Monday, July 23, 2018

3 More

The hits just keep on coming.

"Suicide Club" is the 1st novel of Rachel Heng, 2018, 352 pages. Set in a near future where the fitness nazis and fitbits have seized power, you can live for 200 years if you toe the line and eat nothing but nutritionally correct smoothies and shakes. No music, it gets the juices stirring too much. And immortality is on the horizon, for those who can afford it. This story revolves around 2 women with complicated relationships with a parent, who become involved with the revolution, aka Suicide Club. Well written, a good read.

Next up, "The Freeze-Frame Revolution", a novella by Peter Watts, 2018, 192 pages. An interesting idea, with a asteroid spaceship circling the galaxy seeding it with warp gates. The humans on board cryo-sleep most of the time, and the supposedly not-too-smart AI named Chimp does most of the heavy lifting. Not as good as some of Watts longer stuff, but this is a guy who gets the concepts of what AI would look like. I was impressed that the book had cover blurbs by, among others, Cory Doctorow, Richard Morgan, Vernor Vinge, Hannu Rajaniemi, and Greg Bear - definitely some of my favorites.

Finally, the 1st book of an Arabian Nights type collection of stories, "The Orphan's Tales: In The Night Garden", by Catheryanne Valente, 2006, 496 pages. 2 main stories are told, but there are tales within tales nested I think 4 deep. There is also some dovetailing between the plots and characters of the 2 stories. Confusing at times, but it still gets you turning the pages.

Writing the post prior to this, looking up the blog posts for Hannu's earlier novels, I was reminded of the 2nd book of The Quantum Thief trilogy, "The Fractal Prince". That also had an Arabian Nights format, but approached much more creatively, as blogged here.

At one point a story that includes one of its figures retelling the same story causes a person infected by the story to go into an infinite recursive loop, presenting to the outside world as catatonic.
Hmmm, I thought this was new but I probably got it as a $1.99 or some such special. The 2nd volume "The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice", it looks like came out in 2007. I have just purchased that, I guess is it for this series.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Approaching Escape Velocity?

Well, as Putin's bitch, The Evil Orange One, continues to tweet the destruction of the US-dominated world order established after WWII, I continue to tear through nothing but escapist literature. Escape velocity?

I missed this one last post because I read it in Kindle format, as it was not available from Kobo. "Valence", by Jennifer Koehler Wells, 2017, 456 pages, is the 4th book in her Fluency series, most recently blogged here. Humans make contact with the Galactic Federation. Plenty of plot to deal with. I like that Ms. Wells includes some sex/genetics stuff, with humans being 1 of several species engineered by a progenitor species with different levels of oxytocin vs cortisol and adrenaline - humans being on the aggressive asshole end of the spectrum. Ms. Wells writing continues to improve. And who could not like a series in which some of the protagonists are cephalapods? This is an enjoyable series, she is doing at least as good as James S.A. Corey is with The Expanse.

Back in the Kobo world, I read "Quillifer", by Walter Jon Williams, 2018, 544 pages. I think I have read most of his stuff, he is a very dependable writer. This I have classified as Fantasy, but it is really more Historical Fiction - set on an alternative earth (different continents) with 1 character who is a supernatural being, with 17th-18th century technology. A very enjoyable read, as our protagonist, the title character, winds up being a hero in several circumstances, mostly due to thinking through options and coming up with some creative solutions. We have sea battles, land battles, court intrigue, etc, etc. A real page turner, I look forward to the next.

I also liked that the main character and others made up words, and all the archaic usages, particularly. Who knew that a Mercer is someone who sells fine fabrics like silks?

Next, "Provenance", by Ann Leckie, 2018, 480 pages. This is set in the "Ancillary" universe of her award-winning trilogy, blogged here and here. We are out of the immediate Radch empire although there is a Radch ambassador character. A "coming of age" story of a politician's daughter Forrest Gump'ing her way through several significant events. Indeterminate gender, and most of the main characters wind up hooking up female-female and male-male, as is becoming de riguer for lots of current sci-fi. An easy and enjoyable read.

Then another "Let's Rewrite Greek Mythology" effort from Zachary Mason, "Metamorphica", 2018, 304 pages. Similar to "The Lost Books of the Odessey", blogged here, Mason retells many, many Greek myths. As this is the 2nd time through this approach, I realized that maybe the main thing he is doing is taking myths we have all known for years and retelling them in the 1st person. But he also changes the myth when he thinks it makes a better or more rational story. I liked particularly his retelling of Midas as the person who invented money. I grew up on Greek & Norse mythology, I really enjoy when they are revisited and riffed upon.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Still in Denial

It is hard for me to make myself study Economy of Plenty / Post-Scarcity Utopia with the world descending into fascism. The climate crisis is responsible for a lot of it in Europe, with unlivable temperatures and crop failures driving millions of climate refugees out of the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Evil Orange One continues to search for yet another manufactured crisis to drive the ratings of "President of the US Apprentice". Ah well, I'm sure the other shoe will fall soon enough, and we will #lockhimup.

But, please, sooner rather than later. So many people are saying the damage is irreparable - here's an example. Well, let's acknowledge that Putin is a genius who was able, via electing and then blackmailing a childish idiot with an incredibly overrated opinion of himself, to destroy the US hegemony which was created after WW II. Dictators of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your loser populace!

I mentioned I had bought the latest novel of E.J. Swift: "Paris Adrift", 2018, 320 pages. This woman writes really well. I highlighted a dozen or so passages I thought were really evocative, enough that I will leave discovering them as an exercise for the reader. A very enjoyable read, plus it is set in 1 of my fav cities, Paris! I will say though, that the plotting was not the best. Stuff that should have been explained never was, and stuff that seemed to be forbidden later on was A-OK??? There was a small subplot at the end that smelt like something an editor suggested.

Despite my philosophical aversion to dystopias, I did in impulse buy on "The End of the World", subtitled "Stories of the Apocalypse", edited by Martin H. Greenberg, 2010, 328 pages. This short story collection was recommended for me by BookBub. BookBub sends me an email/day with 5 recommended cheap eBooks. I buy maybe 1/month tops, but that is enough that I think the 10 seconds/day to read the email is a worthwhile investment of my time.

This collection had stories dating back to 1950. The last story was the longest, from 1950 by Poul Anderson (a fav author of mine for decades). Haha, a principle of writing sci-fi - never mention real technology by name - seriously, vacuum tubes??? And of course a lot of the societal attitudes are embarrassingly dated.

This collection was definitely slow getting started, but did wind up with some good stories. A few of the older ones had the groaner punchline or deus ex machina ending that in my youth I would have thought was really cool, but now just seems very dated. I did like the subdivisions of the book:

  • Bang or Whimper
  • The Last Man
  • Life After the End
  • Dark, Distant Futures
  • Witnesses to the End of the World
Next up, a just released fantasy by Hannu Rajaniemi, "Summerland", 2018, 304 pages. This seems to be Hannu's 1st novel after the most excellent "Quantum Thief" trilogy, blogged here, here, and here. I was somewhat surprised he tried a fantasy. Set in 1938 and mostly in England, it is a spy story in a world where the dead and living can communicate, and Queen Victoria still rules the British Empire from the spirit world. There is a lot of action and a somewhat convoluted but satisfactory ending, but, throughout the whole book I kept thinking "Hannu has written a Tim Powers novel". Just before reading this book, I had been thinking about how I greatly preferred Tim Powers to Neil Gaiman for magic realism, so having the new Hannu read pretty much like something Powers would write really threw me off. No kudos to Powers in the book either. Oh well, still an enjoyable read.

Back to science fiction: I read "Dark Lightning", by John Varley, 2014, 352 pages. This is the 4th book of the Thunder and Lightning series, which started in 2003 - it says here I read the 1st 1 "Red Thunder" in 2004. No sign I read the other 2: "Red Lightning" and "Rolling Thunder". Varley was one of my favorite authors in the early 80s.

I guess this is a YA book - the narrators are 18 YO twin sisters. They are on an asteroid ship heading for the New Sun currently traveling at 0.77c when ... plot happens. Nothing particularly inspiring, libertarian overtones, but a page turner. Varley seems to be getting old, he's 70 now. Apparently this whole series is a tribute to Heinlein, oops.

I wonder how I missed the middle 2? Oh well, I don't think it's worth revisiting. Funny, old singer/songwriters seem to keep on keepin' on, old SF authors - Heinlein, Herbert, now Varley, seem to fall prey to DOM (Dirty Old Man) syndrome. It's disappointing, and a cautionary tale for my increasingly aged self.