I got kind of busy this weekend and never had a chance to link my most recent book review, which was actually posted last week at the Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations blog, one of my favorite SF blogs. This review is part of a series of guest posts to promote the work of Michael Bishop, an SF author who has attracted critical acclaim throughout his career, but is not as well known as other SF authors. It’s an admirable effort by Joachim Boaz, the guy behind SF&OSR (who does not actually live in a city under the sea), and a reasonable pursuit considering that Bishop’s novel is one of the best I’ve read so far this year, and one of the best SF novels I’ve read from the (*cough* dreadful *cough*) eighties.
I reviewed Bishop’s 1982 Nebula Award winning novel, No Enemy But Time, which also appears on David Pringle’s Top 100 Best Science Fiction Novels. If you have a taste for time travel, prehistory, and trope trampling, you should give this a whirl. I will definitely be adding more Bishop to my TBR list.
When I opened Virtual Light and, within the first five pages, read references to no less than five types of guns and two non-fatal weapons, I groaned. Will this be another Neuromancer? Heavy on weaponry and jargon, light on character development, circuitous on plot, but brimming with a striking narrative style that leaves me conflicted and incapable of rendering an articulate opinion?
Fortunately, Gibson improved in the decade after his seminal piece.
In Virtual Light, Gibson keeps his flair for flowy prose, but adds depth to his characters, reigns in the plot, and tones down the jargony pretense I remember from Neuromancer.Virtual Light is an apt name, as there is little of anything “virtual” or “cyber” going on here. It’s a straightforward tale of two underdogs whose paths cross in near-future California during a crime investigation. The near-future is near enough to be recognizable, so Gibson’s trademarked style of withholding information until it’s absolutely necessary does not hinder the reader’s ability to imagine the setting. Continue reading →
An aircraft crashes on an unknown deserted land, where danger and mystery lurk in every shadow. The survivors are tested by their surroundings, their enemies, and each other as intrigue and drama unfold. Disagreements over strategy split the group, and one faction plots betrayal and murder to gain control of their fate. Meanwhile, unexplainable events suggest that their crash site isn’t exactly uninhabited, and some survivors risk their lives to discover the truth about this mysterious land’s history. As relationships among the characters evolve, the pasts of the more complex characters are revealed through flashbacks.
Sounds a lot like that TV show, Lost, right?
But did I mention that the crash survivors are sapient, talking, spacefaring dolphins? (And one obsessive chimpanzee geologist with mild Asperger’s syndrome?) Continue reading →
This 2003 nuclear-steampunk space opera is crammed full of SF tropes and wink-and-nudge political satire. And in case you aren’t intelligent enough to sniff out the satire, Stross will bruise your ribs from his incessant elbowing of belabored musings and contrived character debates.
In the future, a mysterious force called the Eschaton has punished Earth for violating time-travel causality laws and relocates most of humanity to colonies throughout the galaxy. By the 23rd century, most of humanity has been rediscovered and efforts are made to reestablish relations. On neo-Victorian Rochard’s World, ruled by a technophobic regime, another mysterious presence called the Festival rains cell phones down from space, promising anything in exchange for entertainment. The reactionary government of Rochard’s World pursues war with the Festival, while the disenfranchised citizens demand revolution. At the same time, the mysterious employer of Martin Springfield, an engineer from Old Earth, plants him as a mole within the New Republic navy, and UN diplomat Rachel Mansour is sent to spy on the New Republic war tactics in order to prevent causality violations that might further upset the Eschaton. Martin and Rachel spend their time on the ship playing double-agent on board, playing doctor with each other, and then agonizing about getting caught. Continue reading →
Clement’s acclaimed 1953 novel Mission of Gravity reminds me of a song we used to sing in my Girl Scouts Brownie troupe: Goin on a squeegie hunt… Oh, no, it’s a tall tree! Can’t go over it… can’t go under it… have to go through it… (Repeat the verse with a new obstacle… and it goes on and on and on. I dropped out soon after. The song may or may not have had something to do with it.) And thus it’s the same for our missioneers, human and alien alike, who encounter new obstacles in each chapter, but overcome those obstacles with sensible, pragmatic solutions, talking out every detail in a calm, relaxed manner that may be just a wee bit boring to witness. Reading this book is like eavesdropping on a housing development planning committee, with the engineer and the architect doing most of the talking. I would totally go on an adventure with these people because I know I would be safe, but I don’t think anyone would want to read about it afterward. Continue reading →
We choose our friends, not our family… but what of our neighbors? Those non-blood non-friends with whom we share geography and often nothing more, who force awkward small talk at the mailbox, whose kids’ bike tires streak the driveway, who happen to be there when the ambulance arrives. We hold them in an arms-length intimacy– ‘I hate cleaning after your messy pine tree, but I might need you if I sprain my ankle on my jog.’ (But how many ugly pickups do you really need?)
The Dervish House is a story about neighbors: a small, diverse Istanbul community, which populates an aging, neglected plaza that once housed an order of dervishes. Its inhabitants are as varied and complex as the city itself, where a cataclysm of worlds, cultures, and ideas collide and spill over the Bosphorus strait. At Adem Dede, the dervish house, rival tea houses stare each other down, old Greek immigrants gossip and argue, an art dealer prowls for religious artifacts, a pothead hides from his family, and a precocious nine-year-old with a heart condition explores the world through his bitbots (the coolest toy ever!). Continue reading →
The man best known for giving us tribble troubles also gave us this fun but disquieting 1973 Hugo-nominated story about the technicalities and repercussions of time travel. In the space of 100 pages, The Man Who Folded Himself explores every nuance and angle of time travel, both amusing and troubling at times. I imagine Gerrold had to sit on the cover just to get the pages to close from all that he stuffed in, but the moment it’s unlatched– WHOOSH! Springy snakes everywhere.
It’s like no other time travel novel you’ve read– the ultimate Pandora’s box of time travel fiction. And it just may make you reevaluate that childhood wish for a time machine. Continue reading →
Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot) God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Del Rey) The Machine by James Smythe (Blue Door) Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie (Orbit) The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann (Gollancz) The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
I finally caved to the pressure and picked up the book award darling of the year, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which has been nominated for every major SF award so far, and is likely to continue that trend for the rest of the year. Having not read many 2013 novels yet, I can’t vouch for its presence on these shortlists without an adequate comparison (coming later), but its exponentially growing accolades are difficult to ignore.
Breq is on a personal mission, a vendetta. She is guarded about her identity, but through her first-person narrative, Breq reveals that she is actually Justice of Toren, a starship, or rather the artificial intelligence of a starship computer that once operated her unit’s corpse soldiers (ancillaries). Unfortunately, her mission gets waylaid when she gets stuck caring for her snooty former captain suffering kef withdrawals and, during that time, she unfolds her story of love, intrigue, murder, and vengeance. We also learn that Breq loves to sing (picture AI-operated soldiers singing in perfect rhythm, but nowhere near one another). Continue reading →