Book Review: Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Five Stars)

Book Review: Children of Memory (Children of Time #3) by Adrian Tchaikovsky (five stars)

Things fall apart, though, and entropy is the landlord whose rent always gets paid.

Excellent. The best science fiction I’ve read this year. Humans colonizing not quite hostile planet. Except that most characters aren’t what they seem, even to themselves. Explores the limits of sentience, personhood, and being human.

It was a terrible thing to remember you’d hated yourself once, before that you became this you.

Attentive readers will collide with not just a folded timeline, more like a Möbius loop. Eventually gets straightened. Sort of. Loved the crows; er, ravens; er, corvids, whatever.

She should have realized that it was all a sham. Except that, when the sham is all you have, you don’t question it. Now this life is all she has, and she has questions.

Though purists may want to read all three books, this volume does the job. But then, I may have to go back and read all three in succession to decide.

As though she once stepped through a magic doorway long ago, when she was a child, and has spent a lifetime trying to return to that place.

Book Review: The Escapement by J. K. Parker (three stars)

Book Review: The Escapement (Engineer Trilogy #3) by J. K. Parker (three stars)

“That’s the trouble with books,” he added bitterly. “There’s no way of knowing whether what’s in them is valuable practical advice or just someone’s flight of fancy.”

Formulaic. It’s a good formula, but #3 reads much like #1 and #2 with the scope and stakes raised, of course. Disappointing, illogical conclusion cost Parker a star.

“I’ve learned two important things so far. First, you can’t be hit if you aren’t there. Second, if someone’s close enough to hurt you, he’s close enough to be hurt back.

Many characters hide behind the cop out that they have no choice but to act or not is a choice. Unsatisfying female characters. I like when authors include their title in the story, but Parker beats it to death.

‘He told himself, a lie will be good enough, because I love her, because I have no choice.’

Book Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold (Three Stars)

Book Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga #16) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Three Stars)

“Don’t let your fears eat the happiness in front of you. Or your grief consume the future.”

Another treat from the creator of the Vorkosigan sagas. This novel continues the expanded family history with hardly a drop of blood spilled. Not sure I’ve read such a peaceful space opera; no one dies, and the worst injury is accidental. Positively domestic.

“Any man who can field strip a weapon can learn to change a [diaper].”

What with all the winding down and tying off loose ends, it reads like a coda to the series. Hard to believe Bujold would break such a popular chain. Perhaps this is a fond farewell for Cordelia (who, I hasten to add, doesn’t die. See above). All the talk—external and internal—does lapse into preaching at times. But Bujold is such a gentle nag that the reader need not fell badgered.

“You’d think they’d know better than to piss in the bucket they’re trying to drink from.”

Bujold’s internal monologue is entertaining and insightful, however it occasionally gets so involved that the sense of the external conversation is lost. More than once this reader had to go back and read just the dialogue to recover the thread of the conversation. Disturbs the verisimilitude.

“Sucks some days to have all these boys with guns and not be allowed to shoot anybody.”

A few years ago asked ten authors to discuss hard versus soft science fiction. Most of them dodged the question by trying to define it away. My take is that hard SF relies on science that is possible given the current state of our knowledge. Soft SF allows itself to fantasize the impossible. For example, travel through wormholes is impossible (though there is debate) given that wormholes, by definition, are blackholes. The gravitation forces would disintegrate any vessel long before it could pass through the theoretical connection. (Disregarding the stability issue.) Bujold and others happily posit a grid of stable wormholes through which intergalactic contact, commerce and of course war is facilitated. And we all love it. But it’s soft science fiction.

“Let the future be freed from the past through the power of selective amnesia.”

Quibble: what’s with all the sandwiches? The Earls of Sandwich will be grateful for the many mentions of their eponymous culinary invention, but you’d think humans would have more creative eating habits in the brave new future.

“Soldiers do not gossip. We exchange mission critical information. Except with more bragging and lies.”

Bujold gently, almost subliminally, guides the reader through considerations of love and hate and coming to peace with our individual and collective pasts. It merits further consideration, which I will attempt here. For now, let me say that, while this book may disappoint those seeking a traditional space opera as Vorjkosigan tales are usually, Bujold gives us a kind-hearted, even domestic tale which is equally enjoyable. Good job.

“Oh, loves, take delight in one another. While you can, take delight.”

Book Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi (two star)

Book Review: The Last Emperox (Interdependency #3) by John Scalzi (two star)

“This is our time.”

Disappointing. This book begins with a bang and is one accelerating train wreck. Pulp, porn, and profanity. Two stars was a gift.

“Assassination was not a tool I preferred to use. That said, there may have been times when I wished that someone would rid me of a turbulent priest.” “You had priests killed?”

Somewhere in here is a good story and a satisfying conclusion to his Interdependency series, but normally I would have quit after the first fifty pages. I wouldn’t have finished the Prologue, but continued because it was nominated for a Hugo Award and I wanted to give a fair appraisal.

“The end of civilization is going to be good for business.”

Quibbles: lots, but the biggest is the premise that there is only one inhabitable planet left in the galaxy. Many planets might not allow humans to walk free, but still support survival in domes or orbiting habitats. Not to mention organic and mineral wealth.

“If you could see it coming, why couldn’t you avoid it?” “Because some choices you make, you can’t come back from,”

Scalzi may be a one-man argument against multi-book contracts. Most of his recent output has been trash. This book continues the downward trend. I used to anticipate his next book. Once I drove out-of-state to his book signing. Now, I won’t buy another.

“I agree people are the problem.” “How do we solve it, then?” “I don’t know. Maybe make them live longer so they have to deal with the consequences of their actions.” “You’re an optimist.” “Apparently.”

Scalzi can write better; he’s demonstrated it. That he consistently doesn’t raises the question why. Only he can answer that. But continuing sales and awards will not encourage introspection.

“These are the times we live in.” “We make the times we live in.”

(2021 Hugo Award novel finalist)

Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4) by Becky Chambers (Three Stars)

“Remember children, their shells still white.”

A gentle take on Enemy Mine. Agenda-driven story. An appropriate agenda, but Chambers so carefully checks off each item that this story with be dated ten years from now. The plot, such as it is, is a framework on which to hang sermons.

‘You engaged in bloody theft and you called it progress, and no matter how much better you think you’ve made things, no matter how good your intentions are.’

A disparate group of dissimilar species (including no humans) are trapped together. Most have to deal with their inclinations, if not their xenophobia, to get along. Stress, verbal conflict, and a crisis to draw them together. Assumes every species everywhere chooses its gender, and it’s the biggest deal of their lives. Gratuitous profanity.

‘What are we, if not strangers and not friends?’ ‘I have no idea.’

The biggest character shortfall is that all the disparate creatures think, feel, and will like humans. There’s no sense of other about them. Entertaining discussions of cheese, dancing, and tickling. Occasionally stumbles over her own effort at pronoun sympathy.

There was only one absolute in the universe, Roveg was (relatively) sure of, and that was the fact that there were no absolutes.

This series started well, but apparently commercial and ideological considerations overcame the urge to quality. They’re still good books; just not as good as Chambers demonstrated she’s capable of.

Vehlech hra hych bet,’ ‘May it be to your liking.’

Book Review: 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark (Four Stars)

Book Review: 3001: The Final Odyssey (Space Odyssey #4) by Arthur C. Clark (Four Stars)

“I am a Stranger in a Strange Time.”

A fitting close to the story that electrified America fifty years ago. (Well, the movie based on the story.) Clark closes the loop opened by the stirring overture music. Published in 1997, this story anticipates the ubiquity of computers, jihadist terrorism, and pandemics.

“Forget you’re an engineer—and enjoy yourself.”

Curiously, his thesis is that mankind isn’t responsible for our aggressive tendencies; we were programmed that way by interfering aliens. Millions of years ago.

“He had to admit that the selection was well done, by someone (Indra?) familiar with the early Twenty-first Century. There was nothing disturbing—no wars or violence, and very little contemporary business or politics, all of which would now be utterly irrelevant.”

Rides his usual hobby horses—anti-war, anti-religion, anti-government, anti-anti. His ideas aren’t necessarily logical, but he presents them well. Not terribly interested in facts. When writing a book set in 3001, who can say what they know about the world of 2001?

“Corpse-food was on the way out even in your time,” Anderson explained. “Raising animals to—ugh—eat them became economically impossible.

Quibbles: “The general consensus about the single greatest work of human art. Over and over again, in almost every listing—it’s Angkor Wat.” (his consensus) “Lenin was unlucky; he was born a hundred years too soon. Russian communism might have worked—at least for a while—if it had had microchips. And had managed to avoid Stalin.” (his 1997 perspective) “How long would it take to build a super-bomb?” “Assuming that the designs still exist, so that no research is necessary—oh, perhaps two weeks. Thermonuclear weapons are rather simple, and use common materials.” (Plutonium and refined U-235 would not be common in a world with no nuclear reactors.) I can’t find a source, but I thought we knew that Ceres was mostly ice by 1997, so ice mining in the Oort Cloud would be stupidly and expensively unnecessary. Not to mention slow.

“For ordinary humans only two things were important: Love and Death. His body had not yet aged a hundred years: he still had plenty of time for both.”

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


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: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)


Book Review: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“What do I have to be depressed about?”

Short story opening with a Wizard of Oz tie-in. Creative tying of Baum’s classic to previous novels set in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut universe.

“It shames me that my first reaction was anger. How dare he?”

Quibble: “They’ve got a slingshot that can launch a ship up to near light speed.” Maybe someday, but not with then-current technology. These folks still use punch cards to program computers.

“The decision would be easier if I knew when he would die. I still hate myself for thinking that.”

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, directed by Dean DeBlois (Four Stars)


Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, directed by Dean DeBlois

(Four Stars)

“We are no longer safe here. We all have to disappear, completely off the map. We have to fight for their freedom.”

A satisfactory and satisfying conclusion to the series. Plot threads draw much of the earlier work together with a suitable threat to add tension. Lots of repetition from previous movies, but not entirely formulaic.

“You brought a baby to a battle?” “I couldn’t find a sitter.”

The animation is amazing. Human hair so much better done that some characters are almost unrecognizable. The youth are now adults, so of course they look different, though most haven’t changed much. Rendering of loose sand was especially good.

“Out there, beyond the edge of the world, lies the home of the dragons, and I believe it’s your destiny to one day find this hidden world.”

Book Review: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)


Book Review: Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories #5) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Perhaps she could paint me with a halo.” “Nothing so explicit. Simply a ray of light emanating from heaven, as if you are favored by God.” “Ah, for that, I only need you seated at my right hand.”

Fitting end to the series: Jane and Vincent must deal with family, that most Austenian of plot movers. But Austen–even glamour–gradually recedes for center stage as our protagonists move far from the shores of England into physical, political and social situations as outside their experience as being impoverished in Venice, to Antiqua in the Caribbean.

“She held his gaze and waited. If there was one thing that a young lady learned, it was how to wait with a tranquil expression.”

Kowal tries to maintain a Jane Austen tone–to the point that the grammar is often stilted–but her subjects are far beyond the cloistered existence of Regency England. Kowal enjoys, and makes good use of, resources far beyond anything Austen could imagine.

“It was difficult to avoid noticing how many times Julian had been whipped. Jane ground her teeth together as they worked.” This was not England, but England was responsible.”

That other cultures may understand and use glamour differently than Europeans might seem obvious, but Jane like us occasionally misses what is right before her. Kowal does a credible job defining these alternate approaches–remembering Jane as many Americans seem unaware that Africa is a huge and diverse place–and imagining a credible response for Jane to it.

“His eyes were wide and serious with the slightly troubled expression unique to newborns, as if he had come into the world knowing how to right all the troubles but could no longer quite remember how.”