Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Old Acquaintances

After reading the Walter Jon Williams stories, I decided to read the rest of the books I had in my iPad that were by old, familiar authors.

1st up, "Beautiful Blood", by Lucius Shepard, 2014, 296 pages. Shepard's novel "Green Eyes", 1984, a tale of recombinant DNA zombies who become avatars of voodoo gods, was one of novels of the Ace Specials Series 3 which included "Neuromancer" by William Gibson and early novels by Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Swanwick, Howard Waldrop, and Jack McDevitt, and was a great, over-the-top story. His mid-to-late-80s short stories set in near-future US wars in Central America were haunting, and his short story "A Spanish Lesson", which I read in an early Year's Best, was like a moral sledgehammer to the forehead.

This novel is set in world of the Dragon Griaule, which also goes back to 1984 for Shepard. A multi-mile long sleeping dragon forms the infrastructure for several cities and kingdoms. It's kind of an odd story - scientist becomes drug dealer and criminal entrepreneur - somewhat reminiscent of Walter White and "Breaking Bad". It is an interesting read, not sure what the point was. It may have been Shepard's last publication before he died in 2014 at age 70.

Next up, "Coming Home", by Jack McDevitt, 2014, 386 pages. I think it's been years since I have read McDevitt. His stories commonly contain astroarcheology. The idea that as we explore other solar systems we are probably more likely to encounter ruins of dead civilizations rather than living civilizations is not at all unreasonable.

I think this is my last McDevitt though. It is set 9000 years in the future - but the characters have iced tea and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. They get most of their information from TV talk shows. And at one point "He reached for a pad, wrote on it, and handed the sheet to me.". It kept reminding me of the old TV show "Cannon" - a detective who is actually more interested in being a low level gourmand.

The characters are mostly obsessed with finding a trove of artifacts from the Golden Age - 1960&70s NASA. Really? 9000 years in the future, and that's their obsession? Apparently this is a universe that never developed any exponential technologies. In 9000 years mankind has spread to only ~200 worlds - pretty disappointing. And most of the worlds seem like the 1980s, but with spaceships and flying cars. At least there are female characters in leading roles, so it's not too misogynistic.

Plus, early on, I was annoyed that the alliance of planets was The Confederacy, and its president's last name was Davis. I have read too many of David Brin's rants about the ongoing US Civil War to not pick up on this. The Google and I check McDevitt out: he lives in Georgia, and is now 81 YO. So, I think I will leave him to his peanut butter sammiches and "Fox and Friends" and spend my reading time elsewhere.

Finally, I read "The Medusa Chronicles", by Stephen Baxter and Alistair Reynolds, 2016, 416 pages. This is a sequel to Arthur C. Clarke's 1971 novella "A Meeting With Medusa", which features the discovery of large lifeforms in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. This is definitely some decent hard science fiction. We have uplifted chimps, which I liked so much in David Brin's Uplift series, and I am surprised we do not see more of. We have the rise of intelligent machines. We have a descent to the center of Jupiter, where things get really weird. We have great events happening over an 800 year timespan. After the goofiness of the McDevitt, it was a relief to get a future that seemed ... futuristic, at least a little.

While I was reading that, a delivery showed up: "Norse Mythology", by Neil Gaiman, 2017, 295 pages, hardcover, that my son ordered for me. Thanks son! I think that is great that Gaiman did this. I have always loved these stories, and this new book will expose them to many millions of new readers.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the book itself, but Gaiman added some details and dialogue and in general created a good narrative flow through the stories. The very end seemed to be a little off, but perhaps Gaiman's version is more in keeping with the eddas. Note, I would also recommend the book "Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths", about the 12th century guy who 1st captured these tales, which I blogged about here.

This also reminded me, when my granddaughter, now 6, had just turned 3, I bought her a copy of my favorite picture book of Norse mythology: "D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths".

My grandson will turn 3 this summer, I know what he's getting for his birthday!

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