Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John, #2)The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Again, as with the previous book, it's almost impossible to describe the events taking place here or giving real justice to its in-depth exploration of God, innocence, war, and love.

However, I can point to the mythical land of medieval beasts that Prester John converts to Christianity, the events of the first book that make John their king, how he becomes immortal, loves, has a family, and how all these beasts just humor him good-naturedly. They're Edenic and this magical land is pretty much Eden already.

But then we get a call to arms to save the Seat of the Holy Roman Empire against the Saracens and who raises the flag, along with all the innocent immortals who may or may not be angels? John Prester.

It's simple in the way I say it, but believe me, there's nothing simple going on inside the pages. We've got multiple PoVs... from John, his immortal and monstrous wife, and a famous explorer on the outside. They all have their own concerns and takes on reality and it's truly fascinating to behold.

Valente does no less than build a cosmos, a philosophy of living, of learning, and of loss of innocence on a grand scale. We are caught in traps of our own devising and we love with pure grace and we discover that we've changed too much to ever come back. It's really beautiful.

However, my personal enjoyment beyond the outright appreciation was kinda lacking. I can absolutely love what she tries to accomplish here and really get thrilled by the complex scaffolding of the chapters and structure and execution, her love of the language and the wordcraft, but overall, I wasn't personally awed by the story or the message. I can admit that I was (and am) awed by Valente's writing.



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Monday, September 18, 2017

The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John, #1)The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most, if not all, attempts to render this book into something more than just a coherent seedling of the tale and not the tale itself is doomed before it even begins.

As of the tale of Prester John, read from a book that sprouted up from a book tree only to rot even as it is read, I'm lost in a welter of sensations and presentiments and, if the later parts are to be judged higher than the former, I'm forced to call this a supreme work of the imagination.

Only, it's also very firmly rooted in Medieval classics that require no modern quirks of plot or theme, rather, a dedication to getting the thoughts out in whatever shape or form the author deems fit.

It's pretty awesome and quite like any of the early classics I've enjoyed that like to meander and get to their point in their own way in their own time, and this is what happens in spades.

We see this tale from multiple views and worldviews, from modern Enlightenment to the Medieval mindset trying to force reality into a Christian box to the view of angels (though they would deny it) and demons (of which there is no proof).

Fascinating and quite frustrating is one way of putting this book. One must experience it and suffer through its turns in turn, on the hope of being planted or eating a black leaf or of living forever and changing lives in a pleasant fiction of lottery.

Clever and unique and firmly rooted in a classical style, it is, nonetheless, a superb work of the imagination and it fleshes out some of the weirdest vagaries of history. I did imagine, several times as I read this, that I was going to be bombarded with Christian sentiments very much in the tune of Prester John, but amusingly enough, poor John was stymied repeatedly and was, in the end, defeated by the Eden he was set to convert. :)

This is a tiny spoiler for those who might be turned off by their own presentiments. :) For me? I thought it had heart and soul.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Robogenesis (Robopocalypse, #2)Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War. War never changes.

Wait a sec. This is almost like that, but grittier and uglier and the tiny, tiny pieces of hope or light that keep these shattered remnants of minds, whether human, hybrid, or robot alive are well below the threshold of survivability.

That is... unless you're a MACHINE. Um. Yeah. Well, this is all about the blurring of the lines between what is human and what is robot. A total transhumanist war riding on the entrails of the decimation of humanity, where the only people who are left are either self-modified, force-modified, or just plain lucky beyond any conceivability.

Archos 14 is all about life, after all. He sees our value as a species and has only the best ideals in mind for us, which is why he's been busy building a hybrid army to support his cause against the black steed of pain and death, his earlier super-AI incarnation. Aryat Shah, R8. Revision 8... who's just bugshit crazy and anyone's definition of the antichrist.

I can't believe what had become of the Gray Horse Army. All my favorite characters.

Well, war changes everything, doesn't it? Just wow.

The most fascinating parts of this novel are not the straight plot... it's the shifting boundaries and the cleanup of the New War from the previous novel. It's the redefining of what it means to be alive and intelligent and the fact that everyone, even the supermassive brains of the AIs are, in the end, not much different than the rest of us. All my attention was focused on the subtleties, but don't let me mislead you any, here.

This is just as bloody and dire and disturbing as the previous novel that decimated humanity and changed us all into slaves, monsters, or victims. It's just the shifting lines that's any different. :)

In the end, though, I'm truly fascinated by the plethora of ideas and disturbing imageries. It feels like a nightmare that no one can ever wake up from again.

This is not your granddaddy's cautionary tale of AI's run amok.



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Robopocalypse (Robopocalypse, #1)Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm pretty enthusiastic about this one. A lot has to happen to bring about the downfall of mankind and have all the people become transhuman experiments or to just become so much meat. Morever, it takes a lot of skill to make it mean something, and the author has an uphill battle.

Think War of the Worlds or any number of branching sequels by various authors and you'll know what I mean. It's hard to write a short novel and have this much scope, but Wilson manages to write some really memorable characters. A little girl with robot eyes being a superhero of the resistance? Matilda, you're awesome. 9O2? A freeborn robot and free of the life-obsessed monstrosity of version 14? Brilliant.

Best of all, I love to see the downfall of humanity, the concentration camps, the modifications on both sides of the human camp, whether forced or forced-by-necessity, just to keep up with the hell of a long and nasty conflict.

Gray Horse? OMG. I love these guys. It's a long, hard, war, and they keep modding themselves to keep up with the horror of it. I loved seeing them lose more and more of what we'd deem humanity, but to them are just the necessities of winning the battle for the whole future of mankind. There's practically no one left at that point. It's more than dire. It's hell on earth.

A lot of people liken then is to World War Z and there are some similarities, of course, but in a few significant ways, I liked this better. Robopocalypse isn't an epistolary novel, for one. It's a straight story with some epistolary moments, excerpts, and recountings. The characters we stay with are with us for very good story progression reasons, and the ones who get the most face-time are brilliant heroes in their own right.

Even so, this is, however, still a relatively short novel with many players, including our big bad AI, and we have a pretty nearly unlimited view of the entire stage of the war. I'm not going to say that I don't see where it might have had some improvements, but on the whole, I was freakishly impressed and thrilled by the scope, the epic horror of it, and the fact that it fired my imagination and it kept me enthralled by its sheer panoramic action.

Hats off. This is some serious SF beauty here, doing a much better job than the terminator movies at drawing us in with the scope or the importance, minus all the time travel crap. This is the end of the world, folks. :)


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Friday, September 15, 2017

BorneBorne by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably going to be one of those times where I rail against the universe and popularity norms because this novel is an exemplary piece of imaginative fiction that goes well above and beyond the call of any duty to amaze, wonder, and offer up a meal of monstrously epic proportions.

First, I should say that no matter how much I loved the weirdness and the atmosphere of VanderMeer's previous trilogy, nothing quite prepared me for just how good this was going to be. In fact, if I didn't already have an ultimate favorite for the year's best SF already, I'd be pushing this one to the fore. But that's not going to stop me from nominating it for the Hugo, mind you. :)

Why?

It's deceptively simple and very engaging at first, but as life and growth become a bit more complicated, as it always seems to get, or when your lover starts getting jealous of your rescued intelligent abandoned biotech creature, then you have to make a few decisions.

Add that to the fact that this whole world is a brilliant biopunk nightmare dystopia where most people have died and minnows are alcoholic and a gigantic bear eclipses the night, dropping monsters and salvageable biotech down onto the broken city, and we've got ourselves a recipe for a piece of imagination that will rival most books anywhere. Add to this a very wonderful and generous dose of wit and charm, delightful characterizations and dialogues between Rachael, Wick, and our loveable ubermonster, Borne, and I'm shot over the moon.

The devil is in the details, of course, and there are enough details for any fan of Geoff Ryman, early Greg Bear, and the more recent Robert Jackson Bennett.

So what's my complaint, again? The fact that I love this so much? No, of course not... it's the fact that it's WEIRD.

I love weird! I love it to freaking death! I live for weird! And it's a weird that rides on the coattails of originality, too!

I mean, sure, we've seen a lot of oddball and screwy (read cute) biotech monstrosities in the world of fiction, from Heinlein to cartoon shows, but few will do as smooth a job of turning an ubermonster into a delightful child to be raised, who never needs to poop or pee, and which focuses all its energies on what it means to be a person when there's no such "thing" left in this world.

At least, of course, until it all goes wrong... or what that means to the rest of the city, Rachel and Wick's relationship or the fact a series of godzilla-like battles will rage across the world.

Pretty, no?

Yeah, this is the good shit, man. This is the stuff I live for. Now if only I could get everyone else in the world to see this my way. :)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ArcadiaArcadia by Iain Pears
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are so many ways I'm tempted to tackle this review, nearly as many ways as there is to read this novel, and that's not a bad thing. Indeed, it means that there's so much going on in here that I simply want to keep talking about.

I could simply say that I was delighted and I can continue to be enthusiastic about this novel for ages, but instead I'll try a few of my ideas out, perhaps calling it the Cloud Atlas that's better than Cloud Atlas, pulling together a narrative that is not only interesting but actually makes a lot of sense in the final pull-through, unlike Mitchell's rather overhyped (mainstream) SF.

Indeed, Pears points us right at potential problems and says, hey, look at this, I'm going meta, but rather than just dancing around the issue, I'm going to give you background, reason, plot development, and even more foundation as to WHY this meta is not only necessary... but why it is delightful to the crafting of the entire tale. And it is. Very much so.

Because what we've got is a fine literary blending of the key and core beauties of what made up pastoral literature back in its heyday, its beauty, its undercurrents of politics, its transpositions of topics both obvious and subtle, with what turns out to be a detailed historical spy novel couched within the omnipresent and omniscient black machine of a dystopian future society getting caught up in the potential nightmare of having just discovered time-travel.

So let's look at this: pastoral, historical spy fiction, hard-SF.

Come on. Who can't appreciate this? It's not only literary... it's beautifully drawn and interesting, with great characters, and an inherent time-travel potential paradox tragedy that threatens to destroy all universes. I'm not joking. This is the kind of thing I live for. And you know what's great? It takes its time, showing the wonder and the beauty of all the things we should care about or hate, even as we slowly realize just how much is at stake. It just gets worse because we're in the slowly boiling pot, getting to know everyone and everything as if we just don't need to worry about speed.

And we don't. This isn't a plot-driven novel. Or rather, it is a plot-driven novel just so long as you are a spider placing a rather large web, creating outer circles along different characters and settings and slowly moving inward until a razor-like focus pinpoints the little monster of a fly threatening to unravel the entire web. And by then you're invested in that web. :)

As for characters, I really enjoyed them all, but the ones I really focused on was Angela and Lytten. We could say that Lytten is the main Main Character, even if he's the unconscious spider, but I have to make an addendum to my estimation and point the Main Character finger fully at Rosalind, the inestimable and glorious pastoral fairy queen, the most perfect of Shakespeare's women... otherwise known as that mischievous kid next door who sometimes takes care of Lytten's fat cat.

What a surprise.

As for the SF parts, all of which usually get my engines moving, I rather enjoyed this take on time travel. It really kicks the legs out on a lot of the paradoxical struts and mainstays of the physics and makes for a really cool tale.

Am I reminded of Heinlein's Number of the Beast? Maybe. And as for all you people who love to see your favorite works of the imagination come to life, you're in for a sweet ride, too. This one caught me, too.

I will be rather sad if this book doesn't eventually get the kind of cult-recognition it deserves. Remember, even Dune went pretty much unrecognized for five years before the cult following blew it out of the water. This isn't the same kind of book, mind you, but it really needs that cult following. It's clever, complicated, literary, very imaginative, and its blurb doesn't come close to doing it any justice at all.

Why aren't you reading it???

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sourcery (Discworld, #5; Rincewind #3)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is going to sound rather critical despite my rating, but I feel like I ought to be rather honest. The basic over-story is pretty good, as is the action and most of the humor, but there was still swaths of text that felt like it was trying too hard.

More funny, more witty, more like Color of Magic than Color of Magic. It wasn't just Rincewind, who I always loved. Rincewind reminds me of Schmendrick from LeGuin's Last Unicorn, only he really doesn't have any magic at all. Ever. And yet, his whose sense of identity and action is still totally in line with being a wizard, and he even puts everything on the line for it. I like that.

I even liked Nijel the Barbarian and Conina the Hairdresser and the Sapient Pearwood Chest is always a delight, but other than a good smattering of good scenes with all of them, I kept stopping the book and wondering if it would ever get on with it.

The adventure seemed good, but it was really focused on the zingers just a tad too much and I got tired of them. Isn't that odd?

Even so, it was mostly pretty awesome as Pratchett usually is. :)

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