Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty

Six WakesSix Wakes by Mur Lafferty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's very difficult to do a good SF mystery because the author has to create the setting of what is possible, and then set up the mystery itself. It's very tempting to create technological "cheats" to resolve the mystery. Lafferty doesn't fall for this--mostly.

I readily concur with the Nebula and Hugo nominations--it's a solid book. Probably not a winner, but definitely a contender. The pacing is great, it kept me eagerly reading the entire time, from the opening gory mess through to the end. The reveals of each character's capabilities are timed pretty well and pull you along.

I don't want to do a plot summary, you can read the rest of the reviews for that. My quibbles are spoilers, so I'll put them behind the spoiler wall:

[Lafferty successfully holds off magic solutions until the very end, where one might think they don't matter anymore. Lafferty sets up the solution with mind maps--complete representations of a person's personality and memories, that can be downloaded to a person's clone--or others, as it turns out. Maria Arena, the super brain hacker, is able to edit these maps to both insert and delete obvious or subtle personality traits. But it apparently has all one's DNA as well. This to me implies that a mind map is a model that can be read from, and written to, the brain, but leaves the DNA part confusing. I mean, you can load a mind map into a brain, but how do you edit the existing DNA as part of the same process? Not explained and not sensible.

But then a piece of the ending involves a super-advanced food printer that can determine one's preferred foods from a spit sample. It apparently does that by making a mind map. The DNA I understand, but recreating memories from a spit sample does not jive with how memories actually form in the brain. They aren't encoded in DNA. Magic alert. (hide spoiler)]

It's still a very good book, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard In the Yard), by Matthew Kressel

The Last Novelist (or, A Dead Lizard in the Yard)The Last Novelist by Matthew Kressel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's possible to do more in a short story, but not a lot. The Last Novelist is a very emotional piece of work, I really enjoyed reading about an eccentric author at the end of his life finding friendship and inspiration with a young girl. It's all very well handled. The eponymous novelist might have been sad or angry about the disappearance of print books, but I didn't end up reading it that way--more that he was simply an eccentric person who liked to create books from end to end.

I'm not sure that books would disappear from a universe such as this one, where technology enables the creation of such things (view spoiler). They will always be valued as art objects, at least as long as art objects are valued.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wind Will Rove, by Sarah Pinsker

Wind Will RoveWind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sarah Pinsker has two strong pieces up for awards this year. And Then There Were (N-1) is perhaps the more imaginative of the two, but Wind Will Rove is emotionally powerful.

The story itself is about preservation of memory. The protagonist is a teacher of history on a generation ship heading for a distant star. Early on in the voyage, a disgruntled IT tech erased all their cultural history from the ship databases. The physical survival of the ship was not in doubt, but the loss of the history panicked people and nearly ended the mission anyway. They became hyperconscious of the past, and attempted to preserve as much of their history through their own memories as possible.

Some are simply depressed by the story, thinking it either didn't make a point or the point was too obvious. They would be rewarded by trying again. Yes, the rebellious children are kind of silly. They usually are. What adults who actually care about them do is try to reconcile with an eye to having them learn something from the rebellion, and keep their original ideas. Pinsker's protagonist is trying to do this, and on the face of it this is a harder road than simply kicking the kid's ass and telling him to get with the program. The just-barely-spoken acknowledgement here is that whatever tactics are used to reconcile the discontented have to work for seven or more generations without a break. Simple oppression is more likely to get you another disgruntled IT worker. And you can never plug all the holes.

The story illustrates the importance of memory in spite of, and eventually because of, its imperfections. Faulty memory begets evolutionary creativity, which is just as important as sui generis creativity, even if the young have not figured that out yet. Or the old.

Great stuff, and she could sweep the Hugos and Nebulas for both novella and novelette this year.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Weaponized Math, by Jonathan Brazee

Weaponized Math is in The Expanding Universe Anthology, vol. 3.  I think it's a Sad Puppy entry for the Nebulas.  It's pretty much a war story, with minor tweaks to transport it slightly into the future and to another planet.  I think it could be set in a dry area of South America pretty easily.  The protagonist is a female sniper, who has killed gunmen from long range and thus earned the title Hunter of Gunmen.  The story describes the battle and weapons in detail satisfying for a military fiction fan.  The guy has been there and knows how battle goes.  But it's really not particularly speculative.  2 stars.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Dirty Old Town, by Richard Bowes

Dirty Old Town is in F & SF, May 2017.  It's a story a lot like Dust Devil on a Quiet Street, in that it feels very autobiographical but it isn't, quite.  The settings are real, but the TV series described is not. 

The story concerns a childhood--well "frenemy" oversimplifies.  A boy he feared and fought but knew personally becomes an actual friend and lover in adulthood (still complicated).  The guy is a journeyman actor, and wants to produce a story about Bowes' grandfather.  There is a bit of magic involved, in that the protagonist can use an incantation to get inside another person's head and feel what they are feeling.

It's really a very good story, makes you feel quite fine about spending the time to read it.  It's also too complex to describe briefly, and is probably worthy of some deeper criticism.  I can't link to it as it is paywalled, but if you get a chance to read it you should.  I give it four stars.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, by K. M. Szpara

Small Changes Over Long Periods of TimeSmall Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a vampire story, and so many of those have been done already that just mentioning them feels tired. As an exercise in transgender, liminal erotic fiction it's a bit more successful. Lots of unexpected turns. As a description of hurdles trans people overcome, it's a bit better. So it doesn't feel like a groundbreaking story, but it's well told and brings a unique perspective. I would say it's a contender, but probably not a winner, in the Nebula and Hugo awards.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, by Theodora Goss

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: 3 of 5 stars

If you're going to do a Victorian mashup novel in 2018, after so so many of them have been done, it needs some kind of special sauce to make it stand out. This book was fine, but the special sauce was supposed to be the interjections. Those would have been good if they hadn't ended up being trivial--either semi-spoilers or absolutely pure character development without moving the plot. It read OK, and some reviewers really seem to like it, but I don't know for whom it would really hit the mark--maybe YA readers who have seen kids' versions of the original stories as movies. The Athena Club has lots of adventures and there's lots of girl power, but it's a pretty light snack of a book. All the characters have potential, though, so possibly future books that maybe focus on one character more will be better? I don't know.

For a more interesting kind of interjection, try Ship of Theseus by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Not sure how that one would work on a Kindle though.

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