Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I just read this, coming to it after it's been out for some time. In addition to all its other accolades it was second in the Locus Awards science fiction novel category--that's how I found it. Mostly it's an alternate history, with a very near resemblance to the real thing.

I am not sure what to think. A lot of important critics like this book, giving it a Pulitzer is a pretty big deal. Maybe it's the feeling that I'm supposed to like it. There's some good writing here, I found Cora's introspections more meaningful than some reviewers did. Partly that would be because early on I let go of the notion that the characters would have authentic period voices. Colson Whitehead is living now, during the rise of the Right and of Black Lives Matter, and his characters seem like the hardest, most extreme and most self-aware versions of current activist-type people. It's a harsh, tell-it-like-it-is novel so he's getting points for that.

It's not the sort of book you actually like. But if it were put together better it would have more impact. I'm with many of the more disappointed reviewers--it's hard to engage with the characters, they are closer to caricatures and rather thin. The shocking violence gets the point across about the times and the very clear way in which white settlers took what they wanted from anyone in their path. But in the end I was pretty remote from it.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Roadsouls, by Betsy James

RoadsoulsRoadsouls by Betsy James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roadsouls is a fascinating and wonderfully different kind of fantasy novel. As Suzy McKee Charnas noted, it's not about royalty, war, and magic as a weapon. This book is character driven, and works as deeply with the characters as any I have read. The protagonists, Duuni and Raim, are both highly capable and deeply flawed. Duuni is an artist channeling her work as though from elsewhere, and this is where the book is the most "fantastic". Raim is a highly capable man, but blind, caused when he became reckless through his pride. His anger at this fate never left him. Raim in particular suffers trials that make Job look weak. Duuni's struggles are more interior. It's a fine description of differing cultures, told very strictly through how Duuni and Raim experience them. Also plenty of excitement, with suitably villainous people as foils. A very good read indeed.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Death's End, by Cixin Liu

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)Death's End by Liu Cixin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The is the last entry in the Remembrance of Earth's Past series, and my final read for the Hugos for 2016.  I can say that this last entry in the trilogy is better than the previous one. In fact, it is probably my favorite in the series, on the strength of a more artful translation and the sheer breadth of ideas Liu explores. The scope is the entire universe, which is something I enjoy. In the end, though, the writing is still a bit stiff for me, and the ideas being thrown out there feel scattered. I'm not sure what enthralls people so. Other than that he's an old fashioned chauvinist. I guess I am glad to have experienced the series through to the end and have seen what he is about, but I have seen plenty now.  My favorite for the Hugos this year was probably All The Birds In the Sky.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are a lot of glowing reviews on here, which makes me wonder if these reviewers actually read books. Shades of Edward Bulwer-Lytton! The Three Body Problem was not that smooth either, but Ken Liu's translation gave it a bit more help than Joel Mortensen's workmanlike effort. Not to mention the fairly obvious misogyny and stereotyping pointed out elsewhere. Should I mention here that Cixin Liu is one of Vox Day's (of Hugo trolling Rabid Puppies fame) favorite authors? He tells a story the old fashioned way.

That means there are some ideas in it that are relatively fresh, or at least give us a different, uniquely modern Chinese perspective. The idea that the political officers are an overworked and vital part of Earth's defense is something you wouldn't find an American author writing. Liu makes a case for this.

There are a lot of ideas in all, more than the book really needs. I am going to go ahead and read Death's End, hopefully we get something decent for persevering.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North

My Goodreads review -The Sudden Appearance of HopeThe Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first experience with Claire North, and I'll look forward to reading more. The book has a logical clarity that really works well with the literary experience. North has come up with an excellent form of invisibility, in that having people forget they have seen you is just as good as not being seen in the first place.

The story is really just a vehicle for this exploration. How Hope Arden gets by in life ties into really overly efficient self-help software, but even though the author makes it clear that Hope is really invested in the outcome, the story line and the exploration end up sitting side by side rather than integrating. The book is all told in the first person, and we really get a sense of the voice of someone who can talk with others, interact with them, but never be real to them.

We even get some interesting exploration of the boundaries of the phenomenon. Can you remember that you have interacted with someone you can't remember? Not easily, you have to make a lot of notes and in some way doubt your own sanity.

The book is well-written and a deep exploration. I would recommend it to anyone really trying to get into the gears of building speculation, because they are somewhat exposed here, in a good and artful way.

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I think it's a real contender for the 2017 World Fantasy Award.