Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Archive for the 'Book Rave' Category

Book Rave: The Flicker Men

Monday, October 12th, 2015

“All realities are constructed in one way or the other, are they not? Either through the work of some will, or arising as an emergent property from a system’s own underlying laws.”

flickermen-KosmatkaTed Kosmatka’s The Flicker Men first came to my attention last summer when the publisher offered to send me a complimentary copy. I failed to follow up on that, but I kept hearing good things about the book, so last week when I was looking for a new audio book, I decided to give it a try.

It took me a little while to get hooked. The opening chapters introduce us to the first-person protagonist, Eric Argus, a young and brilliant quantum physicist struggling with alcoholism and depression, along with a past that’s only gradually revealed. But once Eric latches onto a new project, the book takes off.

The Flicker Men is a philosophical thriller. There is a lot of discussion of quantum theory and its implications, and especially the double-slit experiment. That may sound dry, but in the book, it’s utterly fascinating. It turns out that a lot of readers, myself included, are inspired to do a little outside research on some of these subjects.

Ted is a terrific writer. The story moves at a good pace, and by the standards of modern novels it’s relatively short — a big plus for me as I’ve reached a point where I greatly prefer shorter, more tightly focused books.

The audio book was very well done, but I’m sure The Flicker Men would be just as compelling if I’d been reading instead of listening.

Book Rave: War Dogs by Greg Bear

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

I picked up this book when it came out last fall, but didn’t read it until a few days ago. During the interim, I didn’t hear a lot about it, and what I did hear wasn’t all that enthusiastic, so I was a little ambivalent at the start — but that ambivalence quickly vanished.

War Dogs is told in first person, in the voice of Master Sergeant Venn, a “skyrine” — a marine delivered by orbital drop to the Martian battlefield. So why are humans fighting a war on Mars? Because an enigmatic alien race known as the Gurus insinuated themselves on Earth, got the planet addicted to their highly advanced technology, and then asked us to fight a war for them against another alien race engaged in setting up a beachhead on Mars.

Book Rave: The Black Company

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

There are times when I begin to think I’m jaded with fiction, that there isn’t much that can really seize my interest and draw me into a story anymore — but then I’ll find a book to change my mind. Those are the books I write about here. I just finished reading Glen Cook’s The Black Company — and I loved it. I was honestly amazed how much I enjoyed it, and how compelling it was.

I’m going to guess that most of you who are into epic fantasy first read The Black Company long ago. It was published in 1984. That was three years before my own first publication – a little short story in the magazine Analog Science Fiction & Fact — and at the time I wasn’t reading epic fantasy at all.

The reason I picked up The Black Company now was because of a post at Message Fiction: Politics in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Literature in which “The G” (@nerds_feather on Twitter) describes it as “a forebear of the gritty turn in epic fantasy and sword & sorcery”:

The Black Company explicitly and directly rejects the simple good vs. evil dynamic that has traditionally defined heroic fiction, whether fantasy or not. The Company’s war is not one of righteous truth or glorious conquest, but a war of survival and a war of profit. It is a civil war, and one whose primary victims are unarmed civilians—the exact kind of war, one notes, that has predominated in our world since 1945.

How could I resist that?

The writing style used in The Black Company is unusual in my experience, especially at the start. The storyline jumps about at times and much of the background is not explained. Imagine stepping into another world. Everyone already there knows the critical history and they assume we know it too. So like a child we are left to piece together that history from comments dropped here and there. This can be frustrating, and at times I wondered if I’d missed some critical part or if this wasn’t actually the first book in the series—and yet it works very well. I was forced to pay attention, and my interest never flagged.

The narrative voice, a physician-warrior named Croaker, is wonderfully done. And as is always the case in a compelling tale, it’s the positive relationships between the characters that power the story. The Black Company are mercenaries. Croaker recognizes their faults and sins. But in the midst of a grim and bloody civil war they are devoted to one another, and Croaker’s ruminations on good and evil add a necessary philosophical balance to the action.

Book Rave: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Friday, April 10th, 2015

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire NorthThere’s been a lot of controversy regarding the Hugo awards lately. My problem with the Hugos, the Nebulas, and many other lists is that books as amazing as Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August don’t make the short lists.

According to Amazon, this novel was published in October 2014. Maybe it came out earlier in the UK, I don’t know. But if I’d read it a few weeks sooner, I certainly would have nominated it for both a Nebula and a Hugo. As it is, I didn’t hear of it until just a couple of weeks ago, when someone casually mentioned it on Twitter. Perhaps I’d heard the title before, but not with the enthusiasm and repetition that would cause me to sit up and take notice – and that’s truly unfortunate.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is about exactly what the title says. Harry August is a man who is born, lives, dies, and is born again exactly where and when he entered the world the first time. He is not the only so-called “Kalachakra,” and the lives he actually lives are never the same, one to the next. And there are complications, and there is a cause.

I love the character of Harry, with his curiosity and understated emotion. North portrays him convincingly as an increasingly brilliant man who has explored the world living his many lives and pursuing many experiences – and this despite the fact that North herself is not yet thirty years old.

I also love the way the story is written, with its gently detailed descriptions that make myriad places come alive without slowing down the story in an excess of detail, and with its nonlinear mode of telling. We shift continuously forward and backward in time and yet I never felt lost or impatient.

This is not a book about magic. It takes the fantastical element of repeated lives and extrapolates consequences in this world that we know, taking a major interest in the development of technology.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a wonderful achievement and I’m looking forward to reading more novels by Claire North.

Oh, and it did make the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist for best science fiction novel published in 2014. So well-deserved congratulations to the author on that!

Book Rave: Nexus

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Nexus by Ramez NaamIf I had a category for “better late than never” on this blog, this post would be filed under it. I suspect most of you who stop by here are already familiar with Nexus, a 2012 first novel by Ramez Naam. But for those who are even farther behind in their reading than I am, you’ll want to add this novel to your reading list.

Nexus is an account of brain and body enhancements and the struggles of global society as the world tries to decide how to deal with the onset of trans and posthuman existence. This theme is one I’ve explored in my own work. Should society decide what it means to be human? What becomes of those who defy the consensus and push on beyond their naturally evolved limits? Those who want to hold onto a historical definition of what it means to be human might have good reason to fear posthuman minds — but despite the fears, might these technologies offer net gains? And in a world of many billions of people, is it even possible to ban the biohacking that could lead to a posthuman existence?

Nexus is full of fascinating philosophy, technology, and engaging characters, but it’s also a thriller, making it a compelling read. Honestly, there aren’t a lot of novels that truly hold my interest. This one did. It’s the first book of a trilogy. The second book, Crux, is already out, and book 3, Apex, releases in May.

Find more information on Nexus here at the website of the publisher, Angry Robot.

Book Rave: A Double Feature

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer
This book was recommended to me. It’s the memoir of Nathaniel C. Fick as he recounts his experiences training as a marine officer and then deploying for the first time — just before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Fick soon found himself in Afghanistan, and later at the “tip of the spear” during the invasion of Iraq. It’s a fascinating recounting of both war and the incredible challenges of becoming a successful “recon” marine.

In One Bullet Away Nathaniel C. Fick mentions a reporter who was embedded with his platoon during the Iraq invasion. That reporter was Evan Wright, the author of Generation Kill — an account of Wright’s experiences riding with one of the teams in Fick’s platoon. Generation Kill is a compelling and very graphic narrative that passes over none of the less savory aspects of infantry life during the invasion of a foreign country. It also explores the personalities of a fascinating assemblage of marines, good guys and bad guys.

Reading these two books back to back was an interesting experience. I was intrigued by the differences between Wright’s and Fick’s versions of events. Not in the raw recounting of events — both were in agreement on the facts so far as I could tell — but there were often significant differences between what each author chose to describe and discuss, and in the tone in which their recollections are presented. The rawest version of the invasion has to go to Evan Wright.

Book Rave: Germline

Monday, April 28th, 2014

I first heard of T.C. McCarthy through the War Stories anthology, and I just finished reading his novel Germline, winner of the 2012 Compton Crook award — a first-novel award presented annually by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society.

In summary, Germline is the most absorbing SF novel I’ve read in some time.

As I get older, it’s harder for me to really connect with a novel, to be pulled in by it. So much of the time, reading feels like an intellectual exercise — but that wasn’t the case with Germline. I found this effect especially interesting because there were aspects of the novel I would have resisted, if they’d been handled with less skill.

Germline is military science fiction, but it’s not about glory or heroism or interstellar battles or even tough choices. It’s about the destructive hopelessness of war, even for the survivors, and reminds me a lot of stories set in World Wars I and II.

The story takes place on Earth in Kazakhstan. This is no brush war: the theater is large, and it’s an all-out slugfest, with no regard for civilians. It’s supposed to take place in the future, but to me it felt more like an alternate history, using some weapons still-to-be-invented. Also, there are a couple of plot points that didn’t add up for me — but there’s no such thing as a perfect book. Where this story really excels is in the characterization. There’s great depth in the protagonist, Oscar Wendell, as he interprets the effects of war on himself and the men around him. The story Oscar tells is grim, grim, grim, but it’s not without friendship, caring, and devotion.

The title, Germline, refers to genetically-engineered soldiers, who do exist in the book, though to me they were not what the book was about. So in retrospect, the title seems a little odd. But that’s a trivial point. If you haven’t read T.C. McCarthy’s Germline yet, grab a sample and check it out. You’ll know early on if this is a book for you.

Book Rave: The Golem and The Jinni

Monday, April 7th, 2014

My novel The Red: First Light was short listed for this year’s Nebula award, along with seven other works, some of which I’ve read or intend to read. But I blush to admit I was unaware of Helene Wecker’s fantasy novel The Golem and The Jinni until it appeared on the list.

I don’t think the title is particularly enthralling, but it does tell you exactly what constitutes the story’s essential core: by strange chance an artificial woman made of clay – the golem – and a spirit creature founded in fire – the jinni – arrive in 19th century New York City and ultimately find that their paths intertwine. (more…)

Story Raves

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Tis award season in the writing world, and while I don’t read nearly as much fiction as I’d like — I am a slow reader — I do like to share the novels and stories that I’ve especially enjoyed. Here are three impressive pieces of short fiction:

OLD MARS, edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois“The Wreck of the Mars Adventure” by David D. Levine
This is a novelette published last fall in the anthology Old Mars, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. The idea behind the anthology is a return to the fantastical, early days of science fiction, and David does this with no-holds-barred. “Mars Adventure” is a fantasy — it involves a 19th-century airship voyage between the planets in a solar system where there is breathable atmosphere everywhere. The setup reminds me a little of Karl Schroeder’s world of Virga, but “Mars Adventure” is a different sort of story, fun, swashbuckling, and very clever. For SFWA members, reading copies are available in the forum.

“In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind” by Sarah Pinsker
As you can gather from the title, this is a more serious story, a tale of human relations and the secrets we keep from one another. Published by Strange Horizons, it’s available to read online.

“The Schrödinger War” by D. Thomas Minton
This is a war story: a quantum tale of battles fought and re-fought, and fought again. I thought it was very well done and I’ve been surprised and perturbed by how little notice it’s gotten. So go check it out! Published by Lightspeed, it’s available to read online.

Republic, Lost

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

My latest read was Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It, by Lawrence Lessig. The book poses the question of why the big issues facing the United States are forever kicked down the road by Congress, and as a corollary, why the issues that Congress does spend its time on are not the issues that matter to the great majority of the American people.

The answer posed by the author in a very convincing manner is that the single greatest concern of most senators and Congressional representatives is to get re-elected, and re-election takes money, and money comes from – well, you know the answer. Money comes from corporations and well-funded organizations seeking to advance their bottom line.

The fascinating argument of this book is the author’s explanation of how this funding system works, and it’s not by outright (illegal) bribery. He describes a complex system involving personal relationships, gift culture, well-connected and well-paid lobbyists, and “donations” of a few thousand dollars that can be leveraged into millions if only the right piece of legislation is passed. And it’s all legal.

There is much more – enough to derail the most optimistic among us, I suspect. At the end of the book, Lessig offers several strategies that might solve the problem and return our representatives to what should be their true work: representing the voters who put them in office, not the contributors who made their campaign possible. None of the solutions struck me as likely to make any difference. The most promising one was to work on getting the required plurality of states to call for a constitutional convention to address campaign finance reform – and of course we’re a long, long way from that ever happening.

Strangely enough, this book affirmed the cynical worldview that’s a background element of some of my upcoming work, particularly the story due in an issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction and, sadly, it’s affirmation that I did not go too far in my extrapolations.