well, I'm not excited to see how it continues (though I will probably read Wikipedia for spoilers). If you told me nobody really got interested until he wrote part 2, I might be tempted to continue. But as it is, I'm underwhelmed.(less)
This short story, available on-line, is a quick read. It was just nominated for a Nebula for Best Short Story.
The most impressive thing, to me, about...moreThis short story, available on-line, is a quick read. It was just nominated for a Nebula for Best Short Story.
The most impressive thing, to me, about the story was that I started out thinking, "What the heck is a selkie," and ended the story feeling like I had a good grasp of the mythology. OK, I googled to find out that it's some sort of fey creature, but I'm not sure if the specifics are part of the folklore or were invented for this story. So the author very economically painted a picture of the fantasy background, in a story that mostly dealt with non-fantasy things.
I guess I should have remembered what a selkie is from In Sea-Salt Tears, but that I didn't tells me how much more I liked this story than that one. (less)
I read this book because it is the March pick of the Sword & Laser book club podcast.
I read that the author sold the film rights for a million dol...moreI read this book because it is the March pick of the Sword & Laser book club podcast.
I read that the author sold the film rights for a million dollars. I guarantee someone as a part of the process described it as "Blade Runner meets Pulp Fiction." That's not 100% accurate, but I'm sure someone said it.
If I think of it that way, I liked the "Blade Runner" part, but not the "Pulp Fiction" part. It's a detective (or maybe noir) story where the main science-fiction aspect is the idea that in the twenty-fifth(?) century, people's consciousnesses are backed up to a device in their neck, so that if they die, they can be brought back ("re-sleeved") in another body. Or, if they're convicted of a crime, they can lose their body and be brought back at some point in the future in another body. Or...well, the book explores many variations on what can be done with this technology. Unfortunately, I felt the author only scratched the surface of the "mind-body problem" here. What parts of our identity are given by our physical form, and which parts could plausibly be downloaded? I didn't find his answers convincing, particularly since he didn't even attempt hand-waving about why, say, someone would be addicted to nicotine if his new sleeve had been.
Despite the fact that I have an immediate aversion to books where people's consciousness can be downloaded, I was on my way towards giving this book four stars through the first third. I liked that most of the action occurred while people were, well, people, and not consciousnesses detached from any physical form.
But then the torture started. I read books to relax before falling asleep, so thank you Richard K. Morgan for all those nightmares. If I felt the scenes had a greater purpose, I could have accepted them. But the purpose seemed to be to give the protagonist to unleash his inner killing machine in subsequent chapters, which was also something I didn't need.
So it was well-written and compelling with interesting characters. But the level of remorseless violence turned me off, and I felt that the depth of the message didn't go much beyond, "Society sucks."
I highlighted one sentence on my Kindle from the novel:
I liked "catching up" with the characters after the end of Steelheart, but the story itself seemed like a lot of nothing. Like Steelheart w...more2.5 stars?
I liked "catching up" with the characters after the end of Steelheart, but the story itself seemed like a lot of nothing. Like Steelheart was the movie I really enjoyed, and Mitosis was the failed attempt to turn it into a weekly TV show.(less)
My heart sank a little bit when I saw Serge Aleynikov referenced on page 1, since I had already read a (great) Lewis article about Aleynikov, who had been arrested on charges of stealing Goldman Sachs' High Frequency Trading (HFT) code. Fortunately, the first part of the book has nothing to do with Aleynikov, but rather chronicles the ways in which HFT messes up financial systems by extracting profits with no clear benefit to society or the rest of the financial markets.
Lewis tells most of this through the story of Brad Katsuyama and his associates, who eventually found a new exchange called IEX (the longer form, Investors Exchange was abandoned when they realize it also spelled Investor Sex Change). It's a great story, and as grippingly told as Lewis' best work.
Unfortunately, in the second half of the book, Lewis blends in Aleynikov's story. It's not completely unrelated, but it feels shoe-horned in. Furthermore, the story of IEX seems to reach a pivotal point on which the book could end (the exchange just opened late 2013, so the story is certainly not over), and then we get a bunch of stuff (again, interesting) about Aleynikov. Maybe if I hadn't already read it, I would be more forgiving of the disconnection between the two parts of the story.
I've read some complaints that Lewis doesn't capture the current state of HFT; the ills he writes about are several years old. I think Lewis tends to be good at the big picture and the details, while missing the "middle picture." So in Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, he wrote accurately about how the As were put together, but maybe missed some non-Moneyball things they did to be successful. But the statistical way of thinking about baseball has certainly influenced the game in ways that has vindicated Lewis. In The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, there were a lot of fascinating stories about Jim Clark, but the actual "new new thing" Clark was working on at the time was Healtheon. It exists today as WebMD, but is hardly the earth-shaking company you might think it would be from the book. But again, the larger picture -- of the restless Silicon Valley entrepreneur -- is more interesting than the outcome of any of the details.
So I think it's great that Lewis had shined his light on the world of HFT in a well-written and interesting book. I will withhold a fifth star, though, because of the unsatisfying ending. It just seemed like an attempt to work in one more good story that didn't quite fit.(less)
The idea that some spectacular event gives superpowers to a subset of humanity is a pretty standard trope. Generally, it's a way of setting up conflic...moreThe idea that some spectacular event gives superpowers to a subset of humanity is a pretty standard trope. Generally, it's a way of setting up conflicts between superheroes and supervillains. The brilliance of Steelheart is that the calamity (in this case, called "Calamity") only creates supervillains ("Epics"). Life goes downhill for the normals after that.
Steelheart is the story of normals fighting back, in particular, one young man named David. The beginning of the books shows the origin of David's obsession with fighting back and then moves on to his attempt to join up with the Reckoners, a group famous for being the only ones who will challenge the Epics.
The action is intense -- many chapters end with cliffhangers that make you want to keep reading. The setting is really neat. The characters are interesting, and while the prose doesn't always sparkle, it serves the needs of the book. If Goodreads let me give it 4.5 stars, I would, but I would probably award everything fractional stars, so I'm OK with the limitation.
It's a young adult book, whatever that means to you. So no sex, but a fair bit of violence and death.
I got this book from my library's e-book program as part of an attempt to cut my Kindle budget. Looking for available, interesting books in their collection leads me to more mainstream choices for my sci-fi. It's probably a good thing to be exposed to what other people are enjoying.(less)
I read this as part of my continuing effort to understand Scottish football (soccer). This book had some great insights, and some fun details, but it...moreI read this as part of my continuing effort to understand Scottish football (soccer). This book had some great insights, and some fun details, but it meandered in places.
Let's look at some of the best quotes. Early on the book, Gray explains why he's focusing on the smaller teams instead of the Old Firm (Rangers and Celtic):
When I moved to Scotland from north-east England in 2004, I was amazed by how few people supported their local football teams. This was not the case in small towns alone, but in Edinburgh too. There, Rangers and Celtic tops were ubiquitous, and both clubs had retail outlets in the city. I hadn’t even watched them play and already I was sick of the Old Firm. Their domination was similar to that of the chain supermarkets and cafés...
It's an important point that the Old Firm teams don't just get more support because they're based in Glasgow, the largest city, but because fans in other cities support those teams rather than their local sides.
So are the Old Firm and their fans ruining Scottish football? The owner of Alloa Athletic doesn't think so.
‘It's not the Old Firm that’s failed football. It’s me and the other clubs who don’t get enough local fans that have failed Scottish football.'
I like this attitude because it acknowledges that fans aren't morally obligated to root for one team or another. Since moving to the city I currently live in, I've gone to two games in Baltimore and one in DC without visiting our local AAA team -- that doesn't make me a bad person. Also, since 2009, Alloa have moved up a division (by moving down once and up twice), so I feel like they probably have some decent insights.
When lean times engulfed underground Fife, attendances fell. They dropped too after the nationalisation of mines in 1947, following which pitmen earned enough money to travel further afield for their football, and to Glasgow.
When poor miners spend some of their pay increase to go support another team, it's hard to argue that they're horrible people for not sticking in town.
In truth, I’m no clearer a year on how...so many of these places and clubs survive.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't understand Scottish football.
The insight into small-time Scottish football was neat, especially since it slightly pre-dates all of the current turmoil with Rangers (and Hearts). The history was interesting, but my main knock on the book is that the history meandered and encompassed more social history (obviously a passion of the author's) than I wanted to hear.
Even more than Fan Mail, I liked reading this book electronically. Not only could I see what had happened to these teams since 2009 (three moved up a division, two moved down, and seven are playing at the same level), I could look up all the weird UK cultural references the author dropped in.(less)
I've ended up reading several pieces of short fiction by Aliette de Bodard (two were nominated for the Hugos last year). Many of her works are set in...moreI've ended up reading several pieces of short fiction by Aliette de Bodard (two were nominated for the Hugos last year). Many of her works are set in an alternate history -- but in the far future of an alternate history. I feel like absorbing both the imagined past and the imagined future is a lot to take in a piece of short fiction, so I thought it might help if I went to an early space-based story in the timeline.
Like The Waiting Stars, which I read earlier in the year, Shipbirth deals with the "Minds" which control interstellar vehicles. de Bodard puts a creepy spin on the trope of specially modified individuals needed to pilot interstellar ships by having the "Minds" be some weird human/machine hybrid that result from a pregnancy.
I find the way this plays out creepy. I feel a little bad giving two stars for creepy, but the ratings really reflect my enjoyment of the story rather than any judgment of the literary quality of de Bodard's work. It's just not to my taste. And I don't think any more that it has to do with not getting the alternate history. The more I get, the less I enjoy.(less)