Satisfying conclusion of Stracynski's reworking of mythic themes from Paradise Lost, The Inferno, William Blake. Demons and Angels, hard to tell the dSatisfying conclusion of Stracynski's reworking of mythic themes from Paradise Lost, The Inferno, William Blake. Demons and Angels, hard to tell the difference. The first collection played around with the noire genre; this one's closer to Doctor Strange. Effectively creepy illustrations, a reasonably convincing ending....more
When I read science fiction, I have three basic criteria: a convincing (and in most cases scientifically believable) world; memorable characters whoseWhen I read science fiction, I have three basic criteria: a convincing (and in most cases scientifically believable) world; memorable characters whose actions are shaped by that world; and, definitely the least important but still on the list, a non-stereotypical plot. For 90% of this book, I was sold on the first two, but felt like the plot was a tad generic. That would have been a good solid four stars. The stretch run moved it up, definitively. To avoid spoilers, I won't say anything more about that.
Like the other two Bacigalupi novels I've read (one "adult," one "juvenile"), The Water Knife is set in a not-terribly-distant future world in which water dominates political, social and ecological life. What that means depends on where you are; he's set novels in Thailand, New Orleans and, now, the American Southwest. Making his debt to Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert explicit, Bacigulpi projects a world in which California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Colorado are more or less at war with each other, the specifics varying depending on the players' relationship to the Colorado River. In some ways, the novel reminds me of John Brunner's towering ecological jeremiad, Stand on Zanzibar.
Definitely my favorite for next year's Nebula and (providing the award figures out a way to deal with this year's far right wing coup) Hugo....more
Deserves its classic status, as evidenced by the fact that I read all two zillion pages in less than a week. Herbert exemplifies the qualities of theDeserves its classic status, as evidenced by the fact that I read all two zillion pages in less than a week. Herbert exemplifies the qualities of the best sci-fi: a fascinating world, serious themes, well-drawn characters and, above all, a real grasp for how to keep a story moving. I'm particularly impressed with the ecological insight into the demands of living in the desert (writing this from a slightly less foreboding high desert setting) and his awareness of how landscape shapes culture and character.
No one really needs my review to tell them whether or not they want to read it, but I do want to add a couple of observations of an idiosyncratic sort: 1. This is really a sixties book in the same sense as Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. I don't know whether he was actively interested in psychedelics, but the description of the changing of the water could have been published in one of the Leary/Alpert compendiums of acid experience. 2. The gender politics are surprisingly good. The book passes the Bechtel test with flying colors. It's an interesting case of what I guess you'd call "difference feminism." The women occupy distinct positions in the culture, but clearly not inferior ones. Sort of a Jungian take on the nature of masculine and feminine spheres. 3. Having said that, there's a touch of homophobia in the characterization of the Baron (my least favorite part of the book--a villain who's just a mustache twirl away from melodrama). Herbert uses his attraction to young men as a sufficient sign that he can't be trusted. Only a few passages and very much of its time, but totally unnecessary.
I wasn't expecting to be caught by the series when I started, but I'll definitely read Dune: Messiah and see about whether to go on from there.
This officially removes the number one book from my list of "books people assume I've read that I haven't." I'll have to figure out what tops the list now....more
The 50 Foot Woman with the tiny ape in her hands climbing the Tower of Art! The true story behind "frankly my dear I don't give a damn." The stars comThe 50 Foot Woman with the tiny ape in her hands climbing the Tower of Art! The true story behind "frankly my dear I don't give a damn." The stars come to earth! A thousand elephants! Oswald or Osric or Osbert or whatever his name is (you know, the gold guy with the sword...). Secrets of Holy Wood revealed!
The movie are a perfect match for Pratchett's sense of the thinness of reality and Moving Pictures ranks up there with the best of the Discworld novels. Not a bad place to start for anyone who hasn't yet been introduced to the joys of one of the smartest humorists of recent times. REST IN PEACE....more
(Thematic spoilers in second graph.) The hype surrounding this book, which won every prize short of the Nobel and National League MVP, was so huge, I(Thematic spoilers in second graph.) The hype surrounding this book, which won every prize short of the Nobel and National League MVP, was so huge, I doubted it could live up to it. Wrong. It's a sci fi classic, just short of Ender's Game, Neuromancer, Stand on Zanzibar, Left Hand of Darkness, the Foundation series, and Hyperion, but the best I've read by a new writer in many years. (I'm deciding between four and five stars as I write this review.) The premise is truly compelling: a "piece" of an Artificial Intelligence which finds herself (the use of gendered pronouns are an important part of the book's strange familiarity)living and acting as an "individual." It was bit confusing at the outset, but came into focus soon enough and felt completely "natural" (lots of non-scare quotes required, smile) by the conclusion. Without question, I'll read the second book of what's being advertised as a loosely connected trilogy when it comes out later this year.
As in most of the great sci fi novels, the technological part of the story supports and is supported by a significant socio-political theme: the problem of how to resist a central power that seems impermeable. It's one that matters deeply given the dominance of the economic/military order in the world around us; it has historical analogs in the struggles against white supremacy and patriarchy. Of the British and Roman empires. (You can free associate endlessly; Leckie doesn't force any of the possibilities, but she was clearly thinking in those terms.) Part of her vision focuses on individual courage and heroism, but she knows that on its own that's insufficient. The protagonist's success--limited and contingent--rests on understanding the internal divisions of the dominant power. One historical parallel would be the civil rights movement's manipulation of divisions within the white communities of Birmingham, Montgomery and, on a larger level, the US Senate.
Anicillary Justice made me think and it kept me turning pages. I cared about the people. Can't ask much more of a sci fi novel; I'll go with the five stars despite the unexciting literary style....more
Well done study of the rise and fall of the Apollo space program in the American imagination. Tribbe delves into both the positive and negative currenWell done study of the rise and fall of the Apollo space program in the American imagination. Tribbe delves into both the positive and negative currents of the response, emphasizing the importance of attitudes toward technology and rationality which went beyond the program itself. He spends a good deal of time on Norman Mailer's Of a Fire on the Moon, which criticized the program as the supreme manifestation of WASP culture, as well as on the slightly surprising support Apollo received from Ayn Rand (who generally detested big government spending) and Stewart Brand, founder of the counterculture's encyclopedia, the Whole Earth Catalog. The Faustian quality of the enterprise comes through clearly, the logic that said "if we can do it, we certainly have to do it" as does the stunningly quick loss of support from the public as a whole: the last four planned Apollo missions were cancelled with almost no political dissension. Near the end of the book, Tribbe introduces a larger argument about the replacement of the rationalist faith by a set of neo-romantic perspectives in the 1970s. That section's suggestive, but not as convincing as the central insights into Apollo itself....more
Part of the return of J. Michael Staczynski's "Joe's Comics," which also includes the first compilations of "Ten Grand" and "The Adventure of Al." LikPart of the return of J. Michael Staczynski's "Joe's Comics," which also includes the first compilations of "Ten Grand" and "The Adventure of Al." Like most of JMS's work for TV and comics, Sidekick takes an interesting premise--the career of a sidekick whose superhero has been assassinated--and heads into unexpected places. Like "Ten Grand"--I haven't read Al yet--the first volume sets the stage nicely before ending with the first of the major unexpected twists. It's a style JMS perfected with season ending episodes of Babylon 5. I'm hooked and I'm actually considered going back to the issue by issue approach to comics, rather than waiting for the next compilation....more
Genie" is to Richard Powers' novels The Goldbug Variations and Orfeo what Thomas Pynchon's short story "Entropy" is to The Crying of Lot 49 and GravitGenie" is to Richard Powers' novels The Goldbug Variations and Orfeo what Thomas Pynchon's short story "Entropy" is to The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow. Weaving together biology, music, lab culture and central characters grappling with a complicated relationship, it's a delightful introduction o the themes and sensibility that have defined Powers' career. If you haven't read Powers previously, "Genie," published in Kindle's "Byline" series of short pieces, is a good place to start....more
Between the cosmological architecture of the pyramids, the mathematical genius of camels, and the assassin's guild, a highly enjoyable Discworld novelBetween the cosmological architecture of the pyramids, the mathematical genius of camels, and the assassin's guild, a highly enjoyable Discworld novel. The assassin's guild plot disqualifies Pyramids from being the official first novel in the the one-off comparative cultures series that eventually takes Pratchett to every corner of the Discworld, but it's pointing in that direction. Ptraci marks a clear improvement in Pratchett's treatment of the "saucy woman" character type....more
I enjoy Bacigalupi's future world,one in which climate change has radically reoriented environmental and political relationships. Ship Breaker's classI enjoy Bacigalupi's future world,one in which climate change has radically reoriented environmental and political relationships. Ship Breaker's classified as a juvenile, and it shows both in relative emphasis on the action plot, especially in the last quarter or so. Nowhere near as good as The Wind-Up Girl, but certainly quick and entertaining enough to keep his other juvenile on my list....more
Spectacular graphics and an intriguing introduction to a typically strange and, at this stage, opaque J. Michael Straczynski protagonist (if that's thSpectacular graphics and an intriguing introduction to a typically strange and, at this stage, opaque J. Michael Straczynski protagonist (if that's the right word to use for a contract killer who traffics with demons, ambiguous angels and pretty much every low life the city has to offer). Anyone who's followed JMS from Babylon 5 on will be unsurprised to encounter some mind-boggling plot twists that redefine most of what you thought you knew previously. Looking forward to the second compilation....more
As always, Chang-rae Lee writes beautiful sentences, but I found On Such a Full Sea disappointing, somewhere between 3.49 and 3.51 stars. In recent yeAs always, Chang-rae Lee writes beautiful sentences, but I found On Such a Full Sea disappointing, somewhere between 3.49 and 3.51 stars. In recent years, a large number of "literary" writers have gravitated toward the dystopian fiction genre: Murakami, Ishigura, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood. That sets a fairy high bar, and the field is crowded with excellent writers who are marketed more openly as "science fiction" or "young adult." Like many of those writers, Lee develops a kind of multifaceted/fluid allegory, using his future world to reflect on the problems (in this case primarily those of economic inequality) that plague the more or less "real" world around us. The first person plural narrative voice (which reminded me a big of Julie Otsuka) kept my interested and the central character, Fan, is memorable. But there are a couple of problems that ultimately keep me from recommending the book with any enthusiasm. One of them's a fairly simple technical issue: the flow of fictional time feels wrong. Fan's pregnant, so we know roughly how much time has passed, but there's *way* too much going on in the background; the adjustments to new settings, the pace of tearing down and building huge houses, etc. Too many new internal worlds crammed into too little fictional time. In addition, I wasn't convinced by the mythic status the narrative voice ascribes to Fan and Reg. A really good science fiction writer would be attentive to details on a different level, making sure the pieces of the world fit together. I suspect that Lee would respond that he's working in a different genre, but it just didn't come off in the way I'd hoped it would....more
**spoiler alert** Maybe King's best, certainly in the top five. It's a great idea: time traveler returns to the late 50s, early 60s, to stop Lee Harve**spoiler alert** Maybe King's best, certainly in the top five. It's a great idea: time traveler returns to the late 50s, early 60s, to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. King appears to have been aware of that and to have spent more time than usual polishing his prose. He's on record--and there's a nice little reiteration in this novel--that the most important thing for a writer to do is keep the reader asking "and what happened then?" Sometimes, he's let that justify sentences that are serviceable but not particularly sharp. My radar's attuned to that when I read King, and this time it never beeped on.
That's a bonus, but the real power of 11/22/63 is in the way King recreates the Cold War era pop culture, which is at once familiar and alien to the protagonist, Jake/George. The characters' behavior is grounded in their time and part of the fun is the way aspects of the 21st century slip into the past; George singing "Honky Tonk Women," reaching for his cell phone, etc. As always in King, the characters are sharply drawn, and the plot unfolds with very few "hold on there" moments.
Up until the last 10% of the book (I read it on Kindle), I was resisting what seemed to me the romanticization of Kennedy. The lead characters are definitely convinced that if JFK lived, the world would have been a better place; we wouldn't have gone into Vietnam, etc. I'd made a fairly elementary reader's mistake--King's easy to underestimate--and assumed that their perspective was close to the writers. Nope. The final section of the book--a series of false endings that actually works--makes it clear that he's aware that JFK wouldn't have passed the Civil Rights bill, that the Cold War tragedy would have very likely unfolded in different ways, equally (or, King implies, even more) destructive than what actually happened. Often, I've felt that King's endings fall a bit short of the novel as a whole, not this time.
I've been thinking a lot about the "canon" of American/world literature. I think canons are good ideas, although the one I was educated into was way too narrow--too many of the proverbial dead white males (most of whom do belong there, but are in need of a broader community, including Lesliee Silko, Muriel Rukeyser, Toni Morrison, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Alfredo Vea, Terry Tempest Williams, etc.). King clearly belongs in that company. He'll have readers as long as they make books or their e-equivalents. He's a story teller who works with serious themes and memorable characters. The closest equivalent would be Charles Dickens, also wildly popular, occasionally a bit sloppy, but as alive today as he was 100 years ago. ...more