Friday, June 28, 2013

Mono No Aware, by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is one of the very best emerging authors in science fiction.  I have reviewed a couple of other fine works of his (search for them yourself--see the tech note below).  This year he is nominated for a Hugo for the short story Mono No Aware, just out in Lightspeed.  A lot of really good SF is cultural exposition that is current but set in a plausible future.  This story is a great example, and a very good quick read.  The protagonist is Japanese, and is in fact the last Japanese person alive, so far as they know.  The story is told in a very simple and moving way.  It may in fact be slightly over the top as a cultural exemplar, but I really didn't mind.  Take 20 minutes and read it.  Strong 3 stars from me, and probably my favorite for the Hugo this year.

I am writing this on an iPad, and pretty much had a fail on the Blogspot site using the Safari browser.  Could not create a post at all.  That was cured by installing Chrome (who'd a thunk it?).  Still pretty hard to select text in it, but I'm getting used to it.  Am parsimonious with links, though.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Redshirts, by John Scalzi

I was in the middle of another novel when I stopped to read Redshirts.  I normally don't like to do that, but library availability will not wait and I'm a committed free fiction reader, as well as library supporter.  So I took a brief break (4 hours total) to take it in.

The book is quite a lot of fun.  I have not read a lot of Scalzi's work, so mostly what I know of him is as a parodist.  His other recent award nominated work, The Shadow War...is a very funny April Fool's joke.  This one is a takeoff on televised SF, specifically on Star Trek and the red shirt security officer phenomenon. 

Having your characters mirrored in real life, or a "real" life mirroring literary characters, is a common trope in fiction.  I remember it in SF from Lazarus Long in The Number of the Beast, a not particularly good Heinlein novel.  This one is much more fun. Scalzi's writing style reminds me ofdialog on Firefly, though he did not write for that series as far as I can tell.  Read Redshirts for a good time.  I'd say it was a contender for the Hugo, though it wouldn't beat out 2312.  Four stars from me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is continuing the Vorkosigan saga, even though all the Vorkosigans are pretty much retired.  The successor protagonist is Miles' cousin, Ivan Xav Vorpatril.  I looked forward to reading this one, if only to see where she is taking this venerable and overall quite good series. 

And the answer is--pretty much to the same place.  Not nowhere--Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a decent enough book, Bujold is a great writer with a good sense of how to hold interest.  But not anywhere else, either.  Bujold has built a large space in the Wormhole Nexus, and has explored some of the other cultures there (Beta Colony, Cetaganda, Jackson's Whole) but except for Ethan of Athos the series is pretty much fixated on Barrayar, a feudal culture suitable for galactic fantasy but not so much for science fiction.  Ivan is not much of a character--the other characters (mostly Jackson's Whole denizens) carry the story.  He's just a bit generic as a handsome slacker hero (now growing up a bit) to carry the series.  Miles has large shoes to fill on Barrayar.  If Bujold doesn't move the series focus offworld for the next novel (assuming there is one), the series is pretty much done as far as I am concerned.  Three stars from me, and slightly disappointed.

Friday, June 7, 2013

McGuire, Seanan - In Sea-Salt Tears

I am a pretty obsessive-compulsive reader, perhaps in other things as well but particularly reading. I read things in sets, taking what comes.  Sometimes these sets don't hang together so well, or lead me directions I don't want to go, and I agonize over changing them.  That's the obsessive part. 

And so it went with In Sea-Salt Tears.  I normally like to read stories in a series in the order they were written, and will make a point to try and catch up a series if a later novel is nominated for one of the awards I follow.  I did this for the Vorkosigan Saga, and also for Game of Thrones

So I found that In Sea-Salt Tears was nominated for a Hugo, and went looking for a legal free version.  The story is self-published by McGuire, in this case meaning that she is giving it away.  A good practice for award nominees, I think. I don't usually catch up a series in order to read a short story--I didn't do this for Lawrence Schoen's Buffalito series, the latest of which was nominated for a Nebula this year and thus I read it.  But McGuire clearly states that her entry will make more sense if you have read the novels that come before it--the October Daye series, five of them.  My local library has them, but they look pretty much like YA novels aimed at 14 year old girls.  And the series started out a bit spotty, according to reviewers.  So in the end, I decided to just read her nominated story, and see if I feel like catching the series up.

I liked the story.  It stands alone reasonably well as a tale and is deserving of the nomination, though I don't think it will win.  Her tone is very different from when she is writing as Mira Grant, which shows her range.  As a romance and a scene-setter it does just fine, though like her zombie novels it is in a crowded space.  But I don't think I'll go read the rest of the series just for this story.  If one of the October Daye novels gets nominated for a Big Three award later, I'll read them all.  3 stars from me.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mantis Wives, by Kij Johnson

One more for tonight.  Mantis Wives is a delightful little story of a type I enjoy--reminds me of one Ken Liu got nominated for, The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species.  These little catalogs are lots of fun, and in this case the list is the art works a mantis can make out of her husband.  Kind of nasty, but cute anyway, take 10 and read it.

The Boy Who Cast No Shadow, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

It took a bit of digging to find a source for The Boy Who Cast No Shadow, but it was worth looking for.  This is a nice little giveaway from PS Publishing.  In it, we have a boy called Look, who for some reason literally casts no shadow, makes no reflection, can't be seen in media.  What would his life be like?  He tells us a bit about it, being famous for no particularly good reason.  Pretty sad until he meets Splinter, a boy of normal volume but made of glass, only weighing 9 pounds and fragile as can be.  Their friendship and romance form the core of the story, though I would say that the romance is quite mild as that goes.  Alternative bodies are quite common in speculative fiction, but this is a uniquely interesting take on it--usually what we get is that the difference is some kind of superpower but makes the holder misunderstood.  Look and Splinter are just weirdly different, not revoltingly ugly or hiding special powers--just quite unavoidably different.  And reacting to that difference in a pretty normal, but interesting way, not just sublimating it into being superior.  I would say it is worth checking out for yourself.  3 stars from me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Stars Do Not Lie, by Jay Lake

Am now on to the Hugo nominees for this year, and found The Stars Do Not Lie on the Asmov's site as a PDF.  And I must say it brought joy to this reader's heart, though I was just a tiny bit unsure at first.  We have an alternate Earth history here (or really it could be any planet, just calls itself Earth) wherein they have quite solid evidence that Man appeared on Earth, just as he is today, 6000 years ago.  The Church and the powerful Thalassocretes (Lords of the Sea, though they are most definitely Masons) are rivals for power in this young civilization.  In this setting a young professor injects his finding, using new photograph technology, that an artificial spacecraft is approaching.  There is denial and consternation.

Interestingly, it's a familiar story but manages not to be a commentary on present times.  The themes and conflicts are timeless and universal.  Lake has a unique prose style, it's sort of old-fashioned yet very much draws one in as one reads.  This is quite good stuff, go out and enjoy.  4 stars from me, for present and potential.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Blackout, by Mira Grant

I am now starting on the Hugo-nominated books.  First one up is Blackout, the last in the Newsflesh trilogy.  The series is part of a huge wave of zombie fiction that appears to still be cresting, possibly because we are still pretty unhappy after the Great Recession.  Be that as it may, this particular entry is worth reading, because it's a prime example of why genre fiction is fun to read.  Grant gets right to the action and has a fine time with her wise-cracking protagonists.  My only minor complaint would be that if the quotes didn't have names next to them I couldn't really tell the characters apart.  But a lot of classic SF is like that, and doesn't diminish it at all.  And I'm seeing signs that Grant is not done telling this particular tale yet, so lots more to come there.  Read this book if you want to have some good, splattery fun. 3 stars, solid.