Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm sure I'm not alone in my judgment, but I'm torn about this book.
The ending was very good. It reversed a lot of my disappointment as I read this novel, but only because it changed my perceptions about what this novel was trying to accomplish.
Don't expect fast pacing or a civil war. Don't expect a return to Breq's heyday as a multiple-body starship AI.
Once I got over my desires to see him/her rise and become the right hand man/woman of his/her leige wielding a large weapon, be it any kind of metaphorical sword, political engine, or at least an army of ancillaries, I started to relax into the tale that Ann Leckie was really telling.
We have a tale about an AI's personal redemption. This is still the same tale that was being told in the first novel, but now we've got a very limited 3rd person perspective that doesn't allow us into Breq's thoughts, either. All we have is the pursuit of social justice on a station he/she once served a thousand years prior, the attempt to draw in his/her ancillary's relatives into her heart as atonement, and, almost as a side note, the ostensible and official reason Breq had for going there in the first place. You know... trying to flush out his/her leige's multiple-personalty antagonist.
The novel was slow. Don't expect more than a deepening of your understanding of Breq.
One thing more: I am both pleased and angry that the jumps in time and location and viewpoint have been squeezed so small as to be a single character. It makes for easier reading, sure, and hides a lot more plot until the right time, but it was what made the other book fantastic, IMHO. Do I want easy reading, or rewarding reading? Answer: Both. I think that's what I liked most about the first novel. The second wasn't nearly as rewarding except if you allow yourself to fall into an introspective contemplation about Breq.
I said I really liked the ending. It was very satisfying, but it reminds me more of a traditional novel with very little sci-fi necessity. In fact, the novel could have cut almost all of the sci-fi aspects out and have a coherent and complete novel. There was none of the special tension that science-fiction is known for. Speculation was missing. Instead, we've got a novel of social justice and personal redemption. It was good, but not what I was expecting.
I don't mean to be harsh in this review. I liked the novel. Even if it didn't follow the promise of big events laid down by the previous novel, it was good on its own. Of course, we were given hints of a full blown revolution in the star system next-door, and this kind of idea never really hit anyone over the head in this novel, but it does leave the door open to huge things later.
I admit, I love the idea of Galaxy-Wide AI's battling it out in a glorious bloodbath including all its fingers, the men and women of the ancillary. We'll see.
This is also a contender for the 2015 Hugo for best novel.
I'm still reading the rest of the nominations, including the novel by Kloos that he respectfully rescinded because he didn't want to be associated with the puppygate pall. I respect his decision, ethically, but I cannot accept it in my heart. So therefore, I will continue to balance the scales before I cast my vote.
Is Ms. Leckie's novel good enough to be on the nomination? Absolutely. Do I honestly think it is the best of the ballot for this year? We'll see. There's an awful lot to appreciate about it, with or without my personal desires getting in the way. The same thing goes for her previous novel which did win the Hugo last year, although I personally think that this one isn't up to quite the same glory.
I'm keeping my eyes wide open.
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Skin Game by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm a bona-fide fanboy of the series and I don't care who knows it. Perhaps if more people knew, they'd give it a shot, too. I'm continually surprised by the directions it takes, and this book was no different. I loved the oceans eleven feel and the return of a slew of villains that were very memorable in their own right. The twists, including the one that was derived from the title, were satisfying but not obvious for a good long time. Other twists, such as the one that kept him tied to the island, has got me chomping at the bit for the next novel(s).
I love where all these changes are driving the story, but, this one was great for the huge amount of resurfacing characters.
I'm in awe, and this candy is so delicious. I truly can't wait for more.
This is a contender for the 2015 Hugo for best novel.
Now while I am generally in awe of Mr. Butcher, there is still some controversy surrounding this year's picks. I choose to ignore the controversy and uphold the spirit with which so many people view the honor of the Hugos.
I may not like this particular novel as much as a few of the ones that have come before, such as Changes, but I do hold the novel in very high esteem. This series also falls into a grey category in my mind because while it can be read without knowing the other 14 books in the series, it probably shouldn't be. The entire series is too rich to ignore. That being said, Dresden is more like a whale than a big fish, and should be considered a class to itself.
Hugo possibility? Certainly, as long as the spirit of the award is given for the right reasons, and even if it is, we might need a new category such as Lifetime Achievement, or HUGE ASS STORY ARC category. Then we could backvote WOT in as well.
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The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
That goblin was just the sweetest child emperor I've ever known. He was always courteous and polite, even when he was abducted. He was so centered and contained even during that that time he almost took the knife of that assassin. Do you remember his name? Yeah. That windbag elf. Well, I don't care what any of his peers say about this dear child. He's looking forward to the future, I tell you! He even says goodbye to the cleaning staff of his late mother, bless his soul.
This novel, in case you haven't guessed, is a delightful take on normal people raising an Emperor. It is NOT, however, a tale of war, oppression, or magic. There's plenty of intrigue, but mainly it's a coming of age with a very healthy dose of fish out of water syndrome. On a personal note, it was charming and well paced and very, very political. It had elements of stab you in the back, of course, but the focus was mainly on trying to do a good job in a situation where no one seems to trust you. Believe me, I was very charmed.
This delightful novel was part of this year's Hugo nominations, and in spite of the controversy, I'm reading each novel deeply and seriously because I respect and cherish the Hugos. Anyone nominated will carry prestige because we, the readers, want it to be so. The moment we start devaluing the award in our own minds is the moment we lose a little light in our life.
As for being a contender, this novel definitely is. If I read this outside of the controversy or the nomination, I would still be gibbering and drooling about it, because, after all, it turns our archetypal conventions over to cook more evenly.
The writing is clear, the story is suspenseful, and the mystery around his father's death and his own assassination attempt keeps everything moving nicely. Most importantly, I felt real sympathy for our dear Emperor. If you think that the story is short on wonder or depth, think again. Everything is vividly imagined and deeply drawn, down to the airships or the clockwork bridge or the guard who sang our young Emperor to sleep.
This novel is a breath of fresh air with a huge heart, and that's saying a lot for a novel about a goblin.
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The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
From the opening, I was struck by how much history I didn't know about China's Cultural Revolution. It might be obvious to anyone growing up in those parts, of course, but I was almost lost in that story long before I saw that there was anything sci-fi about the novel. This is a good thing. It speaks of good writing.
And then things changed. I became a frog in a pot. Small hints accumulate, surrounded by mathematical problems both fundamental and curious.
And then the MC's sanity is questioned. It's an open question that both the reader and the character must answer.
And then I got an idea. I could easily make the argument that all scientists in this novel are actually Main Characters, and indeed, that theory only becomes crystal clear later in the novel. It was a delight.
The novel is full of scientist suicides, damn odd hallucinations, all the way to a fantastic virtual reality game that draws intellectuals from around the world before devolving into a suggestive epic space opera featuring some of the most interesting aliens I've read about in a LONG time.
The worldbuilding is top-knotch-squared.
The clever uses of technology are the true highlights of the novel, and I'm upset. Why? Because the translations and publications for the next two novels are still in the future. Why am I still upset? Because I can hardly find the other works for this great author.
A grandmaster of Chinese sci-fi? I can't deny the fact. And just because I can't compare to other science fiction masters of Chinese literature is a null point. I am already a fanboy. I'll be revelling in every work I can get my hands on.
This is a fantastic example of how great science fiction can be. Truly inspiring.
This novel now a Hugo Nominee for 2015 because of the translation and introduction into the English-speaking market. It is a last minute replacement for Marco Kloos's Lines of Departure that was bravely self-removed due to the Sad Puppy 3 controversy. It wasn't his fault, and he got caught up in some seriously not-cool BS with this year's Hugo. He should be treated like any other Hugo Nominee. With respect and awe for the accomplishment it is, even though he withdrew.
On the other hand, after finding out that Three Body Problem took his place, I have to admit that it couldn't have happened to a better novel. I loved this one. It was really fantastic and it had everything I like to see in seriously good fiction.
This one might truly be my top pick for the year. It might be the one I cast my ballot on. But first, I need to read a few more Nominees. I take this very seriously. We bring our levels of joy and dedication to the ideas we thrive on. Awards are only as good as we make them. I refuse to let the Hugo become a quagmire.
Let the best novel win!
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The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've finally got around to reading the last official entry to the 2015 Hugo Nominees and I'm caught in a conundrum.
I wanted to give this novel a thorough dissection, but only because it didn't leave me feeling like I'd just passed through something wonderful and grand. No beautiful metamorphosis of my soul or imagination, nor even a romp through a digestive track.
Instead, I find myself wanting to say that this tale was paid in homage to the old space-opera tales, notably Lensman. The other homages are a little more murky for me, strangely enough, because I'm reminded of Hyperion of twenty-six years ago which was, itself, a homage to other authors' imaginations.
There's nothing wrong with this, of course. Ideas are always stolen. As a novel of BFI's, this novel ought to sit up there with Ringworld or Rama or any number of comics like the ones I've enjoyed by Dan Abnet. Big Ideas are fun, and executed well, they overflow with a sense of wonder.
But there's still a catch.
The writing must be superlative.
I just don't think the writing was as good as it ought to be if it is going to be nominated for a Hugo. The writing is fine for pulp fiction. It's fine to get from point A to point B, but it just didn't grab me as so many novels have. It took me a full 2/3 of the novel before I felt like I was flowing with either the characters or the action, and that's because the grand space battle was finally beginning.
As for the cast of characters, I only started feeling kinship with them as they either died or got into supreme danger. Those who missed that ride were either an ex machina to resolve conflict or amp up the melodrama. I didn't feel like I was cheated, per se, because I already know that I'm going to have to read the books that follow in order to reap the real benefits, but as a standalone novel, it rests very heavily on events that have already passed or on those that will be. The action of the big NOW was sort of... well... Alderaan didn't explode.
Maybe I'm too harsh. I didn't dislike the novel. It was industrious and accomplished a lot.
Unfortunately, the writing didn't sparkle. The characters weren't awesome. The tension didn't aggravate. I actually wondered at various points if the big battles could have benefitted more from a horror perspective, full of hints and drama but no perfect reveals. Maybe so, but that wasn't the novel I read.
I've read a pretty decent amount of Mr. Anderson's novels, and this one is pretty much on par with them. It is a bit better than most, and a lot better than a few. It hearkens people back to some of the old grand space-opera days, and successfully so.
Unfortunately, This isn't my primary choice for the Hugo Award, and, worse, I'm not certain it really belongs as a nominee.
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