Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Three Body Problem

I'd heard good things about The Three Body Problem, and wanted to broaden my science fiction intake to some fresh perspectives, and so was very pleased by Liu Cixin's novel, translated from the original Chinese. It is a weird mixture of style between that odd 1950's impersonal feel that so many classic sci-fi novels have, weird magical fantasy, and a solid modern hard sci-fi. It takes more than half the novel to work out which it is. It spans 50 years of Chinese history, from the Cultural Revolution to the modern day, and tells the story of humanity's first contact with an alien species, and how people cope with the changes and threats that brings. For a western reader, it also gives a fascinating internal view of life for academics under the Chinese communist government. Well worth a read.

The Magician King

The first book in this series, The Magicians, was so self-contained and complete that I was surprised to find there was a sequel. Lev Grossman's The Magician King takes the conclusion of the Magicians, where (spoiler alert) Quentin and his friends have found their way into the magical land of Fillory, and builds on that in an epic tale where the entire world was endangered and a Quest was required to save it. Again, the book is rich in reference and homage to other fantasy novels, but makes the genre its own. The story wraps into a expected-yet-unexpected bittersweet conclusion, providing a clean ending to the stories of the characters. And as I finished it, I was surprised to find there was a third book in the series to read.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Rogues

This is a collection of short stories about various rogues written by a range of writers, with the notable selling point of containing a World of Ice and Fire historical novel. But it's far from filler - there are some great stories in here. Joe Abercrombie's Tough Times All Over is a whirlwind adventure following a package that is stolen by one rogue after another, and would make a great movie. Carrie Vaughn's "The Roaring Twenties" is a great episode, and made me want to read more of these characters' exploits. George R. R. Martin's The Rogue Prince is written as a history text, and so is rather dry, but adds more interesting depth to the world of A Game of Thrones. I don't think there were any stories in the rather weighty tome that I'd suggest skipping - it's a very solid anthology.

The Magicians

Lev Grossman's The Magicians is essentially "what if the Harry Potter world was populated with actual teenagers who are messed up and obsessed with sex like real teenagers are. Also Narnia". It works surprisingly well, with Grossman throwing in references to many other stories and ideas without going over the top or seeming inauthentic or corny. It's very much set in our modern world, except when the characters sometimes step out into more magical worlds that are related to our world in various ways. It's an excellent read.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Expanse Novellas

In addition to the long series of long novels, there are a collection of novellas and short stories set in the expanse universe:

  • Gods of Risk
  • The Churn
  • The Vital Abyss
  • Drive
  • The Butcher of Anderson Station
Each adds interesting background to the characters and setting. A couple of these (The Churn and Drive, in my opinion) are excellent, and collectively they have made me more keen to continue reading the series (my enthusiasm was starting to wane a little as the series dragged on).

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.