Friday, October 21, 2016

FrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my third read of this classic. :) I've been through all the surprises before, like the fundamental differences between hollywood and literature, and I'm sure by now most people know that the creation is a rather smart and passionate cookie.

My deeper ah-ha moment was the revelation that the real monster is Victor, the creator, not so much the creation. He's a dead-beat dad. No matter how you see it, he's an ass. Does anyone blame the creature for being angry, for learning how to read so well just so he could complain, eloquently, just how much he is disappointed in Victor? We only blame him for the murders. Of course, if he's not really human anymore, so our morals hardly apply, right? Alas. That's another can of worms I'll save for Crime and Punishment someday.

So Victor is really brilliant natural philosopher, absolutely, but he's also very short-sighted, and so we have the other theme of the novel. The "Uh, oh, look what I did," theme. "Is there no one in the whole damn world that can help me clean up this pile of doo?" After keeping silent, blaming himself, and two courtroom dramas later an a couple major tragedies, he still doesn't appeal to a slightly better class of people... say... the military...? :)

Of course, this presages all the technological additions to Mary Shelley's world, the eventual ramp-up of the industrial revolution, and the general atavistic fear of anyone versus the *new*. Sure, it's a cautionary tale, but fortunately, this novel is a LOT MORE than just that.

It's great prose. In fact, it's nearly poetry. It's lofty and passionate and framed by a very popular theme of the day. Finding the Northern Passage. I honestly loved that part of the novel, beginning and ending with a chase of vengeance across the Arctic. I hardly care any more that the novel is part epistolary, because the majority is all first-person. :)

Fun from beginning to end. :) I still put this one in my top-one hundred. :)

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had hoped that a re-read would have increased my appreciation of this old, albeit classic, tale, but alas, I still just find it *okay*. I can't complain about the style because I've read a lot of Stevenson's contemporaries. I can't complain that it's not "fantastic or gruesome" enough, because it does have a certain low-level miasma of hysteria that works fine as a thriller.

What I can and want to complain about is something that has annoyed me about these people from day one. The insistence that Evil is Written in People's Ugliness. I mean, jeeze, way to play up that prejudice, Stevenson! I mean, sure, the guy eventually got around to murdering someone, but for the most part, he was just letting down his hair, masturbating, visiting prostitutes and spitting on little old church ladies. Not in any particular order, mind you, and probably not all at the same time.

This is a GUILTY PLEASURE novel of good ole repressed England. A "Oh my goodness I'm being so naughty aren't I a bad boy and wouldn't it be great if I could get away with this without ANY repercussions?" novel. Just because it upholds the majority moralistic lip-service in terms of evil getting its just deserts doesn't mean that the book didn't also represent a real and true undercurrent of rebellion.

In fact, I'm sure it was seen and gloated over for just that reason. Hyde may be despicable, but he's also a rock-n-roller, a biker dude, and Trump. He just wants to see the world burn because the world has burned him.

I can understand the popularity of this tale. I enjoyed it on both reads, too.

BUT, I don't have to appreciate the pandering to the lowest prejudices of the time.

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Titus Groan (Gormenghast, #1)Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I was reading this, I kept thinking of all the great and richly-detailed fantasies I've ever read, from Tad Williams to Robin Hobb, and then I just had to look up when this book had come out.

You see, I have this thing. I like to read a book, or at least books that are considered classics or the best of their genre, with a clear and un-jaundiced eye. So sometimes I don't even read the blurb or the date of publication. Actually, I rarely look at the date. I can usually figure it out by the style.

On the other hand, this one had me stumped. I got through nearly 3/4 of the novel before I broke down and found out that this was published in '46. I was shocked. The level of detail, the creepy magical realism, the ritual-building, the clever descriptions, and especially the the plot just screamed out, maybe, late seventies with a reliance on fully traditional fantasy with an evil minister-type bringing down a kingdom. But 1946?

I have to readjust everything.

Sure, this has a lot of great gothic elements and a heavy reliance on Dickens, feeling more like a timeless and isolated castle full of a loving people (at first) only to have it fall to the whiles of a lying snake.

And then I slowly realized just how much of an influence Titus Groan had upon so much modern fantasy. You know those authors I mentioned? Yeah, I'd eat my boots if they weren't heavily influenced by Peake. It's that clear. :)

But how did I like this novel? I loved it. What it didn't have in dastardly wars, it did have in masterful prose, sneaky action, creepy and delightful and complex characters, and truly brilliant descriptions.

I'm really looking forward to reading the next one. :)

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SynnersSynners by Pat Cadigan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Is it all pretty much a mess wrapped up with mirror shades and spinal shunts, hacking and guns?

NOT this one!

Well, it was pretty much a mess of characters and mediots for more than half the novel and I'll be honest, I was rather mystified and wondering where the novel was going or whether it WAS going anywhere. It felt like a random number generator approach to novelization. We had a bunch of friends all interconnected on the media-train in all different positions or outside of the corporate loop, and most of it was fairly interesting in and of itself, but then I kept asking myself... Where is this going? It felt like a discovery novel. As in, the author is throwing out everything and she's just gonna get there when she gets there.

Which is fine, but I truly had to wonder. As a coherency thing, I got through something like 70% of the novel and I was CERTAIN that I was going to give it a 2 star rating. I was SO over it. I didn't like it. I didn't care.

So what happened?

Well, apparently, Cadigan pulled one hell of a magic trick on us, or she just poured over her text with a VERY fine comb in prep for the rewrite and then just produced GENIUS, wrapping up all these character threads into something really freaking amazing for the last 30% of the novel.

Total vindication.

All those bits and pieces came shining out of the page and turned this hot mess of a novel into something profound, technologically awesome, and strange.

I wouldn't say that I'd like to read this again anytime soon, perhaps, because it was something of a chore, but the satisfaction quotient is WAY up there. She knows how to pull of ENDINGS. Wow.

This was the dark horse of all novels. :)

And it turned out pretty punk-ish by the end, too, but no guns. It's a nice change for the genre. :)

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Freedom™Freedom™ by Daniel Suarez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nearly as amazing as the first book in the Duology, Daemon, it leads us right into the middle of an ideological breakdown or a breakthrough, with hoards of Daemon followers playing their lives as if it was all a huge game. And indeed, the way our economics and military and politics is run, it is just that.

So what happens when a game AI successfully outplays our gloriously flawed human nature all in the desire to prevent a total breakdown of our society, as all societies have broken down when our reach outstrips our grasp?

Why, the old-guard, the rich, the staunch governmentalists, and the old idealists band together to take down, impossibly, the background program that had transformed the world. With devastating effect. Civil Wars, corn rebellions, tent cities, and absolute fear of the internet dominates this book.

Oh yeah, and high level wizards (techno-kind) roam the world, having risen high in wealth and real power thanks to the Daemon, and they are truly awesome and rather scary. Sound like a game? Well, it is! But this system of rewards is all in real wealth, real influence, and really awesome tech.

Who do I root for? *waves his wand around*

I won't tell you.

The fact is, this is still very much a techno-thriller to its core, but beyond that, it's super-ambitious and it's also a rather enormous SF undertaking in its own right, from the ideas, the social reform, or from the deeper implications of what it means to be human and so flawed as to have one stupid distributed program be able to outthink us, surprisingly so because it doesn't even have real intelligence!

It's just programmed to manipulate us all really, really well. And I can't say I disagree with it's core purpose, either.

But then, I must quote Robert A Heinlein, "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity."


Great book, great conclusion, and I don't even mind the soapbox that the author stood upon. SF is really all about ideas, but this one's a great story, too.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

DaemonDaemon by Daniel Suarez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've just become a huge fanboy with one book.

That's to say I was rightly blown away. :) All right. To explain. What first seems like a techno-thriller with gamers and programmers and a murderer doing all his murders after his own death by cancer then quickly turns into a social and economical exploration based on the trends we're now facing.

This is a fun and complicated story filled with many twists and turns, awesome characters, and a world-changing creation that turns us all into players in a world-wide socio-economic game based on distributed network theory and game-development strategies. You know that little military idea of Game Theory? Why not take it to an All New Level and create for ourselves a Game Of Our Lives, so pervasive a virus and lucrative for all the players that it takes over every level of government, corporation, and home? It's like having the mafia become a super genius living in every computer and taking over everything purely by social hacking. It's beautiful.

I've seen a number of somewhat similar tales grace the page, but most of those are social hacking through social media. This one is a bit more fundamental than that. This one leaves us all alone unless it has something it needs, in conjunction with so many other people-pieces, that when they're put together, create major changes without anyone knowing exactly what was up until it happened. A computer god or Microsoft Design Strategy. Whatever. It's gorgeous.

And so strange that the novel still keeps up with it's techno-thriller ride, still managing a wonderful story while also exploring the depths of an entirely plausible and scary takeover of the world. :) By AI.

I totally recommend this fantastic SF. It is both fun and important for the field. :) Solid as hell and a pure delight, even with some of the more disturbing social aspects intact. No one is innocent. That's kinda the point. We deserve to be taken over by a computer parasite. :)

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Monday, October 17, 2016

number9dreamnumber9dream by David Mitchell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I want to say, "It was me, it wasn't you," to this novel. She and I just didn't click. She's obviously got a lot going for her besides her perfect neck, including a horribly pretentious style and a vividly dramatic penchant for detail, but while I had a very good time with some of his other novels all lined up in a row like some Voltron Robot of literature, this one just seemed to go on and on with rambling and disjointed plot-lines that EVENTUALLY, like, at the END wrapped up into the Matrix-Style "This Is Only A Dream" Science Fantasy extravaganza with immortal witches and people Outside Of Time that so punctuated his other novels.

Don't get me wrong. I really wanted to like her. The novel feels just as epic as a wandering and hopeless kid with a very, very late destiny can aspire to. Maybe I've just run out of patience after getting through so many of David Mitchell's novels. The glorious bits are glorious, the normal bits are strongly detailed and interesting in their way, and the density of ideas is sometimes an awesome pleasure to behold.

But the overall structure of these monstrosities?

I Just Don't Know. I feel like I'm trying to suck a fifth of Whisky from a bottle left unbroken. I want to love the insanity and I want to love sheer chutzpah. It's always a heavy mix of traditional literature, fascinating locations, interesting peoples, and OUT-THERE SF to tie it all together like a nightmare or a dream.

Indeed. A dream. *sigh*

I'm sorry, number9dream. It was me, not you.

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