Saturday, August 6, 2016

Lovecraft Country

Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country is an excellently done take on a Lovecraftian story of scheming sorcerers told from an outsider perspective. It also neatly parallels the otherworldly horror of the Cthulhu mythos with the terribly real-world horrors of Jim Crow era racism in the US. It even manages to convey a bit of the disconnected flow of 30's pulp fiction, with each section of the novel being told from the perspective of a different member of an African-American extended family. It's the 1950s, and Atticus Turner, a veteran of World War II, finds a cryptic message from his uncle, and with his uncle and a friend travels up into the backwoods of New England to find him. This gets him and the extended family tangled up in the affairs of sorcerers, and the rest of the story details how they try to extract themselves from this mess. But the real horror is the routine danger of being black in a country of grinding and omnipresent racism. It's a very well done novel, and delivers its message deftly and effectively.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

All the Birds in the Sky

Science vs. Magic! Two nerds befriend each other in school, one a latent witch, and the other a developing technological genius. But life separates them and they grow up apart, each fully developing their power and training it as much as possible. Then, naturally, science and magic go to war and they find themselves on opposing sides, which could end everything.

All the Birds in the Sky is the first of Charlie Jane Anders' stories I've read (I used to be a devoted reader of io9.com, so I've like her writing for a long time). It's cleverly done, and is a really well realized world of magic and science (though the science feels rather magical throughout). Well worth a read.

Nemesis Games

This latest installment in the Expanse series takes a different turn, with the previously inseparable crew of the Rocinante each going their separate ways to deal with issues from their past. It's a good change, adding much needed depth to the characters. A lot of backstory for each character is added, and all of them (except the obnoxiously good and noble and fair Holden) have a lot of their seedy background revealed to the reader as they each try to resolve some unresolved aspect of their past.

But, being the Expanse series, this puts each of them into exactly the most critical part of the solar system so they can be key players in the next big round of ramping-up-the-epicness (which seems to kind of happen every second novel in the series). I can't say pretty much anything without spoilering the book, but this was a refreshing improvement to the series, and much more enjoyable than the previous book, and it sets the stage for even vaster epicness coming up while staying true to the series' basic premise that the four main characters have to be present when anything important happens in the universe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cibola Burn

The Expanse series has an odd oscillation between huge, sweeping cosmic visions which affect all of humanity, and tight, focused, small events that affect a small group of people. This fourth book in the series swings back to that tight focus, when James Holden and his crew are sent to deal with a conflict on the first planet outside the solar system that is settled by humanity. There are two groups - some free settlers who have asserted squatters rights and set up a mining colony on the planet, and a large Earth corporation that wants to survey the planet and study it scientifically. Things immediately get nasty between these two groups, and they stay nasty, nearly leading to the deaths of everyone involved. Again, the mystery of the civilization that made all this is touched on and more information is gradually revealed, but at the end, we are still left with just tantalizing clues and more questions. This episode of the series isn't one of the strongest, since it seems to focus on characters, and that has never been the strong point of the series.

Abaddon's Gate

This is the third book of the Expanse series, and things are getting serious. At the end of book 2 the weird things brewing within Venus launched out into space, and the consequences are felt in book 3. I can't say anything more without spoilering the first two and a half books, so here goes: Spoiler Alert for the first half of the Expanse series ahead!
The series makes the transition from interplanetary sci-fi to interstellar sci-fi here as the weird alien artifacts create a gate that connects to a strange bridging space that contains hundreds of gates to other star systems. Naturally humanity gets all fighty over control of this, and a mystery is revealed: who are the aliens that created all this, and where are they? The book touches on these mysteries while dealing with the unfolding conflict between various factions trying to control how humanity deals with the huge change that follows from having access to a thousand new planets. The same core characters are again central to the unfolding adventure, and it's starting to get a bit silly that they always happen to be in the right place at the right time, and never get killed when everyone around them is getting killed.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Caliban's War

The second in James S. A. Corey's The Expanse series follows the further adventures of Jim Holden and the crew of the spaceship Rocinante, in the wake of the events of the first novel. Humanity has settled down to a new post-war normal, but further events shake the fragile interplanetary peace.

I'm still not sure about this series. It's pretty good, and there is a nice realistic feel to the frustrations and dangers of living in space and the differences that will naturally emerge as humanity leaves its home planet. But it'd be nice to have some more personality to the main characters (they are very archetypal, and don't have the honest texture of more fully developed characters).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Leviathan Wakes

I picked this book up based on the growing amount of noise I was hearing about it - it was similar to the noise around A Game of Thrones that prompted me to start reading it. When everyone starts talking about it, it must be interesting. Also, the TV show was on its way.

It turns out it's pretty good, but no Game of Thrones. It borrows a little, stylistically, but it very much it's own story, with much less murky morality and complex characterisation. It's set in a technologically stagnant future, where humanity has colonised parts of the solar system, but isn't doing much to expand its domain, but rather is starting to look inward. It tells the tale of a few ordinary people put into extraordinary circumstances, and the huge consequences of their actions.

In this first book of the series, there are really only two viewpoint characters - Holden, the naive and idealistic first officer of as ice transport ship; and Miller, the jaded and very film noir detective working for a private corporation on the asteroid Ceres. It's a fast paced book - I kept being surprised as I read it that there was so much still left to read, since a solid novel's worth of plot had been unpacked before the book was half-way done. The worldbuilding was excellent - it is a complex world but everything holds together and makes sense. Through it you can clearly see the things we did wrong in our time that led to this rather disappointing future.

It's not A Game of Thrones, but it's worth a read. It sets up a very interesting situation for the following novels in the series, so I'll be interested to see where it goes.