I'm a big Scalzi fan, so I went into this book expecting to enjoy it because one, it's by John Scalzi, and two, the title alone...moreFour and a half stars.
I'm a big Scalzi fan, so I went into this book expecting to enjoy it because one, it's by John Scalzi, and two, the title alone tells you that the story is going to be meta. And it is so very, very, very meta. Remember the original Star Trek series, and how if anyone in a red shirt you never heard of beamed down with Kirk and Spock and McCoy, that dude probably wasn't coming back? Scalzi's set up a different starship but it's the same premise, only here the redshirts are quite aware that their fatality rate is ridiculous. The experienced ones spend their time avoiding the bridge crew so they aren't called on a mission, and the new ones are seen as beam-down fodder (although they don't actually beam down, they use shuttles like normal science fiction starship crew).
But that's just the set-up. It goes way more meta than that when one of the long-time science crew figures out what's REALLY going on and goes into hiding. There's also plenty of philosophy, as the main character came from an alien seminary (despite being an Earth human) and is prone to ponder those What If and Why issues.
There's a complete change in the book at the "end" when Scalzi throw in three "codas," extended epilogues from characters that barely registered in the story. These do add to strengthen and broaden the full story. It's lightweight fun, but it manages to have some nutrition and heft nonetheless. Recommended for Trekkies and SF fans who love re-examining everything.(less)
There are things Cory Doctorow does very well. He's written some kick-ass teen SF tales (Little Brother, For...more3.5 stars -- not as good as his last two.
There are things Cory Doctorow does very well. He's written some kick-ass teen SF tales (Little Brother, For the Win). He's advocated passionately for privacy on the Internet and against restrictions by entertainment companies. In this book he tried to put these two things together, resulting in a fairly interesting and well-built universe with a bit more politics than most teens may care for. Pirate Cinema is set in a future England where the Entertainment companies have pretty much bought the politicians in England and have complete sway on use of the Internet. People who download illegal content can have their internet connection taken away immediately. Trent, a Northerner who runs away to London (after losing his family's internet), gets deeper into the underground movement against abusively restrictive content laws, while his girlfriend tries working through the system. Politicians are going to approve an even more draconian law, leading to arrest for illegal downloads.
Other than the lecturing on copyright issues, the story of Trent's learning how to be a homeless teen in London is interesting. I was surprised he didn't face more adversity in doing so; he has a very fortunate meet-up with the most systematic beggar to trawl the Tube. (Coming up with marketing strategies to maximize begging income was actually pretty funny.) There's an appropriate level of tech fast-forward given that the story takes place sometime in the second half of the 21st century, including West Nile mosquitoes in London. The ending is a little (not a lot) unbelievable, another reason I took points off. It is realistic that the laws would get out of control when one party has too much power and influence, and perhaps the brazen unfairness of it will keep otherwise apolitical teens engaged. I certainly wanted to keep reading each time I took a break.
I'm reading Rapture of the Nerds now, right after I finished this one. Very different book, and not just because Charlie Stross is the co-author. This one's not a YA.(less)
Beautiful writing that works on so many levels. This novel is a coming-of-age story, a boarding school tale, a fantasy with fairies, a memoir from an...moreBeautiful writing that works on so many levels. This novel is a coming-of-age story, a boarding school tale, a fantasy with fairies, a memoir from an SF geek, and a literary tour-de-force.(less)
Ah, a nice meaty SF novel with lots of politics and spying and high tech, lots of things for me to enjoy. John Shirley sees this as a pre-nuclear holo...moreAh, a nice meaty SF novel with lots of politics and spying and high tech, lots of things for me to enjoy. John Shirley sees this as a pre-nuclear holocaust novel. Given all the international stresses and wars going on in it, it's amazing nobody dropped a nuke on anyone else.
I have to give it four stars rather than five because the bad guys are a little too cartoonish. The best novels are those where all the characters are complex, not just the good guys. While Shirley brings us many, many, MANY points of view in many locations, the people on the "bad guy side" (who are literally Nazi-type racists with a dishonest overcoat of Christianity that really isn't what it seems) with the most interesting struggles are those who end up questioning their ideology.
While I found the behavior of the large governmental organizations all too believable, we don't have any POVs there, just the people in either the Second Alliance (the Nazi analogues) or the New Resistance (the Coalition of Everyone Against Racist Jerks) or fence sitters forced to choose one or the other. We have government writ small on a space colony that is slowly being taken over by the SA, enforcing their worldview via strong-arming, bullying, and economic repression. The struggle between the two groups goes in wildly different directions in different countries, so there is plenty of excitement. And like George RR Martin, John Shirley is willing to kill viewpoint characters you've come to appreciate.
Shirley also makes good use of both musical performance and social media engineering as political tools. Some of the technology he posits for this 21st century world is intriguing, some seems built on wishes and nonsense. But I was willing to go with it all. And this was a book I was sorry to finish, because I wanted to stay with some of these characters a little longer, just to see if all they fought for would be successful.(less)
Insurgent is the sequel to Veronica Roth's Divergent. If you enjoyed the first book you will not be disappointed with this new one.
In Divergent, Roth...moreInsurgent is the sequel to Veronica Roth's Divergent. If you enjoyed the first book you will not be disappointed with this new one.
In Divergent, Roth described the limited world of Beatrice Prior, who lived in a mostly abandoned city of Chicago in a "faction" (social group) known for their selflessness. She chose to join a different faction when she had to make the decision where she'd belong, which is at a public ceremony called Choosing Day. Beatrice chose to join Dauntless, the faction that values courage.
After setting up the world, Roth then introduces conflict on scales both small and large. Not everyone who wishes to join Dauntless will be invited to join, so initiates are at odds and cliques form. One of the other factions is trying to declare war on Beatrice's old faction. And there is a struggle among the Dauntless leaders as well, where the "evil" ones appear to be gaining the upper hand.
Insurgent starts pulling back the camera in showing more of the world-building behind Divergent. Not only are there the five factions running society, but the "factionless beggers" appear to be more numerous and better organized than anyone suspected. Beatrice (now calling herself Tris) discovers secrets that her old faction was hiding, which may have been why the Erudite faction declared war on them. We get to see the world outside the fence around Chicago, as the Amity faction grows all the food for the city, and we get to see the tower that Candor lives in (Candor was ostensibly in charge of law, but we don't see any of that in operation in this book).
The characters and pacing are done very well, and I did care what happened when Tris or her friends faced various situations. The body count continues to be high, after all, there still is a war going on. I'm a little more pleased to see that Roth was going somewhere with the world she set up, but I guess I'll have to wait until book 3 (still no title) to see if it can hold itself up. I had expressed doubts about these issues in my review of Divergent. Some of my concerns were addressed, some not. And like a typical middle book of a trilogy, we're definitely left with plenty of issues waiting for resolution in Book 3.(less)
Wait, come back! This one is the one you should have read in the first place. Set 30 years from now, the world (or at...moreWhat? Not another teen dystopia?
Wait, come back! This one is the one you should have read in the first place. Set 30 years from now, the world (or at least what's left of the US) hasn't recovered from the second Depression. The days of cheap oil are long gone, and the suburbs are abandoned. People migrate to city cores and their inner rings, so they can walk to work, if they can find any. Our hero, Wade, lives in "the stacks" which are literally stacked up mobile homes held together with scaffolding. It's a bleak place to live, and his aunt only lets him stay there because of his food vouchers (and she doesn't feed him).
Many people spend most of their time in an artificial reality called OASIS, which is where they conduct most of their life; work, school, play. Access is free, but they make their money selling services within the VR. We learn that Wade is one of thousands of people still hunting for an "Easter egg" hidden somewhere in the thousands of planets that make up OASIS, while he's not attending school there. The egg was hidden by the founder; when he died he announced whoever found it would inherit OASIS and the company that owns it. So of course there's the evil rival company who will stop at nothing, and Cline means NOTHING, to find that egg, acquire OASIS and its corporation, and monetize the heck out of it.
Most Egg Hunters have given up, five years after the Hunt began. Then Wade finds the first of three Keys and everyone is jumping back into the Hunt. Will Wade team with some other elite hunters, merely help them, or misdirect them? Will the Evil IOI corp be able to turn him... or stop him? That's what keeps the book going after Wade finds the first Key, and of course there's a romantic subplot as well. The plot construction is your classic adventure/coming of age/geek mastery theme, but it works well, and Wade's story is compelling. The geek love comes through with the references to old video games, old computers, 80s music and film, comic books, and magazines. If you consider yourself anywhere on the geek spectrum, you simply must read this book. I was delighted to see one of my favorite bands worked in for an important plot point, too.
Will make a terrific movie; Warner bought the rights. Highly, highly recommended.(less)
As a teen novel, this was quite good. As science fiction, I'm not sure it can stay together under its own weight.
Divergent takes place in some future...moreAs a teen novel, this was quite good. As science fiction, I'm not sure it can stay together under its own weight.
Divergent takes place in some future version of Chicago. There has been an unspecified breakdown of our current system of government, but that's never explained or even questioned. There's no interaction with anyone beyond the boundaries of the fenced city of Chicago except the farmers who appear to be part of it. Since one group is responsible for patrolling the boundaries, some sort of unexplained threat may or may not exist. Many of the buildings are in ruins, so clearly there has been a collapse, possibly due to a forgetten war.
The world of Divergent posits five social groups, called "factions," that are responsible for keeping the city operating. Each has its own responsibilities, traditions, clothing styles, and typical behaviors. The viewpoint character, Beatrice, is a member of Abnegation, the group responsible for governance. As their name implies, Abnegation members try to be as selfless as possible, in thought, word, deed, and dress. They wear grey clothing, they all look alike, they give what little they have to the others. The greater society's premise is that since Abnegation members are so selfless, they cannot be corrupt, so their government cannot be bought.
The other four factions are Erudite, who value knowledge above all; Candor, who value truth; Amity, who value getting along; and Dauntless, who value bravery. Candor is responsible for law; Amity, farming; Erudite, science and research; and Dauntless, policing and military.
Divergent works as a teen novel because the factions are just high school cliques writ large. Beatrice is on the verge of choosing which faction she will be a member of for life, and, along with all other 16 year olds, take an "aptitude test" to help her decide. She's told her results are inconclusive, and she is "Divergent," which she should NEVER tell anyone. At the next days Choosing Ceremony, both she and her brother choose different factions, and both wonder if they'll ever see their parents again. As Beatrice learns about the world of the Dauntless, who dress like Goths and whose preferred mode of transportation is leaping on and off moving trains, she also discovers that the Erudite appear to be trying to foment war on her old faction of Abnegation.
As a story, this works well. I cared about Beatrice, her friends, and her (former) family. The problems she had, in getting along with the other Dauntless initiates, in discovering that acceptance was not guaranteed, and in fearing she would end up among the homeless Factionless beggers, in dealing with bullies and schemers, all worked well to advance the plot. The stakes kept getting higher, and the pacing worked as well. I think teens would enjoy this story.
But as Science Fiction, I kept pulling at strands of the world-building involved. What had happened to the rest of the United States? Why so little representation of the outside world, other than guarding against incursions that never took place? And how could this society function with these five factions and their areas of responsibility? Who maintained what infrastructure existed? Who drove the busses or trains? Who brought the frozen food to the warehouses? Who keeps the water and power and waste treatment plants (if there were any) operating? We never find that out, but these necessary jobs are outside the structure Roth posited.
I'm giving it four stars for a well-told and exciting story, but those who really enjoy their science fiction and a world well-designed may find this not up to their expectations.(less)
I really enjoyed this alternate-history/crosstime/spy-thriller pastiche.
What really surprised me is I know McAuley is from the UK, yet for the most pa...moreI really enjoyed this alternate-history/crosstime/spy-thriller pastiche.
What really surprised me is I know McAuley is from the UK, yet for the most part he made all the different United States of Americas (there are several) believable. He only dropped the juggled balls a couple of times. Once he tripped with the phrase "strips of Canadian bacon," because I guess as a Brit he wouldn't know Canadian bacon isn't strips at all, but round slices. There was another similar mistake like that which I've forgotten by now.
The premise is ingenious: A research lab discovers the possibility of traveling to alternate worlds, and the crosstime gates become the gateway for CIA adventurism. Not only can resources be collected and brought back from unpopulated versions of the USA, versions with divergent histories can be "liberated" if their political system isn't of the approved flavor. And the "Real" America has some rogue operators who aren't going to retire quietly now that Jimmy Carter has been elected and wants to end the large-scale warmongering and destabilization that has gone on under the previous administration. So toss in a number of conspiracies on top of everything else in this delicious mix.
While the hero himself was a fairly standard type for a spy novel (retired, pulled back in despite his wishes to stay out of The Business, considered a straight shooter), the fascinating directions the various Americas took kept this one fresh. Highly recommended to science fiction and spy thriller fans.(less)
Three and a half stars, interesting plot but I clearly was missing some context. The cover of the book said it was a prequel to Ringworld, but from th...moreThree and a half stars, interesting plot but I clearly was missing some context. The cover of the book said it was a prequel to Ringworld, but from the reviews on the back cover, there's another book (Fleet of Worlds) that I obviously missed.
The usual set of talking heads with no bodies. Even when the main human male falls for a women, he thinks about her with his brain instead of his other head. I just don't find those kinds of characters complete; it's like they're big ten year olds or something.
I like how Niven is trying to tie together all the different races in Known Space, but I suspect I would have gotten more out of it had I read the other book. I do appreciate the attempt to characterize different aliens and how they'd think, especially _insane_ aliens. The aliens don't seem much more driven by their mating drive as the humans. Too bad there aren't any Kzinti in here to take great offence and slash a few others up.
And I have to say it, as much as I enjoy the plot, what kind of SF writer would come up with not one, not two, but THREE different alien races without sentient females? (The other two races are not in this book, just the Puppeteers/Citizens.) (less)
The fourth installment in Charles Stross' Laundry series is, unexpectedly, the best one so far. It also stands alone reasonably well, and I'd recommen...moreThe fourth installment in Charles Stross' Laundry series is, unexpectedly, the best one so far. It also stands alone reasonably well, and I'd recommend this even to someone who hasn't read the first 3.
Bob Howard is back with another Laundry adventure. The Laundry is a So Secret We Don't Exist agency in London that handles, er... attacks from demons, aliens in other dimensions, and any other eldritch Lovecraftian horror you can imagine. And they're not old fashioned with their magic and summoning, they do it with computer algorithms and grounded summoning circles that plug into laptops.
Inotherwords, this is a delightful crossover work, mixing up spy thriller, science fiction, and a touch of horror. I'm not one for horror novels yet I just adore this series. The latest work succeeds in how well its set-up contributes to the entire work. The Person To Worry About is a successful Colorado Springs (CO) evangelist who seems far too interested in meeting with the upper reaches of British government. And officially, The Laundry can't look into anything involving 10 Downing Street.
But. They have unofficial channels, and that's where Bob is sent. We meet two of these unofficial assets, Persephone and Johnny, and they're intriguing as well. (I'm hoping to hear more from these two in the next installment.) The three of them are sent to the minister's home ground to find out just what he's up to and why he's involved with the kinds of things The Laundry works so hard to prevent. And while they're at it, they also have to avoid both the FBI and the You Never Heard Of Us Either US-based agency that's even more ruthless than The Laundry in stamping out demonological invasions. So we've got unspeakable horrors plus government abuses plus authoritarian religion (and they're worse than what you can imagine), a flashpoint mix that coalesces perfectly... for the reader. For our hereos, they're in for a VERY rough ride.
This is a smart, fast-paced thriller that will intrigue science fiction fans who want something more. I highly recommend the entire series, and I couldn't be more pleased with the latest entry.(less)
While the book jacket never mentions it, this is actually a sequel to Halting State. It's five years later and Liz Kavanaugh's c...moreFour and a half stars.
While the book jacket never mentions it, this is actually a sequel to Halting State. It's five years later and Liz Kavanaugh's career has been sidelined since the events of the previous book, where CopSpace (a virtual reality site allowing police to share information through their computer-assisted eyeglasses or contact lenses) was compromised. Now she's in charge of the Rule 34 squad, watching for dangerous internet memes before they go viral in meatspace (and some dumbass actually gets hurt or worse, hurts other people). She's also trying to track down the source of illegal fabber (3-D printer) stock that allows unlicensed designs and parts.
Liz is pulled into a nasty political investigation, and her work on the Rule 34 squad helps her recognize that there's a pattern emerging: a series of bizarre household accidents killing off known spammers. She has to deal with a belligerent and unimaginative narcissist as her temporary superior while trying to figure out what's causing the accidents that she suspects are murders. We also meet a few other people, all of whom get pulled into each others orbit, including a small-time criminal Liz once arrested, now on parole, who finds himself the honorary consul of a nation nobody is taking seriously; Liz's erstwhile girlfriend; a very nasty piece of work enforcing an American criminal syndicate; a professor of AI with his fingers in a lot of pies; another detective from Interpol who has also fallen since the Halting State events.
Coincidences abound. And that's the whole point of this story. Enjoy it. I've said before that reading Charles Stross is like plugging a fiberoptic cable into your head and letting data sleet all over your brain. Enjoy the experience. (less)