ed_rex: (ace)
[personal profile] ed_rex

'Steaming like raw meat dropped onto a hot stove'

Image: Cover of The Departure, by Neal Asher

It's not news that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I have a soft spot for space opera; I confess, the big space base (which I initially mistook for a starship of some sort) adorning the cover of Neal Asher's novel, The Departure, helped sell me on it.

As it turned out though, The Departure hardly qualifies as space-opera and only squeaks by as science fiction pretty much the way Superman does: on technicalities only.

Though it's set in the future and some of the action takes place in orbit and on Mars, the book is really just a narrated first-person shooter dressed up in some SF tropes — a corrupt and incompetent world government, artificial intelligence, robotic weapons and a transhuman genesis.

But all that is only window-dressing. That spectacular cover is a gateway to lugubrious dialogue, sophomoric libertarian philosophy, hackneyed world-building and, especially, to one pornographic blood-bath after another.

The Departure is one of the worst books I have read in a very long time. More boring than Atlas Shrugged (which I reviewed a while back), it drips with just as much contempt for ordinary human beings. Unlike Rand's John Galt though, Asher's superman does much of his killing at first-hand.

Does this novel have any redeeming qualities? The short answer is "no". The long answer lives behind this link.

ed_rex: (ace)
[personal profile] ed_rex


Hugos considered as dyptich of semi-precious novels

Vernor Vinge and why the golden age of science fiction is still twelve


I really ought to know better by now. It doesn't matter whether an award is given out by fans or by peers, critics or the general public, whether the criteria is ostensibly "best" this or "favourite" that.

Awards are a crap shoot, influenced by fashions, by lobbying and by plain old bad taste.

That's right, I said it. Sometimes an award is given out to a book (or a movie, or a play, or a poem — the list is as endless as variations in the arts) that simply doesn't deserve it. That doesn't even merit being on the short-list in the first place.

Let me tell you about Vernor Vinge and why the golden age of science fiction is still 12. My full review lives at Edifice Rex Online. Yell at me here, or there.

moonplanet: Stargate Atlantis, slightly edited screenshot (stargate-atlantis)
[personal profile] moonplanet
(I took care to give no obvious spoilers about the story)

Title: Vertrek van Aankomst (on Librarything; original English title "One step from Earth")
Author: Harry Harrison
Format: paperback
Pages: 174
Year published: original 1970, my edition 1971
Language: Dutch, original English
ISBN number: 9027406251
BookCrossing ID: 10286062
Reason for reading: I found it on Eindhoven train station. And it's a science-fiction book from the '70s! Which I really like reading :) And I hadn't read anything by this author yet.

Back cover text:
Harry Harrison is bij de kenners van science-fiction hoog gekwalificeerd. In 'De technicolor tijdmachine' sloeg hij een brug tussen nu, straks, toen. In dit boek overbrugt hij de ruimte: één flits tussen hier, ver, lichtjaren ver. Geen tijd, geen ruimte.
De auteur van De technicolor tijdmachine (P 1381) geeft negen ingenieuze variaties rond een futuristische vorm van telecommunicatie. Materiezenders verplaatsen drie-dimensionale voorwerpen, ook mensen, in geen tijd naar elke plaats in het heelal.
Eén stap naar Mars.
Eén stap naar infiltratie.
Eén stap naar misbruik voor militaire doeleinden.
Science-fiction van grote klasse.

First alinea:
1. Stap van de Aarde af
Dit land was dood. Het had nooit geleefd. Dood was het geboren bij de eerste vorming van het zonnestelsel, een planetaire miskraam van granietblokken, grof zand en scherpe rotsen. De lucht was zó ijl en koud dat ze eerder een vacuüm leek dan een leefbare dampkring. Hoewel het bijna middag was en de kleine bleke zonneschijf hoog aan de hemel stond, was de lucht donker, het fletse licht scheen over de oneffen vlakte die door geen voetafdruk nog getekend was. Stilte, eenzaamheid, leegte.

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[personal profile] othercat
Tears of the Sun continues on from The High King of Montival with Rudi now High King and the various changes the various regions that make up the new kingdom are going through. We also get a good view of how preparations are going for the war against the Church Universal and Triumphant, the war itself, and how everyone who had been previously nonreligious are now suddenly finding religion now that magic of some variety works.

Read the rest of this review on A Wicked Convergence of Circumstances
othercat: (journalling this)
[personal profile] othercat
At 328 pages, this book was a very fast read, and follows very closely behind the previous book. Bren has been sent to negotiate with Machigi, the young leader of the Marid, a region that has been causing trouble, and was responsible for the recent coup. His situation is complicated by not having any clear marching orders from Ilisidi on what he can offer Machigi and further complicated by two Guild assassins who had managed to get on the wrong side of everyone by being extremely stupid. Finally, the presence of Barb, who had been kidnapped by unknown persons at the end of the previous book, creates its own unique problems (mainly problems involving Jago wanting to scratch Barb’s eyes out and Barb being hopelessly stupid).

After an initially positive interview with Machigi and Bren deciding that Ilisidi wants him to solve the problem the Marid are having by proposing an alliance between Ilisidi’s eastern associates and the Marid, (which could potentially resolve various conflicts that had resulted in the Marid coup) leads the atevi lord to invoke an ancient negotiation custom. In the past, the white ribbon and clothes that had come to signify the human ambassador-translator had been the uniform of a special kind of (atevi) negotiator who negotiated based on manchi (loyalty or affinity) toward both sides of a conflict.

abigailnicole: (books)
[personal profile] abigailnicole

I was lonely, and the internet was broken, so I started reading Audrey Niffengger's The Time Traveler's Wife. I don't think this was a fantastic choice for warding off the blues, though....between this and Never Date A Writer I don't know that relationships are worth it or if they're the only thing that's worth it. I need a perspective not-relationship novel.

I love stories about time travel. I'm writing one, after all. And the time travel in this was well-executed...the problem of course is that time travel isn't real and doesn't work, so you have to walk a fine line between the mechanics and the story, and this toes that line well. While technology can be explained by a few sentences of technobabble, time travel affects causality and thus affects the flow of your plot. You can really write yourself into a corner in a hurry. The interesting thing is that The Time Traveler's Wife is written into a corner for an entire book. Henry, the main character, has no choice but to go through these experiences--he's caught in a corner. These are scenes I'd hate writing, but she does them well.

The plot is very well done--time travel is tricky, and she has same scenes reseen from different points of view, by different characters or sometimes the same character at different ages. The situation is profound, moving, the imagery lovely. I cried at the end. He died quoting Andrew Marvell, what do you expect? "Had we but world enough, and time--" ahhh.

But this book didn't quite satisfy me. It did, in some ways: the plot was lovely, well-thought out, the writing was simple, clear, precise, and lovely. What bothered me were the characters. And I didn't really know why until a patron interrupted me, while I was reading this today, to check out Twilight. And then I sat there for a moment and thought about it.

Because it's the same story. Bella and Clare are both pretty, feminine, have long hair, fall in love young and say with that man for life, don't do very much on their own. They both want a child, both have a daughter, both have husbands that are more interesting than they are, both their lives totally revolve around the person they love. The conflict in each depends on the defect of the other person that they love: vampire, time traveler. The intellectualism is better done here, obviously, and the plot is MUCH better written---but the characters remain the same mold. The perfect family save for one thing. A woman whose life depends on her significant other. When Edward/Henry leaves, Bella/Clare sits around and doesn't eat, stares into space, turns into emotionless zombies, stays in bed all day and feel awful. Only Jacob/Gomez is there to distract her but the depth of feeling is friendship and not love.

And this story is much better, don't get me wrong. But the characters irk me. Henry I love. A gaunt, tall, thin, dark, punk-lovin, alcoholic, sort of authentic version of the Arsonist. But he's all fuzzy around the edges. And that's all right--if that's a product of time travel, because he is mostly telling his own story and he feels fuzzy around the edges, then it's great characterization. But Clare is supposed to be his anchor, to hold him down, right? And all I know about her is that she has long red hair. Blue eyes, or maybe green. Part of this is the nature of the characters--from six to forty-three in the course of one book--but some of it is just general characterization. She does physical descriptions of characters well: when you're doing descriptions you stick to main traits that are easily identifiable, and let characters be memorable based on personality. But Clare needs to be solid. She needs to be what is holding him here, and she needs to be firmly fixed in the reader's mind as a solid point, and she's not. They're like twin stars in a solar system: they hold each other in place, and when one is missing the other sort of drifts away. I want them to be more solid, especially Clare. Even if she is the type of woman who spends her whole life waiting on a man, and who ahs a man at the center of her universe...well, maybe that's why she's not a very solid character, if she lets someone else be that much a part of her. But I want to know that, I want details of that, I want Clare to be more than she is. All of their friends, even Charisse and Gomez, feel flat and placeholders, not real and solid and fleshed-out: she's not good at doing little details that make characters really come alive. and for all of Alba's build-up she doesn't have much: part of that is her age, I know, you're not solid when you're that young. But you can have children who are more than a placeholder: look at Pearl, if you want to look at children that symbolize things.

Maybe these character types--interesting male, female who is dependent on him and whose life is mostly him--are more prevalent in literature than I think or realize. But I don't think it has to be this way, and I know it's not. Look at Jane Eyre, for crying out loud. She realized this very thing and had to say no, had to leave it so that this wouldn't be the case. She was solid first, and then she was solid again after he was gone. As a disconnected woman, I have to believe that there is more to life and literature than this: waiting on a man.

So thank you, Audrey Niffenegger--I love your plot, and I love your story, and I love your French poets and your prose. But your characters need to stand on their own.
libelula: Book Plus Pinup Equals Fun (Reading)
[personal profile] libelula
20TH CENTURY BOYS, vols. 1 & 2 by Naoki Urasawa
Viz Media, 2009, 210 pages, 978-1-59116-922-2, Paperback, $12.99
Viz Media, 2009, 206 pages, 978-1-59116-926-0, Paperback, $12.99

Genre: Manga/Science Fiction/Mystery


Kenji lives an ordinary life running a King Mart with his mother and looking after his sister's infant daughter. Excitement isn't exactly a part of his day to day life, and he certainly doesn't have the time to go looking for it. But when a domino effect of unexplained events begins -- including the disappearance of a university professor, the death of an old school friend, and the sudden outbreak of a viral epidemic -- Kenji finds himself just as involved as anyone else. Central to all of these occurances is a symbol that Kenji finds familiar but can't quite identify, and a cult whose leader is known only as the "friend." Somehow these events are tied into Kenji's childhood, but after so many years he can't quite figure out how, exactly, it all fits together.


This manga starts out a little slow, but by the end of volume two, you really begin to see where it's all headed, and that destination looks pretty exciting. So far this story has all of the best elements of an Urasawa manga -- an unexpected protagonist, a complex and interweaving plot, extensive background elements, and sinister overtones. Yet for all of its familiar aspects, 20th Century Boys feels as though it's definitely going to be different, and I'm looking forward to that.

Read the full review at The Reader Eclectic.

libelula: Book Plus Pinup Equals Fun (Reading)
[personal profile] libelula
STAR TREK (2009 film novelization) by Alan Dean Foster
Pocket Books, 2009, 274 pages, 978-1-4391-5886-9, Trade Paperback, $15.00

Genre: Science Fiction


In this particular case, I'm not going to write a synopsis of the book. Either you've seen the movie or you haven't, and if you haven't, you probably don't want a synopsis since you'll either not care at all or not want to be spoiled.


This book is pretty much what you would expect. It follows the course of the film and does its best to capture the sometimes chaotic events. A lot of times this results in lightning fast point-of-view changes that will leave you feeling dizzy, and it doesn’t leave a lot of room for extra insight into the characters or much of anything else. The story itself moves slowly up until the midway point where, all of a sudden, things start happening at a rapid pace. On the other hand, there are a few additions that fans might appreciate.

Read the full review at The Reader Eclectic.