Friday, May 19, 2017

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

I have not heard of Yoon Ha Lee, but plenty of people have.  The basis of his SF is math, and he is now devoting most of his time to the Machineries of Empire universe, of which Ninefox Gambit is the first full length novel.

The technology here is the calendar--the regulation of life by holidays and appointment.  The calendar can be used as a weapon, and rebels against it make use of those properties as well.  It's a sort of magic, though never discussed as such here.

There's lots of action and intrigue, and much to enjoy.  Yoon Ha Lee has plenty of fans.  But I have to say I found the book hard to read, and it never really took off for me.  It could be a lack of familiarity with the cultural context--it is apparent that Lee is making different assumptions from what Westerners would.  Still, I spent a lot of my time reading this book confused.  I don't think that's how action novels are supposed to work. 

I guess this reminds me of Aliette De Bodard's work--confusing when it should be transparent.  It still sort of works, but I can't say I favor it for an award.  A weak 3 stars from me.

Monday, May 8, 2017

This Census-Taker, by China Mieville

This Census-Taker is my first read for the Hugo Awards this year.  The Hugos are a clean enough list this time that Free SF Online is listing them again.  The book is up for a novella award.

Mieville is inconsistent, which drives fans nuts in some ways.  The City and the City was one of the most brilliant social speculative fiction books I have ever read.  He is incredibly daring in the topics he takes on, and his style is unique.

But sometimes he just misses, and gets published anyway.  This is one of those time.  This Census-Taker is set in a place with a recent chaotic past, where there is some technology but it's not all tied together.  I thought of somewhere like Croatia when I read it.  The protagonist is a young boy in a family that seems schizophrenic in a very detached sort of way.  The father is definitely mentally ill.  Neither mother nor father seem comfortable at all with the rest of their town, or the world.  The father has a talent for making "keys" that make wishes come true in a limited way, thus the speculative element.  He also has a thing for killing small animals.  The book opens as the narrator, as an adult, describes himself running into town shouting about his father killing his mother.

The perspective of the book is supposedly adult, as I said--the narrator refers to himself living in another country, writing in a different language.  But the point of view of the book never seems to depart from that of the boy.  A series of sad events are described in the limited perspective of a seven year old, and aren't really informed by the adult perspective of the narrator.  It just kind of ploughs along.  I kept waiting for the action, or resolution, or something to start.  It eventually does resolve, but you feel like it never really got started.

So I'm not real sure why it was nominated for a Hugo, beyond name value, and I can't really recommend it.  Two stars for me.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Borderline, by Mishell Baker

Continuing my reading of Nebula award nominees for this year, I read Borderline by Mishell Baker.  The basic theme of the book is that an agency exists (the Arcadia Project) that serves as a contact point between the world of Fairy and our world.  Now, this theme has been done more times than I can count--Charles Stross' Laundry series, Jasper Fforde, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, and more YA series than you can shake a stick at--but it's a trope that keeps on giving. And this book has a lot to offer as an entry in the category.

The Arcadia Project uses the mentally damaged as its agents.  Our protagonist, Millie, suffers from Borderline personality disorder that has driven her to attempt suicide.  The attempt cost her parts of both legs.  We get detailed expositions of life inside a BPD person's head, and dealing with prosthetics ("every amputation's unique, you learn to do what works).

She and a crew of multiple personality, paranoid, psychopathic and dissociative agents investigate the disappearance of Fey visiting our world.  The worlds have much to lend each other--Fey value our social structure and organization, we value their creativity.  Highly creative people tend to have Echoes in Arcadia--Fey who are attuned to their person and can lend them creative vision.  The details are lots of fun.

The mystery and personality disorder elements are well woven together.  Millie is the only truly detailed character, but we get a strong supporting cast.  Her 19 year old boss Caryl is also well done.

This one is going to be hard to beat as a book to simply enjoy.  I can highly recommend it for a good, juicy read.  I had a hard time putting it down, and I have much experience with putting down good books.  I give it four stars.  Go get it now.