May 19, 2011

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks (aka, J12H or JXIIH)

The Dark River

I swear I posted a review of the first book in this series, The Traveler, but I'm not seeing it. It's even crossed out on my Big List, and I certainly remember reading it. Brain glitch? Blogger glitch? The Vast Machine? Your guess is as good as mine.

So anyway, I've mostly enjoyed this series so far. Seeing as I was raised by hippies and have run around in the punk scene for most of my adult life, I know plenty of paranoid/tinfoil hat types who prefer to live off the grid. The big bads in this book could have sprung forth from their deepest fears. That's not a complaint - it's a frightening situation, one that all of us in the first world can feel breathing down our necks. Even if we don't believe that we're being watched at all times, I think we're all aware that we do seem to be headed in a surveillance-heavy direction. (Speaking of, ever heard of the Surveillance Camera Players?)

But that sort of thing is a dime a dozen in the world of dystopian literature. What I particularly like about Twelve Hawks' world is the Harlequins, raised from birth to set aside their humanity for the good of the whole, charged with protecting the Travelers no matter what. Against lover, child, friend, or foe. There's something about Maya's journey, her attempts to throw off her responsibilities before embracing the life of the blade, her belief that she can balance a personal life and devotion to a cause if she just does it right, that I find fascinating. The idea of giving up everything for a single obsession is something I'll never wrap my mind around, but I keep wanting to try.

I'll admit, I rolled my eyes more than a few times while reading this. More so than with The Traveler. Some of the more comic booky/action moviey bits didn't work for me. Gabriel's time with the free runners, for example, seemed written just to be adapted to screen or video game. Also, I wouldn't mind seeing the plot turns progress past Gabriel meets person/people >> Gabriel learns something important >> Gabriel has to escape quickly >> the people he met get killed/attacked/brutalized >> repeat. But the good outweighs the bad, and I'll pick up The Golden City when I see it on the rack.

PS: Look up the author - he's semi-anonymous. Claims to have never met his author. No one knows he real identity. I love that shit.

May 4, 2011

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

Absolutely primo modern speculative fiction. After a few different books that I sort of enjoyed and sort of just felt meh about, this one knocked my socks off. Concepts, delicious. Story, engaging. Philosophical meandering, minimal. Characters, fleshy and companionable.

I guess that just makes sense. Universe-building and character development are the heart of a coming-of-age novel like this. And the concepts employed aren't necessarily unique to this novel. I tasted traces of David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, a little Dickens, big gobs of William Gibson - you know what I'm saying. And, of course, refined threads from Stephenson's own Snow Crash (which I didn't enjoy half as much as Diamond Age). But all that is just seasoning in a mighty fine soup.

In a world where most of your basic needs are met - one way or the other - what drives a person to succeed? To make something of herself? To rise from a childhood of abuse, neglect, and a mother named Tequila (really? but then, not so different from Brandy) into positions of leadership and fulfillment? Is it hardship? education? a close connection to parental figures? Stephenson takes his time in exploring these questions, and the reader is richer for it.

There was just so much to enjoy here. So many images created. The mouse army, building human rafts. The neo-Victorians, steampunkian in their top hats and watch chains. The Drummers' undersea orgies. Skullguns, smart paper, bodies in the river, actors in a ship. It's not perfect and the tech may or may not age well, but the blend of Idea and Story is right up my alley. I'm loaning this one to a friend, as soon as I run into him, and will probably have to buy myself another copy in a few years when I get an urge to read it again.

End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

End of Eternity

Well now, that wernt half bad. Nothing like a little classic, 50s-style time travel sf to kill an afternoon. Asimov can spin a yarn, and I always enjoy his style.

So, time-as-place. I have to admit, I'm easily fuddled by the paradoxes of time travel stories. I follow along without too much problem, but I never can figure out the ending before running into it. I did enjoy this particular take on it. Just utopian enough to make the final actions slightly suspect, but still welcomed. I found the details, well, charming for lack of a better word. Smoking, and its place in history. The different fashions that each eternal learned to deal with. The ever-present class issues, even at play in the timeless world of the time travelers.

I always enjoy dipping into the classics. There's often a reliance on the Idea, rather than the Story, carrying the main burden. And that's a good thing! A few too many of the more current dystopian novels I read seem to think that all the ideas are set in stone, and the only thing that remains is to pile on (most gory) details in order to hide borrowed concepts. Sometimes that works out better than you would expect. And I'm not saying that all the sf classics are these amazing pieces of work that blow the new stuff away by any means. Just that it's a different style and I enjoy both in their turn.

Honestly, I'm sketchy on Asimov (I always preferred Heinlein and Bradbury), having mostly delved into his Robots and short stories I came across in collections. I haven't read the Foundation series, but this novel got me interested, so I'll be picking those up when I run across them.