I see a lot of Cold War parallels just under the surface of this novel, which was originally published in 1988, with the Culture playing the part of tI see a lot of Cold War parallels just under the surface of this novel, which was originally published in 1988, with the Culture playing the part of the U.S., with their freer sexuality and expression, and the crude dictatorship of the Empire representing the Soviet Union -- although the parallels do have their limits, as no society on earth is "post scarcity." The entire novel functions as an interesting sci-fi take on the Fischer-Spasky chess match, or perhaps the Miracle on Ice hockey game, with the Culture's expert game player Gurgeh, an aloof outsider, attempting to master Azad, a complex and all-encompassing game entwined in every facet of the Empire's society.
Note this is listed as the second novel in the Culture series, but it clearly works as stand alone novel, as I had no problems following it without having read the first, and there were no major plot lines left unresolved at the end....more
So this starts off as if it will be an '80s coming-of-age story along the lines of Freaks and Geeks, but it very quickly takes a left turn into a verySo this starts off as if it will be an '80s coming-of-age story along the lines of Freaks and Geeks, but it very quickly takes a left turn into a very different and fantastical place. Monsters, demons, aliens, time travelers, something else?
I won't go further into what happens to the paper girl protagonists for two reasons -- first, it would spoil the reading of this graphic novel, and second, after five issues, I'm honestly not exactly sure what is happening. This mystery and slow discovery is one of the biggest reasons I'm looking forward to continuing reading. It's a series I'd highly recommend, especially for anyone that loves non-traditional (read as: non-superhero) graphic novels.
A mostly unrelated humorous aside that will give an idea of the time period this is occurring -- Michael Dukakis ( who apparently can't get any good publicity even three decades after his '88 election loss) gets blamed for the apocalypse in a passing comment.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. ...more
This really ought to be subtitled The Andromeda Strain: Or the Infinite Folly of Man. It excellently illustrates how incapable of planning for the unkThis really ought to be subtitled The Andromeda Strain: Or the Infinite Folly of Man. It excellently illustrates how incapable of planning for the unknown our society is, and how predictable the likelihood of breakdowns are at every level, due to both human error and technological malfunctions. It is fiction, but it has a ring of truth that insists it is real -- it just may not have happened yet. And while it was published in 1969, the story has a timeless quality that holds up equally well today. (view spoiler)[I also really liked how nothing the scientists did actually made a difference relating to the alien matter. While, yes, they did manage to learn some things about it, their actions didn't affect its spread nor cure its symptoms. They were simply lucky to outlast it while it was toxic to people. (hide spoiler)]
The writing skews very heavily toward science and technology, a strength of Crichton's, and very little to the characters and their interrelations. If the novel has a short coming, it is the one-dimensional nature of its characters. These characteristics, positive and negative, make the novel a notable example of the "hard science fiction" genre. This XKCD comic about a more recent hard sci-fi work reminded me of this one a great deal.
I'd highly recommend this to anyone that likes hard sci-fi, such as the more recent example The Martian, or any Crichton fan that hasn't yet read it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
In the same way non-inquisitors are not supposed to ask questions in this novel's setting, readers shouldn't ask too many questions, lest the thin facIn the same way non-inquisitors are not supposed to ask questions in this novel's setting, readers shouldn't ask too many questions, lest the thin facade Lethem built crash down and reveal his underdeveloped world building. Questions such as how society came to a point with such controlled media, freely available addictive drugs, evolved animals and "babyheads," and yet so few other technological advancements. Altered Carbon takes a similarly noir approach to science fiction, but Richard K. Morgan's universe feels real and lived in, while this feels like an Old Hollywood set.
Also, do women really need to be slapped in the face in every noir book? Was it not already clear this was noir inspired without that? And this from the P.I. that was gender transformed to have female sexual responses, a confusing subplot that did not serve the story in the least. Seriously, why even mention it? Just to make the story needlessly weirder? Or are we supposed to believe his attitude at the end of the book -- which made no sense -- was in some way related to not being a full, complete male? I think that may be overanalyzing a text that isn't that deep. The end really wanted to have the gravitas of 1984, but it just didn't feel earned in the least. (view spoiler)[In the few years he was asleep, he watched society degrade drastically, including near complete transformations of the few people he knew from before. And we are supposed to believe he was okay with going back in the freezer and reemerging years later again, with some naive idea it may somehow get better on its own? (hide spoiler)]
Don't get the idea I hated this book from my above criticism. It was okay, as long as you don't expect too much from it. But it is definitely not the best example of noir, science fiction, or dystopian literature, although it is a fairly interesting, if underdeveloped, mix of all three....more
Added to my to-read shelf after seeing this review:
A fun romp through (and at times subverting) tropes; recommended for those who enjoyed Ready Playe
Added to my to-read shelf after seeing this review:
A fun romp through (and at times subverting) tropes; recommended for those who enjoyed Ready Player One and thought, "What this book needs is more time in ZORK." Here’s book one: "It’s a simple story. Boy finds proof that reality is a computer program. Boy uses program to manipulate time and space. Boy gets in trouble. Boy flees back in time to Medieval England to live as a wizard while he tries to think of a way to fix things. Boy gets in more trouble. Oh, and boy meets girl at some point. Off to Be the Wizard is a light, comedic novel about computers, time travel, and human stupidity, written by Scott Meyer, the creator of the internationally known comic strip Basic Instructions. Magic will be made! Legends will be created! Stew will be eaten!"
Well that review clearly didn't correspond to how I felt about this book, which I couldn't even finish. The review's comparison to Ready Player One was unfair to that novel, which was fun and engaging and nerdy in all the right ways. Where RPO was a modern, socially acceptable and fun nerd, this book was a stereotypical 1980s basement-dwelling neckbeard troll nerd, as unlikable as they are socially inept -- just like protagonist Martin Banks. And it is hard enough with an unlikable main character, but add in a flimsy, ridiculous set-up and a blunted writing style that did not explain the character's motivations or actions and you've totally lost me.
Note, my one star review is not a reflection in any way of narrator Luke Daniels, who does a kick-ass job on Kevin Hearne's Hounded urban fantasy series....more
I really enjoyed this five issue run set between Episode IV and Episode V, especially since my six-year-old daughter has been clamoring for more girlI really enjoyed this five issue run set between Episode IV and Episode V, especially since my six-year-old daughter has been clamoring for more girl comic book characters, and this series features not only Leia, but also a pilot named Evaan, in strong, girl-positive roles....more
This is the second thing I have tried reading by Charles Stross. Both this and The Rapture of the Nerds, which Stross co-wrote with Cory Doctorow, werThis is the second thing I have tried reading by Charles Stross. Both this and The Rapture of the Nerds, which Stross co-wrote with Cory Doctorow, were other people's book club picks, and I had similar reactions to both. They were just too weird for me, and I didn't finish either. When you combine the space travel, the metahumans, the elaborate system of currency linked with time, the flying spaceship temple, the pirate insurance agents, etc., it just became too much to wrap my head around. And since I stopped reading at the 25% mark, I didn't even make it to the aquatic planet of the squid people, which I was informed about at my book club meeting. I totally understand why some people would enjoy reading this kind of book, as it wasn't poorly written or lacking for ideas, it was just a few steps beyond me....more
If you liked Scarlet Hark's character in Honor Among Thieves, you'll like this short story that comes bundled with the novel. It features Hark workingIf you liked Scarlet Hark's character in Honor Among Thieves, you'll like this short story that comes bundled with the novel. It features Hark working solo on a sensitive mission for the rebellion. It's only twelve pages long, so I can't say more without giving anything away, but it does a good job fleshing out the rebel spy previously introduced by Corey in the novel....more
Having never read a Star Wars novel, I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting into. Were the lot of them just poorly thought out pulp slogs churned ouHaving never read a Star Wars novel, I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting into. Were the lot of them just poorly thought out pulp slogs churned out to cash in on the franchise's fame? I doubted it after seeing James S.A. Corey's name on it cover of this one, as Corey is the writing team behind the Leviathan Wakes series. While I didn't like the first book in that series enough to keep going with it, having read it made it clear that a) they could write well and b) they loved science fiction. I actually think the constraints of writing in the Star Wars universe helped them in this case, as it kept them from flying off the creative rails.
As far as this novel specifically, it was exactly what I hoped it would be -- a great Han Solo story. Corey captured the voices of familiar characters like Luke, Leia, and especially Han, but the focus remained on Han, Chewbacca, and the Millennium Falcon. Also introduced were Scarlet Hark and Baasen Ray, roguish characters fitting with the novel's title. The plot, which I won't spoil here, felt right at home in the Star Wars cinematic universe. There were a few lampshades I enjoyed, such as a throw away line about how Han likes to shoot first, and a scene in a temple reminiscent of Indiana Jones, but the novel took itself seriously, and never slid into farce.
While sometimes I feel it doesn't matter, in this case I feel compelled to mention that I listened to the audio book of this novel. Both the narrator, Marc Thompson, and the production quality were amazing. I am sure some people will be turned off by the sound effects -- beeping droids, blaster fire, wookie grunts, music from the cinematic score -- but I thought it added immeasurably to the experience. It was basically an audio play with Thompson voicing every character, and he did an amazing job with the voices, capably switching between all the different characters, male and female, and his Han Solo impersonation, second only to Harrison Ford himself, is alone worth the cost of the audio book....more
This graphic novel is Mark Millar's love song to Edgar Rice Burroughs' pulp science-fantasy adventures of a century ago. It was as inventive and subveThis graphic novel is Mark Millar's love song to Edgar Rice Burroughs' pulp science-fantasy adventures of a century ago. It was as inventive and subversive as Millar's past successes Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and Superman: Red Son, which all took familiar tropes and shook them upside-down to see what would shake out.
I was engaged right from the start of the story. A fighter pilot named Duke McQueen is transported to another world, where he saves them from a tyrant in a series of swashbuckling adventures. When he returns home, nobody except his wife believes him and he is considered a bit of a crackpot. Years later, Duke, now an old man and a widower, is visited by someone from the world he saved, pleading him to return and help them again. And thus begins Starlight...
I won't say more about the plot as not to spoil it, but I will add that while the focus is on action, there are a lot of moments where the reader is reminded of how human -- and past his prime -- the protagonist is, which makes him quite sympathetic. This is definitely a must-read for fans of throwbacks like John Carter, Buck Rogers, and especially of creator Mark Millar.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review....more
Following a similar approach to author John Scalzi's last novel in the series, The Human Division, which was broken into thirteen segments, this was bFollowing a similar approach to author John Scalzi's last novel in the series, The Human Division, which was broken into thirteen segments, this was broken into four novellas, which are being serialized weekly over the next month. Instead of writing four separate reviews, I'll just collect the four novella reviews here.
'The Life of the Mind'
An interesting, if unexpected, start to the novel, having it be the memoir of another person turned "brain-in-a-box" ship -- except, unlike the one we previously encountered in A Problem of Proportion, this one quickly learns to fight back.
'This Hollow Union'
For this installment, the focal point is Conclave second-in-command Hafte Sorvalh and her dealings with humans -- both from Earth and the Colonial Union. The behind-the-curtain political machinations were interesting, as was the introduction of Conclave head of intelligence Vnac Oi. It is fun to see the scope of what Scalzi can do using these shorter length novellas from different points-of-view instead of a linear story following one cast of characters.
'Can Long Endure'
A look at a platoon of rank-and-file Colonial Union soldiers during an exhausting stretch of them quelling endless uprisings and rebellions from their own colonies. It brings up some interesting philosophical points regarding how the CU should be handling their position. I'm a bit surprised that Harry Wilson, Hart Schmidt, and Ambassador Abumwe have only been tertiary characters until this point, but maybe they are being saved for the grand finale.
'To Stand or Fall'
The final installment follows Lieutenant Harry Wilson from right after the events of Can Long Endure. It does an admirable job of tying the first three parts of the novel together, and of concluding the overarching story begun in The Human Division.
Where The Human Division felt like a thirteen-episode television show, this felt much more like a four-episode mini-series that delved deeper into fewer topics. Both of these experiments in serialization prove that Scalzi is a master of his craft and one of the best sci-fi authors working right now. I look forward to his future work, of which there is a surprising amount of clarity, since he just signed a ten book deal with Tor....more
Does everything that Brandon Sanderson touch turn into gold? I'm not 100% sure, but I am beginning to suspect so, as this is yet another hit in a longDoes everything that Brandon Sanderson touch turn into gold? I'm not 100% sure, but I am beginning to suspect so, as this is yet another hit in a long string of hits for the author. And how does he keep writing them at such a breakneck pace? This is yet another well executed story stemming from a very interesting, and original, idea that bends fantasy, science-fiction, and all its constructs together....more
For the first few pages, this seemed to be a more boring "political machinations" story-line than the other recent Star Wars reboots, but by the end oFor the first few pages, this seemed to be a more boring "political machinations" story-line than the other recent Star Wars reboots, but by the end of the first issue, it was clearly going to be the same kind of swashbuckling space adventure as Star Wars #1 and Darth Vader (2015) #1, with multiple female leads. It is set at a different point in time than the other two reboots, which are intertwined -- which may be why it is a five-issue mini-series and not part of the continuing run....more
I was very hesitant to pick this up, as the last time I was tricked into more Star Wars it involved Jar Jar Binks, whining child Anakin, and a 45 minuI was very hesitant to pick this up, as the last time I was tricked into more Star Wars it involved Jar Jar Binks, whining child Anakin, and a 45 minute pod race that was 46 minutes too long. But this comic, set in between Episode IV and Episode V, returned some of my faith in the franchise (and just in time for the new Star Wars movies). The art fit the series and the characters -- favorites like Luke, Han, Leia, and Vader -- and the plot started off with an exciting skirmish between the Rebels and the Empire. I'm definitely going to keep reading as long as the comics maintain this high level of quality....more
I am pretty late to this party, only reading this book after seeing the movie trailer for the upcoming Matt Damon/Ridley Scott adaptation. So while II am pretty late to this party, only reading this book after seeing the movie trailer for the upcoming Matt Damon/Ridley Scott adaptation. So while I could add to the considerable praise this novel has gotten, it would be a bit unnecessary.
I'll just say that this is now one of my five favorite books of all time. I have seen some valid criticisms, so note that I am not saying this is objectively the perfect novel. What I am saying is that the narrative voice spoke to me, the science was endlessly interesting to me, and I absolutely could not put this book down until I knew how it ended, and as such read it in a single night. And, man it was one hell of a ride....more
It would be impossible to write a review about this novel without mentioning the non-traditional format in which it is written, so I'll just get thatIt would be impossible to write a review about this novel without mentioning the non-traditional format in which it is written, so I'll just get that out of the way first; The author uses diaries, letters, audio and video recording transcripts, and snippets of books and newspaper articles to piece together the narrative. While this may sound gimmicky -- it is gimmicky -- it faded to the background very quickly to me. This surprised me as I thought it would be tough to read something in this format, especially because the novel literally starts in the middle of a sentence. But it genuinely works for this story, so let's move on.
The story that is told is a new-weird/horror/mystery amalgam that hooked me very early and delivered through the end. Despite being set in 1995 Virginia, a gothic mood palpable, and as is often the case, the spooky Axton House almost becomes a character itself. There are very few actual characters other than protagonists A. and his "companion" Niamh, and very little is learned about these characters either, other than the fact they like The X-Files, so anyone seeking a character study can look elsewhere. But the mystery is compelling, as is the cryptography mentioned that A. and Niamh employ to discover what exactly is going on in the recently inherited estate. I won't say more about the plot, but will say that anyone that liked Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore will almost definitely also like this book, as they share similarities on multiple levels....more
Before I get into my opinion of this book, this coincidence was too odd for me not to mention, although I am not sure it will interest anyone else. ThBefore I get into my opinion of this book, this coincidence was too odd for me not to mention, although I am not sure it will interest anyone else. The protagonist of this novel is named David, and about 25% of the way into the book he has a conversation with some of the clones that is almost verbatim to this dialogue between Dave and HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey:
Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL? HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you. Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL. HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. Dave: What's the problem? HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do. Dave: What are you talking about, HAL? HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. Dave: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL. HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen. Dave: Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL? HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move. Dave: Alright, HAL. I'll go in through the emergency airlock. HAL: Without your space helmet, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult. Dave: HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors! HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.
After that derivative conversation, I didn't last much longer reading this book. It was dated, all telling and no showing, missed almost every opportunity for suspense, and had an unnecessary romance between the protagonist and his cousin.
While I appreciate the big ideas behind this book, I have seen them better explored in other speculative fiction. A much better exploration of humanity and what it means to be an individual can be found in Altered Carbon, although I feel bad even mentioning that book in this review, as it is an infinitely better written, compelling cyberpunk thriller....more
I have read Walter Mosley before, but only knew him as the author of the Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill mystery series. I had no idea he also wrote spI have read Walter Mosley before, but only knew him as the author of the Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill mystery series. I had no idea he also wrote speculative fiction. My ignorance was an oversight.
This short story features Mosley's strong voice and excellent writing, and adds an imaginative story about a patchwork man with the memories, abilities and seemingly, souls, of many others inside of him. This plot device is similar to Brandon Sanderson'sLegion and the Cowboy Ninja Viking graphic novel, but the style is all its own.
This story seems to be the prelude of a larger narrative, which I can only hope is the case, as my appetite has been whet for more Jack Strong adventures, and more answers to Strong's mysterious past.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review....more
Alright, let me preface this review by stating upfront that I have tried to read two of Mieville's novels -- Kraken and Railsea -- and wasn't able toAlright, let me preface this review by stating upfront that I have tried to read two of Mieville's novels -- Kraken and Railsea -- and wasn't able to finish either. I had pretty much given up on him when I came upon this free short story available on Tor's website. I figured at that price, and with such a short time commitment required, I may as well give him a third chance. And you know what? I kind of dug this story.
It has a good central idea -- natural resources that humankind is destroying, such as icebergs and coral reefs, find extraordinary ways to reform. And it is also a personal story of a boy growing up among this phenomena and how it affects his childhood friendships. However, it was light on rising action and felt rather hollow and unfinished at the end. It did accomplish something nothing of Mieville's ever has for me before though -- it made me want to read more of it. So now I am wondering if Tor has released this ahead of a potential full length book in this world? If that is the case, this story definitely has my interest peaked, and I would definitely give it a shot....more
This novel was broken into three sections -- 1. World Without End, 2. The Year 22, and 3. The Last American -- that were interspersed with two "QuickThis novel was broken into three sections -- 1. World Without End, 2. The Year 22, and 3. The Last American -- that were interspersed with two "Quick Years" segments that pushed the story forward decades at a time. The first section, where protagonist Isherwood Williams survived a plague, was an extremely strong opening, and felt timeless -- right up until about the time Ish started interacting with other people. The more Ish interacted with others, the more cracks started to form in the narrative.
It really started breaking down after the first section, where uneven pacing and didactic storytelling started creeping into the story. There was lots of telling -- all the quick years segments, the kids' journey, the death of Charlie, the typhoid epidemic -- and no showing. Opportunities for tension or conflict were glossed over or skipped outright in favor of recapping them in retrospect.
Ish was kind of a dick. He was easy to anger, and had a very high opinion of himself and an even lower opinion of other, except his "chosen" son Joey. Then there was Ish's hammer. It is fitting that it was a hammer, as it was used to bludgeon the reader with its metaphorical value as the superstition/taboo/religion/symbol of the Tribe's little society. There was no subtlety to how these allusions were made whatsoever.
This book was, I'm sure, in some ways progressive for its time, as Ish married a woman that is at least partly black -- there are subtle allusions to her dark features and "half moon eyes" and she later mentions the treatment of her people by society before the change -- and there was also a polygamous family in the Tribe. However, it was also racist -- early on, Ish considered staying with "negro" folk and being their king, as they were used to serving the white man -- and also incredibly sexist -- the female characters range from stupid, to ignorant, to half-witted, and absolutely no chance to disparage them was missed.
The rising action of the second section, The Year 22, where Charlie returns with the boys from their journey and the resulting consequences, was a clinic in bad writing:
For starters, the foreshadowing for Charlie being evil was anything but subtle -- he was repeatedly mentioned to be dirty, sweaty, fat, pig-eyed, boar-eyed, etc. -- before he had done anything untoward. And Ish's instant dislike and slander was not solely because Charlie was an outsider, as it was mentioned earlier that the Tribe interacted with others occasionally.
When it was made clear that Charlie would try to bed Evie, a beautiful, vacant-eyed blonde that had absolutely no function in the story until that point, and was clearly written solely to be the impetus for this conflict, the reader is supposed to be against their coupling because Ish was, but Ish's reasoning is flimsy at best, and more likely just self-serving, as Ish feels threatened as the alpha male of the community. Why not just let Evie be with Charlie? Why deny her? She was so excited by the prospect they were literally considering imprisoning her to keep her away from him.
The climactic resolution was entirely skipped over. How exactly did the community separate Charlie from his derringer and kill him without him fighting back? How is it that Em got to vote about the handling of the situation, but not Ezra or George's wives? How did Ish change the minds of the younger kids so quickly that there was no resentment to him murdering their new friend for an act he hadn't yet committed? This second segment of the book raised many more questions than it gave answers, and few of these points were addressed afterward.
But enough about the second section. The segment that followed was another quick years segment, that while it read a bit like an almanac, was brief enough not to cause offense or too much boredom.
The third and final section, The Last American, was a strong, if imperfect ending. I liked Ish's contemplation about the state of the world and his ancestors, who now care for him and even revere him, up to a point. The bit about the bows and arrows was a nice touch, as was the destruction of Ish's childhood home and the conclusion on the bridge regarding the inheritance of the hammer.
While I had a long list of complaints about this book, in the end I am definitely glad to have read it, even if I wasn't loving the process of reading it. So it goes for most classics. It is also a good exercise to revisit the roots of an interesting genre. Stephen King acknowledged this book as an influence in The Stand, so any fan of that book, as I am, will certainly see the value of reading this, if for no other reason than to see how that was built on the foundation this laid....more
I'd been excited about this novella since reading this tweet from Brandon Sanderson in April. While I did enjoy it, and still look forward to readingI'd been excited about this novella since reading this tweet from Brandon Sanderson in April. While I did enjoy it, and still look forward to reading more about Stephen Leeds, aka Legion, and his world, I did not like it as much as the first -- probably because the concept, which was the highlight of the first story, was no longer new.
It certainly wasn't because this story wasn't interesting. There was a unique, layered mystery involving the intersection of science and religion -- a theme in both Legion stories -- with implications far beyond any simple theft. Leeds' psyche, which seems to be evolving -- or fraying at the edges, depending on your perspective -- is also put into more focus in this longer second installment, and new "aspects" of his personality are introduced, along with the return of those from the first story. This is definitely worth a read for any fan of the first, but I definitely wouldn't recommend starting with this one.
As a mostly unrelated aside, this novella has my new favorite piece of existential religious advice:
"Anything that is possible is actually reality, given infinity. So, not only will you return, but your every iteration of possibility will play out. Sometimes you’ll be rich. Sometimes you’ll be poor. In fact, it’s plausible that because of a brain defect, sometime in the future you’ll have the memories you have now, even if in that future time you never lived those memories. So you’ll be you again, completely, and not because of some mystical nonsense -- but because of simple mathematics. Even the smallest chance multiplied by infinity is, itself, infinite... Every variation of possibility, Dion. At some point, you -- the same you, with the same thought processes -- will be born to a wealthy family. Your parents will be killed, and you will decide to fight against injustice. It has happened. It will happen. You asked for comfort, Dion? Well, when the fear of death seizes you -- when the dark thoughts come -- you stare the darkness right back, and you tell it, 'I will not listen to you, for I am infinite Batmans.'"