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Laura Allen

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The Dark Forest
Joel Martinsen, Cixin Liu

The Years of Rice and Salt

The Years of Rice and Salt - Kim Stanley Robinson Excellent, ambitious, expansive book...I believe it's one that will continue to reward multiple rereadings.

(Sorry for the brief review...I'll return for a proper one soon. It deserves it.)

Three Days to Never

Three Days to Never - Tim Powers I'm a big fan of Powers, for the most part; the Fault Lines books are on my "Favorites" shelf for a reason. I missed this one when it was first published and thought I might enjoy a second spin with an old favorite author, but I was a little disappointed. The first hundred pages were a bit more disjointed than I'd like, and some of the characters seemed a bit stiff and overused (the chain-smoking Shakespeare-quoting English professor, to wit.) The pace was good, though, and the word "thriller" definitely fits. It has real grit in places that some more contemporary supernatural thrillers don't.

I enjoyed the book, and it was a page-turner for sure, but it doesn't have quite the depth and surprise of Earthquake Weather or Last Call. I'd recommend it, but only with a few reservations.

Mists of Everness

Mists of Everness - John C. Wright Hmmm. Four stars? This is a tough one.

On one hand, this two-part series is typical John Wright at his best. It reads like a rich, literate collage of myth and symbol; it has great pacing and interesting characters, as well as astonishingly complex and viable world-building. It opens well, moves along nicely, and wraps up convincingly. All in all, what's not to like?

On the other hand, this two-part series is also John Wright at his worst. In the second book in particular, he devolves at crucial moments into simplistic political commentary mode; it seems as if he intermittently tries to shove a beautiful, satisfyingly Size Ten story into a naive, poorly conceived Size Four moralistic allegory. It's too bad. The story has its own universal thrust and motive, and it clashes hard with these particular, temporal, and petty constraints.

But, on my scorecard, the story wins anyway. After the first couple of these episodes-- he's particularly prone to having his heroes make long moralizing rants, for instance-- I just started ignoring them. Without them, the story was once again free to act on me as it should. I loved it for all its scope and uniqueness, and for its indescribably rich depiction of an epic struggle between good and evil.

Four stars, yes. But you may have to skim.

The Last Guardian of Everness (War of the Dreaming 1)

The Last Guardian of Everness (War of the Dreaming 1) - John C. Wright ....finished with this first volume, starting on the second volume now. These are definitely not stand-alones! So far, though? Wonderful, in several senses of the word....

The Dwarves: Book 1

The Dwarves: Book 1 - Markus Heitz It's been quite some time since I've read any pure high fantasy. Truth be told, a lot of it seems formulaic, repetitive, and predictable-- Michael Moorcock would be one notable exception, and of course Gene Wolfe, if you can categorize Wolfe at all-- and I'd stuck with magical/ mythical realism such as Tim Powers or John Wright, or satirists such as Terry Pratchett, for almost a decade.

But I confess: I love dwarves. I'm completely infatuated with all things dwarven-- the beards and axes, the grumbling and quaffing, the mountains and giant piles of loot-- and when I ran across this book, I decided to give it another go.

Unfortunately, my original opinions were confirmed, more or less. "The Dwarves" is an entertaining book, no doubt, and I can't say I didn't enjoy reading it; hardcore fantasy fans should find it very appealing. It has all the usual elements of a fantasy book-- quests and monsters, sorcerers both good and evil, contested thrones and love triangles, treachery and comeuppance, etc.-- and the pacing is quick, eventful. And of course there are dwarves, lots and lots of dwarves.

But there are also lots and lots of stock phrases, characters, situations, and resolutions. It's predictable pretty much everywhere, and readers who are the least bit tired of the usual fantasy setups will probably find themselves at least a little annoyed with this book.

That said, it's still an entertaining read. I may read another or two in the series eventually, if I'm bored or in need of a dwarf fix. It's no "Wizard Knight," but there is plenty of quaffing. That counts for something, right?

Blueprints of the Afterlife

Blueprints of the Afterlife - Ryan Boudinot What a pleasant surprise....

I stumbled across this book in a completely random way; after three big reading-material disappointments in one night (for instance, did you know the new William Gibson is not a book at all, but a collection of letters? and so on) and I hit whatever is the equivalent of the "Oh, Just Suggest Something" button on Amazon. This book popped up. Something about post-apocalyptic sentient glaciers? Must have, for sheer curiosity's sake.

Blueprints of the Afterlife is a surprising book. It's surprising in its format, surprising in its treatment of certain posthuman and exponential-tech themes, surprising in its empathy and depth. Its treatment of issues of self, identity and free will rival that of the best, aka Philip Dick and maybe even Gene Wolfe, and even though it's rooted firmly in speculative fiction (robots and cyborgs and clones, oh my!) it's one of the most human novels I've read lately.

It won't be for everybody. Without fully spoilering, I'll say that it's not a linear novel; the timeline and narrative is challenging, tricksy, even. It's meta, yes, and meta often equals pretentious and annoying, but this one's meta unselfconsciously, successfully, rightly. The book fits itself well, tricksy and all; I'm convinced that Boudinot couldn't have told this story any other way.

I'd never even heard of Ryan Boudinot before downloading this book three days ago, but I'm already bordering on real fandom. This is his second novel; his debut novel Misconception was also highly acclaimed. It's going on my list right now.


Reamde - Neal Stephenson I feel awful.

I've given three stars to something written by Neal Stephenson.

I may not be the biggest Stephenson fan out there, but I can guarantee that I'm close-- I've read Anathem three times, and I have pets-- well, fish-- named after all the main characters from The Baroque Cycle. It almost hurts to give him less than five stars on anything, and to give his latest novel only three? Ouch.

But honestly, it's just not that memorable. It's not awful, by any means; if this were written by anyone other than Stephenson, it would be considered a decent bestselling thriller. But that's really all it is, a thriller; the characters are largely stock and the plot largely Hollywood, and for Stephenson fans, that's a real letdown. It has no trace of speculation, scifi, or magical realism at all; it's just a spy novel. I suppose the fact that the story revolves around an MMORPG-- the plot and characters are deeply embedded in the world of online gaming-- could give it a loose connection to the cyberpunk genre, but even that's a bit of a stretch, especially if you hold this one next to Snow Crash.

Having said all that, I'd like to say too that it is, on the whole, an enjoyable read. A couple of the characters are worth getting to know, and the pacing is excellent; it's hard to put it down. We tend to expect so much from an author like Stephenson that it's only natural to feel a bit let down by a release that's just okay; but they can't all be the perfect novel, can they? Since he's already written two, maybe three, of those, he can easily be forgiven one or two just plain bestsellers.


CryoBurn - Lois McMaster Bujold I stumbled across Cryoburn as one of this year's Hugo nominees; it's the first book in Bujold's Vorkosigan saga that I've read. I wasn't particularly bothered by reading it alone and out of order; it fared moderately well as a stand-alone despite numerous references to the past storyline.

While it may not have been a spectacular read, it was an enjoyable one. Bujold's writing style is witty and she maintains a good pace; her characters are memorable and interesting. The plot itself was a bit on the formulaic side but still contained enough verve to hold my interest.

This is certainly not hard scifi, though. Cryoburn falls firmly in the category of "human drama set in lightly sketched future landscape"; while quite successful on these terms, it won't satisfy hard-core speculative science junkies.

Will I seek out further novels in this series? The answer is a positive-leaning maybe. Bujold won't take McDevitt's place in my reading life, but it was definitely entertaining and well-crafted.


Hegira - Greg Bear While mystery can be a good thing in science fiction, I feel like Greg Bear withheld a bit too much in this one. Too much is revealed too late, and the particulars of an otherwise intriguing futurescape feel rushed-- I didn't have time to really enjoy absorbing them, coming as late in the book as they did. I liked the characters enough to stick with it, though. All in all, it's an enjoyable read, even if it isn't one of Bear's best.