Non-Work 2015

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Non-Work 2015

Reading 2015

2k15/11

  • Points of Origin. Lingen. Short story on Tor.com.
  • Tear Tracks. Older. Short story on Tor.com.
  • MaddAdam. Atwood. Concludes the Oryx and Crake story.
  • The Year of the Flood. Atwood. Parallels Oryx and Crake, telling the story of The Gardeners.

2k15/10

  • Oryx and Crake. Atwood. Dystopian flashbacks and post-apocalyptic current day in a near-future driven by corporations and biology. Given the hype it's unsurprising, but this is a great novel. It's framed well to drive you forward with the basic mysteries of the plot. There's really only two characters, only one of which really has any depth at all until the very end when suddenly there's a lot of questions to be had about the other. Women in particular are non-existent except as props. Much of the world building is also fairly standard, but it works well and is not belabored. Excellent read.
  • Coming Home. McDevitt. Alex Benedict novel about recovering artifacts from Earth's early space program, and also rescuing more of those cruiseliners stranded in the warp... Formulaic for the series, and as usual preachy about climate and history. I really need to stop reading these novels, they're super tepid and forgettable.

2k15/9

2k15/7

  • The Veil of Gold. Wilkins. Readable if you can set aside the wide variety of tropes being employed. As Strange Horizons puts it: "Rosa is that most loathsome of Mary Sues: A smoldering temptress who fucks to conceal her mystical inner pain, grows admittedly bored with her conquests after a few tumbles and, after endless chapters of agonized worry standing in as a justification for her inactivity, is magically granted everything she needs to literally fly in and save the day." The long term history of the two worlds is sort of interesting. Of the three of four main characters though, only one is compelling or sympathetic in any way, and in the end she gets pretty short shrift.

2k15/6

  • The Walking Dead. Kirkman. Graphic novel. Volumes 1 and 2. Another example of a text not being as good as the TV show that follows it. These books are good, but they don't have nearly the drama and interest of the show. In some ways I guess that's not fair, the show has so much more behind it, particularly the audience's time. But it is still notable given how terrible so much TV is. In particular, the tension between Shane and Rick just doesn't have the time to develop as powerfully here as in the show. Lori's position is also weakened here in a dramatic sense by much more overtly and immediately returning to Rick. Similar goes for Hershel's farm and the barn reveal, Carol and her beau, it's all just over much too fast. Synthesizing a number of the characters together, keeping them together longer, and giving the stories more time took a solid comic and made it a really good show.
  • The Five Fists of Science. Fraction and sanders. Graphic novel. Has an interesting premise of Mark Twain teaming up with Nikola Tesla to fight for world peace against Edison, Morgan, and Carnegie. Ultimately though it's just not that well done or interesting. I'm pretty sure I've read at least the first couple pages before and put it aside. The artwork is very muddled and dark, many of the characters are barely distinguishable. The plot is basically the same: Muddled and with barely distinguished characters. Disappointing.

2k15/5

  • Lonesome Dove. McMurtry. An incredible novel. All of the characterizations are really distinct, the conversations and dialogue appropriately Postbellum, and the plot pretty good. A number of the characters and their interactions are really interesting and illuminating. The story also breaks from cliches and predictable plot line in a couple key places. Great read for fans of a good Western.

2k15/4

  • Postwar. Jude. Non-fiction. Really excellent, broad but concise and impactful summation of the modern day development of "Europe" as a concept and an entity realized in the form of the EU. Goes a long way to helping understand a lot of world dynamics, and the general national attitudes created by various history.

2k15/3

  • Traitor's Blade. De Castell. A fun low fantasy tale. It could be a bit more polished here and there, but the characters are appealing and the plot has interesting bits. By far the biggest issue is that the end is ridiculous and disappointing, with several deus ex machina thrown in to hastily bring it all together neatly.
  • Dog. McAllister. Short story on Tor.com.
  • The Thyme Fiend. Ford. Short story on Tor.com.

2k15/2

  • The Hell of It. Orullian. Short story on Tor.com.
  • The Forever Watch. Ramirez. I'm not sure what to make of this novel. Much of it is mediocre at best, but other parts are pretty good. I also don't really think the male author really pulls off the female lead voice, though she's certainly a solid character. Like many reviews have noted, major sections of the fairly complex and winding plot are boring or trite, while others are pretty interesting though again not super novel.
  • The Windup Girl. Bacigalupi. Great read. Did not at all work out how I thought it would. None of it is amazingly novel or super memorable, it's largely a plot driven novel without an especially distinctive plot. But it is a fun read for all that, and it is great to have a sci-fi book intrinsically set in a culture outside western European and Japanese lineage.
  • Titans Rising. Varni. Abandoned about a third through. At least up to that point, the book's just not that interesting. The entire premise is just a collection of cliches about spacebound infantry war, superpowered humans, and modern day ghettos. It works very hard to make the standard superheroes-as-minority subtext the actual text, and feels very forced because of it. A lot of it is also just outright unbelievable, in several cases fundamentally and making it extremely hard to continue reading the novel. E.g., even if you can get past this lowly infantryman and cop being made leader of an elite squad of mutants---heroes of a recent interstellar war---then it's still really hard to understand why anyone, even his reasonable colleagues, would expect him to scribble out---by hand, no less---strategies and tactics for all of those supers in all possible combat environments, within the course of a day, within a couple days of first meeting them. Things like that just make the novel unreadable.
  • Nova Swing. Harrison. Follows from and addresses many of the issues of Light by actually having a plot that goes somewhere reasonably concrete. That grounding makes it a lot more interesting, and a number of characters actually start to exist as characters, with an actual rememberable story and at least some depth. The other setting here of post-singularity punk rock pirate mercenaries traipsing off into the unknowable afflicted zone trying to map it out and steal treasures is pretty compelling. Just don't expect much of that setting to be explained.
  • Light. Harrison. Very stylish, but I think very forgettable despite its forced uniqueness. Tons of the usual post-singularity claptrap of augmented bodies, physical algorithms, changing sexual conventions, and so. Very little actual plot. Whole bunch of interesting characters, none of them going anywhere conclusive.
  • The Echo. Smythe. An interesting read, though it suffers from the same kind of ultra-ambiguous ending and poorly defined world as The Explorer. Ultimately what's happening around the Anomaly just seems so unpredictable and with no emotional or mechanical basis that it's a bit frustrating. The science here is a little better, but still slipshod. Notably, the narrator is a scientist/engineer who designed his ship, so that dispells the idea that the issues from the previous book were simply of the narrator (a journalist in that case) simply not understanding what's going on. It sounds small, but these things do detract from the story. E.g., both books suffer from terribly conflicting implications of how far away the anomaly is from Earth. The conclusion in some sense wraps up nicely, perhaps too nicely, but essentially nothing is revealed.
  • The Explorer. Smythe. Great little novel. Don't read anything about it before giving it a shot! There's a substantial twist about halfway through. The overall plot didn't go where I thought it was going, and definitely took a more unique direction than expected. Following that shift are a number of smaller but no less critical, unexpected reveals. Well worthwhile. A solid sci-fi premise, with a horror spin in the telling. The biggest issues with the book are: 1) A lot of the physics makes no sense. And I don't mean the big, overarching plot elements. I mean simple, unnecessary things, like talking about regularly bringing the ship to "All stop" or there being a single turnaround point, rather than three (outbound decelerate, turn, inbound decelerate). 2) There's less action and fewer reveals in the last quarter or so than the rest of the book, so it's a little less engaging than what preceded. 3) There's also very little resolution by the end, though the close is reasonably satisfying. The novel survives those points though and remains a good quick read.
  • Spikes. Griffith. Ok read. Gets a bit loquacious at times, but that's basically the point. The real disappointment is that it doesn't really concretely wrap much up at the end.
  • Gateway. Pohl. Lots of people really talk this up, but I have mixed feelings. A surface issue is that the book is structured as therapy sessions interleaved with flashbacks. The sessions definitely get better as they go on, but especially at the start I found them kind of tedious to read. Throughout the book there's an awful lot of forced, simplistic Freudian junk, and the narrator's blatant willful insistence to recognize that only makes it worse. I almost put it down after the first 30 pages of that. The middle of the book also has an unnecessary sub-plot on the narrator's hangups about gay sex that doesn't really go anywhere and isn't particularly informative on his character either, but does inject a whole bunch more forced Freudian nonsense into the writing. The book's biggest problem though is that the fundamental premise just doesn't make sense as given. Even at the time it was written, it should have seemed a lot more obvious and effective to just put a simple robot and cameras into the ships and send them out, rather than a ton of prospectors---more effective, more reliable, none of the logistical hassles. Sure, you might need to send a human crew if you actually find something, but it would still be a lot more efficient to scan robotically first. Notably, it's made very clear that the routes are repeatable, so there isn't even a need for humans to be there to grab findings on first discovery. I gather there's a TV show based on this in the works, and it's going to have to work pretty hard to address all this. Notably, I think Gateway 2 will have to be cut out along with a bunch of the side missions because they'll have to make the routes not repeatable. That in turn will change the Heechee technology and overall setting quite a bit, and down the rathole you go. All that said, the ending is really good and very sci-fi, and there's a number of interesting characters. I'm not sure what to make of the main characterization though. On the one hand it's almost certainly a very textured, three dimensional portray of a real person. On the other hand, maybe he's just an asshole?
  • The Human Engineer. Brody. Short story on Tor.com.

2k15/1

  • Great North Road. Hamilton. A long novel that's meaty throughout and manages to keep itself interesting, without ever quite managing to be super compelling. Most of the primary characters are just interesting enough. The plot has a bunch of twists that aren't just gotchas and is certainly fairly complex. So it's solid, but largely forgettable.
  • Damage. Levine. Short story.
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