Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Three Stars

“Outrageous coincidence was more normal that carefully formed, reasoned action.”

Excellent world building. Complex time-travel plot with 60s England focus. Having one character a later member of the famous Inklings is a nice touch, including his depreciation of his more talented friends.

“You go and sit down and contemplate your own genius for a bit, and come through when you think you can stand straight.”

The narrative suffers from too many point-of-view characters. The many threads finally come together, but the first hundred pages is heavy going. Extra credit for finishing it all in one go.

“You may have got that from The Wizard of Oz. You steal ideas from everyone.” “I do?” “Yes.” (Pears also borrowed from Fahrenheit 451.)

While the women characters are well differentiated, the men all sound alike. Not sure why one character’s narrative was in first person while Continue reading

Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson

Four Stars

“A man can do but little. Enough if that little be right.”

I’ve read this book before–long, long ago. Knowing the story, but having it told anew was a treat. Perhaps the height of Anderson’s skill as a storyteller. A slightly different take on time travel, but aren’t they all?

“Scientific information is only a glimmer on the surface of a mystery.”

Written in 1971, it grappled with the increasingly dangerous Cold War, which is remote to modern readers as World War One was to Anderson. “Try to understand your world in 1951.” Most of us have trouble imagining our world today; we don’t even try to learn the past, with Santayana’s forecast result.

“We need all the diversity, all the assorted ways of living and thinking, we can get. Inside of limits, true.”

His protagonist creates an instrument “built to his specification in 1980, to take advantage of the superb solid-state electronics then available.” Before you chuckle, consider Continue reading

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Four Stars

“You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists.”

A 1985 dystopia set in a severe and hypocritical (aren’t they all?) theocracy, Atwood’s tale is a cautionary tale about how American culture could degenerate under the combines pressures of extended Cold War and the environmental assault of then-current industrial practice.

“No empire imposed by force or otherwise has been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.”

The story’s confused chronology is due to the semi-stream-of-consciousness remanences of one of the titular handmaids, partly explained in the accompanying Historical Note. Atwood tells just enough to propel Continue reading

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi

Three Stars

“This isn’t going to end well.” “Does it ever?”

Scalzi delivers the goods. So many other authors of science fiction fail simple narration, if not science. Scalzi is a master storyteller and covers himself on the science front as well. Unlike many first-of-a-series novels, this story has a satisfying conclusion even as it sets the hook for follow-on tales. A good, fast, enjoyable read.

“I’m busy with the end of everything.”

Perhaps compensating for the male cast imbalance of previous works, almost all the major characters are female.

“… the human tendency to ignore or deny facts until the last possible instant, and then for several days after that, too.”

The f-word occurs in some form 202 times. Half of those are to establish the credentials of one of the female leads, but most weren’t necessary. Cost him a star. It’s not as if Scalzi hasn’t Continue reading

Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley

Four Stars.

“Distrust of and disappointment in people had kept him alive this long.”

A fun short story. Great set up and world building is just a few pages.

“It was assumed, in every age, that when one spoke of ‘the war’ everyone else knew exactly which war they were talking about.”

The reader is drawn in and swept along. Perfect ending.

“As much as he wanted closure some days, the deep fear of death … won over every time.”

 

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan

Four Stars

“Alas for my well-being, I was young and therefore far too stupidly stubborn.”

Jane Austen does Dragons. Great fun. Great world building. Great storytelling.

“Why should I give up the company of a man who would love me to run a household and otherwise bore myself into porridge?”

Perhaps the best grasp of the Victorian Age I’ve found in modern fantasy. Yet intensely close and personal. Captures both young Isebella’s sharp, questing mind and her childlike impulsiveness.

“… the harmless sort of fluff-brained, not the sort I actually was.”

Three times uses “stoop” describes a dragon attacking from the air. It seemed “swoop” would have been closer to right, but, no, stoop describes the attack mode of birds-of prey, which dragons would mimic. (I’ve seen a peregrine falcon stoop from a high perch. Impressively fast and deadly.)

“Relatively approachable” dragons?  … “(Where I would become an easy meal. The deranged side of my mind invented these ideas, but the practical side knew where they would end.)”

Book Review: Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Bloodline Feud (Merchant Princes #1-#2) by Charles Stross

Four Stars

“You earn loyalty by giving it.’

Engaging characters in an intriguing world and storyline. Connecticut Yankee-like situation with modern (2002) American dropped into a quasi-Medieval society. (It’s the “quasi” that makes the story work.) The stakes keep ratcheting higher.

“They don’t have an equal rights amendment.” “These guys don’t have a constitution.”

Published in 2013 but set in 2002. Appropriate tech and culture references. Unlike many modern novels, Stross’ protagonist felt romantic–even sexual–attraction without it short-circuiting her brain.

“There’s a better life awaiting me as a humble illegal immigrant in this world than there as a lady-in-waiting to nobility in my own.”

Ruminations about economics will put some readers to sleep. Stross has a better grasp for how economics works than some Nobel laureates. In a nutshell: Smith and Marx were wrong, or at least incomplete. Growth doesn’t depend on exploiting resources, women, poor, labor, minorities (those happened but they actually impaired system performance). It’s innovation. (Some day I may blog more, but this enough for now.)

“Taking ideas where they’re needed.”

Good climax, plenty of hook to follow-on volumes.

“Carefully not thinking too hard about the likely consequences of her actions …”

Book Review: Night Train to Rigel by Timothy Zahn Four Stars

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Book Review: Night Train to Rigel (Quadrail #1) by Timothy Zahn

Four Stars

“You humans are without a doubt the most hunch-driven species in the galaxy.”

Good story telling and plot. Enough layers to protagonist, companion, and various antagonists to keep the reader guessing. Frank Compton is either very lucky or very unlucky. Either way, he’ll be lucky to get through this alive.

“You’re making a big mistake.” “I do it all the time. I’m used to it.’

Quibble: Why the “clack” of the Quadrail passing over “expansion joints”? Why not ride above the rails, like magnetic levitation? Especially since … (but that would be telling.)

“The procedure was standard … and not to be trifled with merely because it didn’t happen to make sense.”

Book Report: Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak (Three Stars)

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Book Report: Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak

Three Stars

“A good newspaper man sticks out the neck whenever there is need to.”

Imagine a Harry Potter world where the muggles not only knew magicians existed but feared and hated them.

“It had taken the orderly mind which science had drummed into the human race to make [paranormal kinetics] finally work.”

As usual, lots of preaching. Simak’s stuff may have been cutting edge half a century ago but it boring now. Unlike however many modern SF writers, he managed to get the science right so the story is not glaringly dated by the sea change in technology since. (Do you know what a “lunch pail” is?)

“A good idea to have a line of retreat laid out.”

Premise: man is trapped. Simak’s essentially correct, man is trapped on earth. Decades of science fiction notwithstanding, humans will never walk freely on the Moon nor Mars even if they were terraformed to earth-likeness because both lack a magnetosphere. The radiation would eventually kill all exposed life.  The same applies for travel (at non-relativistic speeds). We’re trapped (for now).

“The finger of God stretched out to touch your heart.”

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Three Stars

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Book Review: Hunter (Hunter #1) by Mercedes Lackey

Three Stars

“This wasn’t a job you picked, it’s a job that picks you.”

Lost a star in the last fifty pages. Great setup. Great storytelling. Good world building, wonderful voice and emerging character for the narrator, then shifted focus to an artificial “test” and a fake ending, obviously expecting readers to rush to buy the next volume. Note to writers: you have to deliver the goods–at least some goods–in the first book or no one will buy the rest.

“Guilt and self-loathing tend to make you cranky.”

The premise: what if all the evil spirits of all world traditions were real. And what if Continue reading