I'm pretty sure this is a debut novel, which is darn impressive. It's garnered some awards, as well. It has some really innovative stuff going on, although not everything works.
The first-person protagonist is an AI who runs distributed bodies to extend her real-world presence. Sweet idea and very well done. Any more details would be highly spoilery.
There are two separate storylines, displaced in time, which come together in a satisfying manner.
There's a goodly amount of societal backstory spicing things up. Most folks mention that the main society is genderless.
she are the defaults. You can play at trying to figure out which characters have which genitalia. I don't really visualize characters in books, so it neither thrilled nor annoyed me, once I realized what was going on.
Backstory I found more interesting included the various religions and the gloves. Yes, gloves. Their importance isn't explained, which I liked. I'm reading the second book in the trilogy right now. Still isn't explained. Good.
Two negative things stand out for me.
First, the writing is, well, unclear. Not bad, certainly. Not even clunky. Still, I found my self repeatedly rereading sections, unsure of what I had just read. Sure, this happens when I'm reading some heavy non-fiction or philosophy, but not with fiction. It's not just me, either. I've seen others make similar complaints. I'm having the same issue with the second book in the trilogy.
The second thing is that the basic plot is, well, very similar to the plot of the first book in John Varley's
No, don't. Burn your body, instead. After you're dead. Or try a natural burial.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
- Caitlin Doughty
Doughty's deal is that she's looking to revamp how we, as a society, deal with death. She has a series of fun videos called
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is basically a combination of Mary Roach's Stiff and Steve Almond's Candyfreak. It has some of the inside detail that Roach supplies, combined with the personal connections that you find from Almond. It describes her experiences working in a crematorium alongside her evolving views of death. There's a good balance between the two.
Keep in mind that her criticisms are societal in nature. If you're looking for a rant about the ecological consequences of huge-ass coffins, you'll not find it here. I'm not suggesting those aren't valid concerns, they're just not the focus of this particular book.
The only criticisms I'll lob are that her efforts building The Order of the Good Death get crammed into the very end of the book and the events in the Redwoods chapter seem to come out of nowhere.
This in an intriguing combination of fiction and non, all dealing with interstellar travel. The fiction is pretty sweet, going beyond the usual. (Buddhists in space? Really?) The non-fiction is good, but focused solely on drive alternatives. I would have liked to see some other aspects covered.
One bonus is that most of the non-fiction pieces reference other books that would be of interest. I bought a couple, but have only read one, so far. How did that go? Well...
China has secretly gone to the Moon, but are in trouble and need rescuing! It sounds like a smaller, earlier version of The Martian. So I gave it a shot.
Ugh. This is awful. I abandoned it after four chapters. It reads like competent-men SF from the fifties, yet is only four years old. The characters? Here's Bill:
Bill rose from his chair and strode to the table, the alpha male in the room by the way he carried himself and his purposeful stride to the chair adjacent to the one Carlton had just occupied.
She had been Stetson's secretary, or, to be politically correct, his management support assistant, for almost five years.
Seriously, Millie the
Then there are the long rants at NASA, for making space travel boring. Legitimate gripe? Oh yes. Do you want to spend time with folks continually making said gripe? I don't.
After four chapters, I checked out some reviews, to see if this got any better. What I found was that the characterization became even worse once the Chinese showed up, and the rants at NASA continued.
Remember, kids, life is too short to waste it on bad books.
McDevitt has a problem. He has this nice series of books about a Space Academy, featuring Priscilla
Hutch Hutchins. The books are, generally, really fun reads. The problem? Hutch was getting old. In the fifth book, he moved her into a desk job, to the book's detriment. Turns out, this really isn't the Academy series. This is the Hutch series. Hutch needs to be the star player. Book six put her back into space, which was great to read, but the book suffered in other ways. Plus, now Hutch is, in the book's universe, getting a little old for action-packed space adventure.
What to do. What to do.
Ah ha! A prequel! See the start of Hutch's career!
And, you know, that's not a bad idea at all. The books isn't perfect. The overriding plot is thin. Hutch herself doesn't really do a whole lot of note. (Although that fits the prequel nature.) There are mysteries brought up that aren't resolved, presumedly as fodder for further books. (This sort of thing is awkward in a prequel, as none of the earlier-yet-later books mention these mysteries. Or maybe they do. It's been years since I read them. Hell, they're paper books!) Overall, a much improved read over the prior two books and a nice return to form for a great series.
Holy crap! Nearly two months since a blog post? Well, here ya go, then!
Full title is
The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion - and Others Should Too. While that title is a mouthful, the book itself is very, very good. About two-thirds of the book consists of stories of black women and their relationship with the
Black Church. (
Black as in racially black, not satanically black.) These aren't the rantings you might be expecting if your atheist readings have consisted of lots of white folks. Every women in this book has her own personal story and perspective. Some are more ambivalent than others.
The other third consists of essays from Gorham herself on the negative aspects of the Black Church and how it harms black women while at the same time acting as a support system. If you're looking for more straight-up criticism, this is where you'll find it. Gorham's writing is so clear and direct that it cuts like a scalpel. (I don't mean that in terms of
Wow! Look at that articulate black person! I mean as a contrast to the overly-philosophical mental noodling you see in a lot of atheist writing.)
I'm going to lob one criticism at this book, and it's one to which the author alludes in her introduction. The book is too short. Gorham bemoans having to take excerpts of her interviews for the sake of book length. I really wish she hadn't. The book could have been, seriously, twice as long and it wouldn't have worn out its welcome with me.
Of course, as a suburban white guy, I'm just getting exposure to issues about which I was utterly clueless. I can't speak to the level at which this book can help black women. I sure hope it can, though.
This one is odd. The story is simple: A guy gets marooned on Mars and has to use his wits to survive. It's almost like Verne's The Mysterious Island, minus the last third or so. Much of it is very technical, which will thrill hard sci-fi fans. Indeed, many folks have given it high praise. There exists a subset, including me, who find the first-person narrative grating.
The book bounces between first and third person, which is fine. The problem is that the first-person narrative, that of the eponymous
Martian, is a wise-cracking quip monster. He's like Deadpool in space. It's actually a three-fold problem. One, it just gets old, quickly. Two, it clashes with the technical parts. Three, it's the laziest possible characterization.
Seriously, the joking wiseacre is the go-to character for those who don't want to bother fleshing out a real character. Clearly, more time was spent on the technical challenges and their resolution than on the characterization.
Another problem with the book is that the question of whether the guy ought to be rescued at all never really arises. It's hinted at, once or twice, but not actually dealt with. Should we expend millions of dollars to save one guy? What are the trade-offs here? That could have been a nice addition to the story.
All that said, if you can get past the tone of the narrative, it's a swell read for fans of rock-hard sci-fi.
This is the novel from which all the movies derive. It's not exactly the same as the first film. (To understand why, give my buddy JC's article on it a read.) That said, overall knowledge of the film plot will blunt many of the dramatic turns here. Still, it's a great read.
It's also interesting to see how the story changes for the films while still incorporating other aspects. It's my favorite book/film combo right now. (Subject to change on a whim.)
One aspect I really loved was the turning of the trope of Medieval Stasis right on its head. Instead of being a weakness, it's an important plot point.
This one is a classic. It's extremely charming and a worthwhile read. My main complaint is that it raises philosophical issues around which it then makes an end-run, rather than actually trying to resolve them.
Entertaining, but ultimately forgettable. It takes place in a world where reading is met with derision by the masses while also being jealously guarded by a learned elite. It ain't no Fahrenheit 451, although it includes the usual Piper rootin'-tootin' gunplay.
One day, I'll open a bookstore called
Montag's Books. In the window will perpetually hang a sign exclaiming
Whee! Short book reviews! In no particular order!
There's really two things you need from a book with parallel plot-lines:
This book succeeds at both. The two plot-lines trade chapters and I was continually looking forward to each switch. Neither overshadowed the other. The conclusion and melding also worked for me.
I've read that this isn't his best work. I don't care. I'm not familiar with his other work, and I liked this book.
Note: It was part of an article on SF books by non-SF authors. I'm still trying to find Gore Vidal's apocalyptic fiction book.
Readable and short biography of Robert G. Ingersoll. He was a pretty freakin' awesome guy, ahead of society in so many ways. Jacoby works hard at rehabilitating Ingersoll's chumminess with plutocrats.
Gee, Henry Miller really likes the word
I'm tempted to leave it at that, but I won't. Yeah, the controversial stuff doesn't hit with much of a wallop anymore. Yeah, he's a misogynistic racist. No, there's no real plot. Is it a commentary on the human condition? Eh, certainly not my human condition.
All that said, there are some simply wonderful descriptions and passages here, interspersed in a lot of tedious nattering. I read it in segments, which is easy to do when there's no plot.
Entertaining book about baseball stuff. Not just a list of oddball [heh] baseball trivia, it has a nice cohesive flow that takes you through several aspects of the physical objects surrounding the game.
Entertaining look at human interfaces in the world of science fiction movies and how they can be applied to real-world stuff. Entertaining, but not gripping. This is a book to peruse, not read straight through. Suffers in eBook form, on an eInk eReader, due to the poor resulting quality of the example screenshots.
Hiaasen found an old short story of his and decided to publish it. It's not very good. The found copy was missing its ending, so he added a new one. It's also not very good. I mean, it's somewhat entertaining, but overpriced for what you get.
Serviceable SF. It's not great, but it's entertaining enough. The authors have a really bad habit of changing scene without any notification to the reader, so there are plenty of places where I was momentarily confused. The ending isn't much of a conclusion, serving really more to try and draw you into future books.
I mentioned last fall how much I disliked a history of the National Lampoon I read. It did make be curious, however, about a James Bond spoof they wrote back in the day called
Alligator. So I read it and enjoyed it plenty. It's funny and clever for fans of the books. It may not work for you if your only experience with James Bond is via the movies.
John Scalzi has reached a point in his career where he can do pretty much whatever he wants. This lets him experiment, the results of which can be awesome, or, well, meh.
So, while writing his latest novel,
Hey, I've always wanted to write an oral history. I'll write a novella intro to the book as an oral history!
How do I know this? He told us all. He tweets a lot.
Anyway, so he wrote the novella, called
It's not bad. Scalzi's too skilled for that. It's just not compelling. None of the characters stand out. It reads more like a Wikipedia history section minus the neutral point of view. Without fleshed-out characters, what's the point of an oral history?
The novella includes the first chapter of
Lock In. That first chapter is meh, too. It appears to be The Caves of Steel, except R. Daneel Olivaw is remote-controlled by a person.
Okay, seriously, I suspect it'll be much more than that, but I base that suspicion on Scalzi's skill, not on the provided first chapter.
Despite all the meh, I still pre-ordered the full book. It's a very rare occasion when Scalzi writes a bad book. (See
Back when I used to read paper books, I picked up Elizabeth Moon's
The Speed of Dark from a paperback swap club. Then I bought a Nook, and the book sat with a bunch of other paperbacks on a shelf, neglected. This winter, I purchased an exercise bike, to try and keep up some sort of exercise regimen during the cold days. Since I didn't want to drip sweat on my Nook, I've been going through old paperbacks, starting with the long neglected
The Speed of Dark.
If you look at reviews on Goodreads, you'll see some folks who think this is the best book ever. Others think it's crap, an inferior rip of
Flowers for Algernon. Neither are fully correct. I both liked and disliked it intensely.
On the positive side, most of it is from the first-person perspective of an autistic man, albeit one with some near-future therapies applied. These parts are really touching and insightful. They do make you look at folks differently, with better understanding. It's very effective and evocative writing. I fully understand readers who laud the book based on this, and while I'm only dedicating a paragraph to this aspect of the book, it's equally as important as all my complaints to come. For you see,
The Speed of Dark has a, well, dark side...
Actually, it's nothing sinister, it's just that the story is tepid and antagonists are awful. Let's talk about the story first. The gist of the book is that the protagonist has a chance to take advantage of a new treatment for autism. Should he avail himself of it? Seems simple, no? The story tries to be a mechanism by which the protagonist grows as a person, but it's utterly unnecessary. His growth occurs as part of his daily activities, which happen alongside the main storyline. Meanwhile, the main storyline itself churns along, adding very little. Yes, it forces a decision, but it does so in a very clunky manner. Midway, there's some intrigue suggested behind the therapy, but it's just left to sit there, as a vague threat. It's never developed. (If you want to see this threat actually developed, I highly recommend Vernor Vinge's
The book would be better without that storyline. Just give us the day-to-day personal growth of a compelling individual.
It's also worth noting that the whole book is very different from
Flowers for Algernon in that most of the book leads up to decisions about the treatment. The book would have been fine stopping at the decision rather than continuing on with a couple more chapters showing the ramifications. The decision stands alone without need to be justified either way by subsequent events.
The second problem is with the antagonists. There's a main one, who propels the main storyline. He is, well, just awful. He may as well be twirling a mustache while he cackles his hatred of the protagonist, a hatred which is neither explained nor justified. It reminds me of reviews of
The Lord of the Rings, complaining that Sauron is just this evil bad dude with no real motivation. (He actually has tons of motivation, but you need to read much more Tolkien before you see it. Or so I'm told. I haven't read that much.) Every time the book brings this guy in, I would cringe.
The second and tertiary antagonists are more realistic, in different degrees. It's weird. I totally buy the tertiary one and partially buy the secondary. It seems like the less central the antagonist, the better job she does making them real people with real motivations.
One other aspect that bothered me was that most of the book is written in the first person perspective, but it occasionally shifts to third-person to show things not apparent to the protagonist. This causes two problems. First, it lends an objectivity to the antagonists described above. Without these third-person sections, I could chalk the shallowness of the characters up to the differing perceptions of the protagonist. With those third-person sections in, I have to accept that those characters are just poorly written.
Second, it takes me out of the sense of immersion into which she so masterfully puts me for most of the book. Because most of these third-person sections involve the main storyline, they could just as easily be jettisoned.
So, final judgment? It's a really great book with some really big flaws. I enjoyed my time reading it, but I never felt compelled to read more. Normally, it's the plot that drives me to keep picking up a book. Instead, I picked it up, here and there, eventually reaching the end.
This book is one of those attempts to liven up a dull list of sciencesque things by providing some of the story surrounding the things. (The Disappearing Spoon being the canonical example of this genre.) It's not bad, but nor is it all that good.
Part of the problem is the limited audience. Unless you already know some of this stuff already, the book will be rough going. It's not pitched at someone new to science and math. Luckily, I'm new to neither science nor math, so it wasn't a problem for me. Alas, the blurb for the book claims it's
approachable, a claim I suspect is shaky for many folks.
Given that I'm in the audience for it, I enjoyed it, despite some drawbacks. He does a nice job showing the history leading to the entitled equations, sometimes making my jaw drop. (Wow! Lorentz contraction equations derived from Pythagoras? Hell yeah!) He also does a decent job showing the ramifications of these equations. So, what's the drawback?
The author jumps on his soapbox too often. He rails against current theories regarding quantum mechanics and dark matter, based on little more than a personal discomfort with them. He ends the book with a rant against the financial folks who crashed the economy recently. While I agree with him, it's really jarring to find personal rants in the middle of talk of equations. It doesn't ruin the book, but it sure detracts from the larger points.
Oh, how I wanted to love this book. It starts so promising, with a luscious blend of Brain on Fire, zombies, and a more engagingly written Andromeda Strain. Things are fine up to the mid-point of the book. Things move along. Characters are developed. Mysteries deepen.
At the mid-point, we're treated to some tasty reveals. They're not all that surprising, at least they weren't to me. Plus, another extra tasty one is hinted at, too strongly.
What the author really should have done is made the extra tasty reveal, then stopped the book right there, but she didn't. Instead, we spend the second half of the book mostly puttering around until the end. Much of what happens seems unrealistic in terms of character reactions. At the end, the reveal which has now been obvious for half the book is, well, revealed. Thus the book ends, with no real plot resolution.
It just doesn't work. The reveal doesn't come as a surprise by that point. Mid-book it hits with a hell of a wallop. End of book? Yeah, we know. We've known for a while now.
That said, I still liked the book, especially the first half. Note that it's part of a (still to be written) series. I'll likely read the whole series. Unlike many others who have reviewed it, I liked the protagonist and found the other characters interesting. I love the ideas underpinning the story. I'm keen to see what happens.
But I sure hope the next one is better structured.
Finally got around to snagging a copy of Ballard's first novel. Apparently, he himself disowned it. Indeed, it isn't a very good book. That said, I think it's worth reading for fans of Ballard. It's interesting as a proto-Ballard work. I've mentioned before that I think Ballard wrote the same book, over and over. There's always a male lead that's actually Ballard. Society gets shaken up in some fashion and people form new ways of being, well, a society.
This book shows glimpses of this. There's an ever increasing wind scouring the globe and folks have to deal with it. There's no single character filling in for Ballard himself, but you can see aspects in some of the male leads. Society gets shaken up, but never really forms an alternative.
The ending fizzles, but, again, that's typical for Ballard. His books aren't about the ending; they're about what happens in between. Alas, the Ballardian framework isn't yet in place, so not much of interest happens in between.
One bonus with the copy I have is that it features a Pelham cover. In the 70s, Penguin books reissued four Ballard novels with Pelham covers. They're pretty awesome. When I looked in my bookshelf for my copy of The Drought, I was delighted to realize it was from the same reissue. So, of course, I hit eBay to pick up the other two. Maybe I'll scan them in, print them out big, and hang them on the wall.
This is a sequel, of sorts, to Game Change, this time focused on the 2012 campaign.
Content-wise, it's very interesting. It tends to try and paint folks in as positive a light as possible, accepting their stated motivations at face value. I don't know whether I like that. (Reminds me of Huston Smith's The Religions of Man.) Still, very interesting.
Stylistically, it's an awful mess of pretentious writing. Every few pages, they toss in an obscure word, simply because they can, I guess. Is the ability to use a thesaurus that notable a skill? It really detracts from the book. At least, on my Nook, I could easily look them up. I can't think of any instance where the word they used was obviously more appropriate than more generally known terms.
This is a crowd-funded collection of short stories focused on adding a little color to speculative fiction. Don't expect this to be just a bunch of sci-fi, only with black folks. Actually, don't expect a whole lot of sci-fi at all. There's some, but it's a broader, more varied look at speculative fiction.
There's a bunch of quality work here with a great amount of diversity, diversity of all kinds. I can't think of a real clinker in the bunch.
The only point of disappointment was that I didn't really feel challenged. I'm a white guy from the mild streets of Minnesota's suburbia. I was expecting more of the stories to make me feel uncomfortable, but, with one exception near the end, none of them did.
Super Stories of Heroes & Villains
This collection of sorta-superhero stories left me feeling meh. Some of the better ones I had read before in other collections. Others were very far afield, too far to keep me interested.
I picked up a bunch of pulp novels at Munseys recently and started with this one. I don't know if I lucked out or what, but this is a pretty damn good little book. I was a little disappointed at first because, well, it wasn't tawdry enough. Plus, it was well written! It became more tawdry and remained well written as I read on.
The plot is that a professional killer is sent to rural upstate New York to bump off a 15-year-old girl. Things go way wrong and bad people do bad things. There's a great conceit about the killer also being a pianist. It comes up in the way he thinks, the way he talks, even in the way he fights. It's well used.
Things wrap up nicely and horribly in the end. I was completely satisfied.
(It's important to note that, while bad and tawdry things happen, it's not really explicit about it. This disappointed me, at first. I thought pulps were, well, pulpier.)
They're short and they're funny. But they're not at all on par with her books. Each column is structured similarly and, after you've read a bunch in a row, it starts to feel rote. Alas, the short nature of each makes it tempting to keep reading just one more. But, frankly, that will do the book a disservice. I think the best way to read the book is to leave it in the bathroom and read a few columns at a time.
One complaint about them is that Roach is very wedded to traditional gender roles. I'm not that wedded to such roles, so humor based on them falls flat. It's 2013. Those kinds of observations aren't funny anymore. (Perhaps they still are to Reader's Digest's readership?)
So, if you're new to Roach's work, start with her other books. If you're already a fan, feel free to give this a read, now forewarned that it's not as good as her books.
I read this on a friends recommendation. He liked it. I really didn't. It's a smug self-satisfied book about a bunch of smug self-satisfied people. I found it torturous to read. I made it partway through the fifth chapter until it became too painful to continue. After a break of a few days, I flipped ahead to around chapter 20, where Animal House comes into play. It had become a better read by that point, humorously in direct correlation to how much it became about Saturday Night Live actors over National Lampoon writers.
This book is an examination of the weirder stuff in the world of religion. It suffer from the same weakness that many popular science books have: If you're at all well read on this subject, then you already know most of this. That said, it's still an interesting read. While I was familiar with much of the information, it's good to have it clearly written down all in one book. (Plus, the Quaker stuff was new to me.)
One weird thing is that the author visited many of these folks, to gain some insight. Alas, those sections seem shallow and tacked on for the sake of being able to say she did it. If you're going to try and gain real personal insight, you really need to throw yourself into it. See Ferocious Romance: What My Encounters with the Right Taught Me About Sex, God, and Fury by Donna Minkowitz for a good example of this.
On the other hand, a weakness Ferocious Romance has is that the author becomes fond of the folks she visits and is thus unable to really lay into them when they deserve it. (By my vague memory, at least. I read it years ago.) Stollznow has no such qualms. However, instead of a detailed criticism, she unloads with paragraphs of invective, but leaves the details to sources listed in the bibliography.
All of which makes this an odd book. The author doesn't gets personally involved enough to provide a good personal take, yet nor does she provide detailed critical analysis. That just leaves descriptions of the weird stuff. For many folks, that will be plenty. It just wasn't enough for me.
Alternate reality novel in which the Axis won the war. Don't be expecting a German-oriented book. Most of the story takes place along the Pacific coast of the US, in Japanese-controlled territory. It's an interesting read. I enjoyed most of the characterization although there isn't really much of a plot. You pick up on the lives of folks, follow them for awhile, and then the book ends. There's a wee bit of alternate-alternate reality in the form of a book-in-a-book that posits a world in which the Allies won, inside this world where the Axis won. The ending of the book tries to make something of that, but it really didn't do much for me. I'd rather have had it stick to just being an alternate reality. But, I suppose that isn't enough for an author like Dick.
This book is, in a word, harrowing. Mysterious illness strikes the author and doctors try to figure it out. The condition itself erased her own memories of much of the time. Reconstructed from interviews and video footage, she's really telling a third-person account of her own first-person story. Sounds confusing? It's not. It's very well done.
The only minor criticism I could lob is that I wanted a little more coverage of her rehab and less of her post-rehab activities. Minor nit-picking, nothing more.
Rolly is a Disney Imagineer. He's pretty famous for it. This book is simply his recollections of his time designing fun things, at Disney and away from the Mouse. The stories are indeed cute. The style is quaint in a captivating way. It sounds corny, but it does feel as if he's sitting there just telling you these stories. It's a delightful read.
Don't read it looking for dirt on the inner workings of Disney. It's not that kind of book.
Strange book. Don't go into it expecting Heisenberg-oriented hard sci-fi. That's not what it is at all. Rather, it's about the Optimen who control the rest of humanity, using them for work and breeding purposes. Of course, some normal folk rebel. There's a bunch of set-up that seems promising. Then there's some action and a chase. And then it just gets boring and noodling. The ending feels pretentious, without there being any there there.
Like pretty much everyone else who read this, I picked it up because it was billed as an epic tale in a single book. Like most other folks, I found it lacking in terms of storytelling and characterization, which may well be unavoidable in a single-book epic tale.
There are some interesting ideas here, particularly regarding the world's gods, but the plotting lags. Midway through the book, I really had to push myself to finish. It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't holding my interest. I did push on, but the ending doesn't really make sense and I didn't feel adequately rewarded for the effort I put into it.