Valente knows how to invert and mutate a familiar fairy tale into something harsh and beautiful better than anyone else I've read, and in this novella...moreValente knows how to invert and mutate a familiar fairy tale into something harsh and beautiful better than anyone else I've read, and in this novella she does that with Snow White in an Old West setting with narration in an Old West voice.
More consistently melancholy than the stories of The Orphan's Tales books, but also not as dark as the darkest of those tales, it excellently mixes beautiful wordsmithing with chilling imagery, the surreal with frontier grit, social commentary with pain.
It didn't resonate with me as strongly as my favorite stories in The Orphan's Tales, but it still cast a powerful and insightful spell, and I'm looking forward to devouring more Valente from my to-read list. (less)
The second book of The Orphan's Tales really should be read immediately after the first - there are so many beautiful call backs to tales in the first...moreThe second book of The Orphan's Tales really should be read immediately after the first - there are so many beautiful call backs to tales in the first book, and the ending brings everything together in a powerful way. See my review of the first one for the overall flavor of these books, and why I love them.
The imagery, language, stories, themes and interconnections are all so rich that I see myself happily re-reading both books multiple times in years to come. (less)
Deane investigates the complex social, religious and political history of the subject with thoroughness and clarity. I'm using as a reference/inspirat...moreDeane investigates the complex social, religious and political history of the subject with thoroughness and clarity. I'm using as a reference/inspiration for some world-building in a fantasy novel, and found it much more illuminating than God's Jury.(less)
Disaster strikes on a near-future Mars mission and one of the crew of six is left behind, presumed (for very good reasons) dead. But h...more3 and 1/2 stars.
Disaster strikes on a near-future Mars mission and one of the crew of six is left behind, presumed (for very good reasons) dead. But he's alive, and the book is the story of him Robinson Crusoe/MacGyver-ing his way to survival.
That main character Mark is likable and funny, making him an enjoyable narrator as we follow his mission logs of trials and troubleshooting.
But the constant repeat of new crisis/engineering solution started to wear a little thin, and some of the science, while portrayed very convincingly by Weir, might be shaky. That wouldn't matter so much if the story and characters were otherwise strong, but this book's main focus is scientific ingenuity conquering tough odds. Not a deal-breaker, and I can buy some objections about its science (maneuverability of EVA suits, solar receptor efficiency) as perhaps solved issues by the time of the book's setting.
Also the point-of-view shifts between Mark (first person journal) and ground control (third person) were fine, but occasional shifts to third-person, omniscient narrator views of Mark on Mars were jarring.
Still, portions were very engrossing, and I loved Mark's sense of humor.(less)
Really enjoyed this at first - it was a fast-paced, smart, well-written cyberpunky/hardboiled murder mystery built around a body-swapping conceit: in...moreReally enjoyed this at first - it was a fast-paced, smart, well-written cyberpunky/hardboiled murder mystery built around a body-swapping conceit: in this future consciousness is backed up to a physical 'stack' at the base of one's neck and can be transferred to another body and, for the rich, can backed up remotely in case of damage to one's stack. The richest can potentially live forever this way. Morgan drenches everything in grim, detailed atmosphere and turns the violence and sex dials to 11, which is sometimes ridiculous, but mostly works with the feel of the world.
But somewhere past half way I started to feel plot fatigue, not caring as much about its twists and turns, probably partially due to some unrealistic hookups that shortchanged the (already thin) characters a bit, and also due to feeling like the protagonist's sense of social outrage just ended up being a license for his vicious badassery instead of the character nuance/moral backbone Morgan seems to have intended (view spoiler)[well, also it didn't quite square with Kovacs telling Ortega "that's just the way it always is" at the end - I mean, sure, the tensions was always between his rage against injustice and his compromised position, but... "that's the way it always is" fits more with the Meth point of view than his. (hide spoiler)]
Still a decent read, just not the cyber slam dunk it first seemed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Viewing the tale of King Arthur through Merlin's eyes is intriguing to me, and Mary Stewart does an excellent job of fleshing out the wizard as someon...moreViewing the tale of King Arthur through Merlin's eyes is intriguing to me, and Mary Stewart does an excellent job of fleshing out the wizard as someone very apart from other people, but still a complex and very human figure, as well as bringing his chaotic times and fellow characters to rich life. Actually, we get nothing of Arthur in this first book of the series: it ends with Arthur's conception. Instead it's the arc of Merlin from his estranged childhood to his slow awakening to his powers and religious purpose, as servant of that very event.
I enjoyed most of it, but it did bog down for me somewhat some portions dealing with Ambrosius and Uther's conquest of Britain. Two reasons for this: 1) Merlin himself doesn't care that much about those same events - or rather, his temperament and what he has foreseen distances him from the action he is relating, so he doesn't have the same passion for the events that the warriors he serves do. While that's certainly true to his character, it makes those sections less compelling then they could have been. 2) My knowledge of the Arthur legend and its variations is pretty patchy, especially anything before Uther falls for Ygraine. I think those portions would have worked more for me if I knew more of the history and legend Stewart was playing off of.
But an overall strong read, and its climax incredibly well-done. Part of the excitement generated there came from 'Ah, now it's working off parts of the legend I'm familiar with!', but it was also simply a powerful threading together of all that the book had slow-burn built towards.(less)
Originally read this tale of a young wizard struggling with his own power when I was twelve or so, loved it, and just re-read it for Sword & Laser...moreOriginally read this tale of a young wizard struggling with his own power when I was twelve or so, loved it, and just re-read it for Sword & Laser.
It is very traditional (so much so that most of the women we see fall only into witch or seductress roles, something Le Guin later commented on and tried to rectify with later books in the series.) The storytelling is also very compact, the style sparse but often lyrical. Quite a change change from most of the describe-everything-in-detail fantasy we usually read for S&L (this style is partially due to this being a aimed-at-young-adult novel). This notable difference from much modern fantasy set off some interesting S&L discussions, including Too fast paced? -- member disastercouch in that thread had a excellently-stated take that's similar to mine, so I'll quote him:
"I think Le Guin was very inspired by oral storytelling traditions and Homeric myths in crafting this book. To me it was refreshing to read a fantasy that was stylistically different. Almost all fantasy and SF follows in the tradition of the 19th century novel (Austen, Flaubert, Hugo, Tolstoy), spinning off reams and reams of detail and telling the story in a very linear fashion. I love a long, dense book that delves into the genealogy of all of the characters' horses and the particular color and print of someone's ball gown, but that kind of writing is a really modern conceit (in the grand scheme of things) and there are other ways to tell a story. This is one of them."
Some of my favorite fantasy novels are in that densely-describe-everything tradition too, but here, hovering between a fable/fairy-tale/myth and a novel, Le Guin is able to create a story with strong, crystalline beauty, despite some flaws.(less)
Delany's off-kilter semi-poetic examination of myth and its uses, using Orpheus as the main pattern, set in a post-apocalyptic (view spoiler)[actually...moreDelany's off-kilter semi-poetic examination of myth and its uses, using Orpheus as the main pattern, set in a post-apocalyptic (view spoiler)[actually, as it turns out, post-human too (hide spoiler)] Earth. Delany's fascination with the subject is clear, the atmosphere is unique, and some passages are beautiful, but sometimes it wavers between too slipperly allusive and too on-the-nose here's-what-this-symbolizes. For instance, (view spoiler)[I liked the mutant 'minotaur' in the underground cavern 'maze', but the coy computer whose acronym spelled PHAEDRA seemed too cutsey. Likewise, Spider's sudden transformation, once Lobey finds him in the city, into the info-dumping gatekeeper of the underworld seemed awkward. I mean, it was very useful for clarifying what Delany was playing at, but in terms of story and character, clunky. (hide spoiler)]
So that sounds like a three-star book, right? Well, it's obviously flawed, but with enough powerful scenes, images and tantalizing ideas to merit four-stars.["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The truly strange situations Rucker explores in this collection of (mostly) science fiction stories should be fun and fascinating, but there's a probl...moreThe truly strange situations Rucker explores in this collection of (mostly) science fiction stories should be fun and fascinating, but there's a problem: often when Rucker's ideas are at their most interesting, his characters, plot and tone are at their most slack (in fact, one entry in the book is simply an essay), and, vice-versa, when he pays attention to plot, character and writing, it's usually in service of half-baked ideas. From a taxonomy of science-fiction view, Rucker's strong-idea-weak-plot&character stories are almost like "classic" 50's era idea-as-protagonist stories, but with the ideas wackier and some 60s counter-culture vibes and gratuitous sexual leering dolloped on top.
Still, he gets some good, if repetitive, mileage out of his obsession with the ramifications of how higher dimensions could intersect our own (in an analogous way that our 3-dimensional world would intersect a 2-dimensional world), and the two stories that bookend this collection escape the problems of the rest of the collection, simply by being excellent short stories. That's the title story "The 57th Franz Kafka" which (unless Rucker is riffing on a particular Kafka story or part of Kafka's life I'm unfamiliar with) makes little sense but at the same time works perfectly as a creepy and precise little gothic fever-dream, and "The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics", a particularly ghoulish take on the anxiety of influence.(less)
At first I bounced hard off this whacky, rambling, post-modern-funhouse tale of a California suburbian housewife, Oedipa Maas (how about that for a fr...moreAt first I bounced hard off this whacky, rambling, post-modern-funhouse tale of a California suburbian housewife, Oedipa Maas (how about that for a freighted name?), who gets sucked into tracking down a bizarre sub-culture/conspiracy through clues intwined with an estate left to her by a former lover.
Bounced off hard because, despite marveling at Pynchon's sytle and certain amazing scenes (the fake WWII sub movie, Oedipa's throwing on multiple layers of clothing during the watching of that movie to thwart Metzget's advances, the outrageous Jacobian play), I more often than not felt like an outsider at a party, not getting any of the in-jokes. This was not helped by the library copy I was reading, which had extensive and *very* odd underlining of individual names and bits of phrases, making me wonder if the underliner thought they were making secret connections between random bits of information at an even faster and more loopy pace than the novel's main character.
Fortunately, about a third of the way in, I leaned a bit on Companion to the Crying of Lot 49 to get a grip on some references and some different takes on Pynchon's purposes (that Companion book is *great* for noting different interpretations of individual aspects of the book - the author has his own take, but excellently fills you in on other takes as well), AND procured a ebook version free of manic underlining. Thus enhanced, I suddenly found myself much more in sync with the book's rambling, challenging vibe and became as fascinated as Oedipa by the twists and turns of her quest, and was suprisingly moved by some of Pynchon's depictions of outcasts of 1960's US society (the scenes in San Francisco were also fun to read, as a San Francisco denizen). Also made me see Pynchon's influence on works I'd already read -- rambling, shaggy-dog, high conspiracy weirdness in The Illuminatus! Trilogy, and some of David Foster Wallace's style in Infinite Jest.(less)
Best science fiction novel I've read in quite awhile, just barely edging out Wool in that category. Fascinating narrator, an artificial intelligence t...moreBest science fiction novel I've read in quite awhile, just barely edging out Wool in that category. Fascinating narrator, an artificial intelligence that once ran a ship and its corp of networked but independently functioning 'ancillaries' - human bodies repurposed as AI-driven soldiers. The AI been reduced to just one of its soldiers, One Esk (aka Breq), and for a good portion we alternate between Breq's present as a solitary consciousness and flashbacks to when the AI was whole.
This idea could have easily failed - been too alien to relate to, or too bewildering when relating multiple simultaneous viewpoints in the flashbacks. But Leckie handles it in an excellently balanced way. The AI has emotions (to keep it from getting snagged in loops of pure logic), so it is not completely remote from human experience, but still believably estranged from it. It reminded me of when autistics have communicated what their viewpoints are like - particularly Temple Grandin from Oliver Sack's An Anthropologist on Mars, when she spoke of studying and trying to mimic non-autistic people' s behavior, even when she didn't understand them.
But Breq/One Esk has some strong emotions itself, and this forms the backbone of the tale that reveals itself in the double-tracked narrative in a powerful, touching & tragic way. And all this is combined with some excellent world building via the intricate social rules of galactic Radchaai empire Breq served, as well as the societies newly annexed by the Radch that One Esk is meant to keep in line; intriguing look at gender identity because Radchaai and our narrator don't distinguish between male and female, but the other societies they interact with do; themes of choice vs determinism intwined with the plot; well-rounded characters; grueling action when needed, and generally excellent writing. If there's one flaw, it's that antagonists occasionally lapse into exposition mode in a few scenes, but that's minor. Highly recommended.(less)
A pulpy energy drives this science-fiction noir through writing that is sometimes clunky, sometimes excellent (check out Jenny Colvin's review for a q...moreA pulpy energy drives this science-fiction noir through writing that is sometimes clunky, sometimes excellent (check out Jenny Colvin's review for a quote of the great passage that describes an exploded ceramics plant), a future setting with ESP-endowed "peepers" investigating the first murder in many years, and interesting if too broadly-characterized characters. This future has some inevitable dated elements mixed with some quite interesting details, and there's a whole Freudian subtext that's kinda-silly yet well-worked by the narrative.
Really enjoyed this pow-sock-em-but-never-TOO-over-the-top ride despite any of its flaws. Seems well-deserving of the first Hugo award, and looking forward to checking out some more Bester. (less)
Completely atypical protagonist for a fantasy novel (a dilapidated aging soldier whose brains are much more useful to him than his sword) carries this...moreCompletely atypical protagonist for a fantasy novel (a dilapidated aging soldier whose brains are much more useful to him than his sword) carries this precisely-written, well-paced story of courtly intrigue, theological conundrums and brilliant turns. The way it treated its thorny theme (view spoiler)[(how does the will of the gods works its way in human lives) (hide spoiler)] through its strongly-developed characters made me simultaneously feel *and* think -- likely more so than any other fantasy novel has, which is why it's now a new favorite.(less)
In the forward, King says his inspiration to start this series was to somehow combine the widescreen spaghetti western feel of The Good, The Bad and T...moreIn the forward, King says his inspiration to start this series was to somehow combine the widescreen spaghetti western feel of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with an epic fantasy world of Lord of the Rings scope. At least in this first installment, the combo comes across more as spaghetti western + David Lynchian surrealness + random elements from forgotten horror comic books BUT somehow it works.
This was interesting as my first King read since junior high (read Pet Cemetery and The Shining then) because I'd been reading online criticisms of King's writing, and this seems to escape some of the most-often lobbed objections. For instance, he was charged with always having a simplistic good vs evil view, protagonist always clearly-identified good guy/gal fighting clearly-identified evil. Well, sure, the book's protagonist Roland is chasing a guy called only "the man in black" whom we see do a least hideous act ...but Roland himself is a deeply compromised character, not only does he (view spoiler)[gun down an entire town, men, women and children (admittedly, in self-defense) (hide spoiler)] but he (view spoiler)[sacrifices his dependent-upon-him companion, the young boy Jake, to get closer to man in black (hide spoiler)].
I also liked the flashback to Roland's younger days (view spoiler)[especially the whole tale of his enraged rush to take the rite-to-manhood duel early, fueled by his desire to challenge his mother's illegitimate lover - the brashness of the youthful action (spurred by the lover insulting him), his trainer's reluctance to duel him early, the way he won the duel -- all of that worked excellently as a mini-story (hide spoiler)].
The only thing that was disappointing was the very end - (view spoiler)[after such buildup, the man in black was pretty disappointing in that he ended up being just a (partial) exposition machine. Plus the fact that his exposition had a little too much of a weed-drenched "wow, man, what if our world is just a pebble in another world, and that world is just a pebble in another world, and..." feel to its idea -- although admittedly, Rudy Rucker could make the same idea work as complicated-physics-sci-fi..it's just that King can't. But even if the *idea* was working better, I don't know if this book's climax's way of handling it would. Well, there's much more of the series to develop the idea in better ways... (hide spoiler)].
A very odd mix, but I'm intrigued enough to try more of this series, and even try some of the other supposedly linked-to-this-series King books. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Fascinating for its depiction of late-19th century Ibo culture, and, in the last quarter of the book, that culture's contact with British colonial...more★★★½
Fascinating for its depiction of late-19th century Ibo culture, and, in the last quarter of the book, that culture's contact with British colonialism. But Achebe as writer does much more telling here than showing, which kept me from getting as engaged in the story and characters as I wanted to -- they were *many* interesting scenes and conflicts that I wish had been given more concrete, expanded looks. This was not a problem for me at all in Achebe's excellent Anthills of the Savannah, so I don't know if it's simply a matter of his evolution as a writer (this being his first novel and Anthills his last), or simply different approaches. Regardless, I'm still intrigued enough to want to read No Longer at Ease, this book's sequel.(less)
Clear, swift overview of different definitions of information, and different methods of evaluating and interpreting information. Part of the "Very Sho...moreClear, swift overview of different definitions of information, and different methods of evaluating and interpreting information. Part of the "Very Short Introduction" series of books, and you indeed get a good intro to mathematical, semantic, physical, biological and economic views and uses of information.
While most of the book is a summary of others' work, at the end Floridi does contribute his own concept of "information ethics", in which the entire "infosphere" is viewed as an ecology that subsumes all information and information-processors, including humans (called "inforgs"), within it. Floridi proposes that every existent "being" (biological or pure information, physical or not) in the infosphere starts of with a minimal, but potentially overridable, moral right to exist (ie attaching moral value to information's existence the way we attach moral value to organism's existence).
It's interesting, but Floridi's characterization of "biocentric" ethics that he sees his own as an improvement on seems off -- I think ecological ethics usually places more emphasis on the aggregate health of entire species/ecologies, instead of focusing on avoiding suffering for individual organisms, as Floridi states -- eg, along the food chain the suffering of prey at predator's hands/claws/teeth is of course accepted, as long as it does not lead to extinction/environmental collapse. And there's not even a start of a suggestion as to how to navigate conflicting interpretations of what's most healthy for the infosphere ecology (eg, which "being"'s minimal rights to existence get overriden, ie what information can be thrown away). But it did make me think of the herculean efforts of, for example, Jason Scott with his Archive Team and textfiles.com projects to save huge reams of digital data that was otherwise slated for oblivion.
Also, the Kindle version introduces its own noise to the book's own information -- when an example is give ("Imagine this is 'a', and the other is 'b'...", "b" is sometimes rendered as "6", and end ")" are often rendered as "}". These fortunately are not widespread enough to ruin the book, but are amusing given the subject matter, and someone should do a statistical analysis of the amount of Kindle noise introduced into Floridi's signal, stat.(less)
I probably would not have picked this up if it wasn't this month's Sword & Laser bookclub pick, and since I became aware of this book as a Young A...moreI probably would not have picked this up if it wasn't this month's Sword & Laser bookclub pick, and since I became aware of this book as a Young Adult first investigating sci-fi and fantasy, and knew other YA who were reading it then, I'd always assumed it was a YA book.
So it was sort of refreshing to find in the first chapter a much grittier, harsher and well, more grimy, world that I expected, as well as more adult themes throughout (even if given fade-to-black treatments). In fact, the beginning was probably my favorite part, with Lessa's cold-hearted (she is willing to sacrifice innocents for her goal) plans for revenge exploiting the tension between the viewed-as-parasites dragonriders and the usurper who killed her family. The pacing, the doleing out of bits of info about the world, and intro of the characters are all well-handled there.
I also have a grouse about the 'advanced hi-tech society devolved to fedualism/low-tech' aspect of Pern (not a spoiler since the intro makes this clear). Some of my favorite sword-mixed-with-laser reads (Shadow and Claw, The Dying Earth) share this setup, but it really only works for me if a) there's a good backstory given for the decline taking this exact medieval shape, or b) we see a good mix of incomprehensile-to-the-current-society hi-tech residue in the course of the story (that's the path Wolfe and Vance took, and (view spoiler)[no, the flamethrower and the note about the dragon-engineering here were not enough (hide spoiler)]). I know that issue and other plot questions might get filled in by other Pern books, but, while Dragonflight wasn't bad, it also wasn't good enough to make me that curious about the other books in the series.
The dragons were cool, though.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Excellent series of interviews with Welles, late in his life, by Welles disciple and fellow director Bogdanovich. Welles is fiercely intelligent, funn...moreExcellent series of interviews with Welles, late in his life, by Welles disciple and fellow director Bogdanovich. Welles is fiercely intelligent, funny, opinionated, testy, and a great storyteller - just a wealth of great insights, ancedotes and arguments here, and should be fascinating to anyone with any interest in film - heck, even if you're not interested in film you are likely to be entertained by Welles' conversation.
As an fanastic bonus, one of the appendixes is a script reconstruction of all the scenes that were cut, against Welles' will, from The Magnificent Ambersons -- allowed to me to construct the full intended film in my mind at least, and showed the greater film it could have been if it had remained under Welles' control.
I'll add some of my favorite quotes from the interviews to this review later.(less)