Wednesday, October 22, 2014

San Diego 2014: Last Stand of the California Browncoats, by Mira Grant

San Diego 2014 was nominated for an award (Nebula, I think--too tired to look it up) last year, but it was only available in electronic format and I don't know how to donate those to the library.  But I was searching for award winners this year and found that my library had acquired it in electronic form.  So by happy chance I am able to catch this up and provide a review.

This is a "prequel" to the Newsflesh trilogy (I have reviewed all three--the link is to Feed, the first one).  Mahir Gowdha, a survivor of the original trilogy's blogging group, is interviewing one of the very few survivors from San Diego Comic-Con 2014, where one of the early breakouts happened.  The novella tells the story of those trapped inside. 

Where Newsflesh was grim, yet sarcastic and humorous, this story tends more toward just grim.  No one gets out alive--it's mostly about their last moments, and doesn't really stand alone.  Best if you have read the original trilogy, since the story is set after the series.  I would say it's worth seeking out if you have.  And the original series is definitely worth the read if you have not.  3 stars for this one.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

The last book I read by Neil Gaiman was Anansi Boys.  For some reason I have never reviewed it.  That's unfortunate, for the book was worthy, but I don't think I'll get to it now.  The book I'm here to review is this year's Nebula nominee, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, available as an e-book from my library, which is a great thing.

Our protagonist is departing from a funeral.  Obviously someone close to him, as he appears to have arranged the funeral.  But we don't really find out who it is.  He drifts away from the funeral and ends up at the Hempstock farm, where he has a Proust moment.  Sitting on a bench by the duck pond, he recalls extraordinary events from when he visited there at seven years old.  He meets Lettie Hempstock, the 3rd generation of Hempstock women at the farm.  Together they take on a creature from an alternate world that comes to "give everyone what they want", only it does it poorly.  He is not much use, but is a good friend to Lettie.

The book is beautifully written, as Gaiman's fiction always is.  Compared to Anansi Boys, though, it just feels a couple of sizes smaller.  There's action, adventure, and strong characters, but all somewhat less.  The protagonist is something of a cipher, and though that's quite intentional it leaves something of a hole in the middle of the book. 

What makes it worthwhile, and why I still give it four stars, is the careful thought and wonderful writing that is fully present.  It's a great example of how to write a novel, and yet it's something of a toss-off for Gaiman--the casual backhand down the line, chip shot to within an inch, or easy swing for a home run.  Four stars.  Go read it, it won't take long.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Red: First Light, by Linda Nagata

The Red: First Light gets comparisons in its reviews to Joe Haldeman's The Forever War and Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, both of which I read (though not the whole Forever War series) and enjoyed in different ways.  The comparisons are more along the lines of how military SF progresses with its times--from glory to simple slogging to the more complex feelings we have about involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Instead of discoursing directly on this, Nagata tries to embody that ambiguity of modern warfare in her protagonist, James Shelley.  He's an idealist who got caught up in a protest against the US government, then took the Army over a stint in jail. 

One of the more uncomfortable elements of the novel is how fully the Army owns Shelley, and how he both chafes against it and accepts it.  Basically it's become a part of him and there's no way out.  He puts that personal transparency to use in fighting for social justice, and for trying to understand what appears to be a rogue artificial intelligence influencing people's behavior and decisions in a subtle way.  He recognizes its influence more than most--the "hunches" he gets that makes a fellow soldier conclude he has a pipeline to God.

There's plenty of action and the philosophy is well distributed, so the book ends up to be a really well executed thriller that also allows you to think.  I would give it four stars except that for me I couldn't really get going on it right away--took a bit to warm up.  So 3 stars from me.  But definitely worth reading.