Monday, July 22, 2019

Exhalation: StoriesExhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All said, Chiang's new collection rocks. :) I've read a good number of these in other places, but it doesn't diminish my enjoyment. I'm referencing the stories I liked the most.

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate - 1001 Nights meets fixed-timeline time-travel. Easily one of my favorites.

Exhalation - A rather interesting logical-breakdown of universal principles from the PoV of a robot race.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Novella, and easily the most wrenching, exploratory of the lot. Touches not only on artificial life and AI, but the same kind of feelings we might have for autistic children and trying to save Zoos. For pretty much the same reasons. And I got rather invested in this. I can see it becoming a problem in our future.

Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - So cool! A mix of our recentish Science History and a very plausible alternate past, part psychology, part 'oh, crap, we definitely could have done this to ourselves'.

The Great Silence - A Fermi gut-punch.

Omphalos - A great reversal of an alternate reality, where proof of god's intervention, creation, is everywhere, but scientists come to a startlingly different conclusion. :)

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom - Another novella, and fascinating as hell. Part self-help group, part scam, and all focusing on the nature of alternate reality informational crosstalk. :) I'm really surprised at how well this one worked for me.

I keep noticing how much Chiang loves to mess with our understanding of our basic reality. It's a Thing. A great Thing.

How does it compare to the previous collection? Neither better nor worse, because it is all him. Quality, a lot of exploration in different ways, but always reaching for the same high standard. :)

I loved it. :) No complaints at all.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Of Human BondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Look, I admit to being a W. Somerset Maugham fanboy ever since I watched Bill Murray in Razor's Edge. One of my favorite movies and afterward, one of my favorite books. Oddly enough, however, I didn't get around to reading Of Human Bondage until very long after. Why? Because I made the mistake of watching the classic adaptation of it first. I'm talking Bette Davis, baby. She pulled off such a trip of a Mildred that I have forever hated (or loved to hate) the very IDEA of Bette Davis and/or any portrayal of Mildred in the novel enough that I became downright TREPIDATIOUS, man.

I got the FEARS, man. The fears!

But I got better, see? I got over those fears and read the damn book, see?

And it has everything. Including my undying hate for Phil's stupidity over Mildred. But so much more!
It has the full gamut of the human condition, from childhood raised in strict Anglican Christianity to total disillusionment, from studying to get into Oxford, changing his mind to hang out with the freaks in Germany, then France, picking up all kinds of styles and thinking habits, all well before WWI. We see Phillip go through being ostracized, being lonely, trying his hand not only at the Clergy, but being a bohemian artist, a physician, and being a love-struck fool.

When I say everything, however, I mean everything. All different ways of being, exploring who he can become before the Gen-X kicked in, of throwing off one shackle of thought after another after another... and yet, still getting caught in the toughest shackle of all: human relationships.

Did I mention I hate Mildred? Well, for all the times I really loved Phil, I hated him the most when he was in deep with this woman. So stupid! STUPID! And yet...sigh.

I may have gotten deep into this novel. It's up there with all the classics, in my humble opinion. So clear of style and dedicated to exploring what it means to be living, learning, and surviving. If you wanted to, you could trace all the philosophical greats, step-by-step, seeing how morality and ethics don't die even when you shake off the mold, or when you try your hand at completely different modes of living, one after another, to see what sticks, and all the while learning intense lessons that never feel forced. Indeed, I feel for this guy as he keeps stumbling about, just pushing himself further and further into a position where he's either following his dream or he's fooling himself. And that's just the thing, isn't it?

Neither he nor we know which it is.

And as an artist, I feel for him. Deeply. Sometimes all you can do is put one foot ahead of another and hope you're wise enough to know when you finally have a good thing.

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Love Minus EightyLove Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a book that is pretty much all a romance, it's full of great science, tech, and outright horror. The titular theme refers to corpse dating. It's kinda like a half-way point for necrophiliacs, old-rich-geezers, and tortured musicians to pine over pretty dead women. And when I mean pretty, I mean pretty. Only the beautiful get selected for possible reanimation and if they don't have special insurance and they don't get picked to be a bride-like-a-slave, they get defrosted and dumped in a landfill.

The rub? These women are brought back in a speed-dating nightmare, fresh from death, only let to live for five minutes as some rich creep tries to find out if you're "the one". Just think about it. Your afterlife will be spent trying to do everything you can to debase yourself and be the perfect mate JUST SO YOU CAN COME BACK TO LIFE. It's a special kind of hell to be caught in desperate speed-dating for the sake of your very existence.


But, yes, this IS a romance, and every part of it is wonderful. Hard, depressing, hopeful, loving, and wonderful. I even grew to love all of Rob's friends. :)

I can't say whether this is my favorite Will McIntosh book, but it damn-near perfect for all that. Romance, interesting tech-based horror, a future dystopia for the dead and recently un-dead, and a massive condemnation on us. You'll see. It's totally worth reading. :)

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The CyberiadThe Cyberiad by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I was initially tempted to treat this collection of 1965 short SF stories with kid gloves because I was already a huge fan of Solaris, I didn't quite understand that this collection was already a heavyweight of humor, satire, and delight.

Where the hell have I been? I should have read this back when I was a kid! Alongside Hitchhiker's Guide! As I read this, I gave a constant chuckle-rumble, especially with the Seven Sallies of Trurl and Klapaucius. These two master-builder robots get along with their wits and near-infinite capability to make things. Anything. And they are tricksters. Very funny tricksters.

The one time that Trurl made a poetry machine, I was f***ing spoiled by some of the best math poetry I've ever read, and here's the kicker: This was translated from Polish. Hell, it was translated into several dozen languages. But the English translation retained ALL its flavor. :) It was honestly funny.

All of this was light, clever, and always to the point. These are traditional fables, almost like the old Chivalric tradition, but add the element of gods granting everyone's wishes to the downfall of the wisher, and you've got a very good idea about what's going on here. Oh, and almost every character is a robot. The wisecracking kind.

I admit I've read a number of things *like* this, but never to this one's high quality. This is a perfect cure for grimdark malaise. :)

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Finnegans WakeFinnegans Wake by James Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This has got to be the best, most fantastic, wonderful book ever written to have absolutely freaking defeated me. Not only is the wordplay and freakishly brilliant alliteration such that I want to roll around in it like a dog in autumn leaves, but the language is also so dense and impenetrable I can BARELY get a sense of what the F*** is going on.

Is it brilliant? Yeah, I can see that much. I can also so see that it was specifically written to break modern literature scholars from their dependence on LSD and Heroin. Both used at the same time. And this is the "lite" version of the drug which is much more insidious because it is even MORE addictive and it happens to kill you in about thirty days after reading. It's a socially-transmitted Irish cancer. It's also a mudkiss written by a psychotic who throws readers into the abyss without a parachute. It was written by the Joker. You know, the one that just wanted to watch the world burn.

It's murdercock English. It's being peed on by pearlypets. It's joking around like a hearse on fire. It's a nappywink.

Honestly, I would NOT have DNF'd this at the midpoint if it wasn't so freaking dense. Or if I were completely drunk in a room full of other Irish foks shouting out random lines from this monstrosity. Or if I joined a cult, bringing this book with me to counteract the crazy by a more potent kind of crazy.

But I did none of these things. I was DEFEATED.

But I do it gracefully. I admit I was beaten by this madman.

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AntarcticaAntarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Almost every time I read a KSR book, I'm either awestruck, amazed at the scope, or I have to say something silly like, "Every time I read a KSR book, it's the favorite book I've read by him!"

Well, guess what?

Seriously, though, this one has the added distinction of KSR actually having been to Antarctica, and plot aside, the descriptions of the 60 below landscape, the problems associated with long hikes or just plain living there at all, makes this one of the most vivid novels he's ever written. This is quite aside from the Mars Trilogy, as good as it was. This one obviously hits closer to home, with all our crazy and screwed-up personages making yet another mess of things.

Because, let's face it, no nation or corporation has a good track record when it comes to reckless greed, fear of the upcoming energy crisis, or just not giving a shit because "things are bad everywhere". What does this mean for Antarctica? For those oil deposits? Or every nation capable of staging an end-run around the international treaty? A treaty unenforced and possibly unenforceable?

It brings up other familiar topics from KSR's other books as well. Ecology is a big one. Antarctica is the last clean place on Earth. It's rough on us and that's the main reason why, but you and I both know that where there's a will, there's a way. But there are also people willing to fight for the love they have for the place, and this is their novel. The fighting isn't really done with guns, but there *IS* ecoterrorism going on. There are also some rather awesome ways of living with zero-impact on the continent. Political and economic ideas that deal with the full problem. And characters that immerse us readers fully in this gorgeous, stark landscape.

I totally recommend this novel for anyone in love with cold adventures. It's full of history and the present and has a strong eye to the future, in every aspect. Now it's time to close my mouth. Snow is getting in.

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Empress of ForeverEmpress of Forever by Max Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First things first: I had a great time.

As in, this is a goofy, fast-paced, unabashedly hard-SF, galaxy-spanning space-opera mania that mixes cloud-computing universe-spanning quantum-computing with the afterlife, instant travel, world-eating gods, cyborgs, huge space battles, and a HUGE baddie in the Empress of Forever who is literally impossible to defeat because she IS the substrate of the entire universe I just described.

When it comes to the whole grab bag of SF concepts and the way it is all put together, this is no lightweight SF. It made me dance around, happy as a pig in muck, and I pretty much forgave anything else because Gladstone KNOWS his genre inside and out. I thought he couldn't be topped in the UF field, but I should have had a bit more faith. :)

So why aren't I giving this a full 5 stars? Because the plot is kinda standard and predictable. The twist, especially, and although I DID like the backward hints residing in the naming conventions that spelled it all out, the SECOND twist that I expected didn't come.

The characters were pretty fine. The focus did have some self-realization going on and this is definitely a Lesbian space adventure that has a lot of Iron Man overtones. Otherwise, the description in the blurb is accurate. Guardians of the Galaxy misfits, indeed. No complaints here.

Fun stuff, ESPECIALLY after you get through the opening bits in the book. It really takes off once a certain lady gets woken up. Definitely popcorn fiction for the nanotech infected galaxy. :)

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