Recent Reading - 2015
Gibson, WilliamWilliam Gibson
The telephone gave us voice across long distances. Video phones are currently implemented with browsers with Google Hangouts and Firefox "Hello" or software like Skype on our tablets and computers, letting us see as well as hear the others in our conversation. Imagine you could embed yourself in a mobile robot or, even better, an android body and that you could do it between the near future and a more distant future. That's Gibson's big idea in this well written novel. It did take me a while to acclimate to the slang of the characters. Gibson works hard to make the future seem different from today, but normal enough that we don't get completely lost.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
312 pages - not counting the next novel's teaser
Jemisin, N. K.N. K. Jemisin
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms begins with the use of some unusual names, often a pretty clear indicator of a fantasy and with the quick introduction of gods and goddesses, it looked even more like fantasy, and I suppose one could read the novel mostly as fantasy, but, for me, it began to take on a different aspect as I read further. These gods are originators of the universe, three in particular whose combined effort created stars, planets, worlds with life. So I got the feeling that the author, N.K. Jemisin, has planted the novel somewhere that is between the genres of fantasy and science fiction. By creating an alternate universe, Jemisin took me beyond my expectations.
Bad Luck and Trouble
Child, LeeLee Child
Bad Luck and Trouble brings Jack Reacher into contact with former members of a special unit in the Military Police, his own hand-picked and very close-knit squad. Some of them are missing, at least one is dead. Lee Child continues to write thrilling fiction, maintaining the essential character of Jack Reacher while, once again expanding our view and understanding of him.
The Boys in the Boat
425 pages (not counting the endnotes)
Brown, Daniel JamesDaniel James Brown
Brown follows the life of Joe Rantz, one of the nine members of the University of Washington crew team which won the 1936 Berlin Olympics 8-man race (with cox). He tells the story well, using the hard life of Joe Rantz as a focus, but giving us the scope of America during the Depression and the world in the lead-up to World War II. It is a rich story, full of thoughtful observations made by the actual boys/men in the crew and their coaches, mentors and fans.
Robinson, Kim StanleyKim Stanley Robinson
Freya and her parents are the main actors of this interstellar story. However, the story itself is written as if by the AI of the starship carrying Freya and the other 2000 or so who have been travelling for 200 years and several generations toward a new Earthlike home planet, one they have called Aurora in the system of Tau Ceti. Catastrophe strikes in the form of a lethal pathogen life form. What do the ship's company do next?
The book explores the limits of life support, humans' ability to tolerate failure, and an AI's emerging sense of self as it struggles to support the needs of humans and their canned environment, all the while trying to construct a focused narrative of the journey.
Nagata, LindaLinda Nagata
James Sculley and his squad face court marshall for kidnapping an American citizen and delivering her for trial to an international court. Sculley and his fellow soldiers all agree that the court marshall is the only way to expose corruption in the US government in the wake of Coma Day, the nuclear event that killed hundreds of thousands.
This second book of the trilogy only begins with the court marshall. The Red, and his country have more for him to accommplish.
Anna Karenina (Анна Каренина)
Leo Tolstoy (translated by Constance Garnett)
I didn't think Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, herself, was the main character. Konstantin "Kostya" Dmitrievich Lëvin was more central to the story along with Princess Ekaterina "Kitty" Alexandrovna Shtcherbatskaya who eventually becomes his wife. Whooee, did I struggle with the names. For most of the book, Levin is just Levin and Kitty is just Kitty, though both become Kostya and Katya later. When Anna becomes besotted by Vronsky, that's what he's called. Sometimes later he's just "the count." Prince Stepan "Stiva" Arkadyevich Oblonsky is Anna's brother and is also married to Kitty's sister, Princess Darya "Dolly" Alexandrovna Oblonskaya who goes back and forth between Dolly and Darya Alexandrovna .
The characters of focus are all Russian nobility and the role of "society" is significant. People say one thing while thinking something else, frequently second guessing if their remarks have been properly understood. Sometims a certain sort of glance completely changes the meaning of their spoken words. The glance-modified words also do not necessarily match the conflict of thoughts.
There is also a lot of "offscreen" stuff to which characters allude. Much of it is the politics of Russia vs. the European countries that society often emulates. Characters often spoke French, with occasional English or German along with the native language. I had the sense that the characters, and maybe Tolstoy too, felt some ideas were difficult to express in Russian.
It took me much longer to read this book than it should. Yes, the Project Gutenberg ebook version was listed as 1205 pages. That should take a while, but I didn't read as much at a time as I usually do. It was not that I was bored. It felt like hard work. The only happy people seemed to be peripheral characters. The central characters ALL had crushing self doubt. That bled over into me as doubt whether I should keep on reading.
This was a choice from a list of the best 100 books of all time which my reading group agreed to read. I think I might have stopped before finishing if it had not been an "assignment" of the group, one I promoted because I had read only one other translated Russian novel and because it was at the top of the 100-book list.
I am reluctant to give a recommendation, good or bad.
In the first quarter of the 20th century, the mechanical man Jax serves a banker's family and wonders what it would be like to have free will. When he finds out, the story clatters forward at a rapid pace. The Dutch queen rules most of the globe and has just fought the French exiled king to a standstill in the new world where the French government is trying to hold any territory at all.
Alchemy "science/magic" and clockwork/engineering of Horology have made mechanical servants and soldiers who do the bidding of their masters and the crown through a series of geas commands. Good quality "steampunk" fantasy, though I'm trying to decide if I'm looking forward to the next in the series. This style of story is right on the edge of my fantasy interest.
Sheri S. Tepper
Details and interesting characters fill this inundating story. Abasio and Xulai are crossing eastward over the Stonies in a time long after the "Big Kill." They have volunteered or been delegated the task of getting people they encounter to visit a changing station where individuals will have the chance to adapt to a world covered with water. Earth's entire land surface is destined to be inundated.
As a fantasy, this book challenges us to see ourselves as a part of a universe not created for us, a universe where mankind is not the "owner" of Earth, but just a creature of Creation like any other species. I plan to fantasize we will come to realize just that.
The Hard Way
New York is the home base of a mercenary force. The wife and child of the group's leader are kidnapped and Reacher happens to witnesses a ransom exchange. He gets drawn into the effort to find them.
This book, once again demonstrates the ability of Lee Child to write a series of independent novels, each with a distinct structure, while developing the sory of a single main character. It is an impressive skill.
Elevated to the status of Fleet Captain, Breq (once just an integrated segment of the ship Justice of Thoren) now acts autonomously, all other segments and the ship have been destroyed. In fact Breq is attempting to stand independent of the control of any faction of Anaander Mianaai, the widely spread "individual" in charge of Radch humanity. Breq is faced with safeguarding a star system and keeping the peace in the face of possible alien invasion.
I'm hooked. This is the second "Ancillary" book. I see there is a third book, Ancillary Mercy due out in October of 2015. I hope there will be many more.
The Last Kind Words Saloon
Things don't seem to happen for any particular reason. Trains come and go, sometimes people get on or off. An English lord rides into a crevasse and falls to his death. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday wind up in Tombstone, Arizona where some Clantons get killed and two of Wyatt's brothers get shot along with Doc.
Lois becomes the hub of the Co-Mind through the capabilities of a machine created by a genius who grew up autistic. A benevolent world domination is the goal. A short novel.
Working in a mail room for twenty years and visiting his aunt three times a week is the life of Truman Pope. In this short fantasy novel, we find out True is much more than a black man who everyone thought was retarded when he was in school.
Letty meets a "traveler" (something like a modern hobo) named Skye in San Francisco. Skye and her traveling friend Henry cross paths with "The Pilot" and his cohort of crazies. Henry disappears in the Dakotas, Skye disappears in Minnesota. Letty asks Lucas, her dad, to try to figure out what's going on. The crazies move across from Minnesota to Wisconsin and then the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with murders and beatings in their wake.
Limit of Vision
Non-human intelligence, what if it got loose from the lab? Nagata does a fantastic job of exploring the problem.
How does a ship's mind control its free-roaming elements/segments? How does an author deal with the perceptions of all the ancillary elements happening simultaneously on and off the ship? Leckie deals with this issue and writes a very compelling story about a millenia-old human civilization.
Harry Bosche agrees to look into the death of a friend, Terry McCaleb. Terry died on his fishing boat of a heart attack, but McCaleb's former wife thinks it wasn't that simple. She turns out to be right. Harry gets involved with an FBI case in Las Vegas while pursuing his investigation. In the book, there is mention of a movie made about one of the characters, McCaleb. The movie starred Clint Eastwood and is based on another Connelly book, *Blood Work*. The movie is a real movie. It is twisty how Connelly works a real movie into his book.
Jack Strong is a patchwork man, apparently built of parts from different people along with memories and personalities of many, all dead people.
This novella is too short! I want more, much more.
The Last Policeman
Ben H. Winters
Recently promoted from beat officer to detective, Henry wants to do a good job. He does his best in spite of the asteroid, the big one predicted to smash into the Earth in six months. Everybody else, including other police officers and detectives in Concord, New Hampshire are going through the motions or leaving to do their "bucket lists." There's almost no gasoline left. Services like phones are becoming intermittent and scores of people in the Concord area are committing suicide. Concord's being called "Hanger Town" but Henry thinks he's run into one that is actually a murder.
The Girl in the Road
India, Africa, women on the run toward or away from something. I'm sorry to say I missed the fundamental point. I'm not sure if Maryama is related to Meena or not. Did they meet on the road or was the whole book the fevered imaginations of one or the other main characters?
I'm not sure about anything. I never felt a resolution. In spite of that I did enjoy reading about these women and the technology surrounding them and about parts of the world I'd not encountered before along with their foods which now intrigue me. Uncertain Recommendation
The Three Body Problem
Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)
Beginning during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, this engrossing story is about science and our tendency to think of "humanity" as a single thing, especially as we think of alien encounters.
I look forward to reading more from this author
Station Eleven 336 pages
Emily St. John Mandel
I selected this book because it was a finalist for the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. While I was reading it, the book was chosen as the award's winner. Extra cool. This book is deserving of the award, though I have not read all the finalists. The story is full of great overlays with characters who are striving to maintain a sense of culture in a survivalist society after a devastating plague kills 99.9 percent of humanity.
Joe, Reacher's brother, has been dead for seven years. The Secret Service, for whom Joe worked, needs some help. Reacher agrees. He works to protect the Vice-President Elect. This book is not like any other Reacher story, but that's the thing. Reacher stories all are connected, but have entirely different setups. It makes reading them fun. Not knowing what's next is part of the fun.
Marianne de Pierres
Australia is mostly city, but there's a desert park where Virgin (not Virginia or Ginny) is a ranger. She loves the place beyond the requirements of her job. Finding a dead body after the park closes and then another one in her apartment gets her under suspicion for murder. In the meantime, she's serving as a guide for a US Marshall her boss has brought in.
This book, the 2014 winner of the Auréalis award, seems to set the stage for a series because of all the angles and turns that the story takes.
The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man takes his skiff into the Gulf Stream every day, trying to catch large fish to sell. He has not been lucky for the last 84 days. Maybe today will be different. Though the boy is now working for another, luckier fisherman, the boy stops by to give the old man some coffee before they both start off for the day.
There is a lot to think about while reading this short book. Hemingway kept me hooked just as the old man fights to keep a giant marlin from getting away.
Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
Sequel to Bowl of Heaven.
With part of the crew still trapped on the bowl running from the Folk, Captain Redwing must awaken from cryosleep more of the backup crew members. Sunseeker needs more supplies and its crew in order to push on to Glory and complete the colonization mission. Sunseeker's crew begin to learn more about the background of the bowl and a message comes in, one originating from Glory. Complex overlays of science, alien interaction and the "Big Thing."
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.