book review: normal

Normal is by Warren Ellis and is a story of a futurist who starts off the tale being admitted to a mental institution for futurists. “Stared a bit too long into the abyss” is the phrase they use to deflect from the details of why they’re there. I liked the setup because it was a way to get different mad ideas together, not quite bouncing off each other but at least in proximity. They’re not supposed to be there to synthesize some great model of reality but to individually deal with their madnesses and get better. It turns into a collection of thoughts on surveillance and the mad world of the 21st century. I liked it, though at times it did feel a bit like the story (of a murdered patient) was simply an excuse to bounce from one idea to the next. Selah.

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book review: y: the last man (complete series)

I read the first couple of trade paperback collections of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerrera’s Y: The Last Man years ago, and I think the only reason I didn’t continue reading it was the usual library dance of the next volume not being on the shelf when I wanted it and blah blah blah laziness. At my new library, all five volumes of the omnibus edition were just sitting on the shelf when I was wandering by and I decided it was time to fill in that gap.

Y: The Last Man is pretty good!

I knew I liked the premise but in my head since I’d never completed the series it was just a cool premise. I didn’t remember much else about it. I was a little worried it was going to feel very heavy-handed or that it was going to devolve into bullshit (which is my impression of what happened with Fables, though I may be wrong about that). But Vaughan writes really good dialogue (and you can totally hear how Saga is by the same writer). There’s a lot of good weirdness and I like how the story isn’t a slave to its premise. Other males are born; there’s acknowledgement that all sorts of species will go extinct; there’s jokiness through the action scenes. It gets a bit more globe-trotty than I expected in the later volumes and I like the eventual sidelining of Yorick as the key to everything and focusing on how he’s dealing with his very changed life as the object of humanity’s quest. I’d also say it stuck the landing.

book review: the bone clocks

The Bone Clocks is David Mitchell’s new novel about a woman named Holly Sykes and the strange life she gets caught up in living. It does the excellent David Mitchelly thing of having multiple sections which are their own stories in their own specific times (though this one, unlike Cloud Atlas, does keep marching into the future).

I liked the story as it built from a literary-feeling mundane story into a pretty gonzo sci-fi spectacle. Holly Sykes is in every part and she’s great, but she’s not the narrator or even a main character in many of the sections, which is kind of what I really liked about the novel. It bounces around with a bunch of different perspectives (which are not as extremely different as the different styles in number9dream) that to me make it feel like it’s trying to capture the multiplicity of life. The book’s always about Holly even if we’re in the heads of her less than immaculate friends and lovers.

There are a couple of things that I wasn’t a huge fan of, but they were more on the loose ends side of things. The final section was longer than it probably needed to be but it was also the most affecting part of the whole experience. That might be because it was the furthest into the future and the most sfnal. I can see how you could call it preachy, but I think that fits the narrator at that point.

So yes, I liked it. It’s a bit weirder than The Thousand Autumns of Jacon de Zoet, but Mitchell knows how to write characters you’ll really care for (in the midst of weird scifiishness).

book review: the four fingers of death

Rick Moody’s The Four Fingers of Death is an odd kind of book for me. I really like the idea behind it (a “literary novelization of the 2020s remake of a 1960s B-Movie”). The construction of the framing story plus the Mission to Mars story that never shows up in the film being adapted is very neat. I like the future world Moody’s depicting, with its increasingly irrelevant NAFTA-bloc being overshadowed by Sino-Indian concerns so they’re trying to do these grand space gestures to delay the inevitable end of American hegemony.

But man, I hated reading this book.

The problem is basically that every scene goes on and on. Pages and pages are spewed out conveying nothing. I care about the one-sentence summaries of these characters, but the endless pontificating and monologuing that never actually help illuminate the characters or the situations made this thing a slog and a half. There were good bits and ideas and scenes (especially in the introduction and afterword), but they were buried in all this extra crap.

It’s funny because the narrator of the story is introduced as a baseball-card collector and writer whose grand contributions to literature are these stories that are 1 sentence long. So it’s funny to have the book be a monument to prolixity. But not funny enough to keep me from heaving a sigh of relief when it was done.

The whole thing made me miss Kurt Vonnegut, which was conscious on Moody’s part. But Vonnegut wouldn’t have taken 700 pages to do this book.

book review: cyberabad days

Cyberabad Days is a collection of short stories set in the world of Ian McDonald’s River of Gods. That world is a 21st century where India has fragmented into mini-states banning or making huge amounts of money on aeais and genetic engineering and drought (and cricket).

The collection is good for getting into the details of how some of the weirder aspects of the world worked than you can really get into in the middle of a novel. Setting up other characters who are marrying aeais while the Water War happens is a great way to make the world feel deeper. The final story in the book is about one of the hugely-long-lived Brahmin gengineered children and it’s the only story that really moves the world past the big events that happen in the novel. I think it was my favourite story because of that, though “Sanjeev and Robotwallah” was te kind of complete little tale that I enjoy.

If you wanted to see if you’d like River of Gods (which is a pretty big fat book) you wouldn’t do too badly to read one or two of these stories, but don’t read “Vishnu and the Circus of Cats” because that will kind of mess up a lot of reveals from the novel. And for the record, my favourite Ian McDonald book is still Desolation Road.

book review: the rapture of the nerds

I’d read the Appeals Court part of Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross’ The Rapture of the Nerds when it was first published a few years ago and thought it was kind of meh. This version has two more stories to flesh out the story into more of a book, and the last section makes it worth reading.

I don’t know. I guess the early bits about the messenger and the being called into techno court are okay, but so much of it seems like an excuse to just toss a bunch of ideas together. I appreciated the gender-switching as Huw got incarnated differently through the story and the family relationships, but mostly the book didn’t really do it for me, until Huw had her years-long sulk in part three.

It wasn’t bad, just not highly recommended.

book review: red mars

Photo Credit: Mars, once by kevin dooley, on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4410885928/ shared under a cc-by-2.0 license

I’m one of those people who loves a good frontier story. The idea of going somewhere new and pushing the edges of what the people you know have seen appeals to me. I’ve also heard that idea being described as a Western-centric colonialist/racist perspective so yeah, there are problematic issues there. But the beauty of science fiction is getting to do some of that bold infinitive splitting in places where there are not cultures to feel superior to. Which brings us to Mars.

I love a good Mars story. Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road, and Kage Baker’s The Empress of Mars are the two I can see on my shelves, but I’ve got my own Douglas Quaid thing going. Which makes it weird I’d never read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. I have now begun.

The first novel, Red Mars, begins with a murder once a colony on Mars has been established, then it jumps back in time to show us the trip from Earth and the training the First Hundred went through, then the work of starting a colony and the politics of science. Eventually the story takes us past the opening murder into greater politics and dust-storms and mysticism. The whole book spans decades (they also develop longevity treatments on Mars, while Earth is tearing itself down in overpopulated war).

We read about these decades through the perspectives of a bunch of the first settlers, and their perspectives are all very different. What I really liked about the book was that the political choices were real and taken seriously and not very much was solved easily. Getting into these characters’ heads made a difference and it was very clear how few villains there were, just people trying to make life work in a cold harsh place.

One of the things I found disorienting was some of the 1990sishness of it. There was still an assumption that in the 2040s the important nations would be the Americans and the Russians. There’s literally one Asian person in the first 100 colonists, and she becomes a mystic orgy saint pretty quickly. Hm. Maybe that’s not such a typical ’90s thing. There’s definitely a bunch of otherization going on with the Sufis and Bedouin that feature in parts of the story, which does get in the way of some of my pure enjoyment (this is a problem that Ian McDonald’s Mars books don’t have, FYI).

The science in the book was intriguing. Robinson really delved into what it would take to make Mars habitable and how that changes the unspoiled nature of a lifeless rock. That geology (sorry, areology) has purpose beyond being fit for people and commercial interests.

Very good book, though I’ll wait a while to read the next ones. I like to make this kind of story last.