Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cetaganda, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Continuing my reading of the Vorkosigan saga, working my way forward to this year's Hugo nominee Cryoburn--we'll see if I make it this year.  The latest read is Cetaganda, set in the empire of Barrayar's most implacable enemy.  This book takes place relatively early in Miles Vorkosigan's career, though it was written much later.  Bujold claims the right to write about Miles' career in any order she chooses, which is, I think, pretty wise. 

In this book Miles and his cousin Ivan visit the Cetagandan empire on the occasion of the empress's funeral.  He gets caught up in a plot to destabilize their empire, with Barrayar the intended culprit.  He of course foils the plot with his combination of intelligence, timing and general good luck.  Two things stand out for me in the development of his character, keeping in mind that he's already more than halfway developed when this book was written.

  1. The Cetagandan empire is sophisticated beyond belief--Barrayar is in way over its head trying to keep up with their civilization.  The invasion of Barrayar was a fairly big deal for the Cetagandans, but in truth seemed to get a less than full effort from them.  One might compare it to the US intervention in Vietnam.  Barrayar bled them out and they gave it up for a bad job.  I am reading a lot in here, this is not covered in the story, it's just sort of implied.
  2. Miles shows a flash or two of very broad ambition.  He treats the Cetagandan emperor almost as an equal.  His comfort at tweaking power continues to grow.
Good stuff, continues to be worth following.  3 stars

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Silent Land, by Graham Joyce

The World Fantasy Award nominations are out, so I am reading the ones not overlapping other categories.  The fantasy awards take one into different territory than the Hugos and Nebulas, and the first of these books I've read represents this. 

The Silent Land starts out like it's going to be a horror novel.  Zoe and Jake are caught in an avalanche.  He digs her out, but they find the resort they are staying in is completely abandoned, no living things around.  Then the weird things start, mostly familiar from the horror scene--they cannot leave, nothing is decomposing, there are ominous presences.

But the ominous things are just a backdrop--the story is centered on the relationship between Zoe and Jake, and what their love means to them.  Their deep love, and ordinary imperfections, are shown very well.

In the end, the book is a death metaphor.  Much like The Last Temptation of Christ, where Jesus lives a whole other life while on the cross, the time that passes for the couple is actually time under the snow.  That made the novel right for me.  No real spoiler here, this ending is pretty much telegraphed about halfway through the book.  It's a very quick read for a novel, less than three hours for me and I'm not a speed reader.  Since it's not really my usual thing, it's not certain how long it will stay with me.  But it's worth getting out of the library, which I did.  3 stars.

Library Economics

It's nearly nine miles one way to my library.  If I make a special trip to get there, that's 18 miles.  The federal reimbursement rate for driving one's own car on govt. business is currently 59 cents per mile.  My car is slightly cheaper, let's call it 50 cents.  That is to cover consumables only--gas and maintenance.

So it costs me nine bucks to drive to the library and back, and another nine bucks to return the book.  I also own a Kindle and a Nook, and can get books delivered as electrons--no delivery truck.  Usually around 8 bucks apiece.  So I need to be getting three books every time I go to the library to make it worthwhile, if I don't count my personal time driving. 

I do it because I still support libraries as public spaces, and I am donating books there now.  The main value of libraries seems at this point to be to provide free internet access to those who come.  This is a good thing, and I support it.  But how much longer will this make sense?  Very hard to say.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Vor Game, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Back to the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan in The Vor Game, part of the omnibus edition Young Miles.  This novel covers Miles' early career, after founding the Dendarii Free Mercenaries.  His attempts at fitting into Barrayaran military culture are doomed to fail, in very successful ways.  He thwarts a psychopathic senior officer and makes an enemy I think I'll see more of in Cavilo.  His compelling charisma is rounding into full form, and in the end he has himself a commission as pretty much a free agent.  Good times. 3 more stars.

As adventure novels these do very well, it's a very pleasant way to pass an evening.  I'm having a good time working my way forward to his present self, though that may take awhile as other attractive books are on the way.  Am going back to award nominees, this time wanting to have a look at the World Fantasy Award nominees while the award is not yet given.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler

I took a brief break from the Vorkosigans to read an award winner newly available online, thanks to our good friend at Free SF Online.  The novelette Bloodchild won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1984-85.  So is it worth going back over 25 years to read?  Well, I am a fan of period pieces so I am not an unbiased source.  But overall I would say so.

Not only is the story well written, it doesn't contain a lot of cultural references to date it.  This means it holds up quite well.  And Octavia Butler's take on aliens is one that only she can pull off, so it's not going to seem stale or repetitive.  Her aliens have very human emotions--in fact they have quite a positive affinity for humans.  My sample may be small, but the Xenogenesis series goes this way as well.  The somewhat repetitive element is that it's a "host" story--humans implanted with alien young.  And the humans find it disgusting, though they like the aliens otherwise it seems.  If you read this story, go on to read the Xenogenesis series where the themes are much more thoroughly explored, and in an original way.  Butler's stories are always powerful and memorable, you can't go wrong with them.  3 stars for this one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Back to the free stuff!  And back to the Vorkosigan saga.  Today we have The Warrior's Apprentice, the first book in the series that features Miles Vorkosigan.  This book was actually published before Barrayar, but comes after it in the Vorkosigan chronology.  I am choosing to read them in internal chronological order.

In this book we see Miles display his seriously over the top charisma.  He is such a born leader that a troop of mercenaries basically forms around him.  This is how he views it as well.  There's plenty of adventure here, though really the book is focused on developing Miles' character.  It's pretty much a "galactic fantasy", there's very little about the science that is particularly important, though Miles does have to deal with space armor and free fall.  Miles is by turns charming, emotional, intimidating, etc. etc.  It's easy to think Bujold was a bit in love with him at this point, maybe like Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey. In any case, this is pretty much what there is in the book.  Cordelia is mostly an offstage presence, the Botharis ultimately disposable.  But that may sound too critical--the book was quite fun to read and I'm looking forward to the next one.  This one gets three stars, and an exhortation to "soldier on".