Sorry, Please, Thank You Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A collection of enjoyable meta-fictional short stories. Generally the stories involve characters who are playing a role in someone else's story, or who have some sort of dual role where they are both themselves and participating in a fiction. E.g. a story told from the PoV of the hero in a fantasy MMO, or of the author's own tulpa/imaginary self as he lives through the author's thoughts, or people who find a doorway they can travel through into a novel, or of someone in a Total Recall like novel experience, etc. etc.

I wouldn't call any of the stories great, but at the very least they are readable and not painful, which is more than you can say for most high concept stories. There's some moderate cleverness and occasional emotion. The author's tone doesn't quite click with me, he is very earnest in a _The Shins_ sort of way. I can't help but feel that he would be happier if we were still doing arranged marriages.




Resurrection Man
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A high quality modern fantasy story. The book is set in the 1970's of an alternate timeline, where magic has started to filter back into the world. And unlike every other instance of this conceit, the Resurrection Man actually does a good job with it. The story is grounded in the life and history of a single family, and is told by the younger generation as they unravel the family history and their own connection to the supernatural. The writing and story are a bit like the oaken furniture that litters the tale: heavy, solid, rich with age and history, muted dark colors. There aren't any fireballs or trolls or anything, just an interwoven family, a few other characters, and a subtle and occasionally wild magic. The book is just the right length for its story, too.




Neptune's Brood
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A rather odd little sci-fi novel. In some ways it is constantly imaginative, as it describes the various ways that mechanical life has adapted to the different niches of the universe. You never meet just a "person", instead they will be a deep-sea adapted mermaid form and her cloned and regularly mind-merged sisters, or a mechanocyte priestess who can reprogram mechanical flesh, or an almost group-mind squid variant that communicates with its pod mates via chromatophores, etc. etc. Basically each character and environment is its own fleshy, squishy, mutable thing, like they all have a bit of, well, The Thing in them. The book is not really great science and doesn't have any really new ideas (i.e. most of these character are just animals plus sci-fi dust), but it is enjoyable. I feel like it would make a really good splat book for Eclipse Phase or some other trans-human RPG.

Then you have the plot, which in many places is as dry and shaky as the physical details are wet and meaty. The main character is an interstellar accountant, and the main plot is about unravelling a centuries old financial mystery. The general formula is that the protagonist is propelled from from place to place, and then observes new things at the new place. I'd estimate that half the scene changes take place because the protagonist is kidnapped or dragged by guards. It reminds me a bit of David Brin, and how when he couldn't think of a segue he would just have the PoV character knocked out and then wake up in a new place. The actual psychological models of the characters are very thin, and the main character has very little agency. The central mystery and plot are a bit ludicrous, and then a lot ludicrous by the end of the book.

Anyway, this wasn't my favorite novel, but it is at least unusual, and I enjoyed the various cheerful oddities that it describes.




The Curse of Chalion
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A very sweet book. It's a bit like Game of Thrones, if the Gods were just and cared about people, and goodness and faithfulness were rewarded, and true love came to deserving young nobles. Ok, so not very much like Game of Thrones. Maybe more like Dickens, except in a medieval fantasy setting, and written by a more modern and balanced hand. I found this adventure/romance to be very readable and heart warming. It comes right up to the edge of being saccharine but rarely crosses it. The adventures and politics and curses and magic were all just fine too.




The Stars my Destination
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An enjoyable book, but one that is still very much a product of its times and doesn't have that much useful to say 50 years later on. Kind of a disco fever type of thing. The story starts with a brutish man stranded in space by an intra-stellar war. A passing merchant ship notices him and stops, but ultimately decides to continue on and leave him to die. The rest of the story is about his quest to track down and revenge himself on that ship. Along the way he changes, grows, rapes, murders, etc. Generally the book is clever, creative, violent, and fast moving. It also reads very much as a 1960's book, which is unfortunate. There are psychic powers, telepathy, LSD-like synthesia, a 2001 type full-of-stars journey through the universe, time travel, etc. The tech is also very outdated, e.g. the starships use simple chemical thrusters, they signal each other with flares, they transfer gold bullion from planetary bank to planetary bank, etc. So it's not really a novel that engages with physical facts much, and it doesn't really have any deep psychological modeling, or at least not any that I can parse.




The Human Division
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A series of short adventure stories set in a nominally sci-fi universe. The stories read a bit like episodes from the original Star Trek, where a brave and clever band of starship captains, ambassadors, and scientists deal with new alien species and some sort of plot or diplomatic incident. The stories are largely enjoyable, though the sci-fi aspects are very thin. In particular the aliens think and speak very much like the humans do, and the humans mostly think and speak the same (homespun, likes baseball, mildly right wing). The short story form does work much better for the author than his long form novels set in the same universe. With a short story the premise behind the episode only has to work for 30 pages rather than 300. The short episodes are strung together and gradually move the larger plot along. One of the best stories though is a standalone buried at the end of the book, which has a clever and enjoyable hand-to-hand fight against a strange alien beast.




Hunchback of Notre Dame
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

This was an interesting book. The basic ingredients are comedy and melodrama, sort of like an 18th century Joss Whedon work. The comedy has aged well, and the comedic passages are enjoyable and move the plot along in an agreeable fashion. The melodrama was a bit off, and I'm not sure if that is due to the effects of age, or translation, or just my response to the work. I kind of feel like the comedic portion overshadows and takes the piss out of the melodrama, as I found myself caring more about Gringoire and Djali than about the maladaptive love polygon that is the main plot of the book. On the plus side, the author treats his characters in a pleasantly cavalier and brutal fashion, a bit like a more fleshed out and extended version of Candide. The poor, the outcast, and the ugly come to terrible ends, while money and entrenched power sail effortlessly by. Oh, and there are occasional chapters where the author just decides to spend 50 pages describing Paris and Notre-Dame, and where there isn't the slightest drop of plot or humor. Feel free to skip those chapters and whatever deep message they may contain.




Ham on Rye
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A delightful book. I went into this expecting it to be difficult, hard core literature that puts hair on your chest, but no, it hums along. I think the only thing that could have made this better is if towards the end, when the protagonist is drawn into the fringes of the Nazi party and its grotesques, the Nazi party was instead replaced with some Mythos cult. This book would have been perfect as a sort of Portrait of the Inbred Savage Mythos Cultist as a Young Man.




The Perfect Spy
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Another wonderful Le Carre novel. This time the main theme is how being a sort of psychologically fluid and ungrounded con-man is an ideal preparation for being a spy. In this sense it is reminiscent of the Tailor of Panama, though I enjoyed the main character in this book much more. Confession: I listened to this as an audio-book. Le Carre is a great reader, and I love his American characters/impersonations to no end. I would listen/read/watch him do portraits of Americans for as long as he was willing to produce them.




Little Drummer Girl
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




City of Bones
1.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Kind of terrible; the final battle and its re-curring weapon hand offs reads like a parody of itself. Hmm, what else. The main plot beats are obvious from the start even to an oblivious person like me, the protagonist is actively uninteresting, the world building is un-original and kind of crap. All in all it is like a lengthy and sub-par fan-fiction.




The Night Circus
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A decent book that unfortunately collides with many of my hang-ups. I'm not much of a foodie, and this book spends endless words describing all the delicacies that people eat. As far as I can tell, no one ever eats any fiber in this book, but then again they are magicians so maybe they have ways of dealing with that. Then there is the issue that one of the main characters is a sort of mind-mage, who can silently reach in and Create/Read/Update/Delete parts of another person's psyche. Long ago I had an argument about (nerd alert!) Ars Magica and its similar mind mages, and how you could never have a society of such people since they are all basically pointing mental guns at each other all the time. So I always had problems with that character, and how people don't treat his mere presence as an existential threat, and how his use of magic to turn people into slaves is somehow not considered evil. I had other quibbles with the plot, but you get the idea.

On the plus side, this book does have a great deal of inventiveness and lays out some beautiful physical scenes and images.




The Information
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A decent enough book, but its subject matter is almost exactly covered by a Computer Science/Electrical Engineering degree. The interesting bits were in the ancient history; a monk who discovered binary encoding in the 1500's, a Mesopotamian curse that all those who have not come to logic may live in everlasting filth, and the early flag-based telegraph system that France used before the electric version was invented.




The Girl who circumnavigated fairy land in a ship of her own making
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Sand Castle
7.0 Stars
1-1-2015




An Unofficial Rose
7.0 Stars
1-1-2015

In this story one of the members of a group dies, thus freeing up her long time partner. The majority of the book is the maneuvering that the characters do to take advantage of this free relationship slot, and see it filled according to their desires or what they think is best. The various concerns are as devious and interconnected as any game of Diplomacy. Reading this book it is hard not wonder whether Britain conquered half the world because it's citizens were so conniving, or whether that trait is a result of their imperial experience. As always Iris Murdoch does a beautiful job of laying out a social graph at the start of the story, just a wonderful flood of info and characterization.




Asteros Polyp
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Call for the Dead
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Tailor of Panama
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Seraphina
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An enjoyable and well written book, though quite definitely meant for the young adult set.




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