2312

August 23rd, 2013

This is only the second Kim Stanley Robinson I’ve read, the first being Icehenge, which I enjoyed greatly and which I also remember fondly for normalizing homosexual relationships significantly better than most science fiction. That is expanded upon in this novel, titled 2312 for reasons that are murky for most of the book (I mean aside from the obvious that that is the year the events of the novel are set in), and is perhaps part of the primary theme of the flexibility and pervasive tenacity of life. We are given a tour around KSR’s solar system (excepting Mars, which I’m sure he feels was sufficiently covered in other novels) via the perspective of Swan Er Hong, an Experimental Artist and former Environmental Engineer, recovering from the death of her beloved Grandmother who was the leader of Mercury’s only city and one of the most influential thinkers in the inhabited worlds. Swan soon finds herself wrapped up in conspiratorial events that involve worlds all over the system and both humans and their artificial intelligences.

This book is…weird. I found it very interesting, and parts of it were very compelling, but it was also very dry with perhaps more exposition than was really necessary to tell the story he meant to tell and a tendency to under-dramatize the sometimes very dramatic events besetting his characters. There’s also the fact that I found Swan almost entirely unlikeable and the romance subplot as presented a bit peculiar and lacking in emotional payoff (although I don’t think I’ve ever read a love scene that made me think I needed to draw a diagram before, so…that happened). I think KSR is presenting the reader with a lot of really interesting ideas about our world, the other worlds we may one day inhabit, and the huge breadth of the potential of human diversity, but in the end it just didn’t win me over and felt…a bit too deliberate and passionless. I wouldn’t be upset if this won the Hugo, but it didn’t get my vote.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

August 22nd, 2013

Here we are again, it’s time for the Hugos, and Bujold’s latest “Vorkosigan Saga” novel is up for the award. This time around it’s not Miles at the center of this story, though, it’s his much put upon cousin, the eponymous Ivan Vorpatril, and (I guess because domed city’s are romantic?) we’re back at Komarr for another love story. Ivan is doing his typical thing, being the super-devoted efficient assistant to a high-ranking officer and occasionally playing the Playboy, when yet another cousin (this one working for Barrayaran Intelligence) asks him to check on a young woman he describes as being in trouble without specifying exactly why. Meanwhile the young woman (and her very unusual female roommate) have decided this young Barrayaran officer is one of the hit squad they know is after them, and kidnap him instead…just in time for both the real hit squad and the Komarran authorities to both come looking for them. Ivan has a solution to get them all out of trouble, though…and it involves breakfast cereal.

This is a book that I read not 2 months ago, but I could not for the life of me tell you what any of the characters introduced in this book are named. And one of them is a major viewpoint character! There’s also a certain…seismic event that occurs at the climax of the novel that is so absurdly pat that it renders some degree of the entire universe unbelievable. It’s not a bad book, not at all really, but it’s definitely minor Bujold, and definitely not a Hugo winner. This one’s just for the completionists.

Throne of the Crescent Moon

August 19th, 2013

There have only been a few notable fantasy novels that touch on an Arab/Middle-Eastern theme and/or setting, and even fewer of those play off of explicitly Islamic cultural ideas, with most reaching for pre-Islamic cultural elements where they attempt them at all. Several of the treatments that do come to mind are…unfortunate in the racial and cultural stereotypes they choose to employ. Saladin Ahmed set out to write a novel that tells that same sort of quest story that he and all modern fantasy readers grew up with, but in a world where the heroes, as I heard him say something similar once, looked like him, and had families like his, and who grew up with the same kind of stories he did.  Read the rest of this entry »

Redshirts

August 15th, 2013

You know, I typed up a whole paragraph explaining what a Redshirt was before I remembered, firstly, that Wikipedia could probably do that for me nearly as well as I could, and secondly, that’s something I already decided not to do last time I needed to address the concept when reviewing Gardner’s Expendable, so…let’s proceed.

Our old friend Mr. Scalzi has asked us to wonder about a lot of things in his Hugo-nominated novel Redshirts, beginning with…how dumb would those guys have to be, anyway? I mean, really, you’d have to be crazy to take a job on that ship, right? What if you took the job and only then found out how crazy it was, though? Wouldn’t you try to figure out what was going on, and do everything you could to prevent it from happening to you? And that’s our basic premise, and if that was all this book had going for it, well, then you’ve already read my review of Gardner’s light but fun book, right? So what elevates this to Hugo status? Read the rest of this entry »

Among Others

August 14th, 2013

OK, since I missed last year’s Worldcon, I didn’t have to read all the nominees, but I did pick up 2012’s Hugo winner, Jo Walton’s Among Others, and I finished reading it last night. The story is relatively simple, really. A young Welsh woman escapes from her abusive and insane Mother after a horrible accident led to her being crippled and the death of her twin sister, only to be sent to an unpleasantly bland boarding school by the father who abandoned her as an infant and her aunts that control her father’s life. Oh, and there’s magic, and fairies, and a truly staggering, overwhelming litany of references to SF novels. It’s also semi-autobiographical; while the protagonist Morwenna is obviously not Jo Walton they are the same age, were born in the same place, and went through very similar life events at the same time in their lives including dealing with disability and social adjustment issues at a boarding school in Shropshire.

This is…a polarizing novel. Obviously a great many people absolutely loved it; it won the Hugo and had a favorable critical reception…but most of my friends hate it. Not just find it not to their taste, they really loathe it. Personally I found it blandly inoffensive. I would say it’s the least of Jo’s works that I’ve read, but not without charm. It has two great flaws, really. Firstly, the climactic ending scene feels completely tacked on and way out of scale to the rest of the book, although some of its emotional themes are well arranged. Secondly, and for most people I feel certain more critically, much of the book feels like an attempt to simply mention as many SF novels as possible within a limited number of pages while still providing some bare minimum narrative framework around them. Read the rest of this entry »

Blackout & All-Clear

August 14th, 2011

I’ve never read any Connie Willis before, although I’ve actually been introduced to her and seen her on panels several times. She’s definitely one of the Grand Ol’ Dames of the SF community, at this point, having won a goodly number of Hugos, including one for Best Novel with Doomsday Book (which I own but, as mentioned, have not yet read) in 1993. Like (apparently) Doomsday Book, this novel tells the story of time-traveling historians from the latter half of the twenty-first century, and as you might guess from the title, the place and period to which they are traveling in this particular book is England during World War II, and primarily the Blitz of London.

So as I may have mentioned before, I’m terribly picky about my time-travel stories, but in some ways this does it right. The theorists who have enabled and study the time travel process itself have, for decades in Willis’ universe, believed that time-travelers cannot alter events in such a way that it would cause a paradox that would invalidate their own timeline. This effect is apparently accomplished by time travel flatly not being “allowed” by the universe if the presence of the traveler there at that time would have that effect. So time-travelers cannot affect the past in ways that will affect their own future, but the events of the past can totally affect them, even kill them. So of course time travel is strictly regulated, and only individuals who’ve shown remarkable confidence and flexibility to the situations they find themselves in are allowed to travel through time…oh, I’m sorry, I started writing there about the characters I wish were in this book, and not the incompetent ninnies that actually populate it.  Read the rest of this entry »

Cryoburn

August 7th, 2011

Somehow, in all my years of reading The Vorkosigan Saga, this is the first I’ve written a review for. That puts me in a bit of a tricky situation; namely, how do you review a series you’re more than a dozen books into? Do I tell you about Miles and how he is irrepressibly awesome? Do I explain how Bujold has taken one universe and one set of characters and branched out into almost every sub-genre of speculative fiction within it? Do I tell you about that universe, and its complexities, gifts and foibles?

No, I don’t think so. I really don’t think I need to tell you anything more than that I really do highly recommend this series for nearly all readers, and then we’ll talk about this book, shall we? This book is set as Miles is reaching a new stability, at least as compared to his remarkable, turbulent, and ever-aspiring-for-more youth. Imperial Auditor, family man, diplomat…these are elements of his life he seems to be reaching a comfortableness in…which puts him a bit out of sorts when the events that open this book put him injured, drugged, hallucinating, and lost in a light-less catacomb on an unfamiliar world. Read the rest of this entry »

Feed

June 21st, 2011

OK, I get it. I do. People like zombies. Lots and lots of people. Enough people that they can get zombie fiction nominated for the Hugo? Apparently. Mira Grant’s debut novel is set a generation after the zombie apocalypse happens in our near future. Most survivors are shut-ins, who rely on the internet for almost all their interpersonal needs. In Feed we are given the story of Georgia and Shaun, adoptive siblings raised by parents who are the equivalent of Reality TV stars, and who are trying to make a name for themselves in the highly competitive world of blogging. The crux of the story occurs when they are picked from the many applicants to be the only bloggers accompanying the likely frontrunner in the next presidential election on his campaign.

Because blogging is soooo controversial, 35 years from now, that having bloggers accompany you instead of “mainstream media” types is a huge deal. Yeah, sure.

OK, fine, it’s zombie fiction, and zombies don’t make sense, so it’s hard to be too surprised when something based on that as a central premise doesn’t make sense…but I just can’t help myself. I was completely unable to maintain a functional Suspension of Disbelief while reading this book. It was fine as long as there was action going on; Ms. Grant has a knack for writing action narrative, and I enjoyed it when things were moving. But the massive, awkward info-dumps were a pain, and the implied “are they or aren’t they” between the two siblings was way too squicky for me. The combination of a strange variety of short-sightedness regarding the future and all too frequent call-backs to the fiction and events of our recent past was just way too jarring. I can’t recommend this book, and I would rather no Hugo be presented than for this to win.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

June 18th, 2011

N.K. Jemisin is yet another debut novelist with a Hugo nomination, for the first book in her “Inheritance Trilogy” titled The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Her protagonist, Yeine, is the chieftain of her tribe and a warrior of her people, but her mother was once the princess of an empire that dominates the entire world, disowned (and perhaps assassinated) for her crime of marrying an outsider. After her mother’s death, her Grandfather, absolute ruler of the world and the direct servant of a very real God, summons her to his strange and magical palace called “Sky.”

It sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? But it’s not. This is a book with serious stakes, serious politics, and a seriously out-of-her-depth main character, struggling to make sense of her new world where some gods are slaves and a sort of diabolic righteousness is perceived as the greatest virtue one can possess. Yeine is thrust into the center of the Empire’s power struggles, and the power struggles of the gods themselves, as well. She must find allies among the weak and dominated, she must survive the dangers of Sky, learn the truth of her inheritance and the nature of her world’s theological struggles, and she must do it all very, very quickly.

It’s a fast-paced story, but the tension is primarily political rather than action-driven. It’s a story that doesn’t shy away from sex, which is nice, and a story where the protagonist is a female Person of Color, which is nicer. There is a romance plot that at times verges on the precious (Minor Spoiler: Zl Qnex Ybeq Oblsevraq vf frkvre guna lbhef!), but that doesn’t detract from the book terribly much and it might not have bothered me at all if the nature of it hadn’t been mentioned to me before I read it. I enjoyed the book, recommend it, and am glad it got a Hugo Nomination.

The City & The City

June 17th, 2011

I have a sort of…rocky experience with China Miéville, and just like the last time I read one of his books, this one backed up my booklogging unreasonably. Unlike the last time, however, this book didn’t depress me to read! The City & The City is a mystery story with a strong flavor of police procedural in a close parallel to our modern day world, so close that it’s difficult to tell it apart from our own. In that world, however, there is a city-state in Europe that has existed since the days of ancient history as a city divided; half of its denizens claiming themselves to be in a city known currently as Beszel and the other half in a city called Ul Qoma.

Each has distinct governments, cultures, architecture, fashion, and languages, and they lay side-by-side, street-by-street, with some parts designated to one city and some to the other, overlapping only where absolutely necessary and intersecting only at the cities’ center. In maintaining this fiction of two cities occupying the same space, residents and even visitors to the city are required to only see and interact with people in Beszel when they are in Beszel and Ul Qomans when they are in Ul Qoma. Any violation of this mass mutual agreement to ignore one another is dealt with by a powerful supra-city enforcement organization known only as “Breach.”  Read the rest of this entry »