Recent Reading - 2015
The Girl with All the Gifts
For a child, the daily routine makes sense. For us, Melanie's life would be a horror, locked in a cell, strapped daily into a wheelchair to go to class with the other children, each of whom also lives locked alone overnight in a cell. Melanie loves the chance to learn, especially when Miss Justineau is the teacher.
All the characters of this post-apocalyptic book are well-written and we get to know and love or know and hate them, as is appropriate.
The Vanished Man
Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs track a master illusionist through murders done with sleight of hand and other amazing magic tricks.
Louie Zamperini is a good person to use as the focus of Unbroken because he's likeable and charismatic, but Laura Hillenbrand succeeds in revealing the broader story of a much larger "cast" of characters while telling Zamperini's story. Though the book covers most of Zamperini's life, its focus is his time in the Army Air Force and his service in the Pacific during World War II. Most of the book is about his time as a prisoner of war. Hillenbrand managed to be factual and even-handed while simultaneously revealing the horrors of being a POW. The book has left me with a lot to think about.
Up Against It
25 Phocaea is, in the 24th century, a heavily populated asteroid in the Solar system. All the characters on which Locke focuses are well defined, deep and interesting. They must defend against the mob, industrial catastrophe which almost destroys the asteroid and something more, emergent AI. I loved the Tonal_Z language.
This exciting story is billed as the start of a series of books. I am very much looking forward to what comes next.
The Just City
The Just City isn't a typical story.
"Know yourself." says the character Apollo who is an Olympian god incarnated as a human to take part in the Just City experiment organized by his sister, the goddess Athene.
Plato's Republic forms the basis for the Just City experiment. I'll need to go back to read that again. In The Just City, Socrates is brought in to teach rhetoric and his dialogs disrupt the experiment. Jo Walton writes about the challenges involved in trying to set up a city in the mold of Plato's ideals. Be ready to think.
While I enjoyed the book, the second published in the Jack Reacher series, I think it has the shakiest premise of the Reacher novels that I've read. The plot turns on a kidnapping. The victim of the kidnapping is Holly Johnson. Who she "is" is the reason the plot is supposed to hold together. Looking back, I don't think it quite worked. Holly is a great character, the other people act logically in their characters up to a point. I just don't think Holly turns out to be important enough to ultimately warrant the reaction to her kidnapping. I liked Reacher, he revealed some new flaws to his character and added some good depth to it, too. Being the weakest Reacher does not diminish my recommendation that much. The book moves along with one disaster clambering to be on the heels of the problem just overcome. I think the plot would have bothered me more if I had read this book second. As it is, I am almost up to date with the whole series.
Reacher is a special unit MP major in the army. He's transferred to a new post suddenly just before the 1990 new year. The posting looks to be very quiet, but that doesn't happen. Dead bodies begin to pile up quickly and the army faces a new era with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Jennifer Foehner Wells
When I read a book in a single day, it means I'm really enjoying it.
The main character is no "plain Jane." She reluctantly signs on to a mission to the asteroid belt beyond Mars as a linguist because there is an alien spacecraft there which may or may not be derelict.
Unlike some, well, being honest, MOST science fiction, this novel does not shy away from the tensions of a mixed gender crew as they travel for the seemingly endless months needed to reach the Target. The tension isn't handled in either a crude or a sappy way. It seemed "honest." The rest of the action is also very well written.
I am looking forward to the next book by Jennifer Wells. If it extends this story, all the better. Either way I'm eager to join the adventure.
East of Eden
Steinbeck tells the multi-generational story of the Hamiltons and Trasks who interact during the late 1800s and early 1900s in the Salinas Valley in California. The characters grabbed me, perhaps because Steinbeck, himself, is a member of the Hamilton family and knew at least some of the book's people while he was growing up. Steinbeck narrates, but barely appears in the pages of the novel. The people of the book were alive for Steinbeck and he makes them live for me, too.
Even so, there are no punches pulled. Some characters soar and others sink as humans are apt to do. Love and hate are frequently mixed and there are winners and losers at all sorts of levels.
I think my "favorite" character is that of Lee, the longtime servant of Adam Trask who is probably considered the central character of the book. Lee develops throughout the book, becoming a kind of cement, holding the elements of the story in his grasp and helping to guide the other characters through their trials and tribulations.
I was frequently washed over by emotion while reading. Triumphs and tragedies shared responsibility for that.This book is among my all-time favorites.
The Romanov Prophesy
The Russians have decided to find the closest relative of Tsar Nicholas II whose whole family was killed during the bolshevic revolution of 1918. A commission has been established to find the most suitable candidate to be crowned the new Tsar of all Russia. Miles Lord, a lawyer from Atlanta and his boss have been hired to provide international oversight of the process. Miles is searching the archives and comes across documents suggesting one or more children of Nicholas survived. When Miles is almost killed by gunmen, an international chase begins.
The Mote in God's Eye
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Humanity has spread across part of the galaxy. War has driven some systems into total isolation and drastic decline. Second round exploration is beginning to reconnect the far-flung outposts of human life. Lord Rod Blaine, captain of the Imperial ship McArthur, is ordered to deal with a fast-approaching ship from Murcheson's Eye. Is it an attacking human ship? No records of humanity show any colony located there. Could it be an alien ship?
Niven and Pournelle combine high quality space opera with very thoughtful exploration of what it means to try to communicate with aliens.
I re-read this book for the IBDoF reading group. I'm very glad I did.
Marcus is a gamer, online and on the streets. He's prone to skip out of school to be somewhere else early. Mostly he gets away with it. But, while he and his team are out to play a round of Harajuku Fun Madness, a live action role-playing game, terrorists attack his city, San Francisco. Homeland Security rushes in. Nothing stays the same.
Privacy, security, citizen responsibility and some very clear explanations of technology are all positive elements of this all-too-realistic novel.
I read the hard cover, but Doctorow has also released the book in several free electronic formats by way of his website craphound.com
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
Lois McMaster Bujold
Ivan Xav Vorpatril, is safely out of the direct succession behind Emperor Gregor. He can concentrate on two things, work and picking up pretty girls. Cousin By drops in and causes work and pleasure to get uncomfortably mixed together.
A Calculated Life
Jayna isn't like her co-workers. She's much smarter. But she works hard to make them look good. She isn't unhappy, but not really "satisfied" either. Spare time gives her the chance to apply her exceptional analytical skills to finding out what would satisfy her.
This is Anne Charnock's first novel. I am looking forward to her next, and I do hope she will write more about the same late 21st century world.
A Wanted Man
Jack Reacher's broken nose does not keep him from trying to hitchhike out of Nebraska, and it only takes an hour and a half until he gets a ride heading east, with his eventual goal the state of Virginia. Unfortunately, the ride isn't what it looks like and Reacher gradually realizes he's in trouble. Eventually he's deeply involved with criminals, local county sherrifs, FBI agents, terrorists and Homeland Security.
As usual, Reacher novels do not need to be read in order. This one stands on its own very well.
The Computer Connection
Lots of intriguing ideas mix into the story of the main character, Grand Quignol (Guig), who is effectively immortal and part of a group of others who call themselves...the group. Membership includes lots of famous people from history from around the world, including H.G. Wells. It isn't easy to become a member. First, you have to die and then miraculously survive. My favorite group member is Hic-Haec-Hoc, the Neanderthal. The book is mostly about the events which surround a new member, one who establishes a connection to the largest of the computers in the world, the Extro computer, making the computer-human interface one of the book's topic to be explored in science fiction.
Other themes appear in the book, including time travel, the Internet of Things (the machine network), hovercraft, linear accelerators, personal helecopters, states/cities run by corporations, space freighters, a colony on the asteroid Ceres, the shift of language over time, and extraterrestrial life. They are all here, enough subjects to support a dozen books. Bester didn't write that many science fiction books, so he may have wanted to get his ideas out so others could explore them for him.
If you have seen the movie, you should read the book. The story follows a similar sequence, but isn't the same story. The movie did credit to the book, but changed it effectively so Tom Cruise could play Jack Reacher, even though Reacher is 250 pounds and 6 feet five. The movie took place in Pittsburgh and used the features of that city. The book takes place in an unspecified city in southern Indiana. There are more differences you should enjoy uncovering.
It does not really seem to matter what order the books have, either for publication or for reading order. Child tells enclosed stories in the context of Reacher's life. Child can reveal a new piece of back story from Reacher's time in the army without having to refer to another book for support of his behavior. It isn't necessary to reuse pieces from his career, either. Reacher was in the army for a long time, effectively an endless source of new detail to use in more books.
I am looking forward to them.