Posted on | January 18, 2013 | No Comments
Pro: Vivid, dynamic, brutal and different fantasy story about a battle and its consequences, and a grim cast of characters with no real good guys to be found.
Contra: Occasionally slips into slight cliché with the characterization, the initial battle description feels slightly gimmicky at first, but these objections are completely irrelevant.
Pro: Beautifully written story of very alien, yet recognizably human beings, uplifted almost to the point of incomprehensibility, yet with multidimensional characters one can relate to, topped off by solid faux science.
Contra: No serious objections, but avoid the sequel like it’s rabid.
Pro: Gorgeous worldbuilding, non-US-centric future global politics, surprisingly well captured atmosphere of imminent wartime.
Contra: Occasionally too wordy in large, descriptive passages, particularly regarding scientific or faux-scientific tangents with little bearing on the plot.
Pro: Beautiful, poetic tale of growing up as a bookish and generally different child, told after the main story seems to be over, in a sort of anti-hogwartian style of boarding school story. Oh, and the way the magic works – or doesn’t work – is lovely.
Contra: The constant references to classic SF titles do become somewhat tedious and slightly forced after a point.
Pro: A thoughtful, layered and brutally unflinching meditation on the nature of humanity, both its positive and negative sides, from the perspective of descendants of a crashed ship on a thoroughly alien sunless planet.
Contra: Occasionally our primary hero manages to achieve certain things just a wee bit too easily.
Pro: Beautiful love story and wartime fantasy unfolding in the arctic wastes of Alaska, revolving around an actual cloud atlas and Japanese firebombing of US mainland during WWII.
Contra: Not sure why, but the wife lost interest in the book very early on, claims “nothing happened for a long time”.
Pro: Perfect books for relaxed reading on the beach. It has space zombies, so I’m not sure what else needs to be said.
Contra: Pulpy style, so not good if you are looking for “serious” or “intellectual” books. Also, preemptively ripped off my novel idea, so yeah.
Pro: Vampiric apocalypse and post-apocalypse that is exquisitely good even when it gets a bit stupid.
Contra: Becomes serious pulpy on occasion, and becomes exquisitely stupid sometimes even though it is still rather good. The second book is slightly worse than the first.
Pro: Weird amnesiac adventure after our hero wakes up from the perfect dream into the nightmarish reality of a broken-down generation ship where almost everything is out to kill him.
Contra: Slightly derivative – the opening is almost exactly the same as Pandorum. One of the most interesting characters is underdeveloped.
Pro: Mix of economic and lovecraftian horror that opts to make you extremely itchy instead of extremely frightened. Spot-on Brooklyn atmosphere.
Contra: Certain details are predictable, such as the fact that some of the characters will turn out to be evil.
Pro: Twisted tale of a different type of warfare style set against old military structures, presenting a deep clash between hierarchical modes of thinking set against mesh-type conceptualizations.
Contra: The action moves on in a relatively linear fashion, some of the exploits of our hero are sometimes really unfeasible.
Classic Standing Strong:
Pro: Seriously disturbed mythological fantasy/far future SF full of dark humour and whimsy, a gorgeous literary experiment that was never meant for publication and all the more beautiful for it.
Contra: In a few rare spots it tends to show its age, particularly in the chapters regarding the computer powered by orgasms.
Posted on | January 13, 2013 | 1 Comment
Most of you will not like Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War, and probably shouldn’t even try to read it. I am not aiming for condescension, but simply the mindset when I say there is a lot of science in his fiction and most of it well and truly fictional. This opinion is borne out by a number of reviews online, but there is, as a vocal minority of reviewers indicates, a slice of the reading public that will truly, fully, enjoy what he provides, and I am smack dab in the middle of it.
The Quiet War is not a true eganesque mathematical fandango where if the reader can’t keep up with the math and/or physics, they are reduced to skimming pages and assuming things happen by “magic”. This novel is relatively easy to follow, its several points of view speaking with distinct voices and perspectives as we follow our heroes trying to halt, mitigate or initiate an interplanetary war with Earth’s colonies on and around the satellites of Saturn. However, McAuley does enjoy stopping every now and then to describe, in minute detail, the fictional biomechemistry or construction of surface domes or, even, as boring as it may sound, soil composition and layering. To me, most of these longwinded description passages were fascinating, serving as breaks between brief and frequently violent outbursts of action.
Apart from these digressions, McAuley also occasionally stumbles in style and even, as if lacking a good editor, grammar, however, these minor issues were overshadowed by the very believable universe he created, along with the all-too-familiar atmosphere of societies gearing up for, psyching up for, and initiating a pointless, aimless, ideologically driven war, and individuals caught in the web of History breaking right across their shoulders.
Posted on | January 10, 2013 | No Comments
They tell me The Crying of Lot 49 is Thomas Pynchon’s most accessible book, which might be part of the problem; the writing here is perhaps too transparent to truly wrap me up in the story and never let me surface for breath, as was the case with the utterly brilliant Gravity’s Rainbow.
Inasmuch as Pynchon novels have a coherent plot, this one concerns Oedipa Maas, named executor for the will of her former lover. As she delves into his past, she slowly uncovers a shadowy secret alternate postal service at war with the regular Post, becoming obsessed with their existence, yet unsure if it is real, or just her going slowly insane.
Despite the fact that I found it weaker than Gravity’s Rainbow, it is nevertheless still a brilliant piece of countercultural writing. The paranoid, narcotic wanderings of Oedipa as she delves ever deeper into the (possible) conspiracy are very vivid and filled with cultural references, which is, perhaps, what made it slightly less enjoyable for me – the Beatles-like quartet that accompanies her annoyed me and was so very Scooby-doo that to an extent they kept pushing my brain out of the narrative. However, the clash between Tristero and Thurn und Taxis was so engrossing, it kept pulling me back in, much like it did with Mrs. Oedipa Maas.
Posted on | January 9, 2013 | No Comments
With Captive Universe Harry Harrison proved that even when you squish together two awesome concepts you can still end up with a mediocre novel that aged like an avocado – suddenly and terribly.
Exploring the generation ship trope, when I stumbled upon the synopsis it seemed like a surefire hit – interstellar Aztec colonists on a multigeneration ark. As these stories tend to go, one of them starts to discover that not all is right with the “world”, and goes off exploring, eventually stumbling onto the true nature of their enclosed little valley.
Intriguingly, much like with Aldiss’ Non-Stop, the writing seems to hold water far better during the first part of this rather short novel – so long as Harrison is describing the primitive, gods-fearing, oppressive Aztec society. As soon as our hero cracks the walls and starts exploring the high-tech environment, cracks appear in the writing as well, both stylistically and conceptually. It did not feel in the least as a 1969 novel right up to the point our hero meets the first non-Aztec. Then, suddenly, it’s like reading ancient pulp, with monocultures and dubious quasi-scientific explanations for rather clunky bio-social phenomena, dialogues that seem stilted and an almost steampunk-level clash between the level of technology described in the book and the level of technology required to construct such a starship. Repeating the Non-Stop experience, Captive Universe put me off generation ship stories for a while, and despite the cool idea, I can’t rightly recommend it to anyone not out to read it merely as a historical curiosity.
Posted on | January 8, 2013 | 1 Comment
Some books require you to drop acid to fully ride their flow, with others it is enough that the writer did so – such is the case with Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness. In many ways it is a rehash of his Lord of Light in a different setting – a heroic god-man is killed in battle with evil and comes back to fight once more – but Creatures is far more hardcore in that it explains almost nothing, leaving the reader to dive through its varied styles, ranging from poetry through prose to play – untangling the character relationships and the plot itself.
A plot summary certainly cannot spoil anything, but it will also not help you in the least, because the plot is rather byzantine and beside the point. In a far future where humanity lives across many worlds and certain humans have been uplifted to the status of gods (or, perhaps, are gods), two of those, Anubis and Osiris, maintain a harsh balance between the forces of life and death. But ancient powers reawaken and reignite an old battle between superior divine forces and… oh, hell, forget it. It’s not that it cannot be done, there is no point. Just start reading, and see if it grabs you.
In this literary experiment that he never meant for publication, Zelazny wrote a science fiction epic in a florid, occasionally pompous and pretentious, but lovely, flowing style, interwoven with dry and dark humor, weaving a mythic story pattern that echoes, but also twists many of the established myths and legends of various peoples. Though the principal players seem at first to be mainly Egyptian, there are tinges of Greek, Norse and other flavours, peppered with a generous helping of Buddhist/Christian. This was a book that so easily could have slipped into pretentious masturbation, but much like the lead characters in both Creatures and Lord, never took itself too seriously and thus remained firmly brilliant.
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