Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Eastern Standard Tribe
Mar 17, 2006

A little while ago, I picked up Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow (also of BoingBoing fame) at a nearby bookstore. For the last few weeks, I've been picking at it right before bed.

Our protagonist, Art Berry, is a user experience engineer who works in London, but schemes for the Eastern Standard Tribe, an group of hackers and engineers located on the Atlantic Coast of the US. This book is set in a sort of near future in which groups of programmers and consultants are grouped by time zones.

The work was well-written by somebody obviously intimately familiar with modern computing systems, the internet as tool for daily living, and trends of online communities. Cory Doctorow, a little less than six months younger than me, not only has such familiarity, but as the editor of the most-read blog on the planet, is a pioneer himself. This lends his work a more laid-back, down-to-earth feel and makes the technologies, people, concepts, and struggles seem exceptionally real.

I won't blow the story for anyone who wants to read it, but I found it very entertaining.

My grade: B+.

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The Left Hand of Darkness
Mar 3, 2006

I just finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, a science fiction of astonishing brilliance. We follow the exploits of Genly Ai, an envoy from a federation of human worlds who is attempting to bring Gethen into that federation. Gethenians, unlike all the other peoples of human space, are biologically bisexual—that is, they are neither male nor female, but enter one phase or another when they enter kemmer, or a kind of human heat.

We explore the customs and culture of a neuter society, the dance of politics between conflicting sides, the strange circumstances of a world in an ice age, and a strange pecking order system. The society has never known wars, because everyone's the same. There is no sexism (there's only one gender, after all) and no dualist mentality that colors a great many ideas in our culture.

The characters are rich, believable if strange, and have serious flaws. Genly befriends Estraven, the Prime Minister of Karhide, and follows him into exile, becomes outlawed himself, and learns loyalty from his Gethenian friend. The social politics are somewhat obscure and fuzzy, but the grand adventure of the story is compelling and well-envisioned.

My grade: B.

Old Man’s War
Jan 30, 2006

On Friday, I received my latest package from Amazon, which included four CDs and two books, including John Scalzi‘s debut novel, Old Man’s War. Despite the fact that I have a solid list of things to read (before new stuff), I really couldn’t resist taking a little peek at the first chapter. Really, just the one chapter and then it’s back to Blueheart.

Before I finally went to bed Friday night, I was six chapters in. Closing the book after Saturday night at 6 a.m. Sunday, I had polished off more than half the book. This afternoon, I finished it and here I am, fifteen minutes after the last paragraph of the intro blurb to the sequel, staring at the cover.

John Scalzi takes us on a satisfying thrill-ride, tagging along with our protagonist, John Perry, as he joins the army in old age after losing his wife to a stroke. Immediately, he befriends six other geriatric soldiers, who vow to remain friends despite receiving duty stations in various combat units. We follow his exploits as he enters combat training, experiences his first battles, and gains notoriety after several strokes of ingenuity garner the attention of his chain of command.

Old Man’s War is fairly short, particularly compared with the books I have markers in at the moment, but it’s exceptionally well-written. The action is intense and dramatic. The characters are round, believable, and unique. The descriptions of planets, life forms, and intelligent alien species (particularly the ones fighting against our protagonists) are well-thought out and fairly thorough. If we can expect more novels like this in Mr. Scalzi’s writing career, you can mark me down as a fan.

My grade: A.

Sixes: Next 6 Books
Jan 25, 2006

Having recently finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Saturn by Ben Bova, I dug through some boxes for more reading material.

  1. Blueheart by Alison Sinclair – 21.46% read
  2. The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson – borrowed from a friend
  3. The Fading Sun trilogy by C. J. Cherryh
  4. The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson – 51.11% read
  5. Encounter with Tiber by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes
  6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

Saturn
Jan 17, 2006

Last night, I finished reading Saturn by Ben Bova. I’d been picking away at it since November. I’m a just-before-bed reader usually, so I don’t spend hours curled up in a large chair in the living room reading a favorite book.

This particular work by the great science fiction master, Ben Bova, is the story of a group of people in an orbital habitat en route to Saturn. The habitat, capable of supporting a population in excess of ten thousand, is filled with miscreants, malcontents, and personae non gratae — in short, the unconventional nonconformists that the religious conservatives that control Earth can simply not abide. Naturally, the moral purists that run things want to run the people of this habitat, too. Several agents are placed aboard who are tasked with establishing a regime to govern these nonconformists by the strictest of dogmatic guidelines.

Dr. Bova is a talented writer and has won more awards for his writing than I’ve had birthdays. In this book, the plot and characters were intriguing. It seemed, though, that most of the characters were one-dimensional. Despite the fact that this is basically a space ship filled with the unwanted nonconformists, there are no criminals, no mention of anything artistic at all, drab boring uniforms (tunics, tunics, and more tunics), and no freakish personalities. The characters are wooden and two-dimensional generally, almost completely devoid of non-stereotypical personality characteristics. Here’s the evil administrator guy trying for absolute power. Here are the soulless fanatical religious conservatives pulling his strings. Here’s the newly repaired na├»ve girl with a giddy crush on the administrator guy. Here’s the nanotechnology professor, banned on Earth and any other place sensible. Here’s the droll science administrator. Nobody does anything outside of the stereotypical response their archetypal character would do.

Despite the dryness of the characters and the predictability of the plot, I enjoyed the story. There were a few unexpected twists and the intrigue of the political/religious connivings made me wonder if the power-starved HR director would be able to extract himself from the tentacles of the evil fanatics. I was intrigued by how sheepishly such a massive group of nonconformists marched along, in lockstep to the missives handed down by the administrators.

If you’re a science fiction fan, this one deals more with the political and religious aspects of trying to gain power in an autonomous habitat in space than it does with exploring space, discovering Saturn up-close and personal, or any scientific discovery at all, other than a cursory glimpse at life in the Jovian atmosphere, hints at nanotechnology, and whispers of the technology of the famous-yet-doey-eyed-for-scientists daredevil’s spacesuit. This is, apparently, the seventh of thirteen novels of the “Grand Tour”. It was an enjoyable ride, but it seemed a little formulaic to me — not a classic, not great, but decent.

My grade: C+.

Important Science Fiction Novels
Jan 16, 2006

I was noodling around Wikipedia earlier and found a list of science fiction novels. I decided to go through the list and delineate which of these I’ve actually read.

Here they are:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Battlefield Earth
  • Childhood’s End
  • Dune
  • Ender’s Game
  • Flowers for Algernon
  • Frankenstein
  • Helliconia Spring
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Hyperion
  • The Lathe of Heaven
  • The Martian Chronicles
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Red Mars
  • Ringworld
  • The Time Machine
  • The War of the Worlds

I really should read more of these.