Before I start my review I want to point out that, till this book, I thought that Ms. Bujold can do no wrong, so to speak (just check my other reviews...moreBefore I start my review I want to point out that, till this book, I thought that Ms. Bujold can do no wrong, so to speak (just check my other reviews of her books). I don't just like her writing style: I'm in LOVE with her technique. So this being said, for the last three days I've struggled to read this novel (I'm only 66% through) and, at this point, I'm almost ready to put it away and move to the next one, in hope of something more.
So what went wrong and what went well? (And I'm sorry, but this is going to be longer than my usual reviews.)
1) There is a definite improvement in Ekaterin's character compared to Komarr, probably the only good thing I have to say about this novel other than the beautiful writing. Please don't take me wrong: I take my hat off to Ms. Bujold for attempting a rare deed in the SF and Fantasy genre: to show that mothers are true heroines whom most people take for granted. Unfortunately for that good intention, Ekaterin turned out dry, while the the "chemistry" (or the lack of) between her and Miles made me yawn. A Civil Campaign brings up a more interesting Ekaterin, though from what I read so far, I still cannot call this a romance: yes, we are told over and over how highly Miles thinks of Ekaterin, but there is no magnetism between them and, as a reader, I simply couldn't care less if they end up together or not.
2) If most of the previous books were occasionally funny, yet always built on a foundation of solid characters, solid plot, and heavy "messages" (without tuning the novels into a soapbox), this book is, for lack of a better word, juvenile (and I mean this with no disrespect to anyone who liked it). Granted, witless Ivan is still hilarious, but what happened the rest of the cast? We are supposed to deal with characters between 20 and 30+ years-old, yet with very little exceptions they demonstrate the maturity of a 12 years-old! I'm going to mention only one of Mark's lines - "Last word: I win."
3) Probably even more important than the previous note is the fact that there are serious inconsistencies between the assumptions of this story and the previous books. Do you remember in Komarr when Miles and Uncle Vorthys have no problem whatsoever in sharing every single detail of their governmental secret investigation with clearance-free Aunt Vorthys, with clearance-free Ekaterin, and not only clearance-free, but terrorist-friendly Tien? Or do you remember when Uncle Vorthys tells to clearance-free Ekaterin the story of the breakout from the Cetagandan prisoner of war camp, which if publicly revealed would have been considered an act of war toward Cetaganda? Because if you remember, you must understand why it bothered me to no end that all of the sudden in A Civil Campaign ImpSec can't release the details of the terrorist act from Komarr to the Council of Counts. Let me say this again: civilian Aunt Vorthys is in the need-to-know pool for that investigation (along with civilian Cordelia and civilian Ekaterin), but not the government of the country?! How did this problem even pass the beta readers?
4) I mentioned before the fact that, in my reading experience, Ms. Bujold does a spectacular job in not turning her books in a soapbox. Tolerance, responsibility, equality of the sexes, honor, and so on are always promoted, most often discretely if not downright surreptitiously. Regrettably A Civil Campaign deviates from that norm by delivering repeatedly explicit lectures on one topic only: promoting women's emancipation is always a great purpose, but here this is somehow distorted into equating it with the sexual exploration. Not that I have anything against sexual discovery; but shouldn't one's personal emancipation (and I talk about both men and women) be more about about education and discovering one's identity and limits than just sex?
5) Last Cordelia develops a serious case of parental favoritism (and questionable judgement), which in fact started in Mirror Dance: Mark can do no evil, while Miles always misbehaves (even when, in my opinion, he doesn't). Do you remember her little speech from Mirror Dance down these lines: my dear Mark, don't worry that because of you, your brother was killed - after all nobody asked him to take that suicide mission to save your sorry butt... (of course I would have killed him if he didn't save you). Well, in A Civil Campaign it gets worse! Cordelia tells Miles that it was wrong to offer the woman he loved her heart's desire (to design and create a native garden) because he did it to trap her. I would be the first one to say that it was wrong to do so if he found her her work mediocre or if he didn't care about it at all. But in Komarr he calls her work "lovely," a "serenity,""beautiful," and he declares that she has an "artist's eye" for designing gardens. So why, oh why would it be wrong to ask her to create for him something that he obviously thinks the world of? (And no, he doesn't know her well enough to ask her to work for free for him! That would be utterly disrespectful.)
You see, I consider myself a moderate feminist, although probably the scholastic term for my beliefs is equality feminism or liberal feminism (the kind that promotes equality between men and women in all domains). This being said, not only that I don't find anything insulting with Miles's "strategy," I actually think it's what I would have done if I were in his shoes. Yet, here comes mother Cordelia, who slaps him for stealing Ekaterin's victory from her. How can that be, when in the previous book he thought that she is entitled to that victory?
I know that this review is three paragraphs too long, but this novel fell so short of my (granted, very high) expectations. :((less)
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ This was such a beautifully written short story, if a bit sad in the end. I think everyone wo...moreQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ This was such a beautifully written short story, if a bit sad in the end. I think everyone would agree that the descriptions are simply breathtaking.
✐ It is about a scientific expedition which comes to backwater planet Wraithworld to investigate the existence of wraiths. These mythological "beings" are said to have caused a series of deaths since the discovery of the planet, and ever since they attracted tourists fascinated by their mystery. The head of the expedition is convinced that the wraiths are a fancy of imagination and fails to understand the essence of this place. On the other hand, the journalist who covers the story falls in love with the lush scenery and the natural mystery of the planet.
✐ In the end, this is a story about the inability of the science to see beyond numbers and experiments and its destructive effects. Definitely a recommended read (listen).(less)
The stories of this anthology are rather heterogeneous in feel and content, though located in the same geographical area, which give them a common pla...moreThe stories of this anthology are rather heterogeneous in feel and content, though located in the same geographical area, which give them a common playground.
In the Forests of the Night by Jay Lake is in my opinion the second best in the collection and it is by far the most character-driven story, or at least as much as one can accomplish this task in the limited space of a novella. Tyger Tyger, the main character, has almost a mystical glow about him. Any moment, you expect him to do something extraordinary, a miracle or at least a monumental deed. The fact that up to the very end, we don't learn his true identity, only fuels the transcendent atmosphere surrounding his persona. However we learn a lot about his interior dialogue and his emotional state. Stylistically speaking, this story is written in the most interesting technique of the entire collection, with the point of view switching between several characters and an omniscient narrator. What I found special about the technique is that no two voices sound the same - they have an individuality of their own like the characters they belong to. (4 stars)
The next three stories (Stochasti-City by Tobias Buckell, The Red in the Sky is Our Blood by Elizabeth Bear, and Utere Nihil non Extra Quiritationem Suis by John Scalzi) are very similar in message and, to some extent, in content. They all focus on their authors' ideas of utopia (or what they consider the next best thing). They have a very activist vibe, all of them promoting a green(er) way of life. I think they are interesting, but they didn't hold my attention too well. The Red in the Sky is Our Blood by Elizabeth Bear has the most elegant writing style in the whole anthology. (3 stars overall for these stories)
"To Hi from Far Celinea" by Karl Schroeder, the best novella of METAtropolis, brings a truly fascinating concept and an innovative cyberpunk plot. This story alone would be worth getting the book! Mr. Schroeder creates an (pseudo-)alternative reality so avant-garde that it left me breathless. I don't want to spoil anyone's please of discovering this reality for himself/herself, so I won't say anything about this concept and its hypotheses. The writing is matter-of-fact and the characters are only sketched, but that doesn't make the ideas of the story less powerful. (4.5 stars)(less)
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (There are BOOKS written about this novel and I won't attempt to duplicate them. These are just...moreQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (There are BOOKS written about this novel and I won't attempt to duplicate them. These are just my thoughts, half a day after finishing it.)
✐ I don't think I read anything quite like Slaughterhouse-Five. You are really going to love it or simply stop reading it. There is such a strong anti-war aura about it, yet with the exception of one paragraph at the end, it is never explicitly said "war is bad." Instead Mr. Vonnegut proceeds systematically at demythicizing the war.
✐ There is nothing glorious about it. The soldiers are no heroes, just too young boys, or too old men or, most frequently, untrained buffoons (and not only Billy Pilgrim, although in his case, Mr. Vonnegut takes facts to extreme). And when we are dealing with true soldiers, the British officers, the pride and joy of the their army, they are referred by sobriquets as the Blue Fairy Godmother.
✐ Everything that happens to Billy during the war is ridiculous: he carries no weapon (and when in the end he gets one, it is only to protect himself from wild dogs and rats), he doesn't take part in a single battle, he survives the butchering of Dresden by sheer luck. Being a soldier is just menial work or half-acknowledged traveling.
✐ But what I think it's spectacular about this novel is the fact that although it addresses such a heavy topic, it never feels heartbreaking or distressing. Mr. Vonnegut accomplishes that in three ways:
....1) the gore and horrors of the war are hidden under layers upon layers of good-natured humor or ridicule depending on the story; ....2) every time when something distressing is going to happen, Billy "travels" through time to a happier moment, and the reader never witnesses the slaughterous details; ....3) from the very beginning, in the not-titled Preface, we are given a summary of the novel. There are simply no surprises going on that might detract the reader from the embedded message.
✐ And because this is Kurt Vonnegut, in the end he has to explain the message he wanted to pass: "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."
✐ Final (i)relevant thought: one of the reasons I liked so much Slaughterhouse-Five was because of its concept of time, which is so close to what I consider my personal views on this topic: time doesn't flow; all the events "future" and "past" already exist and we simply navigate through them. Yet, the Tralfamadorians deny the existence of the free will, which I actually consider incorrect. But that's a discussion for another time. ツ(less)
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ In an alternate steampunk reality, Seattle is ridden with zombies created inadvertently by th...moreQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ In an alternate steampunk reality, Seattle is ridden with zombies created inadvertently by the release of a toxic gas. A sprinkling of people still leave underground, but most of the population migrated elsewhere. When the 15-year-old son of the man who caused the havoc runs back to Seattle, his mother has no choice but try to save him from a world where zombies are not the most dangerous creatures. And since a boy is a boy, he has to make every possible wrong decision, making his mother attempt's nearly futile.
✐ I have serious troubles trying to figure out who is the intended audience of this novel. The language is overly simplistic, very similar to a YA story, but the main character is 35 and "she did not look a minute younger," which is not your typical YA heroine. Also, the society is implicitly matriarchal, with older but wise women being in the center of everything that is accomplished. My best guess is that the novel was intended for the increasingly numerous adults (women, in this case) reading YA novels. (I admit occasionally I read them too, if not for the sometimes deficient language and limited depth, at least for their more optimistic feeling that unfortunately lacks in most adult novels. There is so much dread, destruction, and gore one can read without getting totally depressed.)
✐ This being said, Boneshaker is an action-driven novel, a page turner by all means. There are battles and chases and fights and traps and all of them are well narrated. In fact the book is a collection of them, with almost no respite. The alternate reality is interesting and quite believable: a mix of steampunk and the current state, with a lot of electricity involved.
✐ And yet I wish there was something more: introspection and a view into the local "politics." This is in fact the reason for the 4-star rating - Boneshaker is almost completely devoid of character development. The bad are bad and they exploit the good who are good. None of them seems to evolve throughout the story, with the notable exception of Briar becoming more open toward her son.
✐ I think this is a good story and the seemingly incongruous elements are made to fit well with each other. But I was hoping for a little bit more.(less)
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ This Hugo-nominated short story brings up a very sensitive subject: what is the right decisio...moreQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts ✐ This Hugo-nominated short story brings up a very sensitive subject: what is the right decision in extending the life of the elderly? And is the right decision (i.e., what is good for the patient) the same one with the "ethical" decision?
✐ It's year 2200 and the medicine got so advanced that humans live at least to be 150. Yes, it is true that by the time they are 100-120, most of them are completely senile, have their organs replaced, can no longer get out of bed - in one word, they are vegetables. This is a terrible term to use, but in this story, there is always a parallel between the main character's charges (his patients) and his wife's flowers.
✐ When our character is faced with a new patient, Mr. Goldmeier who, in spite of being 153, maintains a sharp mind, he is totally shocked. Not only that Mr. Goldmeier is not grateful for being kept alive; in fact his resentment goes so deep that it borders hatred. He describes the medical facilities as places "where men begged for death, and slowly went mad when it didn't come."
✐ A highly dystopic read that makes one think how useful living wills are.(less)
Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (This "review" is dedicated to my sister, who laughs when I get credit in the Reading Challenge...moreQuick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts (This "review" is dedicated to my sister, who laughs when I get credit in the Reading Challenge for a 4-page "book.")
✐ This was a creepy and disturbing story primarily about how hard people try to fit in and secondarily about how sadistic young kids can be.
✐ In a world in which ponies have wings, a unicorn, and speak, in order to be admitted in the circle of popular girls you have to...
✐ It seems a very simplistic concept, but the language is so powerful, that even now after a while from finishing it, I feel very uneasy about it.(less)
The best way to describe this book is human although its main theme is artificial intelligence.
I am not going into the plot details as many others ha...moreThe best way to describe this book is human although its main theme is artificial intelligence.
I am not going into the plot details as many others have described it. Enough said that there are three seemingly unrelated stories (Caitlin's, China's, and Hobo's) that are presented in parallel. As this is obviously only the first part of a series, I assume that the pieces of the puzzle will fall into their places as the story develops during the next books.
The stories are told from various points of view. However my favorite feature of this novel (and the reason I called it human) is that the only time when the author uses the first person is when he describes the experiences of the artificial intelligence form (a.k.a. Phantom, a.k.a Webmind). It is as if, in its humanless nature there is more humanity than in all the other characters altogether. The process of waking-up, of gaining awareness is chronicled so vividly that you can almost feel the pain it goes through to make sense of the world.
Concerning the style, I found the book an extremely easy and straightforward, no-fuss read, which may be the reason some folks had labeled it "young reading." It's not! Maybe the main character is only 15, but not even that puts this book in the young reading category. The technical concepts presented here had me sometimes go back and re-read them several times in order to make sense of them.
To conclude a very good technical science-fiction novel.(less)
For personal reasons I've never finished this book, although the first three quarters that I read were great. I will return sometimes to learn how it...moreFor personal reasons I've never finished this book, although the first three quarters that I read were great. I will return sometimes to learn how it ends...(less)