Non-Work

Reading

Cycling

X-Wing

Infinity

Warhammer 40k

Hobby

Nook

sidebar

Non-Work

Non-Work Reading

Items that particularly stood out are in bold.

[ 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010--2006 ]

2017/09

  • Drood. Simmons. Alternate fantasy historical fiction, recounting Charles Dickens and his friends battling and perhaps joining obscure vampiric Egyptian cults in the sewers and attics of London. At well over 800 pages this could have easily been two books, in which case it would fit in well with Simmons' standard pattern of the first book being very good and the follow-ups huge letdowns. There are a bunch of good scenes and a lot of interesting things in the first half of the book. The second half doesn't live up to it though. The story doesn't really resolve in any satisfactory way---it manages to both say too much and yet also be too ambiguous. The questions I thought it was going to end with are the ones it does end with---is it all a dream? what was real?---and yet are made much more frustrating than I expected by being explicitly raised in nonsensical fashion. The second half of the book is also overburdened with many too many irrelevant details, feeling much too much like Simmons couldn't let go of the research he had done and felt compelled to simply dump much of it into the book. Yet another brilliant opening and disappointing close by Simmons.

2017/08

  • Walkaway. Doctorow. Relatively near-term science fiction essentially about the slow, agonizing end of capitalism in a post-scarcity world, and maybe even the beginnings of fully digital life. Mixed feelings on the novel. Somewhat typical for Doctorow it's very preachy, at times veering a bit too close to a political screed rather than a story. Much of it is also fairly predictable. That said, the story is interesting and the book does have interesting things to say.

2017/06

  • The Earth Abides. Stewart. Very early post-apocalyptic pandemic survivor story. First half or so of book has a lot of focus on describing what's going on, why this makes sense---lots of Disney-caliber science (completely w/ lemmings!) about population cycles, global travel expediting the spread of an outbreak, and so on. It's all fairly reasonable, but well understood at this point. Have to grade on a curve for a book writing in the late '40s, essentially introducing many of these concepts to sci-fi. For many sections the narrator takes up a predilection of debating being or presenting himself as a demi-god, which gets kind of tedious. Only real surprising element is that the narrator's new wife is almost in passing introduced as black, which is pretty mind blowing given the rest of the not unreasonable but still slightly stale '40s take on demographics and race. In any event, not really an earth shattering novel at this point, but I'm sure it was quite formative in its time. Holds up well enough to be readable, but not to really stick out.

2017/05

  • Leviathan Wakes. Corey. Space opera about incipient war between Mars, Earth, and the Asteroid Belt. Not an especially deep or surprising book, but it's entertaining. Good realistic action, several interesting characters. Early parts of the book are not as strong as the show. In particular, the Martian characters on the Donnager and that whole sequence are vastly more interesting in the show. Ditto on Miller's partner, Dawes, and numerous other secondaries. But the novel improves as it goes along, in large part because it devotes a lot of time to Miller.
  • Outrage. Santos. Infinity manga. Readable, some interesting elements. Not especially deep. Main plot twist is not particularly surprising. Lots of great art though. Adds interesting background worldbuilding to the Infinity universe.

2017/04

  • Star Wars: Aftermath. Wendig. Readable but not particularly good book. Way too many characters, many of them solely in short chapters explicitly labeled as interludes fleshing that depending on your perspective serve to either flesh out the universe and convey the chaos of the time, or populate the franchise. Norra Wexley dies and then is miraculously still alive several times too many. Several moments of just dumb writing, e.g., when one character grabs a control stick to whip a ship around and knock another character off balance, and the pilot grabs the stick to "right it." What on earth does that mean with artificial gravity? I mean, I can buy that maybe it lags or something so you could knock somebody off balance with a sudden move. But what is "right" side up in space???
  • The Looking Glass War. le Carré. Very strange spy novel of a dilapidated spy agency having one last hoorah at inserting an agent into East Germany. The only real downside here is that the ending is very predictable purely from the pacing and number of pages left. Not really a ton of plot to the book, it's all characters ranging from the broken and lost to the quietly arrogant and conceited incompetent. Interesting that later in le Carré's works it is the Circus itself that has become dilapidated and impotent; here they're vital, coldly competent.
  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Fountain. A deep cut on the United States as a chickenhawk nation, as seen from the eyes of an Army private back temporarily on a victory tour amid serving in the Iraq War. Very entertaining writing, and an interesting style with the language and accents. I haven't read anything that captured so well the bullshit of a nation that would do anything for its troops except take them seriously and not use their lives cheaply & wantonly.
  • Vision, vol 2: Little Better Than A Beast. Graphic novel. King. Collects issues 7--12. Good ending to the Vision's story. Not as tense as the first collection, but it all plays out well and not quite as I expected.
  • Vision, vol 1: Little Worse Than A Man. Graphic novel. King. Collects issues 1--6. Incredible so far, filled with dread inevitability as the newly built Vision family begins their suburban lives. Just enough comedy here and there, mostly coming from the Vision's work with the Avengers. Many small touches in the text, great refrains and foreshadowing. Artwork is good too, bright and dark as appropriate.
  • John Constantine, Hellblazer: Original Sins. Graphic novel. Delano. Collects issues 1--9 of Constantine's first solo run, having first featured in Swamp Thing. This is a hugely disappointing volume. The first story is by and large very good, which is why I picked it up. But after that it becomes childish comic book fair with less than zero subtlety. Overt rants about the Thatcher government are matched with dumb storylines about yuppy demons working stock markets for souls. Heaven and hell have straight up 80s TV cults. There's a bizarre Vietnam ghost PTSD cult story that sort of goes nowhere. The obligatory goofy computer story ends illogically---why not just let him live in there??? It's all super dumb, but not doubt super popular in its day because Constantine and others actually have sex---ZOMG!!! It's a shame because Constantine as a character has a lot of great elements going on. His whole life is a trail of dead people, and he all too often winds up cutting friends loose, so there's a lot there to mine. But the trappings are all insipid. For example, at one point Constantine wakes up in a hospital and is trying to continue playing dead. He realizes someone's in the room though and starts talking about the fear growing in him. A tongue working on him. At first I thought it was going to be a great metaphor, all his imagining of what could be happening, and it's actually a nurse toweling his brow or something. But, no. It's a cheesy cartoon demon with a giant tongue. Huge letdown. All these occult elements immediately loose their power if you make them too obvious, too silly. In contrast, the first issue actually has a fairly good handle on it, being weird, creepy, and just a touch silly, striking a good line between overly serious and overly silly. Every other issue fails though.
  • High Stakes. Martin, ed.. Wild Cards novel wrapping up the Baba Yaga storyline previously begun. A very readable novel, but gets a bit lost in bloat. There are an awful lot of fighting and horror landscape scenes that just go on a bit too long for how many of them there are. Most importantly though probably the editors just really needed to eliminate one or two plotlines. Similarly, for a genre already rife with dues ex machinas, the book goes overtly throws in several more right at the very end. SPOILER ALERT: Need to transport this world-corrupting demon spirit somewhere? Oh hey, what good luck we happen to have an ace in jail that hasn't appeared previously in the noval (or its predecessor) at all but can drive a truck into that alternate reality! What good fortune! Lame.
  • Mona Lisa Overdrive. Gibson. Very bland cyberpunk tale of... the singularity, mass pop culture, something intellectual. None of the characters are particularly interesting. The repeat ones were much better in the previous books in this series.
  • The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom. Gladstone. Tor.com short

2017/03

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. le Carré. George Smiley rats out a mole at the top of the Circus. Excellent '70s spy novel. Moves along quickly, presenting a dense scheme and plot smoothly. The chapter-long opening description of Jim Prideaux is stunning. Smiley of course is also a great character, with his deeply unimposing nature and love for his unfaithful wife set against his masterful powers of spycraft.
  • A Deepness In The Sky. Vinge. An expansive story of building star empires and first contact with alien species. A very mixed book in quality. Much of the alien sequences, especially the beginning, are essentially straight from some cheesy WW2 movie BUT WITH SPIDERPEOPLE---ooooooooooo!!! ... It's annoyingly cute and silly, completely out of tone with the rest of the book. Indeed, a good chunk of the human viewpoint, though never graphic at all, is people being tortured, raped, murdered. Both sections are unfortunately just sort of trite. The latter especially is abrim with cliches. A number of deus ex machinas fly in at the end as well, unfortunately. However, the third component, focusing on the Qeng Ho trade empire and the formation and maintenance of a culture encompassing light-years and millennia, is engrossing and captivating. There's no FTL here, little magic at the core of the story, so there is a lot of world building around centuries of travel and so on. Those elements redeem the book and make it really interesting.
  • Washington's Crossing. Fischer. Non-fiction. Exemplary history of the early steps of the American Revolutionary War. It's striking that there have not been any really standout movies I can think of capturing this period, because this book is super compelling. Of course it captures the battles, but it also captures the rapid growth of Washington as a leader and the forging of American institutions, most notably the patchwork army comprised of widely diverse elements. A really dramatic accounting is made of the two battles for Trenton, follow-up at Princeton, and subsequent guerilla war throughout New Jersey as pivotal moments of the entire American project. It also talks at length about the simultaneous development, along with Washington himself and the government, of American ideals about liberty, equality, and humanity. Excellent to read in these times when so so many are so willing to not treat so many people simply as people.
  • All You Need Is Kill. Sakurazaka. Also sold under Edge of Tomorrow and Live, Die, Repeat, following the US movie titles and tagline. Novella about sci-fi soldiers fighting off an alien invasion driven by time warping capabilities. The physics mechanics of the plot don't stand up to much scrutiny at all, but it's a good read. Very very different from the movie, which I also thought was good. Hard to compare them, they're essentially entirely different stories related just by a short précis. The plot in the movie is bigger and has more going on, and not in a bad way. But it also pulls punches on multiple characters and notably adds some unnecessary romance elements just to follow convention. The book's smaller number of characters are much much much better, their relationships vastly more meaningful and unique. The novel does not end on a coventional note either.
  • Station Eleven. St John Mandel. Quiet story about post-pandemic life in Toronto and Michigan, interleaving lives both immediately after the outbreak and many years later. The relatively unique setting is a big plus. New York, London, and LA make short appearances in flashbacks, and the US south serves as sort of a dark unknown land of danger, but the story's otherwise set squarely around the Great Lakes. This ties into the overall feel, which is quiet and muted, not flashy. The novel fortunately doesn't build to any sort of earth shattering climax or confrontation. Just personal confrontations, no less dramatic to the people living them, and bits of hope no less important. A lot of the substantial draw of the book is trying to figure out how all the different elements will come together, and overall a pretty neat job is done of it. A good, quick read with solid plot and characters.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Lee. Tor.com short.
  • The Virtual Swallows of Hog Island. Baggott. Tor.com short.
  • Ancillary Mercy. Leckie. Introduces a couple interesting new characters which spice things up a bit by being pretty off the wall. They're only secondary though so they don't quite counter that all of the lead lieutenants become simpering, useless cry babies. In general, that's a big problem with this series. It's readable enough, but a large portion of the characters don't have any apparent skills and spend most of their time obsessing about tea and having their feelings hurt.
  • Ancillary Sword. Leckie. Steps back a bit on the abstract conspiracy and focuses on more immediate issues, making it a bit more interesting book than the opener. Also less pretense about the lead character being a ship, instead focusing on her just being a badass. Toward the end though the social justice themes though became so very overt, obvious, and explicit as to become a bit of a deadweight.
  • Ancillary Justice. Leckie. Opening of a series about a far future empire built on super AIs coming to civil war. Some of the core ideas are interesting; the main character is, after all, a spaceship. But she spends very little time as a spaceship, and is instead a hyper competent, perfectly equipped protagonist. That doesn't sound super compelling, and it's not. The book is readable but never quite lives up to its promise, comes across fairly flat.

2017/02

  • The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. le Carré. Cold War spy novel that lives up to its reputation. Fast, compelling read, with great plot twists, and just a couple interesting characters. The main character does fit into a bit of an archetype, but the bulk of the novel doesn't leave you time to really stop on that, and then the end shades him pretty well.
  • Losing Heart Among the Tall. Dellamonica. Tor.com short.
Recent Changes (All) | Edit SideBar Page last modified on September 13, 2017, at 07:39 AM Edit Page | Page History
Powered by PmWiki