Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and AdventuresHeroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures by Stephen Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I shall judge this book purely upon whether I was entertained. And I'm happy to announce that I was. :)

Fry's wit and erudition come together nicely to make one of the most accessible accounting of a large handful of Greek Heroes I've had the pleasure to read. Perhaps better than Hamilton, definitely better than Bullfinch, but perhaps not quite as bright as Ovid, these are, however, punctuated with Fry's charmingly dry wit and panache.

And isn't that why we love Fry? Oh, and the tellings of these Heroes are quite vivid, uncomplicated, and evocative.

Is everyone accounted for? Hmmm... not quite. But the biggest and brightest names are. Want all of the trials of Hercules, or shall I say Heracles? Check. Perseus? Bellerophon? Theseus? Orpheus? Even Dedalus? Check!

It was like having a movie in my mind. :) No overcomplication. Just fun. :)

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Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the great classics of SF. On the surface, it seems to be mostly about prospecting for Alien tech and new discoveries about the missing Heechee, but in reality, it's all about psychology, and more than that, about Freudian therapy.

Say... what?

Yep! We've got ourselves something of an anti-hero written in mild shades of The Stars My Destination who we get to know very well on and off the AI therapist's couch as we learn about all the crap that turns him into a real mess. Sure, there's mommy issues, but then there are the things that go on with his girlfriend and the Black Hole that is particularly harrowing.

Survivor's guilt? Yeah, and so much more. It's like a gambler's addiction with missing body parts being the price. Save your mother and forgo the rest of your life in poverty or gamble for your future and probably not make it back. These Heechee left tons of inexplicable tech and no one around has found a way to understand it or get ahead except by dumb luck.

Kinda sounds like a metaphor for life, doesn't it? :)

The reveals are the best parts of this book. We're given all the pieces and as the mystery unfolds, I loved the details of the personal tragedy most. The fact that this reveal is a universal truth is only a bonus.

Great adventure, wonderful light but deep worldbuilding, and an even better psychological exploration. :)

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Monday, February 18, 2019

The Good Earth (House of Earth, #1)The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one hell of a classic. I kept thinking of The Grapes of Wrath during the first half of this read this and kept wondering at it. Poverty, want, great toil, and then even more want filled these pages. The Good Earth came out 8 years before Steinbeck's masterpiece and yet my biggest wonder is why the Good Earth isn't better known, more well known, than Steinbeck.

Is it because it happens to Chinese characters rather than Okies from Oklahoma?

Let's let that question pass on by for a moment because this book deserves to stand on its own worth. The Earth is indeed the source of all wealth... but definitely not all sorrow. Some, sure, but most of the sorrow in these pages are created by those who do not understand or work the land. This is an important point. As important as that in Candide, but more poignant, emotional, and effective in this novel.

High praise? I think so. And well deserved.

I will like classics of all types for many different reasons, but some are much more impactful to me than others.

This one has that punch. Glorious, wonderful, sad, and so cruel. Life, with tragedy and small bits of joy here and there... but what an epic! This ought to be on the required reading lists except for one small point... it should be enjoyed and cherished without coercion. :)

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Europe at Dawn (The Fractured Europe Sequence, #4)Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fourth book in the Fractured Europe Sequence defintely needs the prior three to follow it with any kind of authority, but I can honestly say that if you're a fan of modern spycraft, SFnal post-bioweapon-devastation, high-tech, and old-world stories, then these books are right up your alley.

Yes, Rudi is back and it's a treat, his world-weariness, food smarts, and ex-courier status showing up one last time, but this book is not all about him.

It's about the milieu, modern Europe, and the deeply wearying sensation that no one is in control of anything. Despite all the spycraft and the plots or the elites or the runners, there is no real sense of order. Indeed, there never could be.

That doesn't stop all kinds of people from trying, however.

This book feels like a series of many short stories with all kinds of different characters. Some of them return from previous books. There's wry and dry humor, a shocking amount of odd grifts, and a few riots to contend with.

But more than anything, the biggest joy we'll glean from these is within the world. Observations are everything.

Quite enjoyable.

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The City in the Middle of the NightThe City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm caught in gravity's tug. I'm stuck between two massive bodies forever tidally locked. ; ;

You know those books that have that certain something that could make them truly great but then they stumble because of the characters within them?

Yeah. This is one of those novels. I can see and appreciate where the author is trying to go here with the characters so full of themselves, their ideals, or their misunderstandings of one another. It fits so nicely with the greater misunderstandings between the Gelids and humanity... but I have to say that the fundamental concept here is much, much easier to take than the execution.

The bad part of this novel:

Every time I wanted to find some truly great aspect of personality or plot push to latch my hopes on, I was faced with regular people doing stupid things for regular stupid reasons, muddying the waters and generally being jerks to one another. I didn't particularly like any of the main characters except, perhaps, Mouth.

And then the good:

Everything else!

This is the definition of uneven for me. I can appreciate, intellectually, what is going on, but when you can't hang your consciousness on great characters to move you along a MUCH better worldbuilding experience, it becomes something of a drag. In fact, I became so invested in the plethora of great ideas that I kept re-writing the book in my own mind to fly with them in new ways, extending dichotomy between the hurting human city and the alien, maligned Gelids living everywhere in the dark, being tentacular monsters, but also BETTER PEOPLE than those inside the human habitations. :)

It's not just that, though. I loved the tidally locked planet, all the darkness and the need for other perceptions, the communication through tentacles, the transformations, the culture, and everything else about the SFnal experience.

I FELT like this novel could have been one of the greats. It certainly has all the deep explorations of culture, aliens, and setting, giving us a very dark look at a far-future humanity with a lot more to think about than is generally the case. Classic SF always did a pretty good job of this but sometimes a novel or two drills down DEEPER. And this is one.

So I'm caught between a solid 3-star read for characters modified by a cool mirroring with the theme and a very solid 5 star SFnal novel. ; ;

This isn't much like All the Birds in the Sky, alas, but I'm very curious to see what she'll come up with next.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Before Mars (Planetfall, #3)Before Mars by Emma Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes it's quite hard reviewing books for which you KNOW are rather groundbreaking but do so in a quiet manner and stretch the quality across a span of books.

It's never just one thing. It's a whole slew of wonderful worldbuilding quirks, a dedication to deep mystery, and extremely complicated characters often riddled with mental health issues and/or very real plot complications.

In this third book, related only by its housing in the greater worldbuilding and future history shared with the others, we're given a very different kind of character. Not an engineer or a put-upon corporate slave, but an artist slipped into the corporate works on Mars. Is she lucky? Is she turned into a pawn for others?

She doesn't seem all that sure of herself despite being recognized as an excellent painter, but none of that really matters. She's there and a number of little things don't add up. And that's okay. We're in for a great story where the reveals are numerous, emotional, disturbing, and often made me turn against our protagonist. And that is also okay because she's complicated and sympathetic and real and often depressed.

As it turns out, she has good reasons. No spoilers, but the plot is rather cool and much bigger than the blurb implies. :)

Very solid SF. Better than most. I'm probably turning into one of those readers who will always jump on the next book no matter what she writes. She's just that good. :)

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Schild's LadderSchild's Ladder by Greg Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, an SF novel will hit you in the gut and speak a little math at you and then scamper away, tittering at its cleverness.

Other times, an SF novel will not only hit you in the gut but hit you in the pride and nads and stand over you, asking you if you want some more. Maybe it'll call you Susan regardless of your sex.

After reading Schild's Ladder, I have to say this is one of those Other times.

I feel like I just read a hardcore Stephen Baxter novel that just had a massive overhaul on the math and the editor not only said, "there may be just a tad too much scalable extra-dimensional geometry, pre-assumptive quantum physics, and thoroughly alien human cultures" just before he (or she) threw up his (or her) hands and said... "Screw it. I'll check for grammar. The rest is all for a team of postdocs devoted to theoretical physics."

Does this mean I hated it?

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA hell no. I loved it. Every single mind-blowing second of it. Just because some of it went over my head didn't mean I didn't LOVE the imagery, the bleeding-edge creativity of having our characters LIVE in this nearly incomprehensible post-and-re-physical humanity.

Examples: whole societies based on checksumming yourself because you're all software. Interchangeability between getting a body and going back in the software. 20 thousand years of murderless living and whole societies giving into their darker natures by telling fibs to cryogenic travelers about just how the world has changed, unwilling to let them know that we've all moved on because we think it's funny. Or how so many of us have tailored truly exotic sex organs (either software or physical) to be compatible with our partners... literally ONLY compatible to our partners. :)

Fascinating? Yeah, but not half as fascinating as the actual plot-driver. Expanding space and life living at a hugely accelerated rate and at a VERY small quantum level. Is it out to destroy us? Should we destroy it? Preserve it? Study it? It's out to eat our populated centers, but WE MADE IT. Accidental life... and perhaps intelligent. :)

Very good stuff here. Definitely designed to draw out only your A-Game. No punches are thrown and no one is talked down to. You will either sink or swim. :)

What a pleasure!

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