Friday, July 13, 2018

The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

The Stars Are LegionThe Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is my first time reading Kameron Hurley. Now I'll know what to expect--you do literally have to set your stomach for it, much like reading Jeff Vandermeer novels. It is SF with a lot of horror mixed in. And it got off to a somewhat slow start for me, as the two major protagonists (Zan and Jayd) that drive the narrative are very similar, even though they say they are very different. I think that is deliberate on Hurley's part and shows some very layered writing. But Zan and Jayd are very stilted, while some of the other characters in the book (told through Zan and Jayd) seem to have actual differences.

But enough self-referential character development stuff. This novel is packed with ideas. Organic world-ships are not a new thing, but the way Hurley reveals their scale is really good stuff. There's an archetype Hero's Journey in it that is the best part of the book, but you have to get through almost half of the book to see it.

Persistence paid off and in the end I liked, but did not love, the book. Promising but just a bit too stiff and rough around the edges to be excellent.

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald

New Moon (Luna #1)New Moon by Ian McDonald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One thing for sure, this book will not bore you. A page turner all the way through. Many good action scenes, maybe not quite as good on the sex scenes, but it's definitely a solid thriller that will get your adrenaline humming.

Some good points: Finding alternate sexuality in a book is really easy these days, in fact it's pretty much the default. McDonald's lunar society finds a way to make it feel deliberate and natural at the same time--everyone is pretty much full-on horny for everyone else all the time. This feels natural because it's consistent with lunar culture, every aspect is intense. Believable maybe--a good story grounding, definitely. I was able to round up to four stars because of this. There are a few genuine cultural moments as well, in particular the description of the Long Run.

Problems: The appeal begins and ends with the storytelling, the story itself is well worn. I am reading the award winners this year, and picked this up as a catch-up for Wolf Moon, which is nominated for a Locus award. Does everyone have to write about Great Family rivalries? John Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire, Yoon Ha Lee's Raven Stratagem, Fonda Lee's Jade City--I could go on and on. Basically everything by Aliette De Bodard. Yes, it's always been a popular story framework, but is it truly the ONLY one? I may be an outlier because, while I enjoy the Song of Ice and Fire, I'm not blinded by it. Goodness.

Other reviewers have mentioned the poor production quality of the book. There are definitely enough errors to be distracting, almost causing me to lower the rating to 3 stars. Not quite.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Martian Obelisk, by Linda Nagata

The Martian ObeliskThe Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story was well and clearly told, and I found it easy to sympathize with the protagonists. Maybe a little too easy. It sounds very much like Nagata follows the same news I do, and took everything I (we) are afraid of, and convinced is going to happen, and put it in as the backdrop for a short story. Very compelling, and depressing. Others have said it is a bit derivative, but really, what story isn't? I liked it the best of all the Hugo short story entries this year, and hope it wins.

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The Secret Life of Bots, by Suzanne Palmer

The Secret Life of BotsThe Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an enjoyable little novelette. It's a bit standard for a Hugo win, but it will contend. Highly humanized robots have always been a thing, and they definitely are this year (see All Systems Red and Fandom for Robots). Sometimes I think about wanting to see a story from a more uniquely "robotic" perspective, but then again, we are creating them so I guess it's a good bet that they will end up with our personalities. Anyway, it's worth the time to read.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jemisin is a big thinker and an autobiographical writer (the latter in this series, at least). I really enjoy big ideas, so this story was appealing. It didn't blow me away as it has some readers, but it's a worthy conclusion to the series. And as I have found over the years, that's no mean thing. Concluding a series effectively is incredibly hard.

I learned a lot from reading the afterword. Jemisin became a full-time writer during the writing of this book, and that shows despite the fact that she had a lot of external challenges. She is focusing on refining her style. For me, some of those edges show, in the way Hoa tells Essun's story. Throughout the series I sometimes had trouble keeping track of her identity with all the name (and truly, identity) changes. One thing that comes up persistently, and is always a challenge for writers who work at her scale, is how to convey the action. It's meant to be more visual, with lots of CG effects and breathless, strained, exclamatory dialog. I really could see this being a big-budget movie, but in print there's a bit of a struggle.

These are pretty minor points. The story speaks to us, in our time, about our history and how we restrain people with unknown power through fear. In the end the story is grand enough to fulfill its scope. Jemisin did an effective job of conveying how the earth had come to its present pass, and awesome is an accurate word for it.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Black Tides of Heaven, by J. Y. Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate, #1)The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y.  Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a lot packed into this little book. The magical system, Slack, is interesting in itself (though we don't really learn much about it besides the fact that it is difficult to master). I think there's some significance in how it's named that may become more apparent later. It's also not a completely fantastic world--technology progresses, and things that can be done in Slack might also be accomplished without magic. This gives the relationships and the politics a more grounded feel.

All this is illustrated, rather than described, through the relationship of Akeha and Mokoya, twins who at the start have yet to declare their sexuality. The author is non-binary, which may account for why the non-binary nature of children and sexuality as a choice feel very natural, and contribute to the Otherness of the work as a reflection of ourselves.

Since it's part of a series I expect that all this is going to get filled in a bit. I think it will be worth it.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth (River of Teeth, #1)River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The one good thing about this story is hippos. Introducing African wildlife to the U.S. is a thing, and Gailey gives us some good background on how this got considered. Hippos as potentially dangerous beasts that are a challenge to domesticate but repay the effort is pretty cool, and a great driver of the book. But that's about all there is to it. The characters are forced into two molds--roles in an Old West outlaw gang (explained, and deliberate) and also into modern sex and gender roles (not explained, though with more development it could have been illustrated).

The book has the feel of a YA novel but doesn't work as one--there's a lot of violence, including some very sad stuff. The plot is pulled off well enough around these forced characters, but it's necessarily uncomplicated in a short work. There's a couple of big gaps:

1) Gailey explains in the introduction that she has taken the real interest in hippo imports back about 60 years to set it in the old west. Trying to imagine some steampunk or Wild Wild West type technology to get the hippos to the Americas would have added a lot, but she chose not to.

2) The gender roles could have worked if Gailey had gone more in for this story as alternate history--where those gender roles are known and out but still marginalized. It sort of makes sense that these characters would be criminals in the Old West, because what else would they be in that society? Instead it just feels like modern liberal sensibilities are picked up and dropped into a Western setting. Not really helpful.

But 3 stars and yay for hippos.

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