"This was an odd novel... It clearly shows its roots as a series of connected short stories; each of the first three chapters especially --- they all have a clear narrative arc with satisfying conclusions when they finish. It isn't until later in the book that things start to actually look like a novel.
The book also has an odd metamorphosis, as the narrative starts in the near future and then moves along to post-singularity humanity. Kind of by definition, that means that I can relate to the people in the start of the book, but by the end there's so much hand-waving about how things work, that that ability to relate has faded significantly. It wound up giving me an odd response at the end of the book: while I was still very interested in the story, I really wanted it to hurry up and end!
Ultimately, it was a good read, and I think Stross actually did a good job extrapolating out what the future might hold, even if it is mostly hand-waving. He makes interesting characters (for the most part), and kept finding ways to keep his humans puzzling out their issues.
It wasn't my favorite Stross book, but it was solid. 4/5 stars."
"This was the story of how aliens with a bit of savvy might go about initiating first contact... Not by speaking with governments, but by speaking to Hollywood. It's a fascinating and original idea, and Scalzi does a great job of making a wonderful, tongue-in-cheek tale of alien contact.
A highly-researched novel with all the I's dotted and the T's crossed this is *not*. There are plenty of places where I found myself asking, "But what if?" and other places where I thought that Scalzi's depiction of the "common man's" response was a bit more optimistic (in service to his story) than was strictly believable.
But in the introduction, Scalzi himself notes that he'd never actually intended to publish this: it was his first practice novel. And if you read it to enjoy the wonderful characterizations of humans and aliens, setting aside the logic flaws, the book truly shines. I had a wonderful time with it.
"All Clear is the second (of two) volumes of Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear "novel". Do not read this book until you have first read Blackout. These two volumes are not independent stories. All Clear picks up right where Blackout left off, and there's truly no help for you if you start with All Clear. Willis herself has said that these two volumes should be treated at one novel, and you do yourself a great disservice if you don't treat them that way yourself.
I really like Willis' time travel stories, her "Doomsday Book" being one of my all-time favorites. Blackout/All Clear is set primarily during the London Blitz of World War II (with some diversions to other WWII locales and times). The storyline essentially is that of historians sent back in time to study elements of the war, and who wind up trapped in their past and spend the bulk of the books trying to get back to their base in 2060 Oxford.
The storyline here has a tendency to get frustrating, since the characters have a very difficult time accomplishing the things they're trying to do. The ultimate resolution of the plot has more to do with what is done accidentally, rather than deliberately, and that tends to weaken the characters. It also means a close reading is helpful, and I'm sure a re-read (should I ever empty my to-be-read pile) will yield a significant amount of relevant detail I missed the first time around.
Nevertheless, the ending is strong and well done --- once the "frustrating" bits are over, and the characters start to get a glimpse of what's really going on, it became really hard to put the book down.
The world Willis paints of 1940s England is fantastic, and might really be the true star of the show. I don't really know if any of it is accurate, but I really got the feeling that she'd done an amazing amount of research and loved making sure the details were right.
This pair of books was well worth reading, even with the frustrations there. 4.5 out of 5 stars."
"Wow. What a wonderful ride. "American Gods" is a Hugo and Nebula award winning novel, and that's probably the biggest reason I picked the novel up. Typically, I find the award winners good, but not great, as my tastes never do seem to match the voting bodies for those awards.
But this book? This book was astounding. I was enthralled the whole time (it's a long book), never found any part of the plotting predictable, was thoroughly engaged by the characters, and had a fantastic, wild ride.
It's the story of Shadow, an ex-con widower who finds himself in the employ of an elder god (Odin), who's trying to prevent the destruction of the old gods by the new gods. (Old gods are the traditions brought by immigrants to America, and come from many mythologies. New gods are things like "TV," "Automobile," and so on: the things that Americans today seem to worship more than any other.) All the gods seem to have day jobs, and live in the world with the rest of us.
This setup let Gaiman go crazy with mixing together of all the old mythologies, and also brought the gods down to earth and made them approachable. The end result of that is a wonderful, understated comic mix of it all.
But Gaiman has a serious story to tell, a quest of sorts, and that quest propels the reader through the novel at a breakneck pace. I loved it.
""Among Others" is the story of a few months of a young runaway girl's life, as she meets her father and his aunts for the first time, and then gets unceremoniously shipped off to an exclusive all-girls boarding school in England. An outcast from the start, branded so by her Welsh accent and affectations, she finds solace in classics of science fiction and the wonder of interlibrary loan. Oh, and her mother's an evil witch and she talks with faeries.
This book was fantastic. And I must not be the only one who thinks so, for it won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Written as a series of chronological diary entries, we learn her history slowly: there's no explanatory exposition to speak of. And there are plenty of bits left unresolved, and others that simply exist without needing rationalization. Which, frankly, is a good thing, I think. There have been a number of magical stories I've read lately which have completely lost their magic by the end due to needless (and poor) rationalization.
There are an innumerable number of references to science fiction from the 1960s to the 1980s. You might also take this novel as a list of "good scifi" in novel form. Certainly, if you've already read most of what our protagonist is discovering, you get the satisfaction of being an insider, and if you don't get the references, I'm sure you'd feel left out. (I'd already read about half of what she was gushing over, so I felt like an insider who still came away with a great "to be read" list.)
It's fitting, I suppose, that the copy I read was itself from the library. Aren't libraries grand?
"Another worthy addition to the series. I'm not as impressed with this one as with Lisa Smedman's tale in book 4, but it was nevertheless very enjoyable.
The changes in the group of drow this storyline follows were quite dramatic this time around, and you do get the impression that different authors were involved in making this happen, as they are quite sudden. (Halistra's conversion; Quenthal's going quietly mad; Danifae's power growth.)
The descriptions of the magic in battles is very impressive, especially as I recognize the spells from my own playing of D&D.
And the events in the final chapter make me desperate to read the final book!"
"This was the fourth in Stross' "Laundry Files" novels, and the most enjoyable yet, I think. The prior novel, "The Fuller Memorandum," suffered from too many strange and confusing settings, and this time the action takes place (mostly) in Colorado, a decidedly more mundane location. Which isn't to say that the storyline was mundane at all, merely that the zany oddball things went on against an easily understandable backdrop. At any rate: better.
The Laundry Files are a set of novels in a world where "computational demonology" (casting spells by doing math) is a thing, and oh, what a fun thing it is. Bob Howard, our protagonist, is a rising star in a secret British agency called the Laundry, and his dry assessments of world-shattering events along with government bureaucracy mundanities are what make this set of stories fun.
This time, we have new help in the form of "external assets", and a return to the evil of the prior book. Reading "The Fuller Memorandum" isn't a requirement, but it does help to set the stage a bit. I'd recommend reading the prior novel first, but it's not a true necessity.
"I really wanted to love this book. I've been a fan of Smedman's for a while now, and have generally enjoyed the books she's written. But Ascendancy of the Last just left me mostly confused throughout. I constantly felt like there were details that I must have missed, or stuff that I should have remembered from the prior volumes in this trilogy that had slipped my mind.
There's no character development to speak of, and little in the way of evocative description of anything. It really feels like the book just hit point after point on the outline from the publisher contract. It never breathes on its own.
Is there good here? Yes, despite all that I did sort of enjoy the novel. I like the world in which it's set, and I like the interplay of the various elements of the setting. I enjoy the lore and the communal world building that's inherent in the Forgotten Realms. And I'm glad to have gotten the end of the story (seeing as this is book 3 of a trilogy).
"This volume contains "At the Mountains of Madness" and three other stories; I've reviewed them below separately.
At the Mountains of Madness:
I had really looked forward to reading this, since I've been curious about the Cthulu mythos for a long time now, and wanted to see Lovecraft's work directly.
What an amazing disappointment.
This story was all about our protagonist telling us he was scared. What was he scared *of*??? Stuff that he's too distraught to talk about. Stuff that, if known, would shatter the sanity of all humanity. But this kind of description doesn't make *me* scared... It makes me *curious*. And that curiosity is never answered by the story, in any way at all. Very disappointing. 2 stars.
The Shunned House:
This was an exercise in mood setting, I suppose. This story is about a man learning about something horrible, and which seems more and more horrible as he learns more. But what he learns more about are the effects of this horror, rather than the horror itself. And even in the conclusion, the horror itself is hardly described at all; rather the effects of that thing are what Lovecraft makes clear. As a whole, the story was moderately enjoyable, but I'm getting tired of "some things man shouldn't learn". 3 stars.
The Dreams in the Witch-House:
This was a story of a man studying "too hard" and breaching into the evil spaces beyond our own. I liked this story a lot better than the others, because the antagonist is made much more clear and concrete, while still maintaining that sense of dread. 4 stars.
The Statement of Randolph Carter:
This is a really short, seven-page story. And it is in a similar style of not presenting the evil, but presenting the reaction to that evil. And when kept to seven pages, it works. I guess I just can't handle that descriptive mode when the tale goes on for hundreds of pages... 3 stars."
"This book actually contains two stories of Stross' "Laundry". Both of them ("The Atrocity Archives" and "The Concrete Jungle") are wonderful, original stories, based on the premise of secret government organizations dedicated to the protection of humanity from the horrors of parallel universes.
It's the combination of Lovecraftian elder-evil style monster horror and spy-story-techno-thriller. All with a Dilbert-style of mocking of cubicle hell.
"Wow. This won a Hugo? It sure wouldn't in today's SF world...
As far as I'm concerned, this book was a mess. It presents an interesting idea of time war and time travelers, makes a "locked room" mystery out of it, and tries to posit and discuss the philosophical issues it implies. What I got was a mess of characters that were difficult to keep straight, a cool idea shunted to the sidelines, and weird gaps in the narrative.
The book certainly wasn't trash, but frankly I was glad it was as short as it was."
"This is the third and final novel in Grant's "Newsflesh" trilogy, and was wonderful. To start: don't bother with the book until you've read the first two novels. This set is quite bad for starting in the middle.
But oh, what a great novel this is. You might think that the book would be one fight versus zombies after another, but the Zombie Apocalypse really is simply the backdrop for what this story is *really* about: government agency conspiracy.
And it was fun. Grant's writing really grips me and draws me in: she does a great job concentrating on her characters and really bringing them to life. These novels understand that the relationships between people and the expression of that relationship is where the humanity and heart of a good story lie, and that understanding really shines through.
Her characters also have to deal with a world that's been messed with in a terrifying yet fascinating way, and the way they deal with that has been a highlight (for me) of the whole series.
I'm a big fan of these books. You could do far worse than spend your beach time nestled up with them.
So this is the latest installment of Willis' time travel stories, this time with historians travelling back to 1940 and the London Blitz. There are a number of different story lines flowing through here, and thankfully they're just on the "understandable" side of the "descent into utter chaos" cliff. It's hard to put down, though. There's a sense of panic that builds slowly but steadily throughout, and by the time the book ends, the peril is thick. There's the threat of the German bombs, of course, as well as the technical issues with time travel equipment.
The depictions of 1940s England and the people who lived through the Blitz are wonderful. I'm not acquainted with wartime novels so I don't have much to compare with, but after reading this, I'm almost ready to jump in. Willis' characters are full and rich and quite varied.
But here's my warning: This book might end, but it doesn't conclude. Willis' next book "All Clear," is supposed to conclude the story. If you're like me, and don't like to wait to finish a story, I'd suggest that you wait until Autumn 2010 when it's supposed to be released.
I fell in love with Connie Willis' time travel universe when I first read "Doomsday Book" twenty years ago. "Blackout" is at least as good as Doomsday Book, if not better (20 years makes the comparison a little shaky). Highly, highly recommended.
"Good gracious, this book took me *forever* to plow through. About ten years ago I had read Red Mars and Green Mars, the previous two volumes in this trilogy, but had never gotten around to reading Blue Mars. (I think it had something to do with the sudden arrival of babies in the family...) Anyway, I finally snagged a copy of this one and dove in.
The story is basically the events following the Second Martian Revolution (which happened at the end of Green Mars), in which Mars becomes further terraformed (life taking hold), and in which the hard work of building a state and a government post-revolution takes place. The book is told in large sections from the perspectives of a number of the "first 100", switching back and forth as their stories unfold.
What I liked: Watching how a constitution convention works in a technological age was fascinating, if only because the management of human capital is what's really required. I think I've become a fan of light political fare, as long as it doesn't get too dry. I also liked the weird time shifts as all the first 100 start to get truly old (their longevity solutions result in more than two centuries of life). By the end of the book, the characters had become intriguing, but they took me a long time to get used to.
What I didn't like: There were lots of bright spots, and lots of places that just seemed to drag along. I think this could have really used a harsher editing pass."
"This is David Weber's addition to the pile of "Bolo" stories that many other SF authors have written. A Bolo, for those who don't know, is essentially a sentient tank, a self-award and able-to-think weapon of war in some far flung future where such things make sense.
Bolos were first conceived of by Keith Laumer, way back when, and I was never really impressed with the Laumer stories I read talking about them. David Weber does a better job, I think.
This book is a set of a number of short stories and novellas set across the Bolo history, so it's interesting to see how the different technological levels of them are addressed. Weber has always written excellent military fiction, and these stories fit in very well with his skill set. The Bolo stories are interesting as well because they allow for much more complex thinking (both ethically and strategically) by the weapons themselves, and I really liked Weber's approach.
At any rate, I liked it enough to give Weber's sequel a shot.
"Boneshaker is the story of Briar Wilkes searching for her son Zeke in walled-in Seattle swarming with zombies and the deadly fumes that transform the living into the walking dead. Oh, and did I mention that this is a steampunk alternate-history setting? This story has the most intriguing and fascinating setup of any novel I've read in the past few years, and the world that Priest has created is well worth exploring.
The story itself is basically a time-pressure rescue story, with a strong sub-plot of searching for family history. The narrative flips back and forth between Briar and Zeke, as they each explore the deadly downtown Seattle. It works, and it's fun.
Ultimately, though, I wound up caring a lot more about the world than about the protagonists of the story... Which is unfortunate. The middle of the novel dragged a bit, but did manage to pick up by the end.
Boneshaker has also been nominated for a 2010 Hugo award (while I was reading it, which made me feel like I was a trend-setter for once...).
"The story of Whandall Placehold, and how he grows up and becomes successful.
It's another one of those "life journey" novels that I seem to accidentally start reading. It takes a while to get going, and never really gets me too excited. I expect a lot more interesting things from the Niven/Pournelle combo, but this book didn't do it for me."
"First for anyone who actually knows me: No, I did not read this book because I'm worried about my teenage daughter's boyfriend. I read this book because I've got four *other* daughters who have yet to start dating, and I felt I should prepare myself. If the author's statistics are correct and 1 out of 3 teenage girls suffers dating violence, the chance that something happens to one of my other girls is sadly quite high, and I ought to do what I can to stop it before it starts.
So this book. Maybe I'm a sucker for psych books, but I really liked what this one had to say. It's audience is the parents of a teenage girl who's already *in* a bad relationship, and discusses ways to talk with her and approach the situation with an objective eye, rather than buried in emotionally-charged accusations and counter-accusations which are far more common.
From my perspective, it helps to identify the areas of discussion we need to have with the girls before serious dating starts, and gives me an angle of approach if that stuff goes badly.
The book was published in 2000, and thus written earlier... There's lots of talk about teens paging each other, rather than using cell phones as they do today (2009). So there's a bit of in-your-head translation that goes on there. (I'd actually love to see what the author thinks about the never-ending texting that goes on today.)
There's an extensive set of Resources at the end of the book; I worry that some of the organizations the author presents are no longer around, though a good Internet search should provide a new list, so perhaps that's not such a big deal."