Posted tagged ‘sf’

Review: Dr. Bloodmoney

August 23, 2009

Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb,  is a pretty interesting book.  I think it’s the most successful of Philip K. Dick’s multiple perspective novels (such as the Man In the High Castle and Martian Time Slip), swaping seamlessly between 14 protagonists, only three of whom are at all likeable.  But despite the fairly despicable perspectives the reader is given, this is actually one of PKD’s more optimistic books.

The parallel title kind of says it all actually.  In the book Dick creates a world in which civilization more or less endures after the bombs drop.  Sure a few mutant freaks are born with Godlike powers, a few rats have to be eaten, and a few other rats evolve and learn to play nose flutes, but mankind does live on.  This might very well be the most atypical post-apocalyptic story ever written, but it’s also possibly the best.

Con Report: Boskone 46

February 16, 2009

I’m recovering from a long fun weekend at the moment, the cornerstone of which was a day at Boskone 46.  I only went for Saturday this year due to some other commitments, but had a great time while I was there.  

The con seemed a little smaller this year than in the past, probably as a side effect of the economy like everything else, but the guest list sure didn’t show it.  I had the chance to indulge my inner autograph hound and accost Karl Schroeder, Charles Stross and guests of honor Greg Bear and Jo Walton (whose novel Farthing I picked up at the con and started reading on the T to great satisfaction).

The art show was great as always, particularly the special exhibit that Tor’s legendary art director, Irene Gallo put together.  There were also some very nice works from Stephan Martiniere, Donato Giancola, and Bob Eggleton on display.

The panels weren’t on the greatest assortment of topics this time around, but with the right people on a panel anything can become fascinating.  I went to some great physics panels based around Geoffrey Landis, and the one on writing about despair (on Valentine’s Day no less) with Jo Walton, James Morrow, Suzy Charnas and Therese Nielsen Hayden pretty much made the entire con worthwhile for me.

Review: The Stars My Destination

February 12, 2009

I think The Stars My Destination may have just become my favorite s.f. novel ever.  The economy of the novel is stunning.  Bester packs as much into the a little paperback as Neal Stephenson does into one of his phonebooks passing for novels.

The background of the story is that the human race learns how to teleport, and almost instantly society collapses.  Transportation dies, then the economy goes, then an interplanetary war breaks out.  That has almost nothing to do with the plot by the way.

The plot focuses on the life of Gully Foyle, a “common man” driven to madness after a rescue ship passes him by while stranded in space.  Through sheer force of will he manages to survive and reinvent himself three time over in his quest for revenge against the ship that left him to die.  Fairly straight forward until he encounters feral scientists, irradiated psychologists, and the perils of high society.

But where Bester really shines is his use of language.  Foyle seemlessly shifts between various high and low dialects throughout his quest, all of which conveys as much about the culture in the novel as any info dump could.  Then there’s the bit where Foyle comes down with synesthesia and Bester just cuts loose with a burst of typographic wizardy that no other author has ever been able to successfuly copy.

The end result is one of the most enjoyable, action packed, and modern novels I’ve ever encountered.  Oh and did I mention it was written in 1956?

Review: Inferno

January 20, 2009

Blackstone audio has been doing a great, albeit odd, job lately of producing audio books of slightly obscure 70 s.f. .  They’ve been working on Philip K. Dick’s better but lesser known novels (Dr. Bloodmoney, Martian Time Slip), and now they’ve tackled Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s classic  novel, Inferno.

Given the name, the book yields few surprises.  A mid-list s.f. author dies at a convention and then follows Dante’s footsteps on a tour of Hell, with Mussolini as his guide.  But the book has some real style to it.  Allen Carpentier makes for a great protagonist thanks to his rationizations of everything he witnesses in what he desperately hopes is Infernoland.  There’s also the book’s now largely forgotten playfullness in which a number of people within the s.f. community of the time are encountered in hell and get pretty brutally ridiculed.

It’s a very dorky novel, but a lot of fun.  And supposedly there’s a sequel coming out this year (is 30 years between novels a records of some sort), which may actually be good.

Review: Pirate Sun

September 7, 2008

Karl Schroeder’s Virga series is a masterpiece of world building.  The story takes place in an enclosed, artificial solar system in which gravity is a commodity.  The prior two books in the series, Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce, were a pair of stunningly original space operas.  However, the third volume doesn’t quite have that same level of originality.

There are still the occasional flourishes that reminded me of the other books, finding a way to weaponize a lake was pretty good.  But most of this book was dedicated to wraping up the loose plot threads to form a pseudo-trilogy (pseudo because there’s a volume four on the way that I suspect will start a new plot).

The book is a briskly paced adventure, that does a great job of progressing the story, but unlike the other books this one cannot stand on its own.

Review: Solaris

July 22, 2008

It’s a few days late, but here’s the last part of my Readercon reading list.  Solaris is Stanislaw Lem’s most well known work, although not necessarily his best, and definitely not in the English translation.  From what I understand the English edition is a second generation translation (Polish to French to English) and a few large passages were cut out because it was thought they would be boring.  So the book starts off with one strike against it.

But there is a reason Lem is considered to be one of the greats.  It’s just ironic that a book which is so heavily focused on communication barriers has been so badly served by the same.  What manages to survive the translation process is still a great piece of science fiction.  The story is one of,the best first contact stories.  And it’s probably the best in terms of presenting an alien that truly earns the name.

The creature in question is the living ocean of the planet Solaris.  Throughout the course of the book, the sparse cast of three encounters a series of ghosts and visions that are their only form of communication with the alien…however the purpose of these visitations is never defined.  Instead the alien remains unknowable and human science reaches the limits of its capabilities.

Certainly not a story with a terribly wide appeal, but a masterpiece if you (like me) enjoy that sort of thing.

Review: This Shape We’re In

July 14, 2008

For part two of my pre-readercon reading list it’s second guest of honor, Jonathan Lethem’s novella This Shape We’re In.  To be upfront about my review, I am biased when it comes to Lethem.  He’s probably my favorite modern author, in large part because his two primary influences, Philip K. Dick and Steve Gerber are the same writers I grew up devouring.  He’s also the author of my favorite book of the last decade, Motherless Brooklyn.

So, with that little disclaimer out of the way, on to the review.  This Shape We’re In is a very odd and incredibly tightly written story.  It focuses on two characters searching for one of their sons who has run away to join a cult, as well as the purpose of their lives, oh and lest I forget the purpose of their environment as well.  The environment in question, the shape, is a body that may or may not be human.  It could also be a generational ship, a fallout shelter, or possibly a trojan horse.

The brilliance of the story comes from the craft on display.  For nearly any other writer a story this ambitious would form a novel.  For Lethem, the tale encompases a total of 55 pages and feels like it’s exactly the length it ought to be.  This is world building of the first order, there is no extraneous exposition (or really any exposition at all for that matter), yet the environment feels fully realized.

This story (if you can still find a copy) makes a great introduction to Lethem’s work, very highly recommended.

Spotlight On: Charles Stross

July 12, 2008

The last few years have been a particularly good time to be a fan of hard s.f.  The latest crop of writers have been the strongest to hit the scene since the Golden Age, and the most prolific of these writers by far is Charles Stross.

Stross’ early works put him at the forefront of Singularity (the rapture of the geeks) stories and set him apart as a writer of incredible ambition.  Accelerando in particular was a novel with some lofty goals, which was doomed to failure.  The story is a generational saga that begins in a future that is at the outer reaches of human comprehension and then leaps forward from there, making it nearly impossible to read although worth the effort of trying.

His more recent novels have been far more controlled, and all the better for it.  Glasshouse, which was up for the Hugo last year but lost to Rainbow’s End, was one of the most enjoyable and imaginative reads I’ve encountered in years, combining the Singularity with Desperate Housewives and game theory.

In addition, Stross is also notable in that his stories tend to be focused largely on the economic aspects of the worlds he creates.  He’s not unique in this regard (Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom springs to mind), but he may be the first major s.f. writer to make it such a reoccuring theme of nearly all his novels.  Besides the economics 2.0 of Accelerando he’s also written of a bank heist in a virtual world (Halting State) and an entire series on Mercantilism (The Merchant Princes), all of which are well worth reading.

Stross has become a key part of any modern s.f. collection, and he’s only getting better.

Special Announcement

July 1, 2008

For a little over two years I have been writing a mediocre book review blog in addition to this site.  Now that I’ve begun to write posts here on collection development for geeks it started to seem a bit ridiculous to keep the two blogs separated.  So as of July 1st I am retireing my second blog in favor of posting my reviews here.

So, a note on my reading habits is in order.  In keeping with my geek cred, The overwhelming portion of my book addiction is comprised of comics and s.f., with occasional detours into mysteries and horror, although other things do crop up from time to time as well.  Enjoy.