Fiction: August 2007 Archives

Ursula K. Le Guin: Voices

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This book is a return to the Western Shores, the setting of Gifts. While the main characters from Gifts make an important appearance, this is an independent story. Starting with Gifts is a good introduction to the world, however.

Voices is the story of Ansul, a city under the rule of oppressive enemies and Memer, a halfblood child born under the enemy rule. The Alds are cruel masters, who despise reading and books - not a good thing for the people of Ansul, known for their wisdom and their books. Memer learns dangerous secrets, when the arrival of storyteller Orrec Caspro sets big wheels in motion.

Le Guin portrays both the people of Ansul and the Alds rather well. The Alds are more than illiterate idiots. It's a very beautiful and touching story and I enjoyed it a lot. Voices may be written for young adults, but it won't disappoint an older reader either. Le Guin is a master of her trade. [ Voices (Annals of the Western Shore) at ] [ Voices at LibraryThing ]

China Miéville: Iron Council

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Iron Council is the third book Miéville has written in his Bas-Lag world and its biggest city New Crobuzon. In this book, New Crobuzon is in trouble: outside it's tangled up in a war with the distant Tesh and their magic, inside it's tormented by various insurrectionists and rebels.

The book follows mostly three characters. Cutter is a small-scale rebel, who leaves New Crobuzon to find Judah Low. Judah is a somaturge, a golem-maker, who's seeking the Iron Council, which is important and hard to find. Ori is another insurrectionist, a small player who wants to make a difference.

It's an interesting world and once again Miéville has written an interesting book in it. Of all the Bas-Lag books, I still rank The Scar highest, but Iron Council is a very good book, full of curious detail and interesting magic. Miéville's mixture of magic and fantasy with a grim early industrial society is delightful. This is highly recommended, though to aid understanding, I recommend starting with the Perdido Street Station. [ Iron Council at ] [ Iron Council at LibraryThing ]

Barrington J. Bayley: The Zen Gun

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There's good science fiction and then there's bad science fiction. Unfortunately The Zen Gun belongs in the latter category. The story is a mixture of all sorts of ideas: genetic engineering, an intergalactic empire in decline, talking animals, a strange zen gun with an ominous purpose...

There's plenty of imaginative space opera action and it all moves pretty swiftly, but at the same time the whole story is confusing and bounces from place to place. Parts of The Zen Gun are pertty good, but the most of it doesn't really work that well.

Add to that some very bizarre and boring pseudoscientific lectures on the nature of the universe and you'll end up with a fairly pointless book. I recommend skipping this one; if you decide to read it, fortunately it's very short. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Zen Gun at ] [ The Zen Gun at ] [ The Zen Gun at LibraryThing ]

Spook Country is a science fiction spy thriller set in our times; 2006, to be exact. Hollis Henry is a former rock star, now a journalist, set to write a piece on locative art based on the use of GPS systems and other locative technology. This leads her to Bobby Chombo, a strange guy who knows the ins and outs of military navigation systems. Tito is a member of Chinese-Cuban crime family trained in Russian military martial arts and espionage ways, asked to deliver iPods to a certain old man. Milgrim, a drug addict fluent in Russian and able to translate Volapuk encoding, is being held captive by Brown, some sort of operator, perhaps with the government, perhaps not.

It's an interesting mess that sorts out itself eventually. Gibson mixes all sorts of cool concepts and crazy ideas and curious details together to form a rather gripping book. Old spies come out of the woodwork for one last round - the big idea they're working to achieve, that's something quite different and unusual. Gibson's writing is clear and beautiful; I really enjoy his style. With Neal Stephenson he's one of those writers who will tell you a great story and pepper it with all kinds of unnecessary details that'll get your brain tingling and curiosity running.

If you liked Pattern Recognition, his previous novel, you'll enjoy this (and you'll even meet few old friends, too!). Like Pattern Recognition, Spook Country is full enough of contemporary cultural references and trademarks to tie it firmly to our time and make it age in a rather charmful manner. While these trademarks serve less purpose than they did in Pattern Recognition, I believe this book is written to readers who care if the laptop used by the protagonist is a PowerBook or not.

Excellent book, one of the best I've read in a long while. [ Spook Country at ] [ Spook Country at LibraryThing ]

This book has three different layers that eventually merge together, however unlikely that seems. First, in the contemporary timeline there's the most-liked US president in the history and the strange Prisoner Zero who tries to assassinate him and after capture doesn't say a word. Then there's the Marrakech of 1970s with Moz and Malika and their messed-up lives. Third, there's the mystic Emperor watched by his 148 billion citizens, waiting for an assassin to arrive.

So yes, it's a strange book. All three storylines didn't work as well for me; I liked the Marrakech, but didn't like the Emperor too much. Then again, I read someone else commenting exactly the opposite, so your mileage may vary. Some of it will get boring before the end, but the final twists make enough sense to make it all worth reading, I suppose. However, there's quite a bit of - perhaps unnecessary - graphic violence, torture and sex; some might find that unpleasant. [ Stamping Butterflies at ] [ Stamping Butterflies at LibraryThing ]

I'm a big Jonathan Carroll fan, ever since I read Land of Laughs. Carroll manages to mix mundane with mystical in a very charming way. Glass Soup continues where White Apples left the story of Vincent, Isabelle and their child messiah. This makes recommending this book very straightforward: if you've read White Apples and enjoyed it, Glass Soup is a must read book. If you haven't read White Apples, start there.

That said, I think this is quite a worthy sequel to White Apples. The story is quite as odd and profound as it was before. Carroll weaves the events beautifully, as the main characters travel around Vienna and cross the borders between life and death. There's odd humour, curious characters, and fairly deep thinking. The opening of the book is delightfully surreal. [ Glass Soup at ] [ Glass Soup at LibraryThing ]

Otherness is the uniting theme for the short stories and essays collected in this book. Don't let the silly cheap science fiction cover fool you: there's some pretty deep thought inside the covers. The short stories vary from great to ok, but the essays offer the best value in the collection. Brin writes about UFOs, science versus magic and what he calls the dogma of otherness. It's all very interesting and enlightening.

The short stories aren't a waste of space, either - the best of them are captivating and contain marvellous ideas. Brin writes good science fiction, especially if you value interesting ideas. Those looking for fresh thought to chew on will find a nice dose from this collection. [ Otherness at ] [ Otherness at LibraryThing ]

Jeff Noon: Vurt

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Vurt is an odd beast. I found it hard to start with, but soon the world had sucked me in. In futuristic Manchester those looking for hallucinogenic experiences suck on feathers to enter virtual worlds, Vurts. Stash Riders, a bunch of miscellaneous losers, hunt for interesting feathers and try to find Desdemona, who got stuck in a bad Vurt.

Noon has cooked up a futuristic and surrealistic world. The language is colourful and takes some getting used to. The world isn't explained thoroughly; some readers will certainly find Vurt too strange a feather to swallow. However, if you can accept that the world doesn't always make sense, the story moves on with a good pace and the plot is interesting.

Vurt isn't the easiest and most accessible book, but it's worth the effort. If you like it, there's more: Noon has written several books set in the same vurtual world. [ Vurt at ] [ Vurt at LibraryThing ]

Manifold is a series of books with big, visionary concepts, and Space is no different. This time the twist on the Fermi paradox has the aliens existing and actually quite near the Earth. Reid Malenfant investigates with a mysterious Japanese scientist Nemoto. The first contact is made and the truth starts to unfurl...

As I said, the ideas are big - seriously big. The flow of the story isn't always fast enough, it all gets a bit too slow at times. Still, one has to admire Baxter's vision and while parts of the book were slightly boring, the whole of the story was definitely captivating enough to get me through the slower bits.

Manifold: Space offers an interesting what-if scenario of the future of humankind in a world that has extraterrestrial life. [ Manifold: Space at ] [ Manifold: Space at LibraryThing ]

Icebones ends the Mammoth trilogy quite far from the other books. Icebones is the calf of Silverhair, the main mammoth from the first book and thus born in our time. However, when the book starts, he finds himself in Mars some thousands years from now. It's strange and doesn't get much explanations until much later.

It's another survival story in changing environment, like the other books in the trilogy. This time it's Mars that's been warm and pleasant after human terraforming, but since humans are gone, it's getting colder again, too cold for mammoths. It takes a huge journey across the planet to survive and Icebones has to lead a group of mammoths who don't like it.

There's adventure, there's some quite beautiful scenery, there's strange creatures and envinronmental threats and mammoths struggling to overcome them - if you enjoyed the first two books, you'll like this as well, but skipping this is not a huge loss. Icebones makes a rather nice heroine, though. Still, Baxter has written better books than the Mammoth trilogy. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Icebones at ] [ Icebones at LibraryThing ]

Second part of the Mammoth trilogy isn't a huge improvement from the first. This time it's a look at prehistoric times, when mammoths roamed the Earth in larger numbers. Longtusk, the legendary mammoth mentioned in the first part of the trilogy, is still young and adventurous.

He is captured by Fireheads, humans, and put to work along almost domesticated mastodonts. He learns the ways of the Fireheads and what danger they pose to the mammoths. Is he able to escape and save his family from this new danger?

The best thing about this book is definitely its length - if it wasn't such a small book, I probably wouldn't have bothered to read it. If you really loved the first part and want to read more about mammoths and don't mind more violence and not-that-interesting mammoth characters, go ahead, but others might just as well skip this one. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Longtusk at ] [ Longtusk at LibraryThing ]

Gravity's Rainbow is a heavy book, in many ways. It was a very slow read; I read English usually pretty swiftly, but this one took me a long time. I can't say I understood it all, either. Still, I found it quite charming and the basic plot was enough to keep me hanging on.

So, what's it about? World War 2, German rockets, hunting some mysterious rocket stuff around Germany right after the war, psychics, drugs, basically whatever has popped to Pynchon's mind. It takes several readings and some help to make sense of everything. The fact that the book has, what, few hundred characters certainly doesn't help things.

There are interesting digressions, pornographic scenes, bits that have you laughing out loud, all sorts of things going on. It's a rough ride, but I'd say Gravity's Rainbow is a book worth experiencing. [ Gravity's Rainbow at ] [ Gravity's Rainbow at LibraryThing ]

A small group of mammoths is alive and well in remote Siberia in our times. Stephen Baxter tells us how they live in a world that's changing from what they know in their sagas and legends. Their enemy is, of course, the Lost Ones, as the mammoths call us humans.

Baxter's written better books, and this is no Watership Down (or Empire of the Ants, which is my favourite animal book). It's not bad, though, and the mammoths seem pretty well researched, at least they're somewhat inhuman. They have their own culture, quite different from us humans.

Since the book was so fast and easy to read, I'm going to continue to the next part of the trilogy - after all, the book gets some pretty strange ideas in the end. In any case, I can't really recommend Silverhair unless you're really into mammoths or books starring animals in general. However, there's lots of violence and cruelty towards animals in this book, so the most sensitive animal lovers, stay away! (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Silverhair at ] [ Silverhair at LibraryThing ]

City of Illusions is an early book from Le Guin (published 1967). It is set in her Hainish worlds, however. The story takes place on future Earth, after some kind of apocalypse has wiped most of humanity out and the rest live down to earth under the rule of the Shing.

A mysterious alien man appears from the woods. He's lost his memory and learns a new life like a child. Is he a Shing, a tool of the Shing or a friend? He wants to find out and eventually sets out to the city of Shing.

The book is divided into two parts: first is the man's journey through the Northern American plains to the Shing city Es Toch - the city of illusions. There he starts to unravel his past and decipher what the Shing actually want. It's a web of lies and deceit and quite an challenge.

While City of Illusions is far from being Le Guin's greatest work, it is a pleasant little book that offers solid entertainment. (The Worlds of Exile and Illusion of the Amazon ad includes City of Illusions and two other early Le Guin novels.) [ City of Illusions at ] [ City Of Illusions at ] [ City of Illusions at LibraryThing ]

Eric Sanderson wakes up with a problem: he's lost his memory. With clues he has left, he finds his way to a psychologist and finds out he's suffering from psychological damage left by a trauma. Or is he? He could also be under an attack from a conceptual shark, trying to eat his past.

The Raw Shark Texts is an imaginative book: an exciting thriller and a magical story set where the information and imagination collide. Steven Hall has an arts degree and has decorated the book with clever typographical art that fits the theme well.

Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges come to mind, but Hall is not quite as profound. Some will say The Raw Shark Texts pales in comparison, but I did find it much more accessible than Borges' work. Perhaps it's another case of popular culture versus high art. In any case, The Raw Shark Texts is an intriguing book and worth reading in my opinion. (Review based on the Finnish translation) [ The Raw Shark Texts at ] [ The Raw Shark Texts at LibraryThing ]

I first read this one about fifteen years ago and I was very impressed. There's always the risk when you revisit childhood favourites - you might find them utterly daft. Not this one! While the book is somewhat naive - it's a book for kids, after all - it was still quite charming.

After an apocalypse of sorts, group of people locked themselves in Arc One, trying to maintain knowledge through the dark ages. The society has become a rigid class society: lords on top, workers in the middle, slaves on the bottom with soldiers controlling them.

Main character Tomi is a son of a lord, part of the ruling elite. When he comes of age, he's given proper access to the information databases. Unfortunately there's a slave rebellion, which ends up with Tomi being tossed out of the Arc. What a strange world he finds outside!

It's a lovely, positive story. I'd recommend this to kids that are into science fiction without a doubt - and also to adults, looking for a quick and pleasant read. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Devil on My Back at ] [ Devil on My Back at ] [ Devil on My Back at LibraryThing ]

Ammonite reminds me a lot of Sheri Tepper and Ursula K. Le Guin. It's a tale of Marghe, an anthropologist sent to work on the Company-owned planet Jeep. Jeep is inhabited by group of Company forces, the original colonists and a deadly virus that kills all men and quite a few women as well. There's no proven vaccine, either.

Marghe sets out to understand the world and the people who live in it. The mysteries of the virus and the colonists (if they're all women, where do the babies come from?) offer a tempting challenge to an anthropologist, despite the resistance from the Company commander.

It's a good story. It's well written, beautiful as the planet it describes. Marghe's journey is packed with action, adventure, romance and exploration. For those seeking lesbian themes or strong female characters in science fiction, this is a must-read book, and I'd recommend Ammonite to anybody who likes science fiction with sociological or anthropological leanings. [ Ammonite at ] [ Ammonite at LibraryThing ]

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