In the first installment of Keep Mars Weird, Pollack delivers trenchant speculative social satire . . . with a whole lot of of weed jokes thrown in foIn the first installment of Keep Mars Weird, Pollack delivers trenchant speculative social satire . . . with a whole lot of of weed jokes thrown in for good measure. As silly as if Christopher Moore met Seth Rogen, but right on when it comes to the scathing critique of hipster culture run amok. Part 1 (of six, I gather) gets four solid stars. I look forward to part 2!...more
Peculiar and fascinating Soviet sci-fi from the 1970s, Roadside Picnic posits an interesting first-contact problem: what if visitors from elsewhere caPeculiar and fascinating Soviet sci-fi from the 1970s, Roadside Picnic posits an interesting first-contact problem: what if visitors from elsewhere came to Earth but didn't care to stay, leaving behind only a number of unearthly, poisonous "zones" littered with a bunch of eldritch, alien crap? How would humanity deal with that?
Not well, as it turns out. Also predictably, hilariously, fallibly . . . humanly. That is if you're the Strugatsky brothers, and your "hero" is Red, a professional "stalker." Red retrieves artifacts and alien tech (which nobody really understands anyway) from the zone to feed both the scientific community and the black market. The job has its share of dark glamour and badassery, but Red's getting tired of the life, with the constant risk to himself, his partners, and even his daughter, who seems to be mutating as a side-effect of the invasion that never was. So when Red gets one last shot at the big payoff, the one that will make it all worthwhile . . . well, you know the rest.
However, sometimes the best stories come from new twists on the old. Built around that classic "last big job" plotline is a dazzling world of weirdness populated by clever, memorable characters who swear, drink, joke, lust, cry and wax philosophic by turns. They also make bad decisions, struggle for survival and drink some more. (Apparently, the Stugatskys' sometimes coarse naturalism defied contemporary Soviet sci-fi's high literary and moral requirements, hanging up the book's publication for years.) But Roadside Picnic does carry moral weight, while delivering a narrative both fast-paced and slyly satirical. I'd say it's a little Vonnegutian, if that's a word. (It is now.) Good stuff. 4.5 stars.
(Side note: Roadside Picnic makes an interesting book pairing with Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy, if you enjoyed that. Similar subjects in wildly different styles. Anyhoo . . .)
I haven't really written a review for any of the books in this trilogy, in part because my jaw is still on the floor. I'm just not worthy.
Seriously, LI haven't really written a review for any of the books in this trilogy, in part because my jaw is still on the floor. I'm just not worthy.
Seriously, Lekie's world is not only the setting for one awesome space opera, it challenges, and then obliterates, a reader's very basic tenets and preconceptions about identity, humanity, and duty. These books aren't easy -- but they are smart and groundbreaking, and truly rewarding reads. 5 stars for Ancillary Mercy and the "Imperial Radch" series as a whole. No question it's a new classic of sci-fi. I'm so sad it's over I may just read it again....more
"I can't believe you just quoted a Steve Miller tune to the leader of an alien race."
Scalzi says, in his Author's Note, that Agent to the Stars was hi"I can't believe you just quoted a Steve Miller tune to the leader of an alien race."
Scalzi says, in his Author's Note, that Agent to the Stars was his "practice novel," a revelation that makes me squirm with jealousy. Rarely is a first novel so well fleshed out, or a first contact story so goofily appealing. AttS, while not a deep work of literature, is full of snappy dialogue and memorable characters and is the perfect choice for a a breezy, quirky summer read. I honestly laughed, even snorted, out loud. Couldn't ask for more....more
Wow. Now that's the way to stage a second act. And what a cliffhanger!
Longer, more immediately accessible and less explicitly "weird"(view spoiler)[uWow. Now that's the way to stage a second act. And what a cliffhanger!
Longer, more immediately accessible and less explicitly "weird"(view spoiler)[until the last third, anyway (hide spoiler)] than its predecessor, Authority zooms out from the micro lens of Annihilation to the wider (i.e. "our") world. In the second book of the series, we grapple with the corporate and political framework, and the factions and the fractures, of the Southern Reach, the agency that "manages" Area X and the expeditions sent there.
Meet John "Control" Rodriguez, freshly assigned Director of the Southern reach facility closest to the "border." (Naturally, the most recent Director has disappeared under curious circumstances.) Control is this series' version of an everyman, which is to say a likeable if unremarkable mid-level government floater with a high-level operative for a mother. Thanks to a job recommendation from her, his life is about to get very strange.
As Control (an old nickname which only heightens the irony of his new position) struggles to make sense of what he's learning about the horrors of Area X, he encounters resistance and obfuscation at nearly every turn: the agency is rudderless and possibly imploding, and Southern Reach staff are either crazy, or fiercely protective of their territory or both. But as he uncovers more layers, Control learns enough that we can just begin to see a hint of what was unseeable in Annihilation. Looking into Area X from the other side of the "border" opens up new vistas, and putting the pieces together with our everyman is extraordinarily rewarding.
VanderMeer shows no middle-book sag here -- the change of focus and narrative voice are refreshing, and the ties to the first book are deft and surprising. Best of all, Authority left me breathless to get on to Acceptance. Five fat stars.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am baThis is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am basically a devout agnostic, because it's as arrogant to assume you know there's nothing as it is to assume you know there's something. So why do these tales fascinate me? In the case of The Book of Strange New Things, maybe it's because Faber's story gives the reader access to the mind of a true believer -- not a blathering fundamentalist, mind you, just a decent man who has found real joy in religion after an early life of excess. Sometimes I envy the ease and succor genuine faith seems to give . . . but Faber deftly shows how that comfort and safety can sometimes be woefully misleading.
When Peter, a minister happily married to Bea, the woman who "saved" him, agrees to take on the open-ended position of chaplain for a corporation settlement and the nearby indigenous beings on the distant planet Oasis, he and his wife are both thrilled and terrified: thrilled he will be spreading God's word to new worlds, terrified of the months-long separation ahead. Arriving on Oasis, Peter is astonished and excited by the devout nature of the local, "alien," populace. Already prepared by the previous chaplain (now AWOL), many have rechristened themselves "Jesus Lover," followed by a number. (For example Peter's first interaction is with Jesus Lover One. Jesus Lover Five becomes a good friend. Etc.) So ecstatic are these "Oasans" to learn more of what they call "The Book of Strange New Things," they welcome him warmly and begin building him a church, which Peter makes his home between short visits to the base. He feels blessed to be granted such a perfect opportunity to do God's work. He's also more comfortable with the small, peaceful locals than most of the cynical humans back at base.
But there are deeper issues hiding under his blithe good works. Does Peter's new flock truly understand the teachings of Christ? How can he know what they make of his sermons, try as he does to make the metaphors clear for them? And will his email-only relationship with Bea, who is unexpectedly pregnant and sending alarming news of chaos on planet Earth daily, survive this mission? Less gut-punchingly painful than The Sparrow, another good-intentions-gone-wrong tale you should read if you haven't, The Book of Strange New Things is most concerned with the things we take for granted, and the small misunderstandings in communication that can easily grow into gulfs.
I hope I haven't given the impression this book is a downer -- it's really not. The indigenous culture Faber imagines is genuinely compelling and wonderful, as is his depiction of a faith not imperious or crazed, but warm and accepting. Not exactly action-packed, but truly thoughtful speculative fiction.
Funny, original, suspenseful. A total page-turner, even. The Martian and its author Andy Weir deserve every accolade they are earning, and I can't waiFunny, original, suspenseful. A total page-turner, even. The Martian and its author Andy Weir deserve every accolade they are earning, and I can't wait to see the movie (which already has a stellar array of talent attached).
My half-star dock is purely about my own ignorance, but be forewarned -- if you don't have much of a scientific background, some passages may make your eyes glaze over. I'm sure the science is impressive (and accurate, I'm told), but sometimes it made me feel stupid.That being said, if one has to be trapped on Mars, Mark Watney is an excellent companion. (And I'm sure he'd be happy to explain the science stuff if I could only ask.)...more
You know how sometimes it's almost impossible to write a review of a book that blows your mind? Ancillary Justice is probably the best book I read thiYou know how sometimes it's almost impossible to write a review of a book that blows your mind? Ancillary Justice is probably the best book I read this year. (A year which included other wonderful things I couldn't begin to critique, like The Martian and The Slow Regard of Silent Things and Station Eleven.) Hard sci-fi that's humane, featuring a complex world and politics that assume you're paying attention, elegant and vivid prose, and an AI protagonist who's anything but artificial, Ancillary Justice feels like a new SF classic....more