Winner of the 2016 Hugo and Nebula awards, nominee for the BSFA, BFA and Locus awards.
I always approach works that have been spoken of with this kind of hype cautiously. I am often disappointed. But I shouldn't have worried. This was, flatly, excellent.
This is a creatively written story that speaks of alienation and finding commonality. It's beautiful. Binti is not your usual space opera heroine. She's not brave or strong in a bravado-based kind of way. Her strength is quiet, and much more simple, and comes from her desire to always do what she believes is right, in the best way she knows how. Pride is not an obstacle to her in this, although she does consider it.
Also, it's not your usual space opera. I see influences from a variety of other sources. I find myself wondering if Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy was among them. Influenced by, but not defined by. This is not a rehash of Butler's work. Okorafor has a completely different approach and conclusion to the idea of finding a way to communicate with an alien race.
I don't think I can discuss any plot elements without spoiling the story for you, so I won't. I will say that I recommend this to anyone who enjoys well-written science fiction, and I look forward to the sequels....more
I have read an awful lot of post-apocalyptic fiction. For me, Pulitzer Prize or not, this book added nothing new to the genre. It's beautifully written, don't get me wrong, but in places it's downright pretentious and the ideas are not original. All I have to say is, FFS literary people; please read some science fiction that's actually written by science fiction writers. You keep giving undeserved awards out for originality because you don't know the genre and have never read anything about it. You sneer at genre fiction so you don't read it (so how you can presume to sneer at it, I fail to understand). At least familiarize yourself with the genre you presume to critique.
Okay, so moving on from my soapbox. I like the style here. What I don't like is a) the utterly illogical nature of the world McCarthy has created b) the pretentious language c) the pointlessness.
A man and his son are moving south to the coast through a post-apocalyptic world. I get the feeling that it was caused by nuclear war, because there was a reference to a flashback where he sees a rosy flash of light at a distance. The thermonuclear war is sufficiently global to have made ash out of most of the landscape and to have killed ALL the plant life and caused nuclear winter. This is made clear again and again in repetitive description.
Except that this global thermonuclear war did not incinerate bodies or any manmade structure. The man and the boy (never named) are surviving by breaking into the ruins of houses and taking whatever canned goods they can find. And there aren't many of them, because it's maybe eight or ten years after the disaster. We know this because the boy was still a fetus when it happened. The mother is dead. She went off somewhere, presumably to take her own life - or at least, that's what she said she was going to do.
Of course human structures are decaying. In some places, they were blasted out; in others, the structures were damaged enough by heat to be a bit off-kilter. In other places, people and their belongings were partially melted into the road, but their bodies weren't incinerated. WTF? Fine with the decay; that happens, we know that. But some of it is in part caused by rot, and there'd be very little rot in a world that has no mold, likely few bacteria, and no animals, not even insect life. He has exactly zero understanding of the science. Please do some research.
People are understandably getting desperate. It seems that most have resorted to cannibalism, even hunting one another for food. The pair spends most of the book avoiding the other people for this reason. The big ethical dilemma appears to be whether or not the man will do the same to save his son, or if they'll remain "the good guys."
For a while the book grew on me. I decided that the landscape was a metaphor for bankrupt human morality. The man talks about saving and helping people, but routinely abandons others for the sake of himself and his son. The son calls him on it.
The man is also sick. This does not surprise me because I'm sure there's radioactive dust everywhere. He coughs, and the coughing continues to get worse. But the boy doesn't get sick. Why not? Radiation poisoning is harder, not easier, on the young, and if things were that bad, and that global, Chernobyl should tell us that the boy, at least, was likely to have been born with some significant birth defects, and it would be a miracle if anybody left were fertile at all. Again - science, research.
In other words, I can't see that there's any possible future for the human race in this world. So what's the point?
But the book completely lost me at the ending. No spoilers, but it was sudden, seemed pointless and improbable, and came out of nowhere. If I wrote a book like this, because I'm not already considered a "respected literary writer," no publisher would publish it, and my rejection letters would likely be nasty. Stuff along the line of "learn how to write." So why do we give a man who's supposed to be such a master a pass on it?
So if you're reading for language - sure, this was cool. But otherwise, I suggest you give this one a pass....more
I have a great story to tell about this book before I can offer the review.
I was putting together a panel on Speculative Romance for a show I'm doing for the SFWA YouTube channel, called #SpecWomenChat, and SFWA President Cat Rambo suggested Catherine Asaro as our "headliner." I had heard of her, but to my knowledge had never read anything of hers, though I recall being intrigued by many covers. We had never met prior to the panel, but we all had a great time and afterwards, especially since I had a lot of indie authors, I said, "If you ladies ever need a review, let me know."
I was not expecting Catherine to take me up on it, but she did, and I received a lovely new trade paperback copy of The Bronze Skies in my mailbox, because for some reason Amazon insists on making it impossible to send ebooks to people in other countries. Really, I don't understand their business practices.
So I caught this horrific cold. One silver lining about being sick (and there are so few!) is that when my sinuses are that plugged I can't write, so I have an excuse to get caught up on my reading. I powered through this book in a few hours.
First, let me tell you that despite being both a sequel, and the second book in series, this one stands completely on its own and you don't need to read anything else in the series to grasp what's going on. As a newb to Asaro's world, I am the perfect test case, and it passed with flying colours. There was a vague reference to the Trappers, who are the enemies of the Skolian Empire (and, I assume, probably the aliens that originally kidnapped the humans who form the Empire), and I don't really understand what they are, but it's not really relevant to the current plot of this book.
Second, I love this world and I want to read more! The Skolian Empire is a parallel evolution of humanity. Egyptian, Indian, and Mesoamerican peoples were kidnapped by aliens in about 4000 BC and brought to an alien world with imperfect terraforming. Then the aliens died (or were defeated) and these ancient people reverse engineered their technology, or created their own based on the tech available, and promptly formed dynasties and an interstellar empire, which later collapsed and had to be rediscovered, and the technology relearned.
During this time they encounter an Earth-based polity, who have now made it to the stars as well. I assume a lot of the early books are about that story. But this one is about an ex-military PI named Major Bhaajan, who has done the impossible and elevated herself out of segregated poverty that has plagued her people, the inhabitants of Undercity, for thousands of years.
Both the aristocratic and impoverished groups have involved cultures that carry elements of those original influences. Yet there's also a certain cyberpunk element to this space opera, since there is a parallel universe that's a bit like a cyberpunk cyberspace, which has real-world effects but requires tech (and psionic ability) to tap into.
Into this complex, layered world, at heart this is a simple, action-oriented sci-fi detective story. A soldier who is supposed to be conditioned not to kill anyone without military sanction does so, and Bhaajan has to figure out where they are and why they did it. And the answer is a lovely twist that I sort-of saw coming, but not in the form that it took!
This was a fast-paced novel that felt like a well-written urban fantasy (including romantic overtones, and relationships and people being a primary focus) that took place in a cyberpunk space opera. It's a sci-fi noir detective novel. I absolutely love it, and Catherine has wisely won herself a brand-new fan. Like Fry said, "Shut up and take my money."
I would like to add a personal additional kudo: Catherine Asaro says a lot about gender and sexism that I think is really worth reading. This world's ancient cultures have been militant matriarchies. They've grown beyond that now, except among the aristocracy and a few backwards weirdos (somewhat like our own Western culture with the genders reversed). So it's amazing how she handles the casual, low-grade sexism, which some might refer to as "microaggressions," that are leveled constantly towards men. If a man and a woman are standing together, the woman is always assumed to be in charge. All the brilliant techs and scientists are assumed to be women; all the especially clever politicians and military strategists are assumed to be women. Women think nothing of checking out an attractive man and thinking somewhat lasciviously, "Yeah, I can see what she sees in him;" EVEN BHAAJAN, our protagonist, who is otherwise very liberal and constantly cautioning her peers and superiors not to assume things due to gender. Men, if you fancy yourself a feminist ally, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read this book, and possibly the whole series, to get a real feel for what women experience in our culture every single day. I've never seen it captured better in a way that could make you think about it.
Thank you, Catherine, for seeing I got a copy of this. It was great! I'll be back for more....more
This was an extremely interesting book. A generation ship suffers a major plague, and the resulting society changes, to the point where the descendants of the original crew lack the technology to even be certain that they're on a ship; or, if they do realize this, they think that all worlds are ships. The protagonist, Roy Complain, is dissatisfied with his simple hunter's existence in the forests of the "ponics," so he sets out on a quest to find out what's really going on. And the answer is amazing. But time is short to solve the mysteries, because the ship is breaking down.
Previous generations of readers might have remarked how the ship society has "descended into barbarism." Don't make that mistake. I don't want to spoil the book any further than that (understanding they're on a ship already spoils part of the surprise, but I felt that was already clear in book descriptions and other reviews, so I felt it was okay to mention) but Aldiss actually has a lot to say in this book about human ingenuity, the tragedy of the short human lifespan, and Colonialism, especially as applied to anthropology, which is a subject that I think we should really examine. So much of modern anthropology and psychology is based in Colonialist assumptions that I believe we should really unpack if they're going to continue to serve humanity in any useful way. I don't know that previous generations of readers caught this element, but I have no doubt in my mind that Aldiss clearly intended to send that message.
Once again, this book is hampered by a pervasive sexism that's reflective of the time in which it was written (first publication 1958,) which gets really old; and yet, I still recommend it because of the questions it asks, and attempts to answer. ...more
I am not a fan of PKD; I think those who follow my reviews probably know that by now. I don't really get the hype. He's a good writer, but I just can't wrap my head around why everyone thinks he's such a genius. It seems to me he takes ideas that have been done by other people (with a couple of exceptions) and re-writes them in a literary style.
Also, he clearly hates women, and that irks me. It's not a standard of the time issue - as people who follow my reviews probably know by now as well, I note these problematic dated bigoted elements, but I don't let that decide my opinion of a book. Nor do I assume the characters represent the views of the author, and this book was full of racism and ableism as well, which I'm not calling him on. It's in the way he writes women. They're all sluts, virgins or harridans.
But, despite all that, I really liked this book. For the PKD books in the SF Masterworks challenge, in general I've been trading them in when I've finished them because I know I won't read them again. But I think I'm holding on to this one.
At first I thought this book was a 70s updated version of Alas, Babylon. The premise is very similar: a cast of quirky characters survives nuclear war, and then try to make their way in the blasted, irradiated world that is left. Like Alas, Babylon, its science is out-of-date, and that can be hard to wrap one's head around for modern readers. I saw a strong satirical element as well, maybe like Dr. Strangelove or something Vonnegut, Kurt would write.
But I was wrong. This book started out as Alas, Babylon and ended up as More Than Human with some wacky surreal curlicues. I'm not going to say any more than that, because it would be a terrible spoiler to tell you, but it surprised me, and that was delightful. Also, there were places where I could not tell if what people thought was going on was their perspective, or what was actually happening. It was surreal and weird and beautifully done.
Unfortunately he also used an idea I had, which I didn't know he'd done (rats!) so now I can't use it, but this is definitely a unique take on the apocalypse, and despite its flaws (and yes, there are several) I would recommend it....more
I last read this book when I was still a child. I was prompted to a re-read because of the release of the movie, so I could compare and contrast.
While I believe the movie was worthy in its own right, it really shouldn't be taken as representative of the book, which deals with deeper and more complex themes than Disney would dare to touch.
My child-self identified strongly with Meg, who was becoming what she would be and was stuck in an awkward stage between. My adult self resonated with the deeper themes; the interconnectedness of all life, the need to reach out in love against hate, the cosmic consequences of doing so.
And not in that vague New Agey kind of way, either. The kind of way that realizes that compassion actively practiced changes the landscape, and makes the world a better place for everyone.
If you think watching the movie is sufficient, I'll just point out that in no way did the movie even touch on the beauty of the self-sacrifice of a star, giving its life to fight Darkness.
Give this book to your children when they start asking you about good and evil. Give this book to your children when they start picking up racism or other forms of prejudice. You'll change a life.
And if you read it as a child, do yourself a favour and read it again....more
This book is a lot of things at once. The first half of it is a romance novel. Which is excellent; after all, fans of the series have been following Honor's relationship for maybe four or five books now, so it's nice to see where it might go. Also, gotta give kudos to Weber; obviously United Methodism is a lot less antiquated than some other forms of Protestantism, because this former lay preacher manages to write an amazing, committed polyfidelitous trio that is ethical, honourable, and works (note for the polyamorous people who might be reading this review.)
The second half is concerned mostly with the politics of the war, punctuated with skirmishes as Honor leads Eighth Fleet (a cobbled-together raiding force) to attack the Republic of Haven and keep them busy in the hopes that it will give the Manticoran Star Kingdom and their allies enough time to build the fleet they don't have to fight the Peeps. What the kicker is about this is that Haven didn't really want to go to war, but they felt they had no choice but to resume hostilities; and they now realize that both they and Manticore have been manipulated into fighting each other though the actions of an unknown third power, but since they can't prove it, they have no way of stopping the war through diplomatic means.
The end result is a lot of escalation, and people being forced into difficult positions that force them to act against their desires or instincts. And I can't give you any more without enormous spoilers, so I won't do that to you.
A lot of things remain up in the air at the end of the book. And I will do this much - I'll warn you that Weber is not afraid to break some eggs to make his omelet. It's tear-jerking stuff at some points; hard to do in a high-action, military sci-fi novel.
A great edition to the series, and a turning point. The only reason it didn't get five stars from me is that once again, I find some of the text to be heavily bogged down in the info-dump details; but again, it won't deter me from reading the next one....more
Method of the world's destruction: ??? (not a clue)
I ended up with this book because I bought it (and its two sequels) for my stepdaughter, who gave it back to me when she moved. I thought, "What the hell? I'm doing an apocalyptic-fiction reading challenge, let's give it a whirl."
It's a decent young adult post-apocalyptic adventure romance book. I suppose if I were a young adult, it might have a lot more appeal for me. The heroine, Saba, is really kind of kickass. I won't say "badass." She wants to be a badass and isn't quite there. It frankly makes me want to mother her.
Some people have criticized or praised the writing style, which is first person personal, present tense, does not use quotation marks, and is heavily peppered with the terrible grammar of a backwoods hick, which the character is, so I suppose it displays that well. Personally I think that it's a little overdone; like maybe Young read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, thought, "This is a hip and cool way to do post-apocalypse," and tried her own hand at it. Nothing wrong with that, but McCarthy it is not.
Still, you forget about the style within a chapter or two, and just read, so that's fine. You should always choose the style that tells your story the best, and present tense, first person personal is what's needed here, so I applaud that choice. I'm not sure we needed the bad grammar, but okay, why not?
I would like this book a lot better if I didn't despise the romantic subplot. Seriously, can we get the f*ck over the teenage romance where you know the boy is interested in the girl because he's a leering, swaggering cock-of-the-walk who signals his interest by smoozing and being pushy, and then the girl rightfully tells him to take a hike, but he's persistent and calls her mean and it's love at first sight anyway, and so he just continues to stalk her and eventually she gives in because she's sorry for being mean and look, it was meant to be? Seriously; bra-snapping is something boys do when they're ten or twelve, not when they're eighteen or nineteen, and we should teach them not to do it anyway. Jack does have some redeeming qualities - bravery and loyalty being chief among them - but the power dynamic is bad (Saba is depending on him to help her and her little sister survive) and I just don't think guy is worth it.
Also, can we get over the this-is-a-young-adult-book-so-every-adult-in-it-is-either-abusive-crazy-incompetent-or-destined-to-die thing? The heavy-handed "drugs're bad, mkay?" metaphor as an excuse for unbridled human evil for evil's sake was a little distracting too.
On the other hand, the world was interesting, the action scenes were excellent, and I cared about the fate of the characters, so it's not a total loss. It's sort of Mad Max-esque; mostly a harsh, believable world complete with a Thunderdome, crazy people making use of grossly misinterpreted and even silly symbols of the old world, some weird stuff, the occasional new plant and animal, ruins, and something subtly supernatural that remains unexplained. I wish I knew more about what caused the apocalypse, but we don't get told that in this book. Maybe Young explains in the sequels.
But I probably won't know for a while, because while I cared to see if the characters survived this adventure, I'm not sure I'm going to go seeking out the other books. I think I have them lying around too, and I'll probably get there eventually, but I'm not in a big rush.
A good book to read if you want to make a flight or a bus trip go quickly....more
This collection was an outstanding tour of some of the very best science fiction of all time. If you can lay your hands on this book, if you're a scieThis collection was an outstanding tour of some of the very best science fiction of all time. If you can lay your hands on this book, if you're a science fiction fan, you really must read it.
I have reviewed most of the individual stories. The links below will take you to my reviews:
Sandkings by George R.R. Martin - Read for the 12 in 12 Challenge and the Big Fun in a Little Package Novella Challenge. This story won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for Best Novelette (1979 and 1980). This is an outstanding story about the dangers of hubris and cruelty that is the height of science fiction cleverness. If you've got GRRM pegged as strictly a fantasy writer, think again: and note that the signs of greatness were recognized back in 1980. 5 stars
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - Read for the 12 in 12 Challenge and the Big Fun in a Little Package Novella Challenge. This story won the 1959 Hugo for Best Novella. I've read this classic science fiction before. This was the original novella that was eventually expanded into the novel Flowers for Algernon, which was also excellent. I remember reading this in grade school, and it stuck with me clearly enough that I remembered almost everything about it. The novel also won a Hugo in 1967 for Best Novel, and a Nebula in 1966. I'm not sure the novelization adds anything, but it doesn't take anything away either. I think this is exactly what science fiction is all about. 5 stars.
In a nutshell: brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Go read it! Why are you still here?...more
I cannot tell you how brilliant, and how deeply disturbing, this post-apocalyptic horror story is. I imagine it strongly influenced Clive Barker in his mastery of body-horror.
What can I tell you that won't ruin the plot? I guess I can say that in a post-apocalyptic future, a small group of human survivors are at the mercy of a demented artificially intelligent computer who hates them. In many ways, I think it's the natural, 20th century outgrowth of the same issues pondered in Frankenstein.
Just read it. But don't do it right before you go to sleep (trust me, this was a bad plan.)...more
This story won the 1965 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Short Story.
In a dystopian future, the forces of order have managed to gain control over everything, including our time. Lateness is punished by having the number of minutes you have delayed removed from your lifespan, until eventually, the chronically late are simply "turned off."
I would be dead already in this world, which is probably why I see it as far more sinister than others who have reviewed it have seen it. They see it as a funny and satirical tale of a dystopian future that makes commentary on society's current obsession with schedules and rules. I don't see it as funny at all. When the tyranny of control involves even the control of your time, then all aspects of life become firmly controlled out of terror - and that's exactly what some people want.
Into this horrible world comes the Harlequin - who, like me, has no time sense, and therefore, is in a position to see the horror of this society. Consequently he seeks to upset it by throwing monkey wrenches into schedules. His stunts are almost Joker-like in the random chaos they seem to instill.
Harlan Ellison was a prolific story-writer, who left a long legacy of disturbing and thought-provoking stories. This is certainly one of the most memorable.
Stephen King fans will recognize his deliberate pastiche to the Tick Tock Man out of the Dark Tower series, and they probably have chalked it up to that odd mixture of humour and horror that he often uses; but I believe King understood the deeper implications of the Tick Tock Man's tyranny, and while there certainly was and is an element of ridiculousness in the character (and the one who whom he drew the parallel in the Dark Tower,) I think his intent was all horror.
This story won the 1959 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.
This story is a fun speculation about what happens when ordinary folks in a small town are the first to make contact with an alien intelligence. It's lighthearted, fun and perfectly plausible. I see that someone else here was reminded of The Tommyknockers, and I was as well, so I suspect that, like with many other classic science fiction stories, Stephen King read it and then said, "And what if it had gone a different way?"
I enjoyed it quite a lot! It didn't blow my mind or anything, but I suppose that's probably because the idea has been revisited since many times, although never has it been as done as well.
This story won the 1956 Hugo for Best Short Story.
This, along with A Case of Conscience by James Blish, is a story from a similar period in which the author confronts the apparent opposition of astrophysics with faith. The 50s were a time of amazing developments in physics and astrophysics, and I imagine that the discoveries must have seemed overwhelming, and challenging to a God-centered universe as detailed in Judeo-Christian faiths. Of course many people have found ways to resolve that conflict since then. But even now, I imagine that some people (perhaps the evangelicals in particular) would find the ideas presented in this story directly challenging.
Well worth a read, if for no better reason than to consider the effects of such science fiction on present-day religious and scientific thought.
Reading this review might be interesting to provide a contracting voice in confronting the confrontations that Arthur C. Clarke presents....more
This book won the 1979 Nebula and 1980 Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Novella.
I saw the movie many years ago. In the days of VHS, I got a copy and watched it over and over again until the tape was stretched and there were lines of colourful static running through parts of it.
This is a story of how two sworn enemies are forced to work together to survive, and thus, become the best of friends, even family. It's powerful, and we still need it now every bit as much as we needed it in 1980.
I have read the original award-winning novella as presented in the book The Super Hugos, not the adaptation from the screenplay adapted from the novella, and it's even more beautiful and powerful than the movie, perhaps. In part, I think it's because it was portrayed in such plain language. Longyear's POV character, Willis Davidge, is a soldier. He's very plain-spoken. There's no flowery language involved in his journey; just the facts, presented as he sees it, and it's amazing.
This story (from its movie format) almost certainly has influenced my writing and my love of sci-fi. I think you'll see elements of it in the work I'm currently doing.
Please do yourself a favour and find this original novella, and read it....more
This classic novella, which won the Hugo award for Best Novella in 1968 and was nominated for the 1967 Nebula, is where it all started, one of the greatest science fiction series of all time - the Chronicles of Pern.
In this story we are first introduced to classic characters Lessa, F'lar, F'nor, and their draconic companions. Pern and the dragons are established, and the conditions of the society are laid down. I can't say enough good things about it. The story is complex one with a theme that might be described as the Serenity Prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."...more
This crazy book reads like a combination of Philip K. Dick, Alfred Bester, and Douglas Adams. Part madcap comedy of the absurd, part noir, and part epic space opera, this book has you laughing at the protagonist in one scene, crying for him the next.
John Truck is a space trucker who's always been down on his luck. He has a checkered past that led him into some political entanglements in the past between two groups he cares nothing about who are warring for control of Earth and the galaxy (and neither of them, thank you gods, are American clones; one is a group of Capitalist Israelis and the other is a group of Socialist Muslims.) A mysterious device is discovered by a very odd, and almost certainly crazy, monk's order on the planet Centauri, whose people were destroyed in a great genocide by us humans, and only someone with sufficient Centauri DNA can operate the thing. Truck just happens to be the last half-Centauri in the universe.
A chase and a bloody competition begins to capture John Truck and force him to use the device for their side. The two warring factions want him to use it to defeat the other, while the religious sect wants to meet God in person (which is what they think the device is going to do). I can't even begin to wrap my head around all the twists and turns. It's somewhere between The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Dr. Strangelove; weird, trippy in places, disturbing, and often hilarious.
The ending is perhaps not unexpected, but oddly satisfying. And there's a very clear political statement that Harrison was making that I think is still relevant today.
The more I read 1970s science fiction, the more I like it. Aside from the blatant and pervasive sexism that is consistent (this one less than most; two of the main antagonists are women and they're scary, but they're a bit of a stereotype; then again, everyone in this book is a caricature, designed to illustrate a type of person as a whole rather than a specific character) 70s sci-fi is highly imaginative, and almost always seems to deliver the most creative worlds that most modern sci-fi writers wouldn't dare to attempt; and if they did, knowing the industry, they would be sneered at. I wish we could rediscover that creative worldbuilding without rediscovering the problematic elements.
This looks so much like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to me in some places that I find myself wondering if it was an influence of Adams' (it was written four years earlier.)
Anyway, great book, lots to love, and I'm glad it was on this list! Maybe not for everybody; I think you have to have a particular sense of humour, and a particular appreciation of the subtle work of the writer, to enjoy it; but I sure did!...more
This book was nominated for the Hugo and Locus Awards 2006.
I really, really liked this book! It's kind of like the bridge between Starship Troopers (a relatively cheerful take on future wars with aliens) and The Forever War (a rather dark look at the same subject.) If you like Military Space Opera, you couldn't go wrong to read these three books, and throw Ender's Game in on top of it. I think this one will remind us vintage sci-fi fans of the other two, but Scalzi has some different things to say.
The theme is the real magic of what's going on here. The protagonist of this novel, John Perry, turned 75 and, like many senior citizens do at that age, he joined up with the space infantry. The deal? You get a new body capable of fighting aliens, presumably resetting your lifespan to a younger starting point. The trade? It's WAR. Attrition is scary. You will probably die within the decade. Would you take the trade?
John Perry is not a youth, either. He's a man who's lived a full and productive life. He has lots of memories and experiences, and I can't help but feel he and his wife, Kathy, might be a bit autobiographical (loosely based on Scalzi and his own wife).
Being middle aged myself, I find myself wondering if the characters are a bit more like middle aged people than old people per se. On the other hand, how do you communicate "old" in the future? I give Scalzi a nod for doing a great job of capturing the fullness of life experience without dating his story with pop culture references.
There's also some turns and twists when we encounter Perry's polar opposites; clone soldiers. Here my best comparison would be the issues raised by Lois McMaster Bujold in her Vorkosigan Saga books in regards to the clones on Jackson's Whole.
I think the differences between Heinlein's, Haldeman's, Card's and Scalzi's takes on future space war can be summed up in how they start. Heinlein's space soldiers volunteer as young people to get the right to vote and participate in the politics of their society; or, like the protagonist, to find themselves. Haldeman's space soldiers are promising young people who are drafted. Card's are children who are drafted. Scalzi's space soldiers are volunteers, but let's face it: when death must happen within a few years, it's nearly extortion to make that kind of offer. "You have a terminal illness that will kill you in five to ten years, and we know that's a fact. On the other hand, if you go to war for us, we can fix that." Powerful incentive.
Heinlein and Card were trying to say something about society and ethics. Haldeman was trying to say something about death. Scalzi is trying to say something about life.
Extra kudos: Scalzi's aliens are magnificent. They have completely different societies and biological makeups from us, some of which is utterly incomprehensible from a human standpoint.
I hope that in the subsequent books in the series, Scalzi will explore some of the deeply troubling ethical questions that have come up, which I can't share because they'd be spoilers.
All in all, I see why it is frequently compared to these other books (not so much Ender's Game usually, but the other two): it reads a lot like a good Heinlein novel, only it's like if Heinlein were writing a grown-up version instead of a juvenile. I enjoyed it a lot!...more
I love Dexter. Dexter is a guilty pleasure. I read him when I want something that isn't too cerebral. That being said, the thought that goes into thesI love Dexter. Dexter is a guilty pleasure. I read him when I want something that isn't too cerebral. That being said, the thought that goes into these thrillers, and the study of psychopathy that the author has engaged in to make his character convincing, is fantastic.
I don't want to get into the specifics of the plot of this particular novel, other than to say that it's ambiguous as always, and there were a few surprises, even in this easy-to-digest, simple-language book.
Is Dexter good or evil? If he's good, that completely rejects the argument that "good" is something you sense and feel and know. I believe that, so I find it challenging. On the other hand, Dexter is clearly mental ill, so is it a "good" action for a person to make his madness work in a way that nobody would object to?
On the other hand, Dexter, despite the fact that he murders serial killers, is a psychopath who tortures his victims as he murders them. Surely we don't believe that people deserve to die in such horrible ways, especially if we believe in the sanctity of all life - which I do.
Well worth reading just for the ethical challenge, but it's also a good thriller, with character interactions and an entertaining internal voice that makes you laugh even as you contemplate the deep issues at the heart of the plot....more
I loved this book! I have noticed a lot of mixed reviews here. In general, the consensus appears to be that the first half, which was a novella, is superior to the second half. I disagree, but perhaps you have to be a person of faith to grasp the implications. I am not a Catholic, which is the faith of the man suffering the theological crisis that is central to the story, but I am a dedicated Pagan priestess, and I can say that if I were in the position of this Jesuit priest, and if my theology were the same, I would see the theological conflict and the signs of affirmation of faith that I'm sure he saw. I might see what he saw; a planet of temptation by the Adversary, an anti-Christ sort of figure, and the fulfillment of God's will as detailed by my faith and my church.
On the other hand, from a purely rational point of view (which I also hold, being a rational Pagan,) this is clearly a situation of self-fulfilling prophecy, and humans are the force of darkness in this piece.
Could both things be true? Perhaps. I believe in contradictory truths in faith. My faith would not have seen the things this Jesuit priest saw. I would share the opinion of one of the other members of the original expedition, which viewed the Lithians as a good example that humanity could use to emulate. There are reasons I am not a Christian; the direct belief in the wrath of God, and the necessity of evil, are among those reasons.
I really don't want to say anything more, because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone. But it's well worth contemplating, and I think something that is worth reading (and extensively debating) in this time when faith so often seems to be in direct conflict to rationality. In Blish's book, it most certainly was.
For those who read the book through the eyes of a rationalist, I would urge you to read the book again with empathy for the protagonist, reserving your moral judgment until after you have seriously contemplated his point of view.
For those who read the book through the eyes of faith, I would urge you to read the book again, keeping in mind how blind adherence to faith may ultimately have led to atrocity.
If you're a philosopher, I urge you to read it and offer your opinion through a philosophical lens....more
I read this book in part because I've come to know Cat Rambo through my work with the SFWA YouTube channel (for those who don't know, she's the current President of SFWA.) I heard she had a new book coming out, hadn't read her stuff yet, and wanted to check it out. This book was the first in the series, so I decided to check it out first.
Of course, that's a bit of a misnomer, to say it's the first book in the series. She has said herself that she's written parallel stories about different people, so either this one or the "sequel," Hearts of Tabat, would make a good entrypoint into her world.
It was excellent, but hard to read, so it took me a long time. I felt like I was hiding under the blankets and trying to cover my eyes at intervals. This is a dark world Rambo has created. And I mean dark. I told her the cover was not entirely fair to the reader. What she needs is a severed unicorn head lying on a cobblestone street in the rain.
Tabat is a magical fantasy kingdom at about a tech level that's around the Enlightenment, perhaps? Just pre-Georgian, maybe. It is also a world where humans hate magical creatures - called "Beasts," - and they not only enslave them, they inflict horrible atrocities upon them, such as burning Dryad trees (which kills the Dryad in a slow and agonizing way) to power vast rail systems and artificial lights. But it's made clear that they are sentient creatures, with their own thoughts and hopes and dreams, who think like humans but aren't human (just like Campbell asked for.) Rambo does not spare us any of the horror, either. She wants you to feel their pain, so that you will get angry and want to fight for them.
Neither Beasts nor Humans trust Shapeshifters. Shapeshifters are, of course, technically Beasts, but Beasts in disguise, so not easily marked as such and so Humans have trouble finding them. Hence, they'll just kill them when they are discovered. Beasts resent shapeshifters because they can "pass" and are liable to beat them senseless when they find them. As a bisexual woman who came out in the early 90s, I am old enough to remember how that sort of resentment was once levied upon us by the gay and lesbian community, who thought we ought to bug off and stick with the opposite gender so we would stop drawing from their limited pool of potential partners. Of course, the resentment was not nearly as violent as it is towards Shapeshifters in Tabat. And to be fair, as long as they're willing to subject themselves to the erasure, Shapeshifters are in a much better position than other Beasts in Tabat, because they won't usually be killed or enslaved on sight. So just like bisexual people who happen to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender, they can (and sometimes do) benefit from their invisibility.
The political situation is tenuous because the hereditary Duke is required by ancient fiat to give up his power to a democratic government very soon. New parties are forming and advancing their agendas, and interplay between the parties is not only background, but a story element and plot point. In the meantime, there are of course forces who wish to take advantage of the instability to liberate the Beasts, and some are prepared to go to greater lengths than others.
Rambo is brilliant at painting shades of grey. There are no real "good guys" or "bad guys" here, and sometimes even the people whom you want to support because you know their cause is the right one, are so invested in the idea that the ends justify the means to them, and she shows us the evils of that path too. If you're looking for a muscle-bound white knight making things right by the power of his sword, you have come to the wrong place.
Actually, much of the action is character-driven. There is almost no real "action," as we understand it in modern fantasy. The action is mostly personal and political. Does this mean it's a less compelling story? Not on your life.
The tale follows two protagonists, each of whom are given equal page-time; a young late-blooming shapeshifter named Teo, and a middle-aged, tough-as-nails gladiatrix named Bella Canto. This approach is good writing, but I found it also creates a strange flip-flop in tone between an Ursula K. Le Guin style of YA that reminded me very much of A Wizard of Earthsea when I was reading about Teo, and a more backbiting, adult, A Game of Thrones style when I was reading about Bella. It took a few chapters to get into the rhythm. At first it left me feeling weird and off-base. By the end of the book, however, I understood perfectly why she felt she had to tell the story that way, but in the beginning I found it pulled me out of the story in places. So, there's one point of criticism, if I had to nitpick.
Another is that the protagonists are both hampered by deep-seated flaws that leave you conflicted about them. I found myself getting very frustrated with Teo, because he had very little agency and exercised almost none. The story basically swept him along with it and in many places, he felt more like a narrator than a participant. I don't know if that was intentional; I'm waiting to read the other books to see. On the other hand, he's just a genuinely nice, innocent person, and often nice, innocent people are swept along by the course of events, so I can't say it's unrealistic. I just kept wanting him to do more. Maybe he will in future stories. This is, after all, intended to be a series, and sometimes you can't tell a whole overarcing story in one book (else, why write a series?)
Bella has much to like about her. She strong, confident, fearless, and cheerfully bisexual and promiscuous (you're not given the gory details, it's not that kind of book.) Her bisexuality is not intrinsic to the plot because nobody seems to care about such things in Tabat, so yay, thank you for representation! She is also emotionally distant (that's why affairs and not romances) and almost painfully self-absorbed. I won't say self-centered because she does care about other people, but she has difficulty showing it, and maybe I found her challenging because I'm a lot like that IRL. (I might be self-absorbed too. Not willing to weigh in on that one right now.) Her back story totally explains why, and the deep damage and emotional wounds that cause her to be that way, and I hope her overall character arc, if we revisit her in other books, will be to develop more empathy. I'll say she's been given an opportunity; I won't tell you why because that would be a spoiler. She also unconsciously benefits from a privileged position, and her unconscious privilege is rendered with painstaking detail in Rambo's writing.
So again, because we see their flaws before we see their merits, I found the book difficult to get into. This is the thing that gives it four stars in my rating and not five.
Because otherwise, it's amazing. This is a book that does exactly what I think fantasy is uniquely equipped to do; it examines the way we live by giving it some distance in a fantastical setting. The book ends where it needs to, but I now find myself on the edge of my seat, wanting to know what happens next. So much is going on all at once, and I can't wait to find out how it evolves.
Not an easy read. But it's worth it. Looking forward to Hearts of Tabat!...more