Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Naked Sun (Robot, #2)The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Asimov robot re-read 2/25/21

This time, like the last time, over thirty years ago, I was struck by how Asimov could twist simple agoraphobia into two distinct branches that could cover two whole branches of humanity. One, a real-presence phobia that mimicks, if not having the motive, our current society where social-distancing is required, not actively sought-after.

Of course, then, like now, introverts tend to thrive in such situations. And Bailey, coming from an extreme extrovert society on Earth, tended to have the upper-hand when dealing with these utterly compartmentalized Solarians on their introverted home-turf.

Asimov always did have a deft hand with turning a handful of simple ideas into far-reaching sociological world-building twists.

And while the murder mystery tale wasn't particularly deep or complicated, it was quite solid.

One thing Asimov always has going for him is a very clear, always accessible style. He really shouldn't be forgotten in the annals of SF classics.

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Memoirs Found in a BathtubMemoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Anything enormous, immense beyond belief or reckoning, has to be serious. -- Size, how we worship size. -- Believe me, if there were a turd the size of a mountain, its summit hidden in the clouds, we would bend the knee in reverence."

Indeed. The bigger the edifice, whether building, organization, or the universe itself, the more impossible our belief that it might ever fail.

I swear, this book may appear to be a far-future edifice of rampant spy-vs-spy rampant paranoia where every little thing is a code within a code, from farts to sighs to the shape of a wart on an old man's neck, but it's really a testament of human psychology.

We grew into ourselves always looking into the dark forest looking for tiny details to conflate into huge conspiracies, whether it is a tiger, a snake, or a defector in our own ranks. Stanislaw Lem's far-future edifice of absolutely meaningless betrayals and sextuplet counter-betrayals made me think I was reading a massive nod to Catch-22 and a million spy thrillers as written by one of the most fantastic SF authors of our time.

And I enjoyed it immensely. I even laughed my ass off several times. The wordplay is so smart and crazy and the sheer size of this little masterpiece of conspiracy fiction made me chortle to no end.

"I am a man of the cross and the double-cross. No nails, no thorns, no spear in the side... only the boss gets a little cross."

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Notes from the UndergroundNotes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm gobsmacked after reading this.

Never in my life have I ever read a novel (short or otherwise) that steeped me more in someone's spite, self-hate, revenge-fantasy, pettiness, obsessiveness, or mud-wallowing.

Of course, it's not quite as simple as that. The unnamed character has some erudition and a load of self-awareness and he doesn't shy away from telling us, even from page one, just how overflowing his SPITE is. It doesn't matter whether it harms him immediately or later on. The driving force is everything, and so we get to be shown just how far he can fall down the hole.

A modern retelling of this would have wound up in a suicide-by-cop situation or becoming the GOP Senate Majority (or Minority) Leader, but in point of fact, it is limited to crashing his frenemy's party, debasing a distressed woman, and being a total all-around jerk to everyone.

Of course, it didn't end on a huge bang. Indeed, it just holds up a freakish mirror to the reader and makes us feel like shit. I, too, have suffered amazing stretches of depression filled with anger. I, too, have spent a great deal of my life solacing myself with books and hiding away from others. I've even engaged in revenge-fantasy if any of my taste in books tells us anything.

But the fact is, this horrible, horrible person might as well be us. Any of us. That's the brilliance of this quite brilliant Dostoyevsky novel. We are all worms and he shows us proof of it.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Conan the Invincible (Conan, #1)Conan the Invincible by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having recently read all the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories and novelettes, I was only slightly curious about the HUGE numbers of other writers that had tried their hands at the immensely popular Conan, including comic books, tons of stories, and a number of craptastic movies. Tv series. Cartoons. lol

I avoided them because they were very, very formulaic. Dumb barbarian get sexy woman and kill evil magician and get sexy woman.

The original stories weren't that.

Robert Jordan, of Wheel Of Time fame (and a wonderful series it is), also wrote in the Conan vein. That's this novel. And no matter how much I actually like Jordan's writing, he wrote for the "expected" Conan crowd. The myth references were super pedestrian. Conan's smarts were missing. It was basically an extension of the Arnold movies. And fun-ish for what it was.

But me? I'm not really a fan of pedestrian fantasy. Believe it or not. lol

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The Caves of Steel (Robot #1)The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read of classic Asimov.

Back in the day, perhaps 40 years after this had originally been written, I already assumed this was a classic tale by a classic SF author. I devoured it, being surprised by the fact it felt like a hard-boiled detective novel while also having some core SF ideas -- you know, like getting our eggs out of one basket, fighting discrimination for alternate intelligences, and the basic problems of feeding and housing billions of people.

It was still enjoyable, and 70 years after it was originally written, it's not horribly dated. Indeed, it's a bit simple for modern tastes, but the core is still solid. It gets better as Daneel and Bailey work out their differences and run into all that normal human idiocy. Out of all of Asimov's earlier works, I still consider this to be one of the most accessible.

And now I want to re-watch Almost Human again. :)

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Angel of the Overpass (Ghost Roads, #3)Angel of the Overpass by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may be in the minority on this one, but aside from the strong end, this particular novel was a bit too meandering for my taste.

Don't get me wrong. I love the taste of malt and Seanan almost never steers me wrong, but the events in this one just seemed to be checking off the boxes of old plot threads and making all the chickens come home to roost.

That's a GOOD thing, mind you, but my empathy for the character is getting as attenuated as her ghost-memory attachment to the world she hitchhikes. The original thread of Bobby the soul-fuel converting homicidal maniac was a pretty good foil if not perfect, and several of the ghost-ideas (including a certain oil-splattered dino) was cool, but any novel must fly on the strength of its characters.

This one, unfortunately, was always a little middling, which is a shame, because I like the ideas of psychopomps. Especially psychopomps undergoing their OWN transformations.

Still, it's worth the read and the minor intersection with a recent Price novel of Seanan. The Crossroads had a reckoning, after all, and this explores some of those consequences.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Land: Monsters (Chaos Seeds, #8)The Land: Monsters by Aleron Kong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This deserves a full five stars and my unending enjoyment WHILE I'm reading it. I mean, I may have said this before but it bears repeating: I can read this stuff FOREVER without ever getting fatigued.

After all, it's basically an ongoing video game with all the enjoyment of skills progression, leveling up, dungeon crawling, and with a new wrinkle: hardcore debuffs that started with water and food weakness, but progressed all the way through massive (and extremely funny) bowel poisoning.

All the normal reasons for reading this, compared to the ones before, still apply. Only now he's a tier two ascended and he has to start out without any gear, alone, deep in a high-power dungeon. It's a huge departure from the previous novels that had made him grow as a leader, but I was fine with it. It has all the benefits of leveling without character progression or silly romance or pathos. Just give me those skills, baby.

So why did I knock off a star?

Because the damn thing STOPS where no normal book would. It ends on a squarely middle part! I mean, if I were reading all these in a row it wouldn't matter a single bean but I'm not. I expected a MUCH longer novel that actually succeeds in A quest if not the STATED quest earlier on. It's like playing FF7 remake only to get out of the city and see that the whole game just ended. Oh. Wait.

Well, it was still fun WHILE I was reading it! :)

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