Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 9/18/19:

So, do I have anything I want to say that I didn't say in my original review? Yes. Possibly.

My least favorite section usually involved all the jewelry making and the eventual rise and fall of the metal as a main character in the story. But this time? Maybe I just happened to be in the right mood. Tagomi's crisis in perception was VERY PKD and pretty delightful this time around. The jewelry being a catalyst, a doorway through the Yin into the Yang and vice versa, resonated strangely and through a back door into my consciousness. This time.

Otherwise, I still enjoyed the novel. Even if it is, and always be, a complicated relationship. :)


Original review:

This book is complicated for me. I only cared about Juliana's story as an actual story. There were times where I was invested with Frank's tale, too, and Tagomi had his moments, but as a complete and cohesive novel, the overt tale wasn't anything special. Nothing much happened except the hint of an attempted coup, the beginnings of an attempted assassination of an author, and the near-tragedy of a jewelry maker.

So what's all the fuss about? Why do people think this PKD is the bomb? Why did it earn a Hugo back in '62?

It's complicated. Just like my relationship with the novel.

Let's get the heavy out of the way. The whole damn thing was written with the extensive use of the I Ching. Hell, I learned the I Ching and used it extensively after reading this novel, just to get a deeper feel. This is a practical crash-course in PKD's fascination with all things mystical and religious, focused on a tight beam of almost pink light and driven right into the heart of every character's life. It's easy to extrapolate into all his other works from here, or backtrack to this instant. Everything is connected.

I loved this part of it. The twists and the turns, the inexplicable and the merely odd things that happen to the people, all of it could be blamed on the I Ching, and by extension, the vagaries of real life. Truth is hereby written.

I just don't think it made for a particularly exciting tale... just a pretty profound one.

And then there's the other part of this book which generally captures most people's attention. It's an alternate history where the Germans and the Japanese won WWII and split up the USA into occupied territories. We spend most of our time in the Japanese sector of California, where Frank is relatively free of the threat of being thrown into a gas chamber for being of Jewish ancestry.

Nice set-up? You bet. PKD's details are vast and deep, too, throwing us into an immersion both amazing and scary as hell. It's a crash course in cultural mindsets, too, although I cannot be any kind of expert on how the Japanese really think. I cannot tell anyone how accurate it is. BUT, I can say it was a huge eye-opener the first time I read this.

As a novel of worldbuilding, what PKD accomplished here is beyond excellent. Perhaps it only seems so this far down the timestream from when it was written, and perhaps it is a genuine masterpiece regardless of when we read it, but a great working knowledge of all the historical players is almost a must before dipping your toes in this water. I think I'm not too bad at history, having read a great number of non-fiction books, but since I wasn't living through the events, I felt lost a great deal of the time.

It was almost as if PKD almost refuses to divulge the hidden treasures in the events without our active and fairly intense participation, but it wasn't so much the name dropping that I had troubles with. It was the importance of the events that happened to each of the characters that stymied me. So, again, we had to return to the I Ching and divine the deeper reasons.

Themes can and will be untangled with enough effort, and they're pretty cool, but this novel is by no means a simple and straightforward read.

And then there's the third awesome aspect of the novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a prophetic and I Ching written novel that's hugely popular in this alternate world. It depicts a world where Germany and Japan lost the war. An additional I Ching reading about the veracity of this novel tells us that it is a hidden truth. It's real. And people all across the nation seem to realize it, talk about it, and generally obsess over it.

How cool. Right? A mirror of the universe *mostly* reflecting our own and driving its inhabitants a little bonkers in exactly the way that PKD's novel did for us in this universe!

Well, it wouldn't be PKD without at least TWO world-shattering shenanigans, right?

So, I've got all these high props of the novel and a teeth-grinding annoyance held out for it for the SAME REASON. Am I and this book in a relationship? Yes. But it's complicated. ;)

Very cool stuff, but it requires a lot of effort to really enjoy. It's high maintenance. :)

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary WritersA People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers by Victor LaValle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got into this book with the expectation that at least some of the stories by these well-known writers would be hopeful or optimistic in the face of obvious injustice. After all, the whole collection IS a tribute to Howard Zinn's classic, A People's History of the United States. So of course, an SF future treatment of the same would probably be about resistance and standing up for what we believe.

In actual fact, quite a few do follow that idea, but more of them felt like truly dark futures with no hope in sight. Normal stuff, actually, tho very creative, like pushing the trend of current legislation to the full horrible ends, be it abortion, the welfare state, the patriarchy completely winning, or even all blacks being deported.

Truly horrible stuff. Like tattoos being the last books available for anyone to read. Or virtual realities suffocating the life out of us. You get the idea.

Fortunately, all these stories are pretty great. Exciting. Or nasty. Fun, or thought-provoking, or enraging. Few are actually hopeful, but maybe that's just a sign of the times. A lot of us are really disgusted at how much backsliding we've seen.

*waves his fists at the air*

My favorites?

Read After Burning by Maria Dahvana Headly.
The Blindfold by Tobias S. Buckwell

But I also really got into:

Our Aim is Not to Die by Merc Rustad
The Referendum by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Calendar Girls by Justina Ireland
The Sun in Exile by Cat Valente


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Monday, September 16, 2019

The New Voices of Science FictionThe New Voices of Science Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This short story collection caught my eye primarily because Hannu Rajaniemi's name was on the cover, but I wasn't fooled. Not really. This just happens to be a collection of the best SF stories to come out in the last five-ish years, as selected by him and Jacob Weisman.

Was I still interested? Yeah! After all, those guys have good taste. :) And when it comes to good tales as a whole, I enjoyed this entire book.

I've read a number of these stories already, and if I have, I'm lightly skimming over them. Otherwise...

Openness by Alexander Weinstein - A cool, scary look at intimacy worthy of a Black Mirror episode, where giving another person access to all your secret kinks, buttons, and memories can be either a great boon or a relationship killer. Me likey.

The Shape of My Name by Nino Capri - Time travel done in a very interesting way, focusing more on a strained familial relationship than anything else. The focus is clear but all the side discoveries are quite visceral.

UTOPIA, LOL by Jamie Wahls - Clever take on virtual reality and memes, with the added benefit of AIs and badass choices. Cool twist.

Mother Tongues by S. Qiouyi Lu - Linguistics-focused tale of parenthood and only wanting the best for the child with a very dark twist. It made me very sad.

In The Sharing Place by David Erik Nelson - What seems to be a tale set in the brackets of the Stages of Grief eventually becomes something much more interesting, more creative. Very chilling.

A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad - I've read this twice and have seen it reprinted all over the place. If you haven't read it, enjoy a printed tale as tasty as steak. Don't ask if it's a forgery. :)

Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer - Also a commonly reprinted tale, but quite fun. A Hugo winner.

Ice by Rich Larson - Probably my least favorite of the collection, this was a tale of sibling rivalry on an ice planet. Genetic jealousy.

One Hour, Every Seven Years by Alice Sola Kim - Very oppressive in isolation and loneliness, this time travel tale seems to have lots of hidden gems in it. The descriptions of Venus and Mars and their places in the tale struck me as rather important. Time to see the sun!

Toppers by Jason Sanford - This one really caught my imagination. Apocalyptic New York meets a creepy Whispering Mist that is a lot more than it seems. Two thumbs up.

Tender Loving Plastics by Amman Sabet - AIs and foster care. What could go wrong?

Welcome To Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse - Another Hugo winner. And it's easily one of the best stories I've read in the last few years. :) Quite sharp.

Strange Waters by Samantha Mills - Another re-read for me, Water is not always water, and fishing is not always fishing. Great worldbuilding, interesting mash.

Calved by Sam J. Miller - Another re-read. Excellent setting with a frustrated dad just trying to do right but unable to get a grip on the future world or his own slightly estranged son.

The Need for Air by Lettie Prell - A virtual reality warning. Pretty heartbreaking but my sympathies are all for the son.

Robo-Liopleurodon! by Darcie Little Badger - Nanotech in the ocean. Need I say more? Aren't you excited? I was! And am!

The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi by E. Lily Yu - The transformation from gamer to ... dreamer. Pretty mild, but interesting.

Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar - Probably one of my favorites in the bunch, it combines a voluntary medical trial with horrible time-travel-ish side effects, reality modifications, and the very uneasy feeling that memory inside time is all that we have. Parts of me would call this a horror.

Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker - Very enjoyable tale of aging traveling rockers butting heads against a VR tech world.

A Study in Oils by Kelly Robson - I can't decide whether I think this is the best one in this collection or not, but it's really close. I'm a sucker for redemption stories... especially when it comes tied to horrible sanctioned free-range revenge and art. :)


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Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1)The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this is a near-perfect arrow shot going through the hearts of all the very best penny dreadfuls, from Frankenstein to Doctor Moreau. Add all the delightful references to Dracula, Van Helsing, Hyde, (and even Lamarck!), and we've got ourselves a great mish-mash of fantasy, SF, and horror classics in one delightfully female-heavy tale that invites the heavyweight services of Sherlock in for the ride.

It really is charming. For the first half, I was entirely on board like I was watching Penny Dreadful or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or reading A Night in the Lonesome October. :) That kind of thing.

But while I still enjoyed the meta-writing banter between some of the main female characters, the over-plot got kinda ...tedious... near the end. Not bad, mind you, and in fact, the whole novel was a real charmer for how it drew in so many well-beloved classics, but I've never had a soft spot for the whole Moreau line.

Maybe it's because I know too much about science to really be able to love quite that much handwavium. Most of the time I can move on just fine. If I started quibbling about science in SF I might never get beyond a handful of books. :)

BUT that doesn't detract all that much from the story. It's solid, creative, and a real nostalgia-fest.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and EssaysPeter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, this angry sentient tumor has a big thing about using Peer-Reviewed articles in his essays. That's great! I think it is really funny when he uses lesser-known articles to debunk the whole methodology of psychology. Or when it's set against right-wing-religious nutters.

I read this mainly because it's Peter Watts. Period. He's smart, isn't afraid to burn bridges, and he has the whole Curmudgeon thing DOWN. Get off my lawn! But he also has a point. Many of them. And when it comes right down to it, I agree with most. Like keeping literature smart, not so dummied. Or keeping information free enough to counteract the really crazy things that can, even now, happen to say, the bird flu.

The rest of the essays were either homages to old pets, having a flesh-eater on his leg, or pretty cool summaries of stories we can't find but we should have read. :)

Other than that, and let's be honest, it reads like a series of spruced up blog posts with proper annotation and bibliographies. :) Fun, at least for me, but aside from the ideas within, it's nothing too serious.

The ideas are, of course. I think I need a drink after being reminded about how we've reaped the whirlwind. Humans really are the worst. :)

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The Prisoner of Limnos (Penric and Desdemona, #6)The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am kinda surprised by this novella. Penric's in love! LOOOVEEE. And he goes to great, adventuresome lengths to help his love.

You know, scaling the highest religious order castle, perform death-defying stunts, rust door locks, blow up seagulls, and dress up as a woman.

You know, the normal stuff that women ask of us men.

:) I had fun! So is this a romance? I do believe it is. The fantasy bits are cool, but they only serve the romance. :)

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Jade War (The Green Bone Saga, #2)Jade War by Fonda Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book continues the modern equivalent of an Italian (mafia, old world, new world) and Japanese (isolated island with strategic resources) Urban Fantasy. It does it in wonderful style.

Where the first one felt very Godfather with magical Jade stones that can only be used by certain bloodlines except when a special drug is involved, this one picks up the pieces of the clan warfare and scatters them into the new world. Modern warfare takes on a particularly economic cast. Gaining contacts and building relationships off the island is much more important now. But that doesn't stop the hell from breaking out at home, of course. And this book is a bit more unpredictable than the first.

That's a good thing! I loved the characters and truly enjoyed every aspect of this tale. I feel quite invested. I feel Green. The tragedies and the injustices and the loneliness, the isolation, the joys... these are all brilliantly displayed. I'm not only invested in the clans and these characters, but I'm totally on board with the worldbuilding. The familiarities have grown into something much stronger. More enduring.

I can easily recommend this for any of you mafia junkies, you UF fans, and anyone who dies for great characters. :)

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