January 9 2013

A Read of Ice and Fire — “A Clash of Kings” Gathered Hence

Over at Tor.com, I have been participating in The Read of Ice and Fire. For various reasons, I hadn’t started the Song of Ice and Fire series until fairly recently and so, by “A Clash of Kings” I was synched up as a first time reader. I’ve been reading along at the same rate as the read through (1 or 2 chapters a week). For “A Clash of Kings”, I didn’t comment on every post, while on “A Storm of Swords” I am trying to post every time with my first time thoughts. A reader asked me to gather together my posts as it is somewhat time consuming to look through all of the many posts at tor.
So, after the “more” are my gathered comments for “A Clash of Kings”. I’ll be gathering up the comments for “A Storm of Swords” in a bit in another post.
The format is a link to the particular full article on tor followed by my comments.

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January 7 2013

Midnight Riot

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch was recommended to me by my friend Gary and has proven to be a delightful way to start the new year. In other words, I enjoyed it very much.
Peter Grant is a rookie constable in London who is just about to be assigned to sorting red tape when he happens to talk to a ghost who claims to have been a witness to a murder. This brings him to the attention of one Inspector Nightingale–the last wizard in the employ of the London Metropolitan Police. The course of Peter’s career and his life undergo rapid change as he becomes Nightingale’s apprentice and begins to explore the world of Magical London.
This book was very well written. At times funny and at times suspenseful. Confident in tone, I found it to be a very good read.

November 30 2012

Cold Days

Cold Days by Jim Butcher is the latest and excellent addition to the Harry Dresden series. The storyline itself was excellent–good uses of tension, humor and character building. Harry has to learn to adapt to his new situation as the Winter Knight and that is a big part of the journey, but the book also brings some very interesting new information and changes for others as well as Harry. I’ll admit that the final twist in the end was one I didn’t see coming at all.
I’ve been refreshing myself on these through the reread series on Tor.com and it is really very interesting to see just how much Harry has grown character-wise from the start of the series to this volume. Butcher himself has obviously grown as a writer. He deftly handles multiple plot-lines here and ramps up his already very good control of pacing.
The only character missing was Mister (as far as I know, he is safely at Murphy’s house).

November 15 2012

The Fractal Prince

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi is a wonderful sequel to The Quantum Thief. If anything, I enjoyed this book more than the first volume.
In this volume, Rajaniemi plays a complex game of storytelling. On one level, there are only a few characters but as you progress and loop deeper into the book the story branches and twines back and forth. Fractal is not in the title by accident.
We find Jean le Flambeur, Mieli from the Oort cloud and after they have left Mars in the previous volume. Jean is trying to open the quantum box of memory he obtained. In order to open the box, they will need to make a stop at a quantum state router (from the Zoku side of things) and in order to make use of what they find they will need to go on to Earth. Jean’s tale here and tales from his past (or at least the past of other versions of himself) and their relationship to the factions at dangerous war within the solar system compose one set of threadscapes.
Interspersed is the tale of Tawaddud Gomelez, a native of Sirr–the last human city on Earth. Earth has become a strange and dangerous place and Tawaddud will eventually need the help of a downloaded instance from the cloud–from the Sobornost side of things. The Zoku are essentially those who embrace quantum reality while the Sobornost are trying to impose a classical, no playing of dice view. A very interesting power struggle.
This is a complex book. I found it very satisfying. It is a book in which the line:

ā€œIā€™m going to find a job that does not involve breaking into giant machines full of lesbian dragon sex.ā€

is not at all out of place.

October 5 2012

Existence

Existence by David Brin is a beautiful explosion of ideas. I enjoyed it very much. The style most reminds me of Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner but completely different in plot, of course.
The story begins with Gerald Livingston. Gerald is an astronaut who has been essentially relegated to space debris pick up duty. This is fairly mechanical work, but this time he snags something different–it seems to be of alien origin. We then switch focus between an online (this is a bit in the future, so online with a vengeance) reporter, a rich kid in an orbital race, a pot boiler writer in the employ of an anti-technology sect and an oligarchic cabal. Interspersed between these scenes are definitions of potential species ending problems, possible answers to the Fermi problem and scenes of the day.
As we travel through this journey of a novel, Brin shows us a future that seems quite a possible one into which we might stumble. The future is unevenly distributed. There are poverty striken lows and technological highs, there are plotters and paupers and it felt fairly plausible. As the book progresses, it skips forward in time a couple of times and so we get a view of some of the possible outcomes. A fast paced overview of potential futures. Cool.

August 21 2012

The Coldest War

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis is the sequel to Bitter Seeds. I previously posted a review of the audiobook version as that was released earlier than the print version. Now, I find that I have the audiobook, The hardcover, a digital copy on my Nook and an ARC that I won from Tor.com. I am not at all sorry to own multiple versions of this as I find the book to be fabulous.
This is the first line of the book:

Warlocks do not age gracefully.

It compactly points out a couple of truths. First, that being a warlock takes a toll on a person. Second, some time has passed since the end of Bitter Seeds. In fact, about twenty years have passed and we now find ourselves deep into what would have been the depths of the Cold War in our own timeline, but of course our world is not the one we are dealing with. History has been changed by the events in Bitter Seeds and Tregillis does a masterful job of following through with the ramifications of those events. I’m not going to mention what all those ramifications are as that would be spoiling but suffice it to say that there are many such.
In addition to dealing with the effects of past differences upon future events, Tregillis explains and furthers one of the movers of those past events–Gretel. Gretel’s power is to see into the future. In Bitter Seeds, we see her doing this and some of the results of her actions. During Bitter Seeds, some of her actions seem to be just plain psychotic. In The Coldest War, we see some of the reasons Gretel has behind some of her actions. The actions are themselves not necessarily less those of a sociopath, but there are reasons–causes and effects behind what seem to be madness. Is it possible to see the future and remain sane? I don’t know, but this is the second area in which Tregillis shows a masterful touch. Oracles and various beings that can see into the future are a very tricky area to get right. These books get Gretel exactly right. Beautiful work on that front of which I won’t say any spoilers as they are integral to the story.
The books are populated with wonderful characterizations as well as wonderful plot points. We join the tale of Reinhardt, a secondary Gotterelektron soldier with the following:

Children called him Junkman. But he had been a god once.

Very nice. He has fallen from where he once was but the hunger remains. The story is very much one of what happens when the extraordinary is inserted into the world. We see the grinding consequences this has had for Raybould Marsh the British spy, for William Beauclerk the warlock and for Klaus, Gretel’s brother. These three are the main point of view characters. In a scene early on, we are introduced into some of the misfortune of Marsh. We get:

…as it cut him with slivers of irrational hope.

The prose is lovely and redolent with gems like this. In The Coldest War, Ian Tregillis has given us a sequel that exceeds the first book. A rare combination of razor sharp prose, superb characterization and technical plotting that really is a feast. That is to say, I really liked this book.

August 20 2012

Blackout

Blackout is the concluding book of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. I really enjoyed this trilogy. A lot. The previous volumes, Feed and Deadline set the events up and this volume concludes the series in a very satisfying manner.
Shaun and the crew face the roots of the conspiracy that has embedded itself in the nation. Along the way, they also face a zombie grizzly and a group somewhat more insane than themselves. Insanity, both personal and at a societal level is really one of the themes here. When all else fails and your own sanity is stretched to the limit, who can you depend on? If you can’t depend on yourself, what is left? What should be the relationship between a government, the governed and the agencies comprising that government?
Good questions and Grant doesn’t flinch from looking for answers within the journey that is this final volume.
If you liked the first two volumes, I think you will enjoy this one as well.

August 16 2012

Saturn’s Children

Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross is a very interesting take on what happens in the solar system after all the humans are dead. We follow Freya, a femmebot sometime around the 24th century. She was created to well, serve humans and the humans all died off around a hundred years before the story starts. Before they died, the humans managed to create a form of AI by basically duplicating brains in a non-biological fashion. The humans then placed various compulsions into the created robots and set them to performing tasks ranging from space travel to terraforming to, well escort services.
Freya finds herself surviving on the fringes of society. Her model shape is out of vogue and her original purpose is no longer needed. She is pulled into a world of plot and counter-plot as various groups try to make use of her for their own goals. Some groups want to recreate humanity and others are quite opposed to this. The opposition seems to have a good point–why recreate the slave masters?
This brings us to one of the themes of the book. If AI’s are able to be created, how should we treat them. The humans in the story sadly use them as slaves. Unfortunately, this seems like all too possible a result. It is often difficult to get people to treat other humans as real, thinking entities, let alone convince them that non-biologically created beings could be at least as equal as they are. I come firmly down on the side of if something acts with sentience, then you should treat it with as much respect as you would treat any other person.
In Saturn’s Children, Stross is paying some homage to Heinlein’s Friday where Heinlein explores some of the same ideas. Stross lets loose on a much larger canvas than Heinlein’s in this case and the interesting difference of all of the humans being dead makes for a very different perspective.
So far, I’ve enjoyed all of Stross’ books and I recommend this one as well.

August 6 2012

The Apocalypse Codex

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross is the fourth book in the Laundry Files series. I just noticed that the last book, The Fuller Memorandum came out prior to my resurrecting this blog, so I haven’t actually written about these books here yet.
The Laundry Archives take place in a world pretty much like this one except that magic works. The magic being in particular, essentially access to other realms/dimensions via applied mathematics–Computational Demonology as it were. You don’t necessarily need to sacrifice a goat, you just need to do the right math (computer program). The places that are accessible via this practice are largely populated by beings that are essentially Lovecraftian horrors that would be quite pleased to munch upon your brain (and then the rest of the brains of humanity) should you make a mistake in contacting them. (So, I guess it is just like here.)
Bob Howard (the main character) stumbles upon this truth as he is performing a bit of hacking. Bob is then forcibly drafted into The Laundry, the code name for what is the secret intelligence agency for the UK that deals with this side of things. Once you find out about this part of the world you either join them or else … In the Laundry, Bob has to deal with civil service bureaucrats (almost as frightening as the Lovecraftian horrors), as he is employed performing occult tasks and UNIX system administrator sorts of things–and paperwork. Bob’s responsibilities and knowledge gradually progress through the volumes. He also goes from sharing a flat with a couple of other Laundry recruits to being married. It’s all quite a marvelous mixture of dark humor and high-tech/high magic fun. As I’ve said about other series, if you haven’t read the previous three books in this series, you really should–go and do that now.
OK, great, now that you are caught up with me, on to the The Apocalypse Codex proper. In this volume, we start with a bit of warning from Bob that things are going to be a bit different. Bob explains that as he didn’t witness everything directly that was important, he is filling us in with some third person versions (usually the tale is in first person from Bob’s point of view) created from post case reports. Everything that Bob did witness will be in his usual first person account.
The set up occurs in this case when it comes to the attention of the Laundry that a questionable American evangelist is having a meeting with the Prime Minister. It doesn’t do to directly investigate the PM, so Bob is sent to the US as a handler of a couple of outside consultants (the Duchess (a sorceress and Johnny her assistant). It soon turns out that the particular brand of fundamentalism being practiced is trying to awaken things that it really shouldn’t. In addition to a bit of skewering of American fundamentalists, Stross tweaks some American attitudes to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence gathering. I’m not going to say anything much more specific than that about what happens as that would disclose some interesting plot points.
I liked this volume quite a lot and found the ending intriguing. The next volume should be very interesting indeed as Bob takes on a new role. Highly recommended.

August 2 2012

Tome of the Undergates

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes is his debut novel and the first book in the Aeons’ Gate series.
I won the sequel to this book (Black Halo) from a drawing on Floor to Ceiling Books a while back, and then ordered this one but saved it for the summer. This proved to be a good choice as it was an excellent choice for reading in the pool as the first 150 pages or so involve a running series of sea based fights. As an aside, e-books have a definite downside for pool reading–getting the readers wet is generally a bad idea.
There are a couple of levels to this book. On one level, it’s a roaring good adventure yarn with lots of fine hacking and slashing. Adventure! Creatures! On this level, we follow Lenk and his five companions (Kataria the Shict who hates most humans, Gariath the dragonman who yearns to perish in battle, Denaos the rogue, Asper the cleric and Dreadaeleon the mage) as they fight and quest.
On another level, it is a commentary upon adventure tales. Adventurer’s are, as the text says:

To consider the term “adventure” one must consider it from the adventurer’s point of view. For a boy on his father’s knee, or a youth listening to an elder or a rapt crowd hearing the songs of poets, adventure is something to lust after, filled with riches, women, heroism and glory. For an adventurer, it’s work; dirty dusty, bloody, spittle-filled, lethal and cheap work.

On yet another level, there is clearly something going on in the tale beyond the chase and the battle. There are secrets and voices whispering and muttering in the hearts of the characters.
So, in other words, there is a bit of everything to go around for all sorts of likes. Fun, and I liked it.