Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review of The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan

I once taught a college course on Business Ethics (not exactly an oxymoron). Most of the course modules were rooted in basic philosophical principles, one of which being Bentham's utilitarianism. Inevitably I busted out the classic scenario: do you kill one little girl to save hundreds, or let the hundreds die. (Believe it or not, yes, this gets a few minds turning.) Rendered semi-relevant to contemporary concerns regarding immigration and reparations for government crimes commited centuries earlier, Greg Egan's The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred (2016, Subterranean) is a novella exploring a similar ethical/utilitarian quandary, but thankfully in a more interesting scenario.

Life and commerce are up and running in the solar system, and two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta, have agreements in place to supply each other needed amenities. On Vesta, the initial arrangement that got life and technology kickstarted is beginning to crumble, however. Rebelling against the intellectual property rights held by one of the aristocratic families, the group in power has begun pushing for elimination of said rights. Whether it wants to be or not, Ceres is impacted by the upheaval. Asylum seekers and immigrants have begun strapping themselves to pieces of ice and other objects to cross the dangeroius void of space to the neighboring asteroid. Politics coming to a head, the people on Ceres are eventually faced with a tough decision.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review of The Great Ordeal by R. Scott Bakker

When it was announced in late 2015 that the third and final book in R. Scott Bakker’s Aspect Emperor series was going to be published in 2016 but split in two pieces The Great Ordeal and The Unholy Consult, the latter of which would be released in 2017, I thought to myself: “At last, it’s finally going to be published.”, and then: “I’ve waited five years since TheWhite-Luck Warrior, what’s another year to have both novels at one time? After all, weren’t they conceived as one book…  But one gentle nudge later from the people at the Second Apocalypse forum, and I went scurrying to get a copy.  The temptation to know is just too much…

If you’re reading this review, there’s a 99% chance you’ve read all of Bakker’s Second Apocalypse books to date and are wondering if The Great Ordeal is worth it.  Short answer: definitive yes.  Long answer: the end of The White-Luck Warrior saw the death of Maithenet—lynch pin to Kellhus’ control back in Momemm.  It also saw the death of the non-men king Nilgiccas—after the appearance of a dragon (a dragon!).  The march long, but the Great Ordeal finally clashed with sranc hordes.  Sorweel exited the Ordeal with two of Kellhus’ children, only to witness an act of incest, the madness of the Anasurimbors becoming all the more apparent.  This is all an indirect way of saying The White-Luck Warrior took the overall Second Apocalypse storyline to unprecedented heights; The Great Ordeal takes it higher.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review of Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

As a grown man, I find myself occasionally dipping into the recent decade’s flood of YA genre fiction.  While I’m not always sure that the term ‘YA’ is being used along common lines (i.e. it seems a lot of books marketed for adults should be considered YA), the fact remains, as a youth I would have thoroughly enjoyed much of it.  Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker is classic juvenile adventure updated for the 21st century.  Though a bit jaded, Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle has the right pique of humor and teenage male worldview.  And still others—Pratchett, Pullman, Gaiman, among them—write with sentiment and appeal I can easily see my younger self delving into, not to mention recommending to my children when they are old enough.  My most recent dip into YA is Ian McDonald’s Planesrunner (2011).

Planesrunner the first in the Everness trilogy, we meet Everett Singh walking down a busy London street with his father Tejendra, who is one of the world’s top physicists.  In the flash of an eye Tejendra is kidnapped, and Everett is left alone, holding a mobile phone.  Smart enough to remember to take photos of the black Audi as it drives away with his father, he meets with the police before heading home to re-think the incident.  No time to adjust, however, a strange email arrives quickly therafter, containing an unheard of thing called an infundibulum.  Seemingly a map to parallel worlds, it isn’t long before Everett is drawn into realities he never knew existed—a group of shady characters that want him for reasons unknown chasing him every step of the way.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review of Bridging Infinity ed. by Jonathan Strahan

The series a success, the 2016 release of Bridging Infinity (Solaris) ups the count of editor Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity science fiction anthologies to five. Driving a strong, hard sf agenda for this volume, in the introduction Strahan drops big names in galactic scale imagination—Clarke, Asimov, Campbell—before moving on to the focus of the anthology: “Is solving problems still integral to science fiction? Do we still believe problems are solvable?”. Such an outlay would seem to make the reviewer’s job easy: does the author tackle a significant issue facing mankind with the tools of extrapolative science while using the techniques of fiction to best advantage? Let’s see…

Bridging Infinity features fifteen stories from a wide spectrum of science fiction authors, from well-known (Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Larry Niven, etc.) to lesser-known (An Owomoyela, Thoraiya Dyer, and Karin Lowachee), those who’ve been around a while (Pamela Sargent, Robert Reed, Gregory Benford, etc.) to those not (Charlie Jane Anders, Ken Liu,e tc.) male to female, British to American to beyond, and even a few collaborative efforts (Tobias Buckell & Karen Lord, Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty, etc.). If anything, the anthology is variegated from the authorial perspective. In terms of content, there is likewise a variety, from previously established story settings (Reed’s Great Ship, Allen Steele’s Coyote universe, and others) to new settings, far to near future, Earth-based to solar system scenarios, and real-world to purely fictional concerns.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review of Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

Quietly but noticeably to the so-inclined, elements of the visual arts have formed parts of China Mieville’s fiction.  Monsters and monster stories forming the lion’s share, hiding in the interstices are uncanny things like the flexible streets of “Reports of Certain Events in London” and the Borges’ influenced imagos of “The Tain”, the intangible crosshatching of The City & the City and the floating icebergs of “Polynia”.  Sometimes an accent and sometimes a set piece, surrealism has been a key artistic informer to Mieville’s fiction to date.  But nothing has to appeared yet like 2016’s The Last Days of New Paris.  Lion’s share and interstitial resident, Mieville fully immerses himself, and thus the reader, in the artistic form.

Outlay to 20 th century French surrealism in an alternate history WWII setting, The Last Days of New Paris portrays a 1950s scene wherein a group of bohemiam artists in Paris have accidentally set off an S-blast—a shockwave of surrealist force—that has brought to life imaginings hitherto limited to paint and canvas. Reactions to the explosion differing, some, like the character Thibault, try desperately to escape the queer, ethereal, and sometimes horrific manifestations now appearing on the streets.  The Nazis, who still occupy France, have walled off Paris in an attempt to contain the blast, all the while trying to harness the power of some of the more demon-like manifestations.  And still some people try to capture the chaos.  The American photographer Sam is as much fascinated by the manifestations themselves as she is in documenting them.  Coming into to contact with Thibault, the pair end up doing their best to spoil Hitler’s plans for S-blasted Paris.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

A lot of novels over the years have dealt with the subjectivity of existence.  Franz Kafka’s The Castle, and its perpetual lack of resolution. Christopher Priest’s The Affirmation, and its exploration of the tricks memory and thought play on self-perception.  Camus' The Stranger and its expression of absurdity in realist form.  Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris and its portrayal of the disillusion of the illusion of teleological certainty.  Adding his name to this who’s who list of superb talent is Jeff VanderMeer and his Area X: The Southern Reach trilogy, of which Annihilation (2014), is the first volume.  Fitting snugly into the tiny niche between comprehensible and incomprehensible reality, and thus making for an uncomfortably pleasurable reading experience, Annihilation presents an extremely human story ripe for the more disparate, 21st century possibility for differing perspectives.

A nameless biologist, along with an anthropologist, surveyor, and psychologist—all women—have signed up to explore the mysterious Area X along the north Florida coast.  The twelfth such expedition, the group at least feels secure at the outset knowing the atrocities of the early expeditions are a thing of the past.  Well prepared, they come with training, consumables, and a mandate: to pick up where previous expeditions have left off exploring, documenting and studying Area X.  Coming across what the others perceive as a tower but the biologist a tunnel, the group set up camp and begin their work.  Strange things happening in evening sessions with the psychologist, the group quickly fragments, however.  Exacerbating matters is the discovery of bizarre wall writing and even more bizarre iridescent spores.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review of Realware by Rudy Rucker

They thought it was over at two books and released the omnibus Live Robots. They thought it was over at three books, and released the omnibus Moldies & Meatbops. But they were still wrong: there was yet a fourth book to come in Rudy Rucker’s Ware series: following upon Software, Wetware, and Freeware is Realware (2000).

Three years since the publishing of Freeware, and a total of eighteen years since the publishing of Software, Rucker once again took his time, thinking of original material and interesting directions to take his robot-human-moldie scenario. Thus, point blank, if you’ve read the three books to this point (or the omnibus containing said three books, natch), then Realware is more of the same stuzzidelic, Rucker-licious stuff. Not a droning on or a plateau of conception, Rucker continues to push the limits and break fresh ground in clever fashion in his wacky wacky world. Reality, and the possibilities for reality that the aliens at the completion of Freeware brought, completely change things. Caught up and pulled in their own direction by it, the group of characters that has amassed in the series to date, return. Yes, the king of the cheeseballs, Randy Karl Tucker, is back to set the reader rolling in the aisles…