Friday, February 16, 2018

Probably Still the Chosen One, by Kelly Barnhill

Probably Still the Chosen OneProbably Still the Chosen One by Kelly Barnhill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was really quite a lot of fun to read. Barnhill manages to swing back and forth between this being a true alternate reality and something just in the protagonist Corinna's imagination. There's something very mature about the way the story unfolds. At first, as an eleven year old, she's thrilled at the attention and being special. As the story proceeds she becomes wiser and examines events critically. The image at the end of her with her four children, scuttling through the tunnel under the sink, is just precious. Am absolutely glad I read it.

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The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen F. Baxter

The Massacre of MankindThe Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read the original a long time ago, but it wasn't one of my first SF reads. I was at a point where I could take into account the time and style in which it was written. Baxter replicates that style pretty effectively, from a different point of view, so in that sense the book is successful.

It's also a reasonably interesting read. I was encouraged to persevere to the end. But I have to say it didn't really grab me. I could put it down at any point. Others have mentioned the basically unlikable nature of the protagonist--she was drawn as a good and honorable person with a pretty strong sense of judgment. She is very hard on the original narrator, Walter Jenkins, mostly for the crime of being a limited human, though he did make use of his fame to influence events and opened himself to it. All very subtle stuff.

The book is very thoroughly researched and seems to be internally consistent. Baxter really does capture Wells' style very effectively, so perhaps the best I can say is that it doesn't age so well. I'm glad I read it but the rating is the best I can do.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have my ups and downs with Neal Stephenson. I couldn't finish the Baroque Cycle, but I seem to have enjoyed Seveneves more than most. Seveneves may have had some stiff dialog but it was full of ideas. This book has one idea. Which is spun into a plot that goes on for 750 pages. If it could somehow have been concentrated down to about half that length (and I think it could have been) it would be an award contender. As is, not sure.

I liked the book and never got tired of reading it as I went along. I think what struck me that perhaps did not stand out to others is the sort of "dated" feel of it. The characters are standard-issue types from maybe 10 years or so ago, with no self-consciousness so it can't be intentional. Tristan is a kind of stiff hero type, and Melisande slips into sexy damsel mode a little too easily. You can almost see the consideration of the movie possibilities of a time travel method that causes travelers to become naked.

(view spoiler)

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Void Star, by Zachary Mason

Void StarVoid Star by Zachary Mason

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Void Star is an excellent if imperfect read. Many of the reviews compare it to work by William Gibson or Neal Stephenson, and I agree fully. The descriptions are rich, the world is sprawling, and the storytelling skates on the edge of getting out of hand. That last may be where the comparison starts to break down--in this book the plot always seems to be getting closer to spinning out of control than in Gibson or Stephenson's work, even though the plot itself is pretty simple--big powerful oligarch is trying to steal plucky protagonist Irina's memories, and also live forever. Stop him. Mason describes larger forces (rogue AIs) at play so there's the possibility of more here, but for this book that's it.

The jacket blurb is somewhat misleading. Irina may not be wealthy like the oligarchs, but she certainly plays in their league. I never thought of her as an underdog in the fight, though perhaps not quite an equal to Cromwell. The other protagonists (Kern the favela dweller and Thales the mathematician/political scion) get their due in the narrative but they are support players.

I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it highly. The span of the story is challenging and fun.

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Gods of Risk, by James S. A. Corey

Gods of Risk (The Expanse, #2.5)Gods of Risk by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm catching up this series and am something of a completist, so I'm reading the novellas, but so far they don't seem to add that much. In this one the protagonist is a pretty unlikeable teenage boy, the nephew of Bobbie Draper, superhero of Caliban's War. Bobbie ends up being central to the story, but not so much so until near the very end. What we get is the view of a pretty self-centered teen as we get indicators over their news feeds that their society is going to hell. It's decently written and I guess I am not going to demand the time back, but you could skip it if you are less obsessive than I am.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

The Butcher of Anderson Station, by James S. A. Corey

The Butcher of Anderson Station (The Expanse, #0.5)The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm getting around to catching this series up after several years. So far I've read Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War, then came back to this piece. So at this point it didn't make a lot of sense to me. Fred Johnson was a supporting character in Leviathan Wakes, and he's barely a presence in Caliban's War. I didn't find myself burning with curiosity about the backstory of The Butcher of Anderson Station. That said, it fits in well with the series and will probably help later. It's a well written "story segment".

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Caliban's War, by James S. A. Corey

Caliban's War (The Expanse, #2)Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read Leviathan Wakes back in 2013 when it was nominated for major awards, and have not revisited the series since then. Just came back to it. It's great as a late night read, because it does not make you work too hard and it's fast-paced so you stay awake. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue to catch the series up at some point.

I'll leave the plot summaries to others. When I read a SF book several years after it came out I like to note what the authors were anticipating. Smartphones had not consumed us in 2012 the way they have now, but the authors and others saw it coming. But the phrasing is kind of awkward--the characters in the novels all carry "hand terminals" that seem to have the same function as smartphones. I'd bet a good bottle of scotch that, for as far into the future as we actually carry them in our hands, we will call them "phones", because it's such a simple word and carries the history of large-scale person-to-person communication with it. Even though phones are busy subsuming all other media (and tools) into themselves.

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