The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss Rothdas book review RSS
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

After reading the very enjoyable and informative _Collapse_, this was a disappointment. First, it is not about the way enterprising European's spread enlightenment using the above mentioned tools. Rather, the book is about how the Europeans gained those tools in the first place. The main reason that Diamond gives will be obvious to anyone who has played Civ: the societies with more opportunities for tech trading advanced along the tree faster and so became dominant. Seems reasonable enough, though it doesn't explain why it was Eur part of Eurasia that first kicked it up a notch. There were a couple of less obvious thoughts in the book, such as how areas with the same latitude will have an easier time exchanging farming and other technologies, since all else being equal they will have similar environments. This makes agricultural tech trading much easier along the broad east-to-west axis of Eurasia, and much more difficult along the north-south axis of the Americas. Also nice was the idea that close proximity to cattle and other animals was responsible for Eurasia's increased germ resistance, and the chapter about the difficulties of taming different animal species. I enjoyed these parts, and a few parts where Diamond summarizes others research. However, in many cases I think Diamond overreaches, and makes broad assertions about complex problems based on very flimsy, 10,000 year old data. I would have appreciated less of that, and less of Diamond's somewhat overboard PCness. In this regard the intro is particularly bad. First Diamond calls into question the idea of a generalized intelligence, then he claims that New Guineans are smarter than their western counterparts. Next he says that the idea that there is a racial component to intelligence is loathsome, and then he proceeds to lay out his theory as to why the New Guineans have been genetically selected for intelligence. Contradictions like this in the introduction really decrease my confidence in the rest of his assertions.




The State of the Art (Culture, #4) by Iain M. Banks
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A series of early and beautiful short stories set in the Culture universe. "A Gift from the Culture" would have been enough to sell me on Banks even if he had never written anything else. I also particularly liked the titular story, a somewhat non-canon tale that examines a ship Mind in greater detail. It captures what makes the ship Minds such an attractive ideal, not just that they are enormously effective and benevolent, but also that they have joy in their work.




Look to Windward (Culture, #7) by Iain M. Banks
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Look to Windward is a strong entry in the Culture series. It is delightful, emotional, intelligent, witty, and wildly inventive, with nice tie ins to past events and the far future. Plus it has sentient cats, in their little cat military uniforms and with their religious texts made out of string and their arch-catty reparte. Who is a cute wittle authoritarian society? You are! Yes you are!

How these books have not been made into movies, or how people mention Ken Mcleod and the rest in the same sentence as Banks, I have no idea. This is perhaps not the best Culture book, but it is still very entertaining and is far above most sci-fi in the pure intelligence and general quality that oozes from the text.




Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

This book has the interesting property of becoming twice as awesome each time you finish another 50% of the story. The first 140 pages? Meh. There is mostly just this nervous tension as Albinus wrecks his life and marriage, a bit like when someone starts to walk into the basement in a horror movie. The next 70 pages are much better, as Rex joins the group and completes the triad. This section is close to the platonic form of a Nabokov book, and after the uninspiring first half it was so refreshing to come across this and be reminded what Nabokov can do and why I liked him so very much. Then what does he do for the next 40 pages? He turns it up to 11, and then is like "oh wait you thought that was awesome? Here try these next 20 pages." Not to say too much about the end, but I love how Nabokov captures the almost adoring attention needed by Rex to mirror and interact with Albinus.

Oh, and here is the sound track for Albinus and Margot's courtship:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqsbgZ7PIY4




The Business by Iain Banks
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A surprisingly light and upbeat Banks work. If you were reading _The Business_ with no prior knowledge of Banks, you would think it was a curiously inconsequential business-mystery-thriller. No one gets badly hurt, no one dies of unnatural causes, and a white-collar crime is almost committed before being re-purposed into a fairly legal and reasonably beneficial business deal. To top it off, the whole thing ends with a marriage, which I think might be unique for a Banks book.

If you are familiar with Banks, then the novel is in some sense about the voids in the story. You expect to see a typically Banksian event come about and complete the rhyme, but then he never actually goes ahead and says the last word. Despite ample opportunities, there aren't any revelations about family trees or personal identity, there aren't any murders or foul play, no one is trapped inside a hell simulation, etc. etc. In some places it seems almost like a farce of a normal Banks book. For instance, there is a "torture" scene, but it is just a materialistic exec being pressured by someone over-revving (and hence damaging) the engine of his new Ferrari.

I think the most important void in the story is what role, if any, the Culture plays. My interpretation is that the Business is a front for Special Circumstances, in the same way SC has used front businesses in other books. This would explain how the Business has lasted 1500 years longer than any nation or corporation, and why it has relatively democratic and progressive ideals. This also makes the book somewhat more sensible to me. It is a sort of day-in-the-life of a SC operation that is going smoothly, and where people are gradually replacing worse with better.


One weakness of this theory is that there isn't any direct support for it in the text. The closest I could find was on page 141, when the protagonist is being interviewed by an executive from the inner most circle:

"What would you sacrifice something of your own for, if not for the Business?"
"I don't know. Other people, maybe. It all depends on the circumstances."
Dessous grimaced and stared at the ceiling, looking suddenly bored with the whole conversation. "Yeah, I guess it always does, doesn't it?"

You see! Clearly Dessous is with SC.




A Song of Stone by Iain Banks
1.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Around page 200, I finally had to face the inevitable. This book was bad. Like, really, truly terribad. I want to love all of Iain Banks' work and shower him with 4 and 5 star reviews, but there is no way to justify it with _A Song of Stone_.

The primary problem is the narrator's voice. To give you an idea, I've opened the book to a random passage, and found:

"
While always preferring poetic injustice to prosaic probity, it would, I think, have been a shame if that which wakened us in the morning had put us instantly back to sleep again, so that in some state, we lay in. You were always the darker sleeper; I have seen your slow unslumbering take more than one cock's crow to achieve. Our reveille is accomplished, however, by something capable of flight which happily does not find its voice.

(page 98; he is woken up by an incoming artillery shell which turns out to be a dud)
"

Notice the forced & weaksauce double meanings, the yoda speak, the endless stream of unneeded and indirect verbiage. This style continues throughout the majority of the book. Occasionally Banks seems forget that his main character is supposed to be unreadable, and will lapse back into clear, non-grating prose, but in general it is 250 pages of this. The style does seem to be an intentional choice meant to to match the character, but it is a bad choice, as if _The Sound and the Fury_ was told entirely by Benjy. There are a few memorable scenes where the plotting and events start to redeem the book, but these are quickly smothered by more passages like the above. Overall, the story reads a bit like _The Stranger_ as narrated by a prolix twit.

Editors Note: A list of burns which did not make it into the final review:
- On the plus side, the _Steep Approach to Garbadale_ no longer has to think of itself as Banks' worst book.
- In the last week I've read multiple MLP fan-fics which are better than this.
- More like _A Song of Suck_.

Post Mortem, ~3 years later: Well, this is a pickle. I still hate the book as an experience, but it does bring up and examine ideas which are A) of continuing interest to me, in that every few months I find myself thinking along particular lines and then making use of this book's ideas, and also B) this book's ideas aren't really examined anywhere else that I have found. So, how many stars is that?




The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Green Millenium by Fritz Leiber
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Right Ho, Jeeves (Jeeves, #6) by P.G. Wodehouse
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Very Good, Jeeves! (Jeeves, #4) by P.G. Wodehouse
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Inimitable Jeeves (Jeeves, #2) by P.G. Wodehouse
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Rime Isle by Fritz Leiber
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A decent space-opera-romance. The plotting was fine, the writing was of upper-middle quality. I could never quite get into it though. The male lead is kind of a douche and belongs to a douche society, and I never wanted really wanted the female lead to run away with him and reward his doucheness. Also, there is a frequent, jarring mismatch between the tone of the novel (honorable, courtly love and light comedy) and the actual events (a pointless war of aggression, rape camps).




Kiln People by David Brin
1.0 Stars
1-1-2015

I'm not exactly sure how to rate this. If a good book has an absolutely terrible ending, how many stars is that? The ending is truly, awfully, horrible. I stopped in disgust with just ~30 pages to go, which I think is a first for me. Is this how the Mass Effect 3 people feel?

Things started off so well. There is a society (a prosperous, ultra-transparent California in 2100 AD), there is a SF concept (people can make temporary, expendable copies of themselves, which can then go off and do work for the original), and Brin explores how the concept would play out in the society (things aren't too bad). All perfectly respectable. In terms of plot Kiln People is an old fashioned detective story, except that multiple copies of the detective are unraveling different threads of the mystery at the same time. Brin's writing is light-hearted and moderately comic, and he is generally optimistic about the future. He's probably a bit too much so, but I think there's still plenty of insight and perception in what he envisions. I was especially enjoying this since the last time I read Brin was as a kid, and it was pleasant to have my childhood tastes confirmed. At least it was until page ~500, when Brin launches off into idiotic metaphysics, pyschic powers, time-travel, cringing tweeness, and any other idiotic idea he can fit in. He then drones on about these things for the last ~100 pages, bringing everything to a terrible, unreadable conclusion. Yes, it's all coming back to me now, that's how Brin's _Earth_ and _Startide_ ended too. I might give Brin another try after another 15 years have passed. Maybe.





Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, #1) by Jack Campbell
1.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Kind of second rate Honor Harrington stuff. On the plus side, it is quick reading, and never really offensive or anger-making.




Bloom by Wil McCarthy
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An enjoyable, quick reading sci-fi story, like something Peter Watts might write on ecstasy. The story starts on Ganymede in the years after a nanotech accident(?) caused rainbow-goo to consume the inner solar system. We follow the protagonist as he takes an experimental ship from the sterile outer system, to the fecund mid-system settlements, and finally into the hot zones where the sun fuels a continual seethe of amok nanotech. Despite the post apocalyptic setting, the story never really feels dark, and I generally liked the hardworking, moderately neurotic, Swedish survivors who populate the outer system.

The book does many things right. The descriptions of the nanotech gone amok (aka blooms) are engaging, and often convey a pleasantly techno-Lovecraft vibe, complete with bloom cultists. Other physical and cultural descriptions are well done and steadily interesting. In general the world building is reasonable, occasionally clever, and doesn't push you away from the story. The finale isn't anything unexpected or ground breaking, but the intervening journey is enjoyable.




Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Mostly delightful. The exploration of the world and its magic system was a continual draw, and was generally more compelling than the plot/characters. The magic system is original as far as I know, and if a studio somewhere is not making a video game based on it then our world is missing out. The plot/characters were entirely solid.




The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod
1.0 Stars
1-1-2015

I simply could not get into this book. The protagonist works at developing video games and this subject matter forms a fair bit of the start of the book. I have at least a tangential knowledge of video game development, and everything in these sections is just completely and totally wrong. The character's mannerisms try to sound up to date and witty and charming, but come off as just screechingly offputting. At 100 pages in I could not make myself care about the characters at all, and on skipping to the ending I found it was exactly what I expected. The basic idea of the book (i.e. Mercatorianism) is interesting to me and I would like to see it further explored, but the execution here was just abysmal.




Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




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