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Non-Work 2012

Reading 2012

2k12/11

  • Snow Crash. Stephenson. In some ways there's a lot of deus ex machina going on here, but I think that's a fairly standard conceit for a variety of highly technological literature, from cyberpunk (which this definitely is) to singularity. Snow Crash ends on a bit too much of a whimper, with a few too-predictable components, but otherwise it's excellent and holding up well. If nothing else, the text feels glossy and dark but lit, cyber. It also has some pretty creative elements, in addition to the obvious now-historical genre defining bits.
  • Embassytown. Miéville. Excellent, very original novel. Some of it's hard to really really wrap your mind around because it's so metaphysical, but the book moves well enough to not stall on those points. It does a good job of getting at a truly alien experience. Most appropriately for this particular tale, Miéville also shows a great way with language, employing both uncommon but standard words that make the text sparkle, and whole new constructions that make clear the gulf in experience between our time and the text's.

2k12/7

  • The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde. I have mixed feelings about this, possibly because I'm not super familiar with Wilde's writing. Parts of it are actually near laugh out loud funny. Parts are just kind of predictable and bland, just any old stage comedy, though there's a good chance he helped shape the particular genre into which this falls.

2k12/6

  • Old Man's War. Scalzi. Old Man's War is a really good novel. It reads, I think by intention, an awful awful lot like Heinlein's Starship Troopers, updated a bit for more modern tech and with less, though still quite a bit, overt political discourse. It also has a good bit of Haldeman's Forever War, again by design. The philosophy kind of falls between them, more optimistic and less cynical than Haldeman, more cynical than Heinlein. Interestingly, I think a lot of this is determined by at what percentage in the book each presents their equivalent of the Skinnies. Great read for people who liked either of those novels at all.
  • Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1--5). Howey. This is a really good novel. The world, essentially set entirely inside a post-apocalyptic mega-bomb shelter, feels relatable and familiar to us from both fiction and reality, but has a fair amount of novel spin and elaboration on it. It has a strong mystery to it that is revealed well. Characters are not particularly nuanced, especially beyond Wool 2, but engaging enough. Notably though, it opens strongly on the character front with several almost elderly characters, an uncommon demographic, especially in scifi. A number of important and bit roles are also filled by women with technical or political power. Overall a highly recommended read. It also highlights well the rapid eclipse of professional publishing; there are fewer typos and typesetting problems (none? I literally saw nothing except an extra space at one point...) and tighter grammar and editing than any "pro" published book I've read recently, print or otherwise.
  • Maelstrom. Watts. In many ways this is the stepping stone of the series in terms of form. It's a good bit more mechanical than Starfish. Though not nearly as explicit as βehemoth, it is a bit more so than the first book, however here there's still a reasonable balance between details and story value. Parts of the book are really good, e.g., the refs on the Strip, and the evolution of the creatures within the Maelstrom itself. Full text available on Watts' website.
  • βehemoth. Watts. I actually read these out of order by accident, this is the third of the Rifters series. That doesn't seem to have impaired much, βehemoth is set far enough in the future (5 years) as to be a bit decoupled from the previous books anyway. The action sequences are ok, but it's a much more mechanical, superficial plot than Starfish. Most notably though, it has an emphasis on torture fetishes that renders it near pornographic without really contributing much value to the characters or plot. It's also fairly long, being originally comprised of the two novels βehemoth: β-Max and βehemoth: Seppuku, and really just kind of drags on a bit. A big let down from Starfish. Full text available on Watts' website.
  • Starfish. Watts. This is a brilliant, captivating, beautiful novel, though dark and uncomfortable to read at times. There's nothing particularly explicit in here, but almost every character is a lifelong victim of sexual or physical abuse. Many of the themes and much of the plot revolve around those. A lot of the novel's appeal indirectly comes from that though. The characters individually and collectively act different. This is not a team of super friends who band together to save the world. Nor is it a plucky group of misfits that just needed another chance. These are dysfunctional people that operate in a completely different fashion. They all stand out from most scifi characters. The world is also riveting, though I admit to a particular appeal for deep sea settings. I think the interplay of these broken characters with that world is ultimately what sells the book. Watching them adapt and adopt, then in many cases finally fully embrace is fascinating. It's captured well enough to be beautiful, the lights and darkness swirling and dancing about the sea floor. All of this is set with just enough sci-talk to be reasonable and textured, and the surface plot is good. Finally, though the series continues, it ends at a good point and Starfish fully stands on its own. Another of Watts' novels, Blindsight, has really stood the test of time for me. I originally thought it good but not great, but some of the closing imagery has really stuck with me. I think this is possibly even a superior book, with deeper and longer imagery. Notably, like all of Watts' novels to date, it is available on his website in its entirety.
  • Kraken. Miéville. Awesome modern day magical cult London with some marine biology thrown in! I guess this is New Weird? This is a somewhat light toned adventure through the London we all wish it was (maybe is?), with powerful ley lines, magicians, and true religions on all sides. Lots of great characters and a good, non-predictable plot. Highly recommended to fans of Gaiman and such.
  • The Phoenix Conspiracy. Sanders. The only way to read this is as a goofy, skin deep, weird reskinning of fan fiction for the newest Star Trek movie. The main character reads exactly in attitude like that Kirk, though he's alot dumber. In general the extreme childishness and very narrow knowledge bases of themain characters pushes the bounds of credibility too far. It's a high school clique given a hugely capable starship and thrown into space, and it just doesn't work well. The novel also doesn't stand on its own, it's really just setup for a series. Further, must every scifi book now have vampires and werewolves? Jeeeezus.
  • The Honour of the Knights. Sweeney. This novel is definitely readable and moves along fairly quickly. However, very little is revealed or resolved by the end. It's a clear setup for follow on books that aren't really warranted. The universe is ok, though pretty generic. Basically Star Wars with what sure seem to be high tech zombies thrown in... Many many many plot points make absolutely no sense either, e.g., the msin protagonists being sent off on missions they clearly can't and shouldn't do. The whole story is also predicated on a deus ex machina, an unstoppable fighter craft... So, not awful, but not super great either.

2k12/5

  • Child of the Ghosts. Moeller. This is a very well done fantasy novel. Not super complex, and a few major points fairly predictable, but it's good. There's a lot that goes on that's not predictable and doesn't play out to cliche. The main character faces a number of moral dilemmas that she deals with in somewhat nuanced ways. I also really liked the Mediterranean and middle eastern mixed with Roman feel to the world, a welcome change from English & French mythology.
  • Faster than Light: Dobhriathar. (novella) Pierce. This is a good follow-up novella to the opener of the presumed series. I think its strength comes mostly from focusing on a more interesting, deeper lead protagonist. That said, it reads an awful lot like a diluted Solaris or Sunshine, so much so that it detracts significantly from the reading experience.
  • Faster than Light: The Fallen Goddess. (novella) Pierce. This novella goes light on backstory but sets up just enough to portray a compelling universe. The lead protagonist is a bit juvenile, but it stops just short of being annoying. Decent sci-fi young adult fiction.
  • Aeroparts Factory. (short) Kater. This short story has a reasonable premise and an interesting world behind it, but it has the pacing of a novel in a tiny page count, so not much develops.
  • Soul of Dragons. Moeller. Though it still focuses a bit much on the battles, they are at least a good bit more varied here. One of the main evil factions is really starting to come off a bit too comedic, but play a small enough part that it's passable. Character development continues to be workable. Where this picks back up some energy though is by again taking off to a new direction in the world and plotting its history a bit, on a solid adventure exploration story footing.
  • Soul of Serpents. Moeller. Here the series weakens a bit, but it's still a good novel. One problem is that it really comptomises on the fate of a previous lead character, though it is admittedly retconned well. More importantly, it really just drags a bit as the battles come to take too much focus from more interesting bits. Still, well worth reading if the first two books were agreeable.
  • Soul of Tyrants. Moeller. The world is extended a bit, and the series progresses well. Several intersting characters come to the fore, and previous leads maintain their interest. Really though, this succeeds by shifting to new locales and factions that bring a whole new set of reveals and exploration to enjoy.
  • Merlin's Gate. Cogan. It's possible that in longer form the absolutist, authoritarian society set up here would become overwhelmingly cliched. However, this novella stops just short of that. Other aspects are reasonably compelling. I really like the imagery of the slum kids taling up camp wherever thry can best watch the spaceport. All in all, a good read that hits exactly the right length.

2k12/4

  • The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. (short) Cross. Good, fast read. Doesn't develop much, but doesn't need to for what is ultimately a prequel preview. Pretty interesting universe, lots of good steampunk elements. It would be pretty interesting to read more of Finley, though the followup book is a bit overpriced. This novella is fairly predictable and definitely young adult, but fun nonetheless. Recommended.
  • The Battle of Verril. Lallo. The series finally runs out of gas here, just before it actually ends. A third of the protagonists are annoyingly childish throughout. The battles go on and on, but are continually the same. Part of the problem is that no matter how hurt, how injured, they always get healed right away. Boring! Perhaps worst, it is filled with deus ex machinas, viilians behaving incredibly stupid, and cowardly let downs. You shouldn't go on and on about how overdosing a potion will certainly kill someone, only to have it do nothing but give them incredible powers. In any event, it's readable enough, but is a definite slog.
  • The Great Convergence. Lallo. The series remains pretty good here, but is starting to wear out its welcome. Several of the main characters are near intolerably childish, the battles drag on, and one of themain mysteries---though overly telegraphed---is revealed and thrown away for almost no payoff. Still good young adult fantasy genre fiction, but not much more.
  • Demonsouled. Moeller. This is perhaps not the deepest of novels, but it's really engaging and well done middle fantasy. I actually think there is a fair bit to it when you really step back to look at how the lead character changes over its length, quite visibly maturing into a new role as he decides his own fate. Bonus points for not compromising on the fate of a key character. Qualms about typos are overblown in other reviews. Recommended.
  • True Grit: Mean Business. (graphic) This is an action oriented comic of the opening of the movie (court scene). It's ok, but the ebook format, at least as used here, really doesn't work for comics. The pictures are all raster line art and scale terribly. Notably , it makes the text difficult to read in places.
  • The Book of Deacon. Lallo. This is a surprisingly good and substantially lengthy novel. It's not particularly new, being a fairly standard young adult middle fantasy novel, but it is entertaining. The world has enough quirks and mystery to generate background draw. Characters are solid and varied enough. Plot is engaging though fairly predictable. Little is resolved by the end of this, first of a trilogy, but it stands well on its own. Recommended for fans of the genre, particularly younger ones; probably a little staid and cliched for non-fans.
  • Embedded. Abnett. This is a pretty typical novel for Abnett: An action oriented, mil sci-fi genre novel, good read but not a lot of weight to it. It's fast to read and entertaining, but ultimately somewhat shallow. It hits on a couple big issues---e.g., post-global corporate states, tele-mind control, and the relationship between media and government, particularly in war. But it doesn't dig into any of them, or even really hint at some of the complexities lurking there. Further, it employs very much a 1980s conception of war, boosted by just a little high tech but in meaningless ways. Drones, genetics, many of these things are more than just minor tactics adjustments, but they're not present and the contradiction of a very high tech society but comparatively low tech military is unexplained and somewhat glaring. All in all, a good light read for fans of the genre, otherwise not overly compelling.
  • The Dig. Siemsen. This is a surprisingly good novel. The modern day characters are a bit flat and predictable, but interesting enough. Importantly, they have just enough plot surrounding them to keep those sections alive. The pre-history component though is really well done. The world is revealed slowly and mysteriously, bringing you in. The two main characters are actually great, roundly conceived and at several points take actions warranting real thought about them. The pre-history ending is also fantastic. Definite page turner.
  • Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2011. Almost all of these short stories are very good. Several are particularly excellent, either for concept such as the opener about predestination, entertainment such as the '30s noir+robots story, or themes such as Turtledove's Shtetl Days. Highly recommended.
  • Outside the Wire. Farnsworth. Most of the stories in this collection are ok, but not particularly gripping. I could see how Tale of the Bouda is amenable to a longer treatment though. The first story, Succumbing to Gravity, is definitely a good basis for an expansion to a novel, so that is worth checking out.

2k12/3

  • Heart of Darkness. Conrad. This is probably one of the best novels I have read, and its place in the English canon is well deserved. I don't agree with the Achebe line of criticism. Even setting aside the question of Conrad's personal beliefs, which don't necessarily accord with Achebe's assesment, I think it's hard to argue that the book is anything but negative on the European, colonialist outlook. It is true that you could read and celebrate the brutality and dehumanization of the Africans herein, but to do that you would have to overlook a lot of the text. Obviously not at all coincidentally, it would be similar to but more willfully ignorant than people taking Apocalypse Now as a pro-war movie. On that note, I strongly look forward to the movie or book that, much like Coppola did for Vietnam, presents an explicit adaptation of this book to American brutality, exploitation, and imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think this book should be taught in more high schools so that more people are exposed to its commentary on those kinds of affronts.
  • Anno Dracula. Newman. This is a great Victorian sci-fi, horror, fantasy, crime mashup. It skirts the edge of being overweighted by its references, but keeps sailing along. A few plot points are left a bit vague and the ending chapter is just a touch weak, but otherwise this is a great story with some great characters. Great touches abound, like why Sherlock Holmes isn't around to help fight the Ripper or Dracula. The two main characters are both likable and complex enough. Bonus points for a strong female protagonist. I am a little pessimistic that the followups can meep itup, but also look forward to them.
  • Waste Land. (short) McClung. This short story sets up some interesting premises and has a few good details, but doesn't go anywhere. The ending is all a muddle of vague, over-heady mysticism.
  • Human. (short) Stirling.
  • Above the Clounds. Roberts.
  • Black Out. Lawton.

2k12/2

  • Dust. (short) Dickson.
  • 90 Minutes Above the Earth. Frost. This is a very quiet story, but it is well worth reading and quick to do so. It raises some interesting questions about the future of our culture vis-a-vis games and the Internet. None are terribly novel, but it is a worthwhile story nonetheless for the length.
  • Manifest Destiny. Simone.
  • Kepley-22b. Sophi.
  • An Election. (short) Scalzi.
  • Neverwhere. Gaiman. I cannot recall having previously heard of this novella; I think it has been far overshadowed by American Gods among Gaiman's novels. That is a shame as it is excellent. A fast reading adventure fantasy with a good dose of real life London thrown in for good measure. As usual, Gaiman's worldbuilding and idiosyncratic characters are wondrous. I will have to check out the miniseries to which this is a companion. For a very similar premise and read, I recommend Brennan's A Star Shall Fall.
  • Non-Retrieval. Towers. This is mostly an action novel. It is pretty short and reads quickly, so it doesn't overstay its welcome despite being relatively shallow. Worth giving a shot if you are into what I sort of think of as the Vietnam era mil scifi genre.
  • Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0. Lalonde. This book is actually three novellas combined, about 1250 pages by the ereader. I think that packaging was a good idea as by the end it has hit a good stopping point, and anything earlier would have been unsatisfying. From the conclusion here you could comfortably move on to the other books in the series, or not. The writing, plot, and characters are all solid. Nothing amazing, but it is an entertaing read. It does hit kind of a weird point between hard versus squishy scifi, but there's no particularly outrageous howlers. In short, a surprisingly solid read.
  • Stormfront. Hogarth. There's not a ton here, it's really just a teaser, but the characters and basic universe hint at enough interesting things to be worthwhile.
  • A Respectable Profit. Davis. This is a good short story, coming in around 20 pages. If you think about it, it has about as much of a plot background as a lot of genre novels in this vein. It just leaves out the details and embellishing incidents, kind of like a good synopsis for a novel.
  • Firebird. McDevitt. Fun, light sci-fi.
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