This is at least the fourth time I've read this book. I started rereading it when I was accompanying a very good friend to the nearby emergency room (This is at least the fourth time I've read this book. I started rereading it when I was accompanying a very good friend to the nearby emergency room (he fell sick on Sunday afternoon). (He's much better now, by the way.) I got the ebook from Fictionwise, so it was conveniently in my pocket during the wait.
Why I Read this Book: I'd borrowed it from the library, but had to return it before I finished it. Then I reread it as the SFDG book for November 19 2Why I Read this Book: I'd borrowed it from the library, but had to return it before I finished it. Then I reread it as the SFDG book for November 19 2009.
This is yet another book about which I have very mixed feelings. The setting, and astronautics, are first-rate; I can't think of too many books that have done as good a job depicting the Solar System realistically. But I found the characters to be annoying at first, then more and more dislikable. By the end I pretty much hated them.
One other thing I really disliked is one way this book parallels the second section of Accelerando: The characters live with more computational cycles than I can easily imagine ... and they use most of them to simulate an incredibly computational poor milieu--namely, us. I found this silly in Accelerando and am beginning to find it offensive now; it's kinda like aristocrats getting together and playing at being peasants.
Overall, I think Stross is great with ideas, and brilliant, but the way he turns them into fiction often leaves me cold.
Why I Read this Book: I loved (and still love) Steven R. Boyett's The Architect of Sleep, and really liked Ariel, so I was very interested in this bWhy I Read this Book: I loved (and still love) Steven R. Boyett's The Architect of Sleep, and really liked Ariel, so I was very interested in this book. I hadn't planning on reading it immediately (or buying the hardcover) ... until I read the ebook free samples—and got hooked. I decided to buy it at the local Barnes & Noble the next day (along with the Ariel paperback reissue to vet my multiformat ebook against).
To use the terminology of the Goodreads rating scale, it was amazing ... until the end, when fatigue set in, either for me or the author. (In his afterword to the Ariel ebook, Boyett wrote, "I always have been a long-winded sumbitch....")
Like his other books, Elegy Beach is generally classified (and marketed) as Fantasy, but it reads more like SF to me. That is, the story couldn't happen without the bizarre contrafactual elements, but Boyett delivers an amazing amount of verisimilitude, and thinks in detail about the non-obvious consequences of the contrafactuals. (If you're going to complain that it's fantasy because e.g. magical Unicorns don't exist, I would counter-complain that they're a lot more plausible than the faster-than-light information transfer that SF readers are supposed to take for granted and not examine.)
While I have several complaints about this book—for instance, the narrator is neither entirely reliable nor entirely literate—it's got a lot of interesting substance to it. For instance, the generational divide it presents—older people who lived through the Change spend most of their time mourning about the world they lost, and avoid examining the Change; younger people (or at least the main characters in this story) take it for granted, and are trying to approach it systematically. Their experiments were fascinating, and made me think of the early history of science, at least as it's taught in science classes....more
After reading a lot of the graphic novels (and having vague fond memories of the 1970s TV series ;-), I finally decided to try the original prose noveAfter reading a lot of the graphic novels (and having vague fond memories of the 1970s TV series ;-), I finally decided to try the original prose novel. I suspect this isn't quite it, though; the Wikipedia notes that "Beginning in 1959, the books were extensively revised, largely to eliminate racist stereotypes. The books were also written in a simpler style in an attempt to compete with television." While I'm definitely in favor of eliminating racist stereotypes, I'd be very interested in reading the original version. This one seems a bit choppy, and one of the characters came across as a possible villain; at least, his timing seemed highly suspect. Perhaps the explanation was dropped in the rewrite.
Overall, I had fun with the book, apart from the choppiness, and may well read more, but they're not at the top of my list.
Why I Read This Book: To compare it to the first edition.
This was also a fun read. On the plus side, it doesn't meander as much--there's an exciting rWhy I Read This Book: To compare it to the first edition.
This was also a fun read. On the plus side, it doesn't meander as much--there's an exciting rescue scene on page 2!--and it's easier for me to keep track of the smaller cast of characters. Also the racism has been excised. On the minus side, the distinctive 1930s flavor is gone; the setting seems more generic. And, as noted in the Wikipedia article on Nancy Drew, this revised version "did not so much eliminate racial stereotypes, however, as eliminate non-white characters altogether." (For instance, the Topham caretaker is only described as "elderly".) Sigh.
Why I Read This Book: It was the SFDG book for 2009-06-25.
I thoroughly liked it. At the start, it reads a bit like Rome meets Philip Pullman, but it dWhy I Read This Book: It was the SFDG book for 2009-06-25.
I thoroughly liked it. At the start, it reads a bit like Rome meets Philip Pullman, but it doesn't end up that way. Butcher is a consummate professional; he does an excellent job of introducing a number of characters (and plot threads) in such a way as to make them vivid and interesting. Also, the book didn't feel padded; it's long, but there are plenty of interesting twists (and in one thread, a rather alien landscape). It's very much the sort of thing that Alan Dean Foster would have done 30 years ago, yes, but perhaps Foster would have untangled the threads and published this as two books--or a trilogy.
I'll be interested in reading more, though probably not immediately.
(Still reading this one. I found it dull until about page 120 [the description of the wedge monument to the avout in the Third Sack:] but I'm pretty m(Still reading this one. I found it dull until about page 120 [the description of the wedge monument to the avout in the Third Sack:] but I'm pretty much hooked now.)
Finished the novel (and calcas!) 2009-01-26 8:42 EST; finished the appendices at 23:55 EST....more
Why I read this book: I don't have "favorite authors", but if I did, Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl would certainly be on my shortlist. Both haveWhy I read this book: I don't have "favorite authors", but if I did, Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl would certainly be on my shortlist. Both have books in my Top 6, and Clarke's Against the Fall of Night is pretty much the book that made me a lifetime reader of Science Fiction. Both have also done incredible short stories that I would rank among the very best in SF.
I also really like both of their writing styles, though in very different ways. I was concerned about the prospect of combining them; oil and water strike me as better candidates for mixing. I'll admit that I was a little relieved to read (in Locus, if I recall correctly) that Pohl would be doing most (all?) of the writing, based on an outline by Clarke. Not only that, but apparently Clarke couldn't remember what he planned for several parts of the outline, which would (I assumed) give Pohl free hand.
* * *
Much of the time, I have trouble getting "traction" with a new book. Even if it's by one of my favorite authors, even if I'm sure I'll like the subject matter, it can take me a while. I really like books that hook me immediately (though I don't need a solid diet of them). (My favorite example is Joe Haldeman's Worlds, which is another of my Top 10 books: When I finished reading the first two sentences, I was hooked enough to read the rest of the page; when I finished the page, I was hooked enough to read the rest of the chapter; when I finished the chapter, I was hooked enough to read the rest of the book.) The Last Theorem was almost like that for me, though there was a touch of cutesiness (especially in the preambles), I was hooked very quickly. A fair part of that was Pohl's style. I hadn't realized how much I missed it.
I don't have as much free time these days as I did as a kid, so I can rarely read a book in one setting. (The fact that modern books tend to be padded, poorly edited messes is also a major factor.) Also, if this was to be my last Pohl, I wanted to savor it. Thus, I would dip into this book whenever I got a chance and look forward to returning to it. Alas, the farther I got, the less I was looking forward.
I guess I have three major complaints about the book: characterization, place descriptions, and dropped complications.
Some people might say that I was foolish to expect good characterization, since Clarke tends to be known for its absence (e.g., Rendezvous with Rama), and several of Pohl's classic works (from the 1950s, say) are no better. I disagree. Clarke has created some excellent characters when it served the purpose of the book. (I would cite Duncan Makenzie, Vannevar Morgan, and 2010's Heywood Floyd; spending time with characterization would have detracted from Rama, as its sequels demonstrate.) Pohl has also created some of SFs greatest characters, and his works after the New Wave tend to lean strongly on character. But none of the characters in The Last Theorem, seem particularly memorable to me, and the main character seems to not have been affected by being in durance vile for years. (Another major character who is nominally an AI researcher claimed to be unfamiliar with the P-NP problem, which seemed completely unbelievable to me.)
Place descriptions: The story is set mostly in Sri Lanka, but the location never came alive for me. Indeed, there's a shorter section set in New York City that seemed a lot more vivid; perhaps this is because Pohl has lived there.
Dropped plot complications: I don't want to detail these, for fear of giving spoilers, but several issues were raised as being very serious (with dire implications not only for the characters but for the planet) ... and then not mentioned again.
Overall: I enjoyed reading the book, I enjoyed having more of Pohl's style, but I was ultimately disappointed. It's the first Pohl book that disappointed me.
Why I read this book: I'm fond of the series, and I saw it on the public library shelf last night.
My reaction to this book was the opposite of the othWhy I read this book: I'm fond of the series, and I saw it on the public library shelf last night.
My reaction to this book was the opposite of the others I've read recently--I was surprised that I didn't remember these stories very well. I guess this means I haven't read this book for a very long time, or I hadn't read it too many times, or both.
One difference between the others in the series: The solution to the first case, "The Case of Natty Nat", is printed as part of the story and not in the answer section in the back.
Why I read this: I enjoyed rereading Dune for the SFDG.
This is at least the second time I've read this; possibly more. I'd remembered this as my favWhy I read this: I enjoyed rereading Dune for the SFDG.
This is at least the second time I've read this; possibly more. I'd remembered this as my favorite of the Dune books, and probably my favorite of all the Frank Herbert books I've read. I remembered it as being tightly edited; as packing the virtues of the other Dune books into one-half (one-third?) of the pages. This time through, I can see why others might not like it so much--with less space, there's noticeably less room for characterization or digressions or just wallowing in the story, although the epigrams gives taste of that. Overall: I very much enjoyed it, and appreciated its concision. Will I continue to Children of Dune? Very possibly, though I'm in no huge hurry.
This is at least the fourth time I have read Dune. I have a strong love/hate relationship with the book. I rThis was the SFDG book for August 14 2008.
This is at least the fourth time I have read Dune. I have a strong love/hate relationship with the book. I really don't know how to rate it.
Influence on SF? Obvious 10 out of 10. Cleverness of the Butlerian Jihad and Navigation issues? 10 out of 10. Prose style? Starts about 7 out of 10 and reaches 9 (or even 10) out of 10 by the end. Cleverness of the "politics" (in which every faction praises itself for subtlety): 3 out of 10. Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan would have these guys for breakfast. Ethicality of the book's stance on (ecological) conservation? 3 out of 10. Verisimilitude (or surface plausibility) of all the elements that make up the book: 10 out of 10 Plausibility of all the elements that make up the book if you stop and think about them: 4 out of 10. Annoyance factor of all the "unbreakable 'laws'" that are broken without any consequence in the book: 10 out of 10.
I enjoyed Dune more this time through than any other time I've read it. The politics still seems clumsy, but we in the United States have shown ourselves to be at least this clumsy so far this century. I also think that spending lots of time (with my wife) watching recent, large-cast-of-characters TV shows (on iTunes or DVD! I hate broadcast!) has greatly improved my skills at keeping track of many characters. (As a kid, I'd confuse the Mentats, and had trouble keeping Gurney and Duncan apart. I was also surprised to see depths to Count Fenring and his wife.)
Other things that surprised me this time through: How little we see Duncan, given his tremendous importance in Herbert's sequels; it makes me wonder if he was Herbert's Mary Sue. Also, Dune is praised for its early and strong ecological themes; I was shocked to see how blithely our "heroes" dream of completely destroying the ecology of Arrakis. (My friend Gregory pointed out that I should not mistake "ecology" for "conservation".)
Okay, so this is probably my least coherent review--but that's an accurate reflection of how conflicted I am about this book.
(Finished rereading for at least the 4th time 2008-08-14 around 18:00EDT. Did *not* reread all the appendices.)...more
This book was fun, but it strikes me as the weakest of the series. The plotting is very loosWhy I read this book: I thoroughly enjoyed Red Lightning.
This book was fun, but it strikes me as the weakest of the series. The plotting is very loose, and the book lost all its dramatic tension about halfway through. Also, the references to Heinlein started grating on me after a while. (It felt like the title of every Heinlein juvenile was shoehorned in someplace or another.)
Still, the first half (or so) was every bit as much fun as I expect from Varley.
Will there be more books? It seems to me like Varley set things up so he could stop here, or continue. Unless he has a brash new idea, and an urgency to his plot, I'd prefer him to stop here.
So I enjoyed this book less and less as I got further into it, but I think it still deserves 5 stars because of the thought that went into it.
There weSo I enjoyed this book less and less as I got further into it, but I think it still deserves 5 stars because of the thought that went into it.
There were two books I would have characterized as being must-reads for their careful analysis of near-future computational possibilities: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge and Charles Stross's earlier Accelerando. If I'm being nitpicky, I would have said there were only 1.3333 since only the first third of Accelerando deals with near-future computation. (IMHO the book got a lot less plausible--and interesting--as it moved farther into the future.)
In terms of near-future computational ideas, Halting State belongs in the same company. It's set ten years from now and (mostly) doesn't depend on unrealistic technology. (Indeed, it may have some veiled digs at some of the tougher-to-buy aspects of Rainbows End.) Halting State also considers several non-obvious technological and social consequences and makes them seem very plausible indeed.
As fiction, I'm rather less happy. First there's the second-person narrative gimmick. I found it mildly annoying, only mildly because the author "cheats" and drops into third-person omniscient for simplicity much (most?) of the time.
My other complaint is that, like Baxter, Stross seems to keep returning to certain storytelling approaches that I find annoying. I almost feel like I've read this book before under a couple different titles. But perhaps I should do as I've done with Baxter: Stop worrying about the unsatisfactory fiction and learn to love the excellent science.
Overall: If you are interested in careful analysis of near-future computation, this book is a must-read. But don't get your hopes up in terms of great fiction....more