Monday, June 27, 2011

The Native Star, by M. K. Hobson local libraries, like many, are having funds cut drastically.  We shall have to stock them ourselves, pretty much, for awhile.  So I'll be continuing my reviews of award-nominated fiction by buying and donating the titles.  Starting with M. K. Hobson's The Native Star.

When reading this book, what came to mind over and over was the old TV show The Wild Wild West.  But this book is somewhat more magical than steampunky.  In fact, magic takes the place of early computing as a science driver.  Much good adventure ensues as a back country witch unintentionally takes part in the process of preventing a natural magical disaster.  It doesn't really break any new ground, but there's not much bad to say about it either.  I enjoyed reading it, and may even read more.  But its insights are at best medium-deep, so this would qualify more as light entertainment than literature of ideas.  But that's good too.  This book is a good choice if none of your true favorites have produced something recently, or you just want a break.  3 stars.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

All Clear, by Connie Willis

All Clear is the second half of the Hugo-nominated Blackout/All Clear two-volume novel by Connie Willis.  I reviewed Blackout even though it was only half the novel, but now I've gotten through both.  And for the most part, it's pretty much like the first part--the four protagonists, historians from the future, are still trying to get out.  They continue to scramble, with less hope. 

But toward the end, the novel finally pays off.  The various theories about time travel and the continuum are woven together, with all the complexities of knowing how things came out faced fully.  It's hard keeping it all straight, but done well.  And I have grown more appreciative of endings since reading Infinite Jest (see earlier post).  This one is very well executed, with all hard work paying off as well as it could.  Was it worth 900 pages to get to that ending?  It's really hard to say.  In her forward she says the book grew on its own, but I do think the action got pretty repetitive--a Reader's Digest condensed version would probably actually work (do they still do those?).  In any case I'll give it 3 stars and say I liked it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

For I Have Touched the Sky, by Mike Resnick

Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga series tells the story of Kikuyu who have given up life in modern Kenya to reclaim their ancestral lives in a satellite.  For I Have Touched the Sky is the second story in the series, and like the first (and I suspect them all) it fully explores the strengths and limitations of tribal life.

Koriba the mundumugu (witch doctor) for his tribe is the protagonist in the series, and in this story he encounters a young girl who is fully tied to tribal life, and yet is a genius longing for much more than the tribe can give her.  The story metaphor is of a wounded bird, who could be cured but could not fly again, and so will not be content and dies.  Koriba knows that allowing her to be herself will introduce ideas that will be the end of the colony, and also knows that thwarting her will be almost impossible.  And it is.  The story fully shows the fragility of the idea of the colony itself--it will be only by a series of increasingly difficult compromises and costly decisions that the colony will continue.

Resnick is a good and prolific author.  I had a chance to chat with him about SF over 20 years ago via email, when online chats were still a novelty.  He is full of ideas and never seems to stop writing.  This series won several awards and is well worth reading.  4 stars for this one.

Barrayar, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Apologies for the three week hiatus--have been reading several things at once, and am now finishing them.  Most recently I've finished Barrayar, the second book written by Bujold in the Vorkosigan series.  As said earlier, the entries in the series have won several awards, and the whole thing is available for free on the site and CD referenced above.  It's quite a treasure.

As for the second novel in the series--this entry, like Shards of Honor before it, features Miles Vorkosigan's mother Cordelia Naismith.  The first two entries are more "galactic romance" novels (I recall first seeing the term used by Mercedes Lackey, but can't find that specifically) than hard SF.  The first book definitely fits there, but this one has a bit more action.  And the feminine view on it is very interesting--Cordelia basically gives up nearly all of her Betan values to save her son, and in the afterword Bujold frames this as a very natural thing to do.  I'm starting to get more involved in the series.  I have so far stuck somewhat to the series chronology, but will see whether I keep going that way--Bujold herself says she writes so that a reader can encounter them in "a completely random order", but I'm not so sure that makes sense.

Barrayar in itself is a fine action/romance novel, interesting and fun to read, giving an idea of how good the series should be once I get into it.  But I'm going to be taking a break from it for awhile to read more of the award nominees from last year.  Barrayar gets 3 stars