Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dark Forest

The second entry in Liu Cixin's trilogy "Remembrance of Earth’s Past, The Dark Forest is a much richer and darker tale than the first in the series. I almost didn't continue with this series, as the first book was hard going, with too many characters and too much gong on. The series settles down a bit in this second novel, and tells the story of the Last Wallfacer Luo Ji and how after the failures of the previous Wallfacers, he gets involved in assisting humanity's struggle for survival. What is particularly dark in interesting in this novel is the titular Dark Forest, Liu Cixin's solution to the Fermi Paradox, which left me with a chill down my spine. This novel is well worth a read if the Fermi Paradox has ever bothered you.

Station 11

Emily St. John Mandel's Station 11 is an excellent take on the post apocalyptic novel; an intricately crafted set of interwoven stories that span the decades before and after an influenza type disease wipes out most of humanity. It was recommended to me by Anna, who is now my official Cultural Curator due to the consistent quality of her recommendations. I won't go into the plot, since it is a delight to watch it unfold as you read, but it is far and away the most gentle  and eloquent post apocalyptic novel I've read.

Kushiel's Chosen

Another fun adventure in the Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series; this one has Phèdre nó Delaunay travel to La Serenissima (the alternate world version of Venice) to track down her arch nemesis Melisande who is in hiding there. As always, far more of the world is visited, Phèdre wins the loyal friendship of various people she meets, and saves various days, but not before risking death several times.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, tells the story of Jason Taverner, a TV celebrity who wakes up one day to find that he doesn't exist - the world doesn't remember him at all. It's set in the near future of the mid 1970s (so, 1988), and the USA has become a fascist police state. Taverner has to struggle through the impositions put upon the poor of that society while trying to uncover what has happened. Being a mid 1970's novel it's full of casual drug use and even more casual sex, and it does show its age in that regard. The prose is a bit rough (as with more of Dick's work), and the sci-fi bits that explain what has happened to Taverner are a bit dodgy (but with a little effort I think could have been a lot more interesting). But it's an interesting look at the class distinctions and varying freedoms in a totalitarian society.

Kushiel's Dart

Kushiel's Dart was a bit of a surprise - I went into it expecting some light Fantasy with a bit of a different take on things, but got much much more. This novel was a big pile of hot sex and sadomasochism, with quite excellent in-world justification for what is going on. The world of Kushiel's Dart is a medieval/renaissance era fantasy based on our own world, but with the point of divergence being when Jesus is crucified, a drop of his blood falls to the earth and creates Elua, a semi-divine, angelic being who recruits a group of similarly angelic followers, wanders across to France, and creates a kingdom called Terre D'Ange. These angelic beings then have children, and history progresses. The novel is set an unspecified period of time later, but basically in the medieval era. The protagonist, Phèdre, is indentured by her mother, a courtesan, into one of the 13 courtesan houses of the City of Elua. Thus begins her training as a courtesan. She is then purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, to be trained as a spy. Things get complicated from there, but Phèdre has an important role to play in the succession for the d'Angeline throne.

A really interesting aspect of the book is its take on sexuality. With the current debates around gender and sexuality in Fantasy literature, the Kushiel's Legacy series is a good response to the justifications of regressive gender politics. In this world, Elua, who is effectively their chief god, has declared "Love as thou wilt" to be a primary commandment. This means that for d'Angelines, there is no taboo against sex, homosexuality, S&M, or anything of that nature, as long as consent is freely given. And rape is blasphemous. It's a good illustration of how when you're building your fantasy world, it's pretty easy to get sexuality right, and not just fall back on "well, that's how it was in medieval times, can't change it".

I think some readers might find it a bit heavy going - it's written in the first person, from Phèdre's viewpoint, and she is a rather flowery writer. And she is kind of Kushiel's chosen one, so it can in places read like teenage fan fiction, but once you get past that, it's a rollicking adventure in a world that is interestingly different to any other fantasy that I've read. There's another 8 of them (there are three trilogies), so I'll have a pile of reading to get through, but I'll certainly be reading more of Jacqueline Carey's series.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Songs of Love and Death

Another big George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology of short stories, this one doesn't feature a Song of Ice and Fire extra to draw in the crowds. However, there's still plenty in here to keep a reader entertained. There are quite a few creepy tales of being in love with a ghost or having a ghost in love with you, or in one extra creepy case, the ghost of an angry former love being super angry. Some stories are vignettes that add to an existing (Jacqueline Carey's story about the dying regrets of Anafiel Delaunay was an interesting enough introduction to that series that I'll follow up with some more of them). The only substandard entry was an awful Dresden Files story (the usual amount of awful for a Dresden Files story, nothing special). The Dresden files series seems to be uniformly misogynist and dreadful, and I'd skip them when reading anthologies, but then I'd feel annoyed that I hadn't finished the book.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Babylon's Ashes

The sixth entry in the Expanse, this one is suitably exciting and epic. Interplanetary war is in full flow, and James Holden and his doughty crew are naturally central to the whole thing, solving crises and solving problems that the so-called scientists and politicians with their fancy book learnin' and analysis tools are unable to crack. It's a great series and a rollicking adventure, and I think space opera traditionally tends towards the trope of the small group of people (*cough*Skywalkers*cough*) who are critical to everything, so this isn't too much of a problem. At its wrap-up, this book felt like the end of the series, though there were some big questions left open, so I was glad to find out that there is another book coming this year.