The Deed of Paksenarrion

February 4th, 2006

This one I read, basically, on a dare.

Elizabeth Moon is, depending on whom you ask, best known as either the author of The Deed and related works, or (as is how I always think of her) the better half in some co-written Anne McCaffrey novels. Sassinak, co-authored by Moon and the best of the sequels to McCaffrey’s Dinosaur Planet, is well above average for military SF, and stands out for its good characterization and legitimately strong female characters. I was so impressed by it (you know…when I was fourteen…) that I went out and acquired one of her fantasy novels, Surrender None, but found it nowhere near as compelling. In fact, it left such a poor taste in my mouth that I didn’t pick up another of her standalone books until the above “dare” motivated me to borrow the book from a friend. It’s not a decision I regret, but I can’t say I’m entirely converted.
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A Feast For Crows

February 2nd, 2006
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series A Song of Ice and Fire

If it could be said that Jordan’s Wheel of Time established the potential modern market for massive epic fantasy series, Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series comes closest (thus far) to fulfilling that genre’s promise. The first book of the series, A Game of Thrones, impressed everyone (excepting those who require larger initial doses of frozen zombies) with it’s willingness to sacrifice major characters and allow them to suffer from failures of judgement and character. The second book, A Clash of Kings, cemented that impression and showed us that Martin could truly develop characters through these tribulations in depths that aren’t often seen in genre fiction. The third book, A Storm of Swords showed us all that there was effectively no limit to the potential character sacrifices to be made…and that even an established villain could be a sympathetic character from the right viewpoint. We waited a long time for this fourth book, A Feast for Crows, to be released, but Mr. Martin has rewarded our patience at the same time as he asks us for more… (If you consider the names of the characters from whom we have POVs to be a spoiler, there are spoilers below) Read the rest of this entry »

Bad Magic

January 21st, 2006

I’m sure that, somewhere, every book that’s worth reading has at least one funny story surrounding its creation. Given how funny this book is, I’m sure it actually has several, but I only know one of them. It seems that Stephan’s book wound up lost in Teresa’s slushpile or on it’s way out of it, and by the time she realized what a gem she had, Stephan had acquired new contact information…she had to call everyone with his last name in the Bay Area to find him. Thank goodness he’s not named Smith, because this is a really excellent book. It’s not enough that Zielinski taps deep into a rich vein of modern folklore and alternative mythology, but he does it using a format that’s familiar to the modern audience yet largely foriegn to genre fiction. What we have in Bad Magic is an ensemble comedy with action/drama sensibilities. It’s CSI for MIB, except swap magic and undead for the technology and aliens. It’s totally original, but echoes what’s fresh and exciting in genre developments in television and film…and it grabs and holds you right from the tagline on the cover: “There are some things people weren’t meant to know. Some people know those things anyway. Sucks to be them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond the Blue Moon

January 5th, 2006

When I saw this for the first time, I was quite excited. It’s a sequel to the more-or-less excellent Blue Moon Rising, published in 1991, one of the best fantasy novels I found in my high school years. Compelling, humorous, and exciting, it’s got everything a modern fantasy novel needs, including a healthy dose of (sometimes self-deprecatory) snark. I found Beyond… alongside two Hawk & Fisher omnibus novels, which I’d vaguely heard of but never picked up. I figured I’d grab those, then come back for Beyond… once I’d familiarized myself with the backstory of its protagonists, Hawk & Fisher. Big mistake, on two levels. Namely, the Hawk & Fisher stories were largely drek…mediocre cop drama set in a blandly nasty fantasy city-state. Secondly, the book was gone next time I went in, and another copy didn’t appear for almost a year. Unfortunately, I have to report that Beyond the Blue Moon is more Hawk and Fisher than it is Blue Moon Rising. Read the rest of this entry »

America: The Book

December 31st, 2005

What superlatives are there that have not spent upon Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart? Well, OK…”polite” is probably one they don’t get too much…yeah, OK, “decorous” too, probably. OK, what superlatives that don’t easily translate into a variant of “cool,” though? See, not a lot. America: The Book is a dead-tree distillation of The Daily Show’s biting satire, smart-assed commentary, and Canadian baiting, and is easily the best book I’ve ever read almost entirely while seated on my toilet. Framed in the device (and all the trimmings, in the hardcover version, including an assignment grid inside the front cover) of being a textbook on American History and Government, America: The Book is one good chuckle after another. From the mocha-licious foreward by “Thomas Jefferson” to the acknowledgement to Maya Angelou, you can basically open this book to any given page and be assured you will find amusement, and occasionally hints of insight. If there’s one place I can fault this book, it’s that the show so often really does inform and can even broaden the mind, while the book gives most of that a miss in favor of being consistently funny. But whether you’re a devotee of the Daily Show already, or just wondering what the fuss about “fake news” is all about, pick this book up and give it a couple of pages. I think you’ll enjoy yourself.

Perdido Street Station

December 29th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Bas-Lag

This book has been a massive blockage on my booklogging activity, so here we go. I’ve got a firm time-limit, and I’m gonna get it posted, and then maybe I can continue with the (now massive) backlog of reviews over the next few days. The first book of China MiĆ©ville’s that I read was the second he has set in this world, The Scar, and I found it deeply engrossing in it’s weighty tone, unique setting, and florid prose, but had problems with its dismal (and often poorly developed) characters and utter lack of functional advance in the plot. The characters spend hundreds of pages scurrying about busily only to have quite literally accomplished nothing at the end of the book. Apparently, since Perdido Street Station actually came first, The Scar was just more of the same from MiĆ©ville. Read the rest of this entry »

Knife of Dreams

November 14th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Wheel of Time

Any of you that know me, or even any of you that have perused this site a bit, know that I’ve been into Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series for quite some time now. Really into it, and for a pretty damn long time (I was given Eye of the World, the first of the series, before the second came out…that’s almost 15 years, for those of you playing along). Those of you who know me really well, though, know that I can’t really be called much of a fan for some years now, at least if your criteria for fan includes recommending a series to those not previously acquainted. I (along with all but the most devout) watched in frustration as the later books slipped in quality; the pace of the plot seeming to grind to glacial slowness while trivialities of setting were ever more baroquely elaborated upon. Knife of Dreams is, sadly, not a return to greatness sufficient to return me to the proselytizing ways of my youth, but it is in my opinion the best book Robert Jordan has foisted onto his audience in 7 years by a fair margin. Read the rest of this entry »

Altered Carbon

October 26th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Takeshi Kovacs

Until a year or so ago, I’d never heard of Richard Morgan, and then this book started showing up high on my list of Amazon recommendations. Still, I don’t buy books based solely on that…but then the book starts showing up in one favored booklog after another, and that gets my attention. It goes on the trusty Treo’s “ToRead” Database, and I found a barely used trade paper a couple of months ago (My biggest assault on The Database in a single go ever, as it happens, grabbing several books I’d had on there for years. Quite the haul…but I was almost more pleased by the simple acquisition of Last Call than all those spoils…but I digress) and dug in. Amazon and the booklogging coterie did me right, on this one…Altered Carbon is a fun read in the same vein as Snow Crash and Bladerunner…a future world corrupt and utterly human, where ubiquitous technology has made human life far less fleeting. The plot is a relatively straightforward murder mystery in flavor, albeit one in which the detective is an rogue killer and the murder victim hires the detective himself after the deed has been successfully accomplished. The technological marvel most central to Morgan’s world is the cortical stack, a database & computer stored in a tiny cylinder of “Altered Carbon” implanted at the base of the skull of every child, capable of storing many lifetimes worth of memories and thoughts and doing so automatically. Should death occur, the cortical stack can be implanted in a new body (called “sleeves” in Morgan’s future), clones for the very rich (original or custom designed), and whatever may be available for the common man. Should no new sleeve be within the unfortunate deceased’s means, then they go into storage until their family (or some other agency) chooses to bring them out. Regular backups ensure that even if the cortical stack should be destroyed, the individual is not lost…only whatever time passed since their last backup. So when a very wealthy and powerful man is awoken in a new sleeve and told he improbably blew his own head (and stack) off, he wants to know why, and when the police are of no further help, he hires an outsider…Takeshi Kovacs. Kovacs (pronounced Ko-vach) is an offworlder, and a former member of an elite combat unit, trained to be able to observe closely and deal with almost any circumstance, including frequent disorienting resleeving. He’s also a professional criminal, wasting away in storage as punishment for his crimes…until his mind is transmitted to a new stack on Earth, installed in a temporary sleeve belonging to some other incarcerated criminal by the murdered rich man and told he’d be paid handsomely and given his freedom if he can solve the mystery. Kovacs accepts, of course, and the story roams around the far future Bay Area from its highest heights to its lowest whorehouse in search of the solution. The attachment of the psyche to the body, religion, the meaning of death when life is so easy to maintain…all these are explored in a book easily as packed with action as any three other books I’ve read this year. It’s no wonder that the film options were snapped up…pieces of this story scream Hollywood. It’s not the most thought provoking book, by far, but it’s a great deal of fun. Highly recommended.

The Forever War

October 5th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series The Forever War

The Forever War is a classic, of course…one of the greats of Science Fiction and a hugely influential work, and I’m sure there’s little to be said about it critically that hasn’t been said, but I’ve never been one to let others do my talking for me…except when I am. (Note to self: be less of an inconstant and forgetful cuss. Now if only I could remember these Notes to myself…) Anyhow, to oversimplify in a fashionable way, there are two kinds of classics: there are books that are timelessly good and thus appreciated and emulated far past when the era in which they were written has passed away, and then there are books that were simply mindblowing for their originality and themes at the time they were written but have been so often emulated that the inspiring formula they introduced has been refined and surpassed by far better books than the original book that is now an influential classic. It’s particularly easy for the significant works of science fiction to fall into the latter situation, as the mutability of scientific theory means you can almost always date science fiction by the precepts it adopts into its plot and themes. The Forever War is no exception, with its now ironically humorous beginning scene in a military base on Pluto in 1997 and its quaint conception of collapsars; but I think its real value is more timeless, in that it is an interesting projection of what war fiction might look like from soldiers who fought in interstellar wars where relativity and time-dilation were immediate personal concerns. Read the rest of this entry »

Singularity Sky

September 20th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Eschaton

Charlie Stross is one of those people who’ve been around, writing and participating in the community, for quite some time before they suddenly get noticed in a big way. The past couple of years have seen a slew of books from Charlie, and a nearly equivalent slew of awards, and reading Singularity Sky it’s easy to see why he’s met with such success. Like Cory Doctorow and a few others, Charlie is right there on the pop science, tech nerd sites along with so many of the rest of us who find the bleeding edge of technology compelling. He knows what’s realistically feasible, and he knows how to sum up the details of whatever he’s laying out in front of the reader using just the right blend of technospeak and plain English; but most importantly, he knows how to make it fun. Read the rest of this entry »