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Bookworm 2015: Don’t Believe the Hype

Posted on | December 22, 2015 | No Comments

The hype behind some titles this year was incredible. Not all of it massive, though. There were minor breakout hits that proved to be much ado about cheap and dated mary-sue space opera, like Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. There were promises of vividly original fantasy debuts like Peter Newman’s The Vagrant, filled with unengaging characters doing uninteresting things in an interesting environment, but… mired. In a style. Relying on short sentences. Present-tense narration. Incredibly skilled protagonists. Capitalization. An excess of it. Annoying the Reader. Making him give up. Quickly.

However, these are small fish. They were advertised, some book sites heaped praise on them, even some people whose opinion I usually respect lavished way too many stars on them in their reviews, but they are the kinds of books I smirk on and toss onto the not-my-cuppa heap without second thought, forgetting them almost instantly. The true offenders come in three flavours.

14792342._SX540_The Empty Promise; Victor Milán’s The Dinosaur Lords had so much going for it. Well, it had knights on dinosaurs. A blurb by GRR Martin, saying it’s a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones. And masterful, magnificent illustrations. Combining all of this, it very quickly managed to generate an immense wave of hype, with people shouting “TAKE MY MONEY” at the screen, and myself being one of them. Once you start reading, though, you quickly realize that Milán managed to take a brilliant concept that seems unfuckupable and fucked it up, thoroughly. The characters are uninteresting cardboard caricatures, the narrative is tediously slow, the action is described in a severely muddled way that is painful to follow, and the dinosaurs, after the opening battle, make very little effort to reappear in the story in any meaningful way before the book ends up in the rubbish heap. I can only hope that the suspiciously similar-sounding Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo by Brian Falkner will deliver on the promise this concept doubtlessly holds.

luna-new-moonThe Wayward Master; When Ian McDonald hits the nail on the head, he does it with brutal force, but when he misses, mangling his own thumb, he does it with equal if not more severity. Luna: New Moon had everything going for it: a culturally diverse cutthroat corporate Lunarian society, where familial clans vie for supremacy or simply aim for sustainability of business, where the poor struggle to pay for air while the rich go skinny-dipping in hard vacuum just for kicks. Relatively hard SF (although mining the regolith for helium-3 as fuel has mostly been debunked recently), but still, it should have been fascinating, had it not been for the convergence of three factors. One was the confusing chaotic cloud of names and colorful characters I had to struggle through until I got even a very vague grip on who’s who. Two was the fact that only one of the POV characters was in any way interesting enough for me to care about… a little. Three was the ending and I cannot say more without spoilers, and yes, I am aware that this is “book 1 of 2”, but my problem with the ending is not that the action is unresolved, the complaint is… well. I struggle to find any way of expressing the problem without spoiling anything or giving enough hints to indirectly spoil things. If the general sentiment was similar to mine, I’d have no qualms about this, but since the overall impression I get from other people is that it is an amazingly incredible awesome book, I’ll just quit here, both with my rant as well as with the series. (Oh, and honourable mention in this category goes to Robert Charles Wilson for The Affinities – I mean, what the hell happened there? A kickass writer tackling a highly intriguing concept with the most middlingly fizzle-out story possible).

Three-Body-Problem-by-Cixin-Liu-616x975The What the Fuck is Wrong with Everyone; I fully agree that the sad/rabid puppies are morons, that’s practically a given, and I understand there needed to be a reaction to their efforts to push right-leaning retro-scifi to win at the Hugos, but by the gods was there nothing other than Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem to prop up as a free-thinking diversity-endorsing alternative? The only reason I stuck with the book to the very (gods-awful) end is because I kept thinking – there’s gotta be some incredible surprise twist at the end that will make me revaluate this entire horrendous experience. There wasn’t. Oh, the book starts promising, and the part that takes place during the Cultural Revolution is fascinating and, what’s more, well written. However, everything after that starts to read like the transcript of a schlocky Shaolin Soccer flick but without all the fun and with scientists who don’t seem to know very much science. How much science do they not know? Well, one of the key puzzles involves people playing the titular “Three Body Problem” computer game taking place on a simulated world where the rhythm of day and night, and thus the climate, is completely unpredictable. It takes them virtual eons to work out why that is. Once again, I kept reading, thinking – surely, he wouldn’t have put the solution right in the title. Well, now. And things go further downhill from there, with, as one Goodreads reviewer so very precisely put it, people constantly discussing how “humans don’t human that way” followed by increasingly naïve and caricaturish plot. For representing a supposed reaction to a bunch of Nazi assholes trying to push backwards fifties-style sci-fi on us, the Hugo voters sure made a weird choice in giving the prize to a backwards fifties-style sci-fi novel.

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  • Goodreads

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