Book Review: Sewer Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy by Matt Ruff (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Sewer Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy by Matt Ruff

(Two Stars)

“But Aristotle has written—” “Forget Aristotle. [He] only covers research and development. This is consumer marketing.” “Which philosopher should I have studied to comprehend consumer marketing?” “Munchhausen.”

Absurd? Of course, it’s absurd; that’s the point. But better written than many similar tales of the silliness of modern life. Better-than-average advocacy fiction.

“So you lied to yourself.” “The first symptom of true intelligence. Selective self-deception. How’s that for a Turing test?”

Still, I don’t recommend this to sensitive, introspective readers. It’s satire, as subtle as a Mack truck. Rude, crude and full of platitudes, though Ruff allows viewpoints other than his own stage time—if only to knock down their strawmen. And lots of profanity.

“What makes war terrible isn’t that the soldiers are men; it’s that men are soldiers. Let women become soldiers—or politicians, or diplomats—and you haven’t changed war at all.”

Ironic. What actually happening in the first two decades of the twenty-first century was as improbably as what Ruff wrote. (He mentions Cray PCs several times. Many may not recognize that reference to the super-computer pioneer, killed in a stupid auto accident about the time Ruff published.) And wrong. Remember when faxes were a big deal? Remember faxes?

“Thanks to the New York Times, newspaper of record, for confirming that even in a rational universe, ‘far-fetched’ is a relative term.”

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Book Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3) by Ann Leckie

(Four Stars)

“In the end it’s only ever been one step, and then the next.”

Satisfying close to the trilogy. In fact, some readers may simply wish to read books 1 and 3. Little is missed by skipping 2; a lot of swimming in place.

“You really have gotten better, but you can still be an enormously self-involved jerk.”

Leckie develops her characters well. Despite most of the story being told through the point of view of one character, readers have no trouble identifying much of the supporting cast.

“You don’t need to know the odds. You need to know how to do the thing you’re trying to do. And then you need to do it.”

Not surprising that Leckie returns to the Rasch universe in later books, but so far no word of the Provisional Republic of the Two Systems.

“There is always more after the ending.”

Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2) by Ann Leckie

(Three Stars)

“Betrayer! Long ago we promised/ To exchange equally, gift for gift./ Take this curse: What you destroy will destroy you.”

Not nearly as good as the opening Ancillary Justice. In fact, the reader in a hurry could read that book and skip to the trilogy-concluding Ancillary Mercy and miss very little. Except development of who Breq is and the odd people and events swept along in her wake.

“Water will wear away stone, but it won’t cook supper.”

The writing is good, if repetitive. Way too much recapitulation of what’s gone on before. Breq sounds more like Yoda or Computer as the stories progress.

“Memory is an event horizon. What’s caught in it is gone but it’s always there.”

Book Review: Treason (Star Wars: Thrawn #3) by Timothy Zahn (Four Stars)

Book Review: Treason (Star Wars: Thrawn #3) by Timothy Zahn

(Four Stars)

“May warrior’s fortune be ever in your favor.”

A fun read, if shallow and obvious. Hey, it’s Star Wars. The question is never whether Thrawn will outsmart most everyone, but how.

“I don’t think he said no,” [she] said. “Just not yet. So stop pouting, Senior Lieutenant, and get your crews ready.” She looked out the viewport. “The universe is about to get interesting again.”

Timothy Zahn is exceptional in the Legends (formerly Expanded Universe) of Stars Wars (both BD and AD: Before Disney and After Disney) for creating new characters and stories which really do expand the SW universe below the basic story thread. (Karen Traviss is another.) Characters he created, most notably Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo, contribute richness and depth to Legends. Jade was an unfortunate casualty of the Disney buyout; Thrawn weathered the transition intact: to the point that this series ties into SW Rebels series as well as the central SW thread.

“Learning about each other’s ways and learning how we’re alike despite our differences is a way to enrich our lives.”

This rating is relative to other Star Wars Legends stories, not an absolute scale against all literature.

“Waiting was always a chore. Waiting for combat was excruciating.”

Book Review: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi (One Star)

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Book Review: The Consuming Fire (The Interdependency #2) by John Scalzi

(One Star)

“To save as many lives as possible, through every means possible.”

Disappointing. The core of this story is an excellent five-star novella, however as presented I don’t recommend it to anyone. My rating of John Scalzi books averages four stars, but this one gets one because I can’t give it zero.

“If.” “When.” “And you’ve seen this in your visions.” “One does not need visions when one has data. In both cases, however, one does need to be willing to see.”

Scalzi weaves an intricate plot of discovery and betrayal that’s part who-dun-it and part space opera. As usual, his characters are varied and deep. Most of the principals are female. Underlaying the main plot are reflections on the nature of truth and lies and Continue reading

Book Review: Beholder’s Eye by Julie E. Czerneda (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Beholder’s Eye (Web Shifter’s #1) by Julie E. Czerneda

(Four Stars)

“Death came in along the ecliptic, undetected until it cracked the starship’s hull and began to hunt.” Did she mean “elliptic”?

Excellent. Czerneda created an alien lifeform which felt both familiar and other. First person narrative draws the reader into the protagonist’s thoughts and crisis.

“I can do this, I thought. I realized, belatedly, that Esch had not doubted me. I had doubted myself.”

In classic fashion, begins well after the start of the story, if not exactly in the middle. Backstory is supplied as needed. Well done.

“There are always those who fear the unknown. And what am I but Continue reading

Book Review: Umbernight by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Umbernight by Carolyn Ives Gilman

(Three Stars)

“We were only different from the bacteria because we are able to ask what the hell this is all about. Not answer, just ask.”

Enormous potential. Raises important questions about the limits of rationality, and the stifling impact of dogma, whatever the source. Unfortunately, logic is abandoned early—both inside the story and in the writing. Read it anyway.

“He was an orthodox rationalist, and considered aesthetics to be a gateway drug to superstition.”

Spoiler: no advanced culture would have wasted mass on a supply mission to a new colony with physical books. Lost a star

“The other option, the wise and cautious one, was to let the capsule land and just leave it sitting at Newton’s Eye until spring. But we are the descendants of people who set out for a new planet without thoroughly checking it out. Wisdom? Caution? Not in our DNA.”

Darwinian forecast: this colony will die.

“None of us asked to be born here, exiled from the rest of humanity, like the scum on the sand left by the highest wave.”

(2019 Finalist: Theodore A. Sturgeon Memorial Award, 2019 Finalist: Locus Award for Best Novella)

Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun: Stories of the Xuya Universe by Aliette de Bodard

(Three Stars)

“Everything is a lie. Everything is a fragment of the truth.”

The collection contains the titular story plus “Ship’s Brother,” and “The Frost on the Jade Buds.”

“… seemed to be perpetual mourning, as if some spring within them had broken a long time ago.”

Well-written, but lacks depth. Presumably much backstory is developed in earlier Xuya Universe novels. This is not a good place to start.

“Tales for children. Bedtimes stories: the only narratives that can be stomached.”

(Illustration from deBodard’s website, not from collection.)

Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

(Three Stars)

“The key to autonomy, she realized, was more than root access on the programs that shaped her desires. It was a sense of privacy.”

In exploring the limits—natural and imposed—on robotic autonomy, Newitz directs us to consider what limits and expands human independence and the value of human life. Any book which makes us think deserves extra attention. Autonomous comes packaged in good story telling and many well-developed characters—bot and otherwise. Multiple folded time lines.

“He’d asked Paladin whether he should call her ‘she.’ It’s true that he was asking the wrong question, but if she listened to the words behind the words … he was asking her consent.”

Comparisons with Martha Wells’ murderbot series are inevitable. Very different approaches. I like Murderbot better because it respects the reader more, and is laced with self-depreciating humor. Your mileage may vary.

“Humans, you know—they hate us for the indenture laws. Without bot indenture, there would be no human indenture. Human think bots deserve to be indentured, while humans deserve to be autonomous.”

Unfortunately, the story is also laced with soft porn and foul language. Sure, that’s how the immature talk, but it isn’t necessary to wallow in it.

“Everybody is an outsider, if you go deep enough. The trick is reassuring people that you’re their kind of outsider. Just figure out a way to share their problems” * (“I feel your pain.”)

Quibble: “Atop these desks were several servers and projectors, a chip printer, some fabbers, and a high-powered microscope box for imaging atoms.” Even in a science fiction future, this seems rather much to be cluttered atop a couple desks. (Which was the point.)

“I’m never going to stop making open drugs, sequence wants to be free.”

Newitz changes the gender of one character mid-story (for well explained reasons), but perhaps inadvertently she depicts that much gender identity in in the mind of others, out of control of the self.

“The bot had no choice but to fight for his life. Still, to Paladin, it didn’t feel like a lack of choice. It felt like hope.”

Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Grass (Arbai #1) by Sheri S. Tepper

(Three Stars)

“You are saying God cannot intervene in this plague?” “I am saying that perhaps God has already done his intervening by creating us.”

Published in 1989, Grass addresses many contemporary issues setting them in far future science fiction. Very slow start. You can’t skip the first hundred pages, but once the story begins to move, you’ll wish Tepper had. Lots of passive voice and participles; slows the pace. Addresses religion more honestly—bad and good–than most modern works.

“Seeking her soul, he had only taken her body, finding there a hollowness he had not expected.”

Some nice word pictures: “nights sat gently upon the sills.” Continue reading