In this age when US corporations have been granted legal personage without the bother of liability or social responsibility, I see A Calculated Life a...more In this age when US corporations have been granted legal personage without the bother of liability or social responsibility, I see A Calculated Life as a rendition of corporate utopia. At its core, corporate employees are in the process of being replaced with leased workers who have been constructed with hyper-qualifications to perform their jobs. These workers require nothing but basic food and shelter, and maybe a little entertainment now and then. Largely, they live to serve the needs of the company. The question becomes, how would traditional humans fit into such a society, and how would a corporate-focused utopia affect them?
A comparison with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is inescapable--both novels probe what qualities define humanity. The theme, of course, is a least as old as Pinocchio. Jayna, the protagonist of A Calculated Life doesn't long to become a normal human--she is aware that her skills are superior. Yet, when she discovers the relative variety and freedom in even a skeletal, human-focused society, the allure of basic human experiences causes her to rebel. My lingering hope is that we don't have to wait for superior intellects to be cultivated before general society sees the need to limit the control of corporations on our lives. (less)
I looked up Chris Beckett on Wikipedia and learned he "was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Bryanston School in Dorset, England. He h...more 4.5/5
I looked up Chris Beckett on Wikipedia and learned he "was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Bryanston School in Dorset, England. He holds a BSc (Honours) in Psychology from the University of Bristol (1977), a CQSW from the University of Wales (1981), a Diploma in Advanced Social Work from Goldsmiths College, University of London (1977), and an MA in English Studies from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (2005). He has been a senior lecturer in social work at APU since 2000. He was social worker for eight years and the manager of a children and families social work team for ten years. Beckett has authored or co-authored several textbooks and scholarly articles on social work."
--which makes sense because "Dark Eden: A Novel" (to distinguish it from his short story by the same name) is focused more on psychology than science fiction. An alien world is described well enough and coherent enough to orient the reader, all without information dumps. Really, the alien world was secondary to what I think was the author's intent. Complete with plot and fleshy characters, Beckett has written an exploration of the re-formation of society from (view spoiler)[ one that is matriarchal and peaceful, yet stagnant through evolution from a need to explore and expand that leads to a warrior mentality--a re-enactment of Earth's history. The human seed carries personality traits that are necessary for survival, as well as those that are destructive. (hide spoiler)]
Although the observation itself is not new (think "Lord of the Flies"), I enjoyed the unique characters, the alien world, and the story that unfolded. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Interesting how topics can be approached in a multitude of manners by talented authors. I recently finished The Windup Girl, which, like Dag, draws up...more Interesting how topics can be approached in a multitude of manners by talented authors. I recently finished The Windup Girl, which, like Dag, draws upon serious subjects such as GMOs, mega-corporations, military domination, etc. The Windup Girl maintained gravitas which gave its characters depth and the overall experience an art house film ambiance, much like Bladerunner.
Dag takes a more absurd, surreal approach which provides light, imaginative entertainment, like Buffy, The Vampire Slayer or one of those B films that are hysterical at midnight.
Midway through, I pondered an interesting uncertainty as to the motivations of the author. I wondered whether the author was trying to point out the absurdity to people who fear such things as GMOs, unfettered corporate power, etc (i.e. me). By caricaturizing the devil, a person can poke fun at the people who quake in fear of the whole Satan construct. So, satire, or political/social activism? In the end, the reader chooses. While I enjoy balancing multiple points of view, my chips would be that Dag was not written as a satire. (Sorry for the side track.)
Now, I'm more a Bladerunner fan than a fan of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, so I won't rate Dag using the same ruler as I did The Windup Girl.
In Dag, I enjoyed flights of imagination, witty dialogue, and a plot with twists and turns. On the other hand, I missed sparkling prose and found extraneous wording, which engaged my skimming reflex. Those are nits, more about the art of writing than storytelling, so take them for what they're worth. Notably, some of the sex and brutality was too harsh for the schoolyard humor of the novel, yet too schoolyard for harsh reality--making those scenes a bit uneven in this work. I would have preferred adherence to humor such as that of Men in Black. (Okay, I'm getting annoyed that so many of my comparisons are with movies instead of novels. A quick analysis tells me that I saw this novel in my mind's eye instead of savoring the words in my....mind's ear ???)
That's it. I'll rate, overall, a 3.5/5.0 as a fun excursion in the nutty sci/fi genre.
-- Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a non-reciprocal review.(less)
Initially a successful short story and novella writer, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl won many awards including the Nebula and Hugo....more Initially a successful short story and novella writer, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl won many awards including the Nebula and Hugo. It is an intelligent, apocalyptic saga full of corrupt governments, greedy and immoral corporate super-powers, and civil insurrections, all players on an Earth that evolved through the consequences of global warming and plagues caused by the gene ripping of Mother Nature. It is a dark and dreary world, not for the faint of heart. Characters range from wealthy to down-trodden to man-made organics (as found in Blade Runner). The dialogue is spot-on and fun to read. Descriptions are well written but not over-done. All very worthwhile reading.
Since this novel vies to play in the league of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, the bar to a 5 star rating is high. Areas that squelched otherwise perfect enjoyment were two: First, rape scenes of the windup girl, a character deemed disgusting, lower than trash, hit a raw nerve from the shear ugliness and brutality. The kicker was that the person administering the assault, the ultimate violation, was another prostitute who was happy to torture someone she considered beneath her own rung on the social ladder--all for the enjoyment of the bar patrons. Night after night, one miserable sex-slave viciously abusing another--was too sad and inhuman for this heavy heart of mine. Having the windup girl appear very geisha-like in servitude and obedience, and the sex abuse taking place in Thailand lifts the story from fiction to circumstances all too real in eastern cultures, among others. Using stereotypes to portray complex situations take no real effort for a writer. I wish Bacigalupi would have dug deeper into symbolism and imagination. Frankly, I prefer China Miéville's ability to deliver a brutal punch through uniquely weird characters.
Second, towards the end, I suddenly became aware of the author stepping onto the scene to wrap things up. I can't point to a specific offending paragraph or sentence, and no one else may agree, but there it is--the author arrived, clapping his hands, telling everyone to pack up and go home.
Still, I enjoyed the intelligence of the story. It is not one-sided activist propaganda. The world Bacigalupi built foretells consequences of current global practices. (less)
Fantastic exploration of 'what if' centered on consciousness and alien life. Discussion of self-consciousness includes the often overlooked questions:...more Fantastic exploration of 'what if' centered on consciousness and alien life. Discussion of self-consciousness includes the often overlooked questions: What good is it? Is self-consciousness necessary for intelligence? And, on which side of the evolutionary intelligence curve does it truly fall? -- This, and more -- so many more discussion points have been planted in Blindsight, my head reeled.
Premise: After being probed, Earth identifies an alien threat and sends a contact team(s) to assess and deal with the alien presence. One team consists of a broad spectrum of consciousnesses: the ship itself has a spine and 'intelligence', the team leader is a vampire (not the twilight sort, trust me), a woman with multiple consciousnesses in one body, an empathic interrogator, a man integrated with machines, and the main character, who had 1/2 his brain removed as a child. With the full gambit, interaction with the alien(s) who are not some fuzzed up version of humanity, but are truly puzzling, well, the plot is fascinating, but secondary to the exploration of levels and uses of consciousness and multiple facets of humanity. The notes and discussion at the end of the novel reveal Peter Watts's scientific training, and are also well worth reading. (less)
This is the second installment of The Cloud Brothers series. I suggest reading Gathering Clouds... first because I believe I would have enjoyed Pink W...more This is the second installment of The Cloud Brothers series. I suggest reading Gathering Clouds... first because I believe I would have enjoyed Pink Water more had I already been acquainted with the Cloud Brothers, their parents, and the insect aliens.
Pink Water is a YA Science Fiction story, and is appropriate for the younger range of that genre except for one scene with strong language. The lessons of peaceful socialization, empathy, and anger management would work well in the younger age range.
One thing that struck me about the writing was that a good 85% or more of the text seemed to be dialogue. Descriptive prose was sparse and mostly used to change scenes. The dialogue was close to life rather than fictionalized, which added redundancy and characterized verbal tics that seemed a bit overused.
The plot was clear and brought to completion. It suffered from mid-novel drag, but pulled off a large action scene at the end. For avid readers of science fiction, no new ground was covered, but for those exploring the genre, the swim in Pink Water should be fun.
I received a free copy in exchange for a non-reciprocal, honest review.(less)
Noah's Ark should be enjoyed with the mind's visualization eye, like a graphic novel. Fun elements abound -- mutant zombies who are coordinated and qu...more Noah's Ark should be enjoyed with the mind's visualization eye, like a graphic novel. Fun elements abound -- mutant zombies who are coordinated and quick moving, Matrix-like cyberspace adventures, and tension enough to keep the reader turning pages -- all wonderful. I enjoyed the imaginative plot, which was a fresh mixing of technology with horror film nail biting. I "watched" the action in movie form, as though it were a storyboard or script. For such accomplishments alone, I would rate the novel 4 stars.
However, I cannot deny the literary tastes that have come from my years of studying writing and reading great writers. In my opinion, and please understand that many readers will not to agree -- but for me, the writing is the weak link and detracted from my enjoyment enough that I can not award 4 stars. The heavy use of adjectives, adverbs, clunky text and cliches got in the way of the story's momentum. Commercialism is king, however, and I have the same criticism for many bestsellers, so what do I know? Still, words are important to me. Since the prose stabbed at my more writer-ly sensibilities, I have to give 2 stars for that.
Averaging the marks, a solid 3 stars, meaning I liked the novel. Noah's Ark is a fine first effort and the author's raw talent is evident. With additional polishing and editing, this will be a thrilling work, even for curmudgeons like me.
(I received a free copy of the book in exchange for a non-reciprocal review.)(less)
This is a world, fully fleshed, with the concept of what constitutes humanity expanded, then the concept of consciousness and alien races stretched be...more This is a world, fully fleshed, with the concept of what constitutes humanity expanded, then the concept of consciousness and alien races stretched beyond that--Space Opera to the pores.
The plot--an artificial intelligence called simply the mind makes a grand escape, hides, and is sought by its enemies, and we are allowed inside its head, so to speak. Two cultures are at war, one cold and perfect intelligent and analytical, yet with hopes and dreams, the other a brave, noble race of warriors fighting to extinguish the influence of artificiality. Alliances are formed.
The protagonist fascinated, drawing me into resonance, then shocked me with differentiation allowing innovative characteristics within the definition of humanity. Actions are ripe with laughter and tragedy, but written with a pragmatic hand that reinforced life in a galaxy with giants at war. The ending is grim, indeed, but a world has been built and I'm drawn to visit the next adventure. (less)
Where does the soul reside? What if (view spoiler)[the soul of one person could be exchanged with the body of another? (hide spoiler)] Just think of t...more Where does the soul reside? What if (view spoiler)[the soul of one person could be exchanged with the body of another? (hide spoiler)] Just think of the possibilities for abuse...
This question, at least, ties together what appears to be a couple short stories and a novella.
And there is sex.
Writing is fine, often witty dialogue in a British elitist school boy way. A good for those who like sci/fi on the edge of horror.
I'm glad I didn't know this was a sci/fi space opera romance novel, for those are stories I'd normally avoid. The beginning hook worked quite well --...more I'm glad I didn't know this was a sci/fi space opera romance novel, for those are stories I'd normally avoid. The beginning hook worked quite well -- a team of survey scientists from a peaceful/liberal world are exploring native lifeforms on a new planet when they are attacked by foes from a military/dictator society. During a brief Survivor-like episode, the two main characters fall in love in a slow, back-burner simmering way with a thankful lack of bodice ripping and pec flexing. Flying vampire jelly fish and armed mutineers keep the story hopping and reveal the principled maturity of the main characters. Through witty dialogue, courage, and intelligent action, I grew to like the idea of Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Expeditionary Force and Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar as star-crossed lovers from worlds at war. Enter political intrigue, space battles, betrayals, and villains getting their just desserts, and well, you have a page turner.
Only 3.4 stars though, due to the fizzling out, although realistic, ending and a confusing, disjointed epilogue. I was tempted to read the next in the series, but honestly, by the end, things felt a bit Hallmark-ish and my interest cooled. That's the problem with romance stories - once we see a happily ever after with a fat and happy couple, it is difficult to generate enough promise of future conflict to keep up momentum--not impossible, just difficult. (less)
Not so keen on the storyline or characters, but the discussions and insights concerning society and humanity in general--wonderful! Relevant today, th...more Not so keen on the storyline or characters, but the discussions and insights concerning society and humanity in general--wonderful! Relevant today, the novel is classic. Well worth re-reading. (less)
Perdido Street Station is the first of Miéville's novels set in Bas-Lag -- a strangely familiar, almost Victorian era-world, but with outrageous evolu...morePerdido Street Station is the first of Miéville's novels set in Bas-Lag -- a strangely familiar, almost Victorian era-world, but with outrageous evolutions that China somehow manages to make 'normal'. I loved the imaginative creations, humane themes, and fully dimensional characters who will remain in my consciousness for years to come, I'm sure. The story is both thought-provoking and excitingly adventurous. Just when the reader settles in, a new element or character blazes forward to rock us back on our heels.
If I were to criticize anything, I suppose it would be the cactus people. Really, China? They didn't prevent me from enjoying the book, but brought the material down a peg or two. Plant people living in a green house and who suckle their young with mammalian breasts seems cartoonish at best. But there is much more to love, so I'm willing to let the cactus people slide.
I was most taken with Miéville as a story teller more than a stylistic writer. Certainly, the writing is clear and competent, also intelligent with an interesting vocabulary. Emotion, idealism, and romance emerge through the scene rather than the words, if that makes any sense. The greatest accomplishment is that China created a vivid and real place sources from his own imagination, and I felt the world, living and breathing. And stinking. It was a filthy place.
On all accounts, I recommend reading Perdido Station. Now, on to The Scar!(less)
Richard Bunning describes his novel as speculative fiction, rather than fantasy or science fiction, and with him I must agree. Although fantasy and sc...moreRichard Bunning describes his novel as speculative fiction, rather than fantasy or science fiction, and with him I must agree. Although fantasy and sci/fi take place in imaginary worlds and often have sociopolitical themes, the focus of speculative fiction, from my understanding, is to pose and answer "what if?" questions.
Questions considered in Another Space In Time include, what if 1. organ donor recipients retain a connection with their donors? 2. when you die, you are transported to another world? 3. people on worlds that receive recycled souls from earth resent the wave of immigrants? 4. people had more evidence that their consciousnesses did not end with death? 5. a world existed whose sun was a pulsar? 6. a world existed where the population could learn from mistakes made on Earth? 7. you were an immigrant and the native people could read your thoughts?
--and there are others.
Mr. Bunning has worked out answers and played with other ideas in his novel. To keep it interesting and quicken the pace, he added a crime mystery. To satisfy romance readers, he wove in a love story. The result is a novel that fulfills the need for a plot, conflict, characters, arcs, etc. while also serving as a vehicle for exploring aspects of "every-man philosophy".
The story took awhile to draw me in. Partly, the writing style is formal and wordy. In some respects, the beginning felt like stepping into a boat at the dock where the boat rocks quite a lot until you settle and pick up the oars. At that point, the Rodwell character, from whose POV the bulk of the story is told, establishes himself as somewhat timid, gentlemanly, and quaint. Funny, even. Readers watch his metamorphosis from an ineffective British government worker to an intelligent man's Rambo. Thoughts of multiple lifetimes and a love interest will do that for you.
The elements for what is traditionally thought to be satisfying in a story are present in Legend of T93. The sci/fi genre has its own traditions--test...moreThe elements for what is traditionally thought to be satisfying in a story are present in Legend of T93. The sci/fi genre has its own traditions--testosterone-rich war adventures where the hero is motivated by revenge, the girl is unattainable or dead (thus, the revenge), bad guys are really, very, very bad, the struggle is monumental, the goal obtained (sometimes not), and the hero is changed for the better--are all here. Legend of T93 reminds me of The Forever War, Starship Troopers, and Old Man's War---largely because it contains elements that I enjoy most in good sci/fi---social and political observation and commentary. Yes, folks--imaginative, thought-provoking, and outright thrilling action, all present here.
Political/social commentary in the novel can be gleaned from three pockets of civilization that develop after the US suffers nuclear devastation. Our hero and the major villain reside in a high-tech, invasive dictatorship based on 'merit' commerce. In another place, not too far away, a fanatical religious group survives using low-end technology, but boasts enough tactical savvy to surprise their technically superior foes, at least once. In the middle of these two extremes is a group knowledgeable in both plants and technology with a governing structure similar to engineering and labor forces. What is wonderful about this mix is the strength and weaknesses of each are explored, and ultimately, the outcome requires teamwork from citizens of each. I appreciated the complexity of this as compared to a Dark Star evil empire scenario.
The action never stops, and never bores, the yang energy dominates over token yin. I personally don't mind, but this is a modern guy's story where women are respected, if not entirely understood. Don't look for romance here, but you'll get plenty of heroism and courage and imaginative world-building in a grounded sci/fi way. The only criticism I'll mention is that I think the villain(s) could have been more complex. I like my villains gray. That's it--that and the end came too quickly. Most importantly, the writing, plotting, character development and dialogue are all well beyond the typical first novel. For all its strengths, I recommend Legend of T93. (less)
This is the first and only zombie novel I've ever read. My first exposure to zombies was when a grade school teacher doled out the story from "Night o...moreThis is the first and only zombie novel I've ever read. My first exposure to zombies was when a grade school teacher doled out the story from "Night of the Living Dead" to our class for the last 10 minutes of school each Friday. Finally, in high school, I saw the movie and for years afterwards could not look upon a foggy meadow without imagining those lumbering zombies. Second, some years ago, I tried to watch "Shaun of the Dead". My conscious mind told me that if I continued to watch that movie, it---my conscious mind---would proceed to hurt me. So I stopped.
So why did I decide to read World War Z? Probably someone here on Goodreads recommended it. Surprising, I found this scifi/horror novel interesting. I'll probably not have to ever read another zombie novel because Max Brooks covered just about every aspect of the social and psychological impact of a world-wide infestation of zombies. From those who'd become addicted to killing zombies, to the population that insanely mimics zombies, all the way to those who simply die in their sleep rather than face the future--all are covered in this documentary-style manuscript. Aspects of a low-tech war as well as how different nations face the situation are all explored, from civilians to military to the well-educated service-oriented workforce with nothing to offer the war effort, all relating their experience as mankind faces extinction. Intriguing, realistic, and well executed. I prefer novels with main characters and plots, but the first 80% of the novel succeeded in drawing me in. After that, I was ready for it to end. Still, the effectively described visual of zombies lurking in murky water, then suddenly appearing before the face mask of a submerged diver will forever be planted in my head--especially next time I go scuba diving. Thank you Max.
Seriously, this was an interesting read, especially if you've not yet lost a toe in the zombie literature. (less)