Month: August 2016

On Hiatus

Sad news: Morning Book Review will be on hiatus until early October. The reason is simply a combination of work, projects, and life summing up to more time than exists in a day, so something has to give.

Good news: Morning Book Review will definitely be back up and posting regularly by the first week of October at the latest. By then I should also have a good amount of buffer built up, so this sort of interruption should be less tragic.

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The Tomorrow Log

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When trying to summarize this, my first attempt came out to “What even is I don’t even but whaaa…” But it is essential to note that this confusion feels masterful and intentional. This is not a lack of skill, this is Lee and Miller throwing together a surreal world and, through excellent execution, getting you to care about it and want to figure it out. Sharon Lee and Steven Miller produce fascinating cultures/societies as always, with stellar writing and amazing, evocative turns of phrase does a great job at submersing you into this weird little universe. If you have read books from their Liaden series, then this will feel familiar, but strange.

I honestly could not figure out how to define this as I was reading it. In the jacket description, Gem is named a wizard – literal description or metaphorical description of his mechanical training? Spaceships, communicators – science fiction? Houses and clans, powerful artifacts – fantasy? Action, drama, and advanced medical tech – sci-fi? Speculative fiction? Science fantasy? Mythos? I quickly decided that whatever it was, it felt magical and I liked it. This may sound inconsequential, but often knowing the genre you are reading sets a certain mood and expectation, and here nothing was certain.

The Tomorrow Log is also on a treadmill of crazy. It starts out fairly reasonable, but then slowly picks up craziness and gets crazier and more cray until it’s just blasting along and you don’t even care that it feels incoherent because it’s such a strange and evocative adventure and your brain is spinning hard to connect pieces to make sense of it.

Cover Art Review: This is a pretty great depiction of feeling of the novel. Dark, mysterious, but with playful elements. Additionally, it’s hilarious to me that this rendering of Gem ser’Edreth looks a little like Neil Patrick Harrison.

The Forge of Mars

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My time spent reading the Forge of Mars was mostly spent agape in sheer stupefaction at how not good the novel was.

The characters were simply unreal. They were generally consistent, at least, but in the way that a flat, stereotypic impression of a character is. The villain was literally a moustache-twirling 100% evil ex-Soviet General and his little dog. And he was less cringe inducing than the main characters, Tai and Yvonne.

The story also suffered from extreme tonal dissonance. Is the story grim and serious? Is it sexy? Is it profound? Is it goofy? Is it deadpan? Is it HILARIOUS? The Forge of Mars is all of those! And thus it suffers from extreme tonal whiplash, where you have a breakup and serious discussions of relationships and future career plans followed by a character slipping into the Museum of Bureaucracy to escape someone chasing him, and running through office dioramas and jokes about government employees.

Additionally, the world was very confusing. There was real AI, nanotechnology, nanotech 3d printers, and regular no-big-deal space travel, to name just four big developments. And society did not change in the slightest as a result. It felt completely unreal to have that level of technological development, but have everything else feel like the early 2000s.

The dialogue was not enjoyable, and the scene descriptions generally went on too much and were not of importance. This dragged down the plot, especially when combined with jarring scene transitions between the multiple viewpoint characters.

Now, the bit I enjoyed: There are some cool and enjoyable bits with alien robots later on, as in B movie enjoyable. Still, if you want something like that, you should check out a Keith Laumer book, or one of Fred Saberhagen’s lighter Berserker books.

Inherit the Earth

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I thought that Inherit the Earth was a very odd book. The plot is slowly paced, but in a way that detracts from it. The extra space/time is dedicated to building up the characters and institutions, but the plot also spends a lot of time convincing you it is about to go somewhere before… not going there. Or, spending a lot of time/pages presenting a particular version of history, which is then promptly revealed not to be true. Additionally, there are several situations where something interesting is about to happen, and then just… doesn’t. That was the main thing that stuck out to me.

The conspiracy theory aspect of figuring out who was telling the truth and who was lying and what the truth and lies were and also did not grab me. I am not sure why: I generally like that kind of thing in novels, especially those “of this sort” such as in the Jump255 trilogy, (Infoquake/MultiReal/Geosynchron), or in the Cassandra Kresnov series (Crossover/Breakaway/etc…), or the Culture novels, but I think a lot of it just came from not being especially grabbed by the writing, characters, world, or plot.

Cover Art Review: Not going to lie, the cover art was about 5/8ths of my motivation for purchasing this book, with the book jacket description being the rest. I really liked the slanted concrete building face, the pursuit and escape parkour action occurring center stage, and the stacked verticality of the cityscape.

Wulf’s Yarn

WulfsYarn_All.jpgWulf’s Yarn is a slowly unfurling ribbon of a tale which orbits the plot, casting illumination here and there as it drifts from character to situation to the storyteller’s notes: after all, the book is titled Wulf’s Yarn for a reason, and Wulf is an interesting storyteller indeed. Wulf tells the story at its own pace, providing necessary context, rearranging events, quoting from others, and the result is a sedately paced, rich, detailed view of an atypical universe. The characters and institutions are well developed, and I found the religious background to the Gentle Order of St. Francis Dionysos is particularly unique and captivating.

Beyond the unusual character of the world in view of its characters and institutions, the story felt unique as well. The story of Senor Confrere Jon Wilberfoss is a great tale about facing challenges, failing at those challenges and the suffering and trauma that results, and recovering from that trauma and the form that recovery takes. This is a topic that feels rarely touched upon in the science fiction and fantasy media that I read, or indeed in American society today in general. The story is slow, deep, and enveloping, with a lot of interesting and important themes and sub-themes, such as vanity, character flaws, the nature of religion, the intersection of religion and history, the coexistence of different cultures, the nature of humanity / artificial intelligence / non-human intelligence, to name a few.

Cover Art Review: I am digging the title font and color, and the color scheme is good overall. But the ship itself is disappointing to me. While the surfacing itself is nice, the ship’s design is not particularly attractive, and it’s not clear if it is even the entire ship. However, the man whom I presume to be Jon Wilberfuss is very well illustrated, and matches my impression of him during his time aboard the Nightingale.

Starship Troopers

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In my opinion, Heinlein is generally pretty good. Starship Troopers is a classic science fiction work, and classic Heinlein. It is a classic science fiction work in that once you read it, chances are you will recognize elements of it in many other military science fiction works. It is classic Heinlein in that the writing is generally very good at creating a cohesive setting with characters who fit in very well, interesting, and compelling. However, there are also many pages of lecturing (literally, in-setting lectures) and philosophizing about why the only possible society is one that is paternalistic, libertarian, enmeshed in total war, denying representation to non-military personnel, etc. (Keep in mind, the first publication date of this novel is 1959.) There definitely were parts I found provoked thought, and parts which I found did not, or were thoroughly unconvincing in that they did not try to convince, but simply stated and assumed truths. So, quite simply: some people will love this, some people will hate this.

The story follows the life of a private of the Terran Mobile Infantry. It is a detailed depiction of the daily life and overall career path of a trooper, as opposed to a singular depiction of rare and heroic actions. I have no idea how accurate it is to the actual process of military training, but it feels quite realistic, albeit simultaneously idealized and romanticized.

Also, the enemy is a species of giant alien space bugs. This is a firmly established trope in sci-fi by now, and I think this is one of the works that launched it into prominence.

Cover Art Review: Aside from reminding me of a certain Star Wars prequel movie that was not terrible but not great, this is a pretty decent cover. I like that it is a full wrap, not just one image used on the front/back covers. There is also a lot of detail given on the military choppers, and the infantry being small and not in the foreground gives you a proper sense of scale. It sticks to its color palette a bit too much for my taste, though, and the font face clashes distractingly with the illustration.

Side Note:If you want to play Starship Troopers: Basically The Book But A Video Game That Only Has The Fighting Bits, Earth 2024 B-Movie Edition, then you should check out a video game that just came out called Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Terror. You play as a member of the EDF, fighting giant insects and alien robots that are invading Earth in 2024. Just saying, slaughtering giant ants by the hundreds, getting killed by scores of giant spiders, experiencing the joys of friendly fire… fun times!

Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm

FantasticVoyageMicrocosm_All.jpg Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm is an action-oriented adventure with a solid if-scientifically-preposterous concept, some great ideas and some very tense, gripping scenes. The characters are well developed, but in such a way that it builds up a comfortable archetype by focusing on their field of expertise and the interactions with the other members of the team. I never perceived the characters as people, but more in terms of actors playing a part. That may be because the style and plot structure put me in mind of a Hollywood novelization.

The story kicks it off in high gear, showing the incident resulting in the human possession of the alien pod. The international cooperation aspect, with the United States and the post-USSR Russia working together on the down low, is also very interesting, although I wish it had been a more prominent part of the story. The internal US politicking was less engaging, although it was brief. The meat of the story takes place within the alien pod itself. Aside from the preposterous concept (miniaturization of macro-scale objects), Anderson does a great job at weaving cell biology, physiology, and xenology / alien first contact protocols together.

COVER ART REVIEW: I am disappointed. I love the color palette and the silver-embossed text. But in terms of images, there’s nothing to look at! Just a vague reddish haze fading to black, and the vertical purple bar disfiguring the cover is beyond bizarre as well. While they are INSIDE the body of an ALIEN, all we see here on the cover are two short tubes with spikes and one or two attached molecules. A real disappointment, especially when you consider the truly alien environments in “The Inner Life of the Cell” video produced by Harvard University and XVIVO in 2006, or the “Powering the Cell: Mitochondria” video.