The Lost Steersman

September 7th, 2006

Many, many years ago, I was stranded somewhere dreadfully rural and had run out of reading material. At a gas station or a grocery store or someplace of that sort, I found a dismal few paperbacks and even fewer in my genres of choice. If memory serves, I bought all three of them, and two of them turned out to be worthwhile. Stith’s Redshift Rendezvous was the other one, but the book this review is connected to was Kirstein’s The Outskirter’s Secret, which (IIRC) had a typically dismal DKS cover of a medieval-ish swordswoman confronting a bloody obvious crashed satellite with a typically DKS unidentifiable expression on her face. But I still bought it, and re-read it several times for its interesting depiction of a rational-minded and strong heroine in a technologically degenerated, ecologically fascinating human settlement just beginning to figure out how the world works. Unfortunately, I could never find the book which preceded it, The Steerswoman, and so I eventually sold it. Then, a few years ago, Koz reviewed The Steerswoman’s Road, a (then) recently published omnibus of the first two books by Kirstein (remarkable how similar his experience with The Outskirter’s Secret was), which reminded me of the book and put it on my “To Read” list. Sure enough, having both books together in one volume made the story about 10 times more coherent and interesting than just muddling through a sequel on its own, and so I added the (already available) sequel to my list, but didn’t actually pick it up and read it until earlier this year. In short, I found it pleasant and interesting, if not quite so aggressively unique as the first book(s?). Read the rest of this entry »

The Scorpion’s Gate

August 27th, 2006

Richard Clarke is famous for something that isn’t all that noteworthy: he said Bush has handled things wrong and was doing the wrong thing. The difference that made Clarke famous and not you or I is that Bush had appointed him as “Counterterrorism Czar” first, he said it more or less to the man’s face, and he lost that job because of it. Since then he’s become a regular on the political interview circuit, and written several books. The Scorpion’s Gate is his first attempt at fiction, though…and sadly, it shows. Read the rest of this entry »

The Light Fantastic

June 15th, 2006

The second of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, The Light Fantastic picks up right where The Colour of magic left off, with its protagonist Rincewind (a silly name which I suspect may somehow be sillier in Pratchett’s native England) finds himself miraculously saved from almost certain doom…although it wasn’t miracles, in fact, but an action taken by the Octavio, a book of eight spells so powerful they are actually sentient. Now the Octavio doesn’t normally take action to save bottom rung wizards who find themselves unfortunately in orbit around the Disc, but when Rincewind was still studying to be a wizard, he managed to read one of the spells of the Octavio, and the spell was so powerful it left the book entirely to take up lodging in Rincewind’s head, where it sat, preventing him from using any other spells and occasionally trying to get itself said when he faced an untimely death. So the Octavio saved Rincewind to save the spell on his head, not because they couldn’t have normally gotten it back anyway, but because the end of the world was coming, and they didn’t really want to blow a lot of time getting that done. Read the rest of this entry »

X-Men III

May 30th, 2006

The best part of this movie-going experience was the teaser trailer for Snakes On A Plane, or more specifically, the mixed reaction of the audience, with a portion applauding and hooting, and the rest completely baffled (one guy behind me actually said “Are they joking? Is that actually coming out?”). This is not meant as a harsh judgement of the movie…it just couldn’t top my delight in that moment. X-Men III: The Last Stand is a movie-universe-only film. Leave your comic/cartoon-based preconceptions and character knowledge with the other half of your ticket-stub, because they could seriously damage any enjoyment you might wring out of this film, and there are some juicy bits of mutant tastiness to be had. Oh…and be prepared for some losses…OK, a lot of losses. Like, “Oh my God, they did not just do that” losses. Followed by “What? But they already…in one movie?” losses. Read the rest of this entry »

Expendable

April 16th, 2006

It’s tough work exploring the Galaxy, dangerous and often lethal. One never knows when something beyond what Earth-bred imaginations can conjure is going to pop up (maybe literally) out of the ground, and that’s just once you reach something like ground. Obviously it takes the best and the brightest to operate something as vastly complicated and powerful as an interstellar starship, talents which might not even necessarily lend themselves best to the role of exploring worlds…so when the best and the brightest lose one of their own, surely that must be extraordinarily disruptive to morale and ship-board inter-relations, even if it happens all the time. The solution arrived at by the Human future civilization of Gardner’s imagining was to develop an elite cadre of dirt-side “Explorers” who the ship’s crews were psychologically unable to consider one of their own, through the simple measure of selecting intelligent, physically capable, but somehow unpleasantly disfigured members of society and training them to be semi-disposable surface explorers. Amongst themselves, they call each other ECMs…Expendable Crew Members. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pythons

April 11th, 2006

A warning to the wise: do not read this book without a ready supply of Monty Python available for viewing…the tormenting cravings you will feel to watch their audiovisual masterpieces will be intensely aroused by the accounts in this book of how they came to be made. The unwise amongst you (read: Non-Python fanatics) may piss off. Go on, we didn’t like you anyway. The Pythons is a collection of Autobiographical interviews and writings by the four, no, five core members of the group; Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin…six core members, there were six core members of the group. Their accounts range from descriptions of their childhoods and education, through their introduction to the arts, before delving into the Python years (and the happenings that led to the group’s formation) in great detail, down to the group’s falling apart and the years since. Chapman’s pieces consist mostly of old interview quotes and some new material from his family, but not himself, seeing as he came down with a persistent case of death. Spamalot is (more or less) right out… Read the rest of this entry »

Last Call

April 2nd, 2006

This is, I’m afraid, another book to which I had been oversold. For years, folks have been trying to get me to read this book. Due to the recommendation of countless friends and even family, it’s been on my to-buy list for years and years, but through some confluence of misfortune, I never saw a copy until I stumbled on a trade paper version this past fall. With my friends all buzzing about a local Texas Hold’em tournament and forcing me to actually learn how to play that variant (cards and myself do not exactly get along, in general), I figured there would seldom be a better time to read this one. I’ve seen Last Call described as magical realism with Poker, and that’s as succinct a summary as any. Powers describes a world to us that is, to the eyes of anyone not intimately involved with cards and games of chance, indistinguishable from our own. To a small selection of gamblers, hustlers, and card readers, however, ours is a world with magic governing chance, wealth, and fertility just under the surface of everyday events. Governed by a strict hierarchy of archetypes and divinities, the power and resources of that world can be tapped into by even the unknowing through the medium of a card game, and those who are aware of this potential can use it to claim places in that hierarchy for themself…even that of King. Read the rest of this entry »

Ultraviolet

March 7th, 2006

Ultraviolet starring Milla Jovovich

I saw Ultraviolet on Saturday of its opening weekend, because I’m a complete Milla Jovovich fanboy and have a high tolerance for schlock (which I was wise enough to expect, going in). Milla could not save this film. It’s possible that a graphic Jovovich/Jolie girl-on-girl scene could not have saved this film, had such a mind-exploding thing ever been filmed. More vitriol (with possible mild spoilers) below the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

Old Man’s War

March 2nd, 2006

Scalzi is one of the new generation of Net-savvy genre authors, with a well maintained and frequently updated blog called (with refreshing honesty) “Whatever“, connections to the usual suspects, and even a book available for free download. Above and beyond all that, though, if Old Man’s War, his first published novel, is any indication of his abilities, Scalzi is one of the best new Science Fiction authors to come along in years, and he has some truly original takes on some of the genre’s most dearly beloved themes and scenarios. This book was fun, compelling, and even genuinely touching…something that can’t be said for a lot of the military SF that gets published. Our protagonist is the intentional Everyman from the American midwest several centuries in our future; a retired advertising executive and a widower still mourning his wife. At 75 he sees the last years of his life approaching rapidly and few ties holding him to the place he’s called home, so he does what everyone who approaches that ripe old age in his time must consider doing: He enlists in the Colonial Defense Force. No one from the mature, moderately populated countries of the world is allowed to leave the Solar System by the Colonials who control all interstellar flight until they’ve lived a full life there already, and then the only way to the stars is to sign away all rights to ever come back, or communicate in any way with those left behind. The Colonials are far more technologically advanced than their terrestrial counterparts, and refuse to share that technology with Earth more than is necessary for trade, but the technical advance they hold that tempts more than the adventurous few elderly folks into space is simple: they can make you into a soldier capable of defending their civilization; a civilization that is apparently constantly at war. No one on Earth is sure exactly how they do it, but everybody knows that somehow, some way, they can defeat age… Read the rest of this entry »

Pattern Recognition

February 23rd, 2006

If someone were to set out specifically to write a novel that would attract Cory Doctorow’s attention, I think the only thing they could do beyond what Gibson did in Pattern Recognition would be to involve Theme Parks somehow. Regardless of what you think of Cory’s works, though, William Gibson’s is a name worth reckoning with, and this is easily some of his best work ever. Written in a day-after-tomorrow time setting (somewhat like Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon) and published at the beginning of 2003, Gibson’s book was one of the first within the SF field to deal intimately with the 9/11 tragedy and the profound effects it and similar events could have psychologically, both to individuals and to cultures. Its gifted, neurotic protagonist is charming and puzzling in her well portrayed idiosyncracies, and if his plot seems to hang together on a few too many coincidences to be entirely believable it is no less compelling in its intricacies and its unique grasp of the blended lives that many of us live between our online and offline endeavours and interests. Read the rest of this entry »