Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Four Stars

“The unexpected is what makes life possible.”

Excellent. Le Guin demonstrates the verbal prowess that earned her early science fiction honors. Her later stuff reflects her hardening prejudices.

“Almost anything carried to its logical extreme becomes depressing, if not toxic.”

Better introduction than Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter. Read this; not that.

“The whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed on Winter. On Winter … one is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.”

Le Guin reminds us that the issue is not being manly men or feminine women–nor fem men and manly women, or whatever–but being totally human. Modern politics Continue reading

Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

(Four Stars)

“No guns in Container Town.”

See? It can be done. Kick off a series with an enjoyable, self-contained story–not a chopped-off cliffhanger. A near future dystopia with aliens, set in the universe of Chu’s Lives of Tao books. Why wasn’t this Hugo Award finalist?

“It was one thing to witness a slum, it was another to see a beautiful city reduced to one before your eyes.”

Even if you haven’t read previous stories in this setting, Chu focuses you on his protagonist and gently fills in the background as the story develops. The data dumps are appropriately placed and paced.

“Stop acting like life is some precious gift from a higher power. Everything dies, Ella. Everything is expendable.”

Totally immerses the reader in the setting. Captures the sights, smells and tastes of a post-modern slum in Continue reading

Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Four Stars

“Is this what Chiss do? See a trap, and just walk into it?”

Good science fiction–albeit a space opera–not just good Star Wars fiction. The reader need not have any previous exposure to Star Wars nor Thrawn to enjoy this origins tale in which Zahn skillfully weaves the many threads of existing stories into a fresh, original story.

“There’s no trust in politics. Never has been. Never will be.”

Thrawn is there in all his glory, but he is also limited and occasionally tone deaf, so he’s less superhuman.

“All Eli could see in his face was that maddening confidence of his.”

The two primary threads interweave convincingly. Bad people see themselves as serving a greater good, just a good people are often blind to their own faults. Good Holmes-Watson interchanges. Understanding an opponent through his art is Continue reading

Book Review: Galactic Bounty by William C. Dietz (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Galactic Bounty (Sam McCade #1) by William C. Dietz

Three Stars

“Now the stars no longer seemed mysterious. Just beautiful points of light, none of which were home.”

A product of its times (first published in 1986) can be seen in both the portrayal of women, though Dietz did better than many contemporaries, and the cigars. Today such a work would be boycotted, if not banned. Did I much the cigars?

“Somehow it seemed important to finish what he’d started.”

It’s space opera. Not much socially redeeming quality; more popcorn for the brain. Better than average. (Except for the cigars.)

“The wise man trades words before blows.”

Book Review: Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Far-Seer (Quintaglio Ascension #1) by Robert J. Sawyer

Three Stars

“I cast a shadow in your presence.”

A great premise: What if Galileo was a sentient theropod on a Jovian moon? Good development of raptor culture and metaphors. Good unraveling of the astronomical puzzle. Okay storytelling.

“Your heroism saved my life.” “It was nothing.” “My life? Or your deed?” “I’d like to think that in either case, that’s not true.”

Got the dynamics of planetary body movement and observation correct enough to make it fun for science nerds, while enough social, language and philosophy filters through to please right-brain-dominant readers.

“No God meant no meaning to it all, no higher standards by which everything was measured.”

The protagonist is certainly The One. Everything is too easy: hunt, astronomy, love, and politics. He swims in secret allies. One pops up whenever he needs. People conveniently die on cue too. (Cover quibble: saurian looks too like a T. Rex. More spoilers in that cover than this review.)

“The world might be coming to an end. But they’d worry about that tomorrow.”

Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” by Jessica Reisman (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace: A Tor.com Original” by Jessica Reisman

Four Stars

“Life exists in more forms than we can predict or comprehend.”

A pleasant science fiction short story, which challenges the reader to keep up and entertains at the same time. Set in a dystopian mining colony after the mines have played out and the corporate overlords are reneging on closure promises.

“The thing that needed doing.”

Much better storytelling than the current crop of Hugo Award finalists. Potential lead in to a larger story.

“She knew it was the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time. But …”

A good take on how language evolves in “moms.” Nice cover art by Jon Foster.

“Please … let me not be graceless in this.”

Book Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Two Stars)

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Book Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Two Stars

“I knew that day that my father was feeding only the darkness.”

Short, pointless, poorly done. Expected better more from Miéville. At least it wasn’t offensive, an accomplishment among 2017 Hugo Award novella finalists. (Nice cover art.)

“Once I asked my father, ‘Why do you want me?’ I still think it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.”

Talk about your unreliable narrator. Holden Caulfield syndrome. Mixed tenses–first, second and third–confuses the story. Big vocabulary and syntax change late in the story, presumably to indicate a shift in narrator maturity, but then wasn’t the whole story written by him?

“The more you know about people the better.”

Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Five Stars)


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Five Stars

“We don’t need better emotional communication from machines. We need people to have more empathy.”

The Two Cultures meets American Gods.

“Sometimes I wish I was crazy, it would make everything easier.”

The final war between magic and science happens in San Francisco. Seriously good fiction about magic, science, love and machines. Oh, and the end of the world.

“Children are adults who haven’t learned to make fear their hand puppet.”

Excellent character development and plotting. Drew readers in without boring us with four years of magic academy. Philosophic reflection over Continue reading

Book Review: “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Three Stars

“They wanted to be left alone. Nobody believed it.”

Intriguing take on an old science fiction saw. Good character and story development. A fun read. 2017 Finalist for 2017 Hugo Award novelette.

“It’s your conscious mind that’s the slave master, always worrying about control. Your unconscious only wants to preserve you.”

Quibble: There is no way an RV could surreptitiously approach, load, and depart an alien structure in the District of Columbia. Dozens–no, hundreds of private, corporate, and governmental cameras would record it and track the RVs every move.

“They don’t live in an imaginary future like most people.”

Big behavior shift by protagonist at climax not well presented. Nice cover art, though it has nothing to do with the story.

“There’s no death if there’s no self to be aware of.” “No life either.”

Book Review: “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan

Four Stars

“It was time to shut up. For the first time in my life I was feeling another person’s pain like it was my own.”

Ah. A refreshing short story, which takes the reader deep inside a character in a recognizably near future. No fantasy; very little science, but pretty of good storytelling.

“What did fathers ever do for the world in any case, except saddle unsuspecting women with unwanted children?”

Another markedly feminist tale. This year’s Hugo Awards finalists include a host of socially-relevant (and some irrelevant) topics. This tale was among the best of them.

“When she goes, all her stories will go with her, the ones she makes up as well as the ones that happen to be true. Once she’s gone, I’ll never know which were which.”

Quibbles: Apparently Allan doesn’t understand what the deleted in depleted uranium means. There are issues, but not so dramatic as portrayed. “… ends with the doomed one taking off his or her helmet, making a quick and noble end of it.” It’s really, really hard to take off your helmet in a vacuum; if you bleed the air out you’ll be dead before you get it off.

“In leaving this world, she makes me feel more properly a part of it.”