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  1. #1
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Reading in June 2008

    This is where you tell us what you're reading in SF this month. Good or bad, please let us know what you thought.

    Over to the Book Clubs....

    The Fantasy Book Club discussion is on The Black Company by Glen Cook. A new recent classic of the genre?

    The SF Book Club's having a rest for now.

    Join in if you can!


    Mark / Hobbit
    Mark

  2. #2
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    I finished two sf novels, an excellent - probably the best pure hard sf I've read or close to it - Incandescence by Greg Egan and a "brain-crack" addictive adventure-mil sf that had me awake until 2.30 am to finish it Claws that Catch - Vorpal Blade 4 by J. Ringo and T. Taylor

    Einstein's General - mind you not the "easier" special one - Theory of Relativity as a lyrical novel with characters that you care about. That's Incadescence. Actually it has 2 strands, one in the Amalgam-Aloof Universe of Mr. Egan, and one inside a strange planetoid Splinter where the locals, DNA "cousins" of ours have a content life as mostly farmers/gatherers living in tunnels inside. The "Wind" coming from "Incadescence" provides the food that literally grows on rocks and they just have to tend to it and to various "animals". And since they have a compulsion for association - and work is what people do, and there are no families, there is little conflict.

    But one day a "normal" farmer female Roi meets a strange elderly male Zak who asks Roi to help him with some experiments determining the "weight" distribution inside Splinter -this weight distribution is quite strange since as we slowly learn it's not gravity the way we feel on Earth but something trickier and much more complicated - Mr. Egan has quite a few equations and a lot of extras on his website at gregegan.net, but I would recommend to first read the novel and struggle with our heroes to make sense of everything - Roi is suspicious at first that Zak wants to "recruit" her, but slowly some kind of knowledge hunger wakes up in her and she freely associates with Zak forming a new kind of work team - which is accepted since as mentioned work is what people do on Splinter. Slowly they attract other people that have developed this hunger for knowledge and when disaster almost strikes Splinter, they become more and more important.

    The back story unfolding as a detective one starring some Amalgam citizens Rakeesh and Parantham "invited" by the mysterious Aloof to investigate a possible DNA planet inside their high energy domain in the Galactic Center provides a lot of answers about Splinter and its inhabitants, but its story per se is less interesting overall. Maybe because Rakeesh is an essentially immortal posthuman, and Parantham is an AI descendant, a "novus" not of the 7 or so original organic lines of which DNA is one - not that it matters that much because any Amalgam citizen lives sometimes embodied, sometimes as AI depending on choice and appropriateness, while the Splinter "people" though with wildly different bodies and senses from us, are much more similar in interests and occupations...Hard to emphatise with Rakeesh when he is so bored that everything in the Galaxy has been discovered or lies in the mysterious, unreachable Aloof territory..

    The ending while resolving the story line is open enough to allow for a sequel, which I would really want to read. The best Egan novel by far, commensurate with his mind boggling superb short fiction.

    Claws that Catch is a mash of so many things including purple space spiders, space dragonflies ridden by friendly aliens acting as fighter escorts, a cosmic music stage using 4 Jovians and the output of a star that can be used as an awesome weapon by singing, exotic particle physics, cliched military wedding, anime characters, and so much more. It's just a compulsive ride and the last 3rd is action non-stop. Read the sample chapters at Baen and enjoy - do not complain if you get addicted though
    Last edited by suciul; June 1st, 2008 at 12:45 AM.

  3. #3
    Intrigued diletante Nicolas's Avatar
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    I just finished Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds, which i enjoyed enormously. His characters sometimes feel a bit stereotyped and underdeveloped, acting in function of the story rather than the opposite, but the fluidity of the writing, the quality of the descriptions, the carefully placed revelations slowly unfolding the mystery and the continuous acceleration of the pace made it difficult for me to put down.
    There is room for a sequel as well. I have now read 5 novels and a few short stories by Mr Reynolds and he still fails to disappoint.

    Now i'm having a coffee, and will soon start Guards, Guards! by Terry Pratchett, which i feel like re-reading right now.

    After that, Neuromancer probably, as it has been suggested to me in my query regarding books about bars (thanks Ropie). I have had it on my "to read" pile for months but still haven't done it. I buy a lot more books than i read...

  4. #4
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Thumbs up

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post
    After that, Neuromancer probably, as it has been suggested to me in my query regarding books about bars (thanks Ropie). I have had it on my "to read" pile for months but still haven't done it. I buy a lot more books than i read...
    I started it recently but put it down after a few chapters. It's a dark and broody tale and to me, better suited to an autumn or winter evening, so I'll personally be leaving it until then.

  5. #5
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    I finished Earth Ascendant by S. Williams which is volume 2 in the Astropolis series. Volume 1 Saturn Returns was an unexpected hit for me last year after the very disappointing Geodesica 2. Volume 1.5 Cenotaxis a small press novella about the conquest of Earth by Prime Imre Bergamasc Returned Continuum was excellent.

    Earth Ascendant though is good but not at the level of the previous 2. About 300k years after Cenotaxis and 400k after Saturn - that is the time scale in a no ftl Galaxy - The Returned Continuum is putting back the Galaxy but this time led by Primes - "regular" humans - with Singletons - multiple humans - in positions of power but not dominating, while the previous glue of the Galaxy, The Forts - the several hundred galaxy spanning posthumans consisting of millions of frags linked by Q-coherence allowing instantaneous exchange of info - are still dead due to the mysterious Slow Wave. Luminous and The Barons are still unknown powers sabotaging the new continuum and killing any fort-to-be.

    As First Prime, Imre tours the galaxy at light speed to bring new systems in, cement loyalties of old systems, while Helwise is Regent on Earth with Render - a prime - keeping an eye on her and Alice Angeles a frag that somehow survived the destruction of its fort as general factotum, while Freer is the Marshal in charge of many systems.

    Helwise/Earth is hunting the other copies of her, while each Freer is loyal to Imre. Emlee is still Imre's bodyguard and confidante/occasional lover.

    The secret ingredient of the Continuum is the Apparatus of Cenotaxis and only the inner circle knows about it

    Most of the book is about the difficulty of running the Continuum, the ambitions of Helwise, while the really interesting parts about The Barons, Luminous, Domgard, Himself - that is Imre the Singleton/Fort that killed our Prime Imre before the Jinc resurrected him in Saturn Returns and now is up to something, but with higher stakes so he is leaving our Imre and the Returned Continuum on their own unless disturbed - are given relative little space.

    Though the story advances to some extent in the hundred k or so years of Earth Ascendant, this is clearly a middle volume and one which concentrates on the less interesting parts - for me at least.
    Still it was a good enough read and I really want to find out the mysteries of Astropolis, so the last volume is on my buy list.

  6. #6
    Registered User spiralguru3d's Avatar
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    Hi all, I'm new here!

    I've just started Ender's Game, and will be reading Revelation Space next, and then the first of the Honor Harrington books.

    Will post how I get on as I finish them.!.

  7. #7
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    I'm currently reading Consider Phlebas By Iain Banks. I read Wasp Factory last month and decided to give his Science Fiction a try. I might try To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer after that

  8. #8
    A couple days ago I finished Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods, a fairly slender book which deals with the cyclical nature of human error through telling three stories, one after the other, in which three different versions of the same characters fall in love whilst the world ends around them, [though in one case it could be argued that it is ending in microcosm.] Settings range from a far-future doomed human-occupied world in the first section, to ... well, that would be telling, but I shall say that the second section is a speculative historical, while the third is a near future distopia.

    Interestingly, a couple of the characters go out of their way throughout the novel to state how much they don't like science fiction, something which Ursula Le Guin calls attention to in her [excellent, and overall positive] review of the novel in The Guardian. Despite what degree of genre snobbery may or may not be going on here, this is most definitely science fiction, and very interesting science fiction at that. The theme of repetition comes up a lot, from repeated phrases and passages, to repeated appearances of certain books and other items, and the cyclical apocalypses themselves. The middle section, [which is the part on which the whole thing turns arguably, and which also gives the book its name], is rather short, and the love story and backdrop were both underdeveloped considering the amount of weight they are asked to carry.

    Also note that the novel is preachy. However I did not find that this bore it down too much. This is, after all, a theme-based novel. Winterson's prose is also very stylized, and while I enjoyed a lot of the poetic flourishes some people may find this irritating.

    At this point the forum booted me out of the reply field and I lost a bunch of what I'd written. A thought-provoking and engaging book about repetition, destruction, and the funky things societies might do when under stress. Oh, and there's some gender studies sort of stuff in there too.

    I also finished reading Depth of Field, the second third of Iain M Banks's Matter. It was good, though still lacking the razor's edge of brilliance that I found made The Player of Games exceptional.
    ________
    Coach Purses
    Last edited by mjolnir; April 29th, 2011 at 02:16 AM.

  9. #9
    I like to rock the party Corporal Blues's Avatar
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    I've been really busy with school lately, and have had very little time for reading enjoyment, but when I have had time, I've been enjoying Gateway by Frederik Pohl. I'm only about a 1/3 of the way through, but it is fairly light, fun, and interesting. I can't wait for Bob to get in one of those Heechee ships.

    Sigfrid the robot shrink is a pretty great character too.

  10. #10
    I am half way through The rise of Endymion, I am reading the huge paperback Endymion omnibus, people give me strange looks when I wield that book on the train. It's a bloody cracking read. After that I don't know whether to sniff out something fresh or dig into my book collection and get stuck into some Culture books. I have always fancied re-reading the revelation space books again though.

  11. #11
    Registered User spiralguru3d's Avatar
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    I've just finished Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I wish I had read the book when I was a teenager. I think if I had, I would still be telling people what a brilliant book it was. As it is, I think the good outweighed the bad, but have no great desire to go on with other books in the saga.

    I am starting "Revelation Space" tonight. I'm about to put the kettle on for some tea and settle down to read for a couple of hours. I've seen some very mixed reviews of it so here's hoping.. =)

  12. #12

    The Host

    Just finished "The Host" by Stephenie Meyer. I really liked it, mostly because of her story-telling ability. She just has a way of capturing the reader's attention, pulling them into the story and weaving some great, emotional, conflicted plots.

    Not my favorite book ever, but a fantastic read nonetheless. I often wonder how she (and other SFF authors) come up with some of this stuff...my brain just doesn't seem to work that way. But, I'm glad there are some with that talent!

  13. #13
    I like to rock the party Corporal Blues's Avatar
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    I recently finished reading Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. I really didn't like it at all. It was one of those books that I had high hopes for, so despite not liking it I kept on reading in hopes that it would suddenly take a turn for the better. It didn't. I didn't like any of the characters, they were pretty flat and unlikable, the plot was kind of boring to me, and I think Vinge's writing style just wasn't for me. I had a hard time with the book keeping my attention.

    It was kind of disappointing to have the first book of summer be such a let down. I'm gonna switch it up and read some fantasy for a bit before coming back to SF.

  14. #14
    Give me liberty! Ouroboros's Avatar
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    Just starting John Ringo & Linda Evans' 'Road to Damascus', a Bolos novel.

    I've read mixed reviews, but some of the criticism levelled at it actually leads me to believe that I might find it quite interesting (some suggestion that there is too much of a political element to the plot).

  15. #15
    Speculative Horizons Moderator JamesL's Avatar
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    I've just finished Kethani by Eric Brown. I don't read much sci-fi, but I liked the philosophical approach and the fact that the novel focused more on humanity than alien life.

    While I'm a fantasy fanboy at heart, I do like to dip now and then into the other speculative genres. Having come across one or two favourable reviews for Eric Brown's Kéthani - and realising that I really ought to read more sci-fi - I thought I'd give it a go.

    Now, I'll freely admit that I don't know much about the current state of sci-fi. I'm not really sure what authors are popular, what kind of stories are the 'in' thing, and so on.

    What struck me about Kéthani however was that it was remarkable for being a sci-fi novel that was more about mankind than alien life/advanced technology.

    The premise is wonderfully simple: the alien race known only as the Kéthani have descended upon earth and offered the gift of eternal life to mankind. The way it works is as follows: a minor operation is carried out on the subject human to insert an 'implant.' In the event of the human's death (whether by natural causes or accident) the implant will be activated and will automatically alert the (human) staff at the nearest 'Onward Station' who will come and collect the body. The 'soul' of the person will then be beamed up to the Kéthani spaceship orbiting the Earth, and in six months the individual will be returned to Earth in full health (and usually a decade or so younger). The individual - or 'returnee' as they're known - then has the choice of staying on earth permanently or voyaging among the stars as an ambassador for the Kéthani, bringing their message of goodwill to the other races of the universe. While what happens to the returnees during their six-month absence is not fully known, it is agreed that all returnees demonstrate more humanity than they did when previously alive. For example, they are often more caring, compassionate and understanding.

    Rather than taking a sweeping, global look at the impact of the Kéthani on mankind, Brown instead focuses on a handful of people in Yorkshire. Each chapter focuses on a different character, sometimes narrated in the third person by the primary character Khalid, or in first-person by the character themselves. Interspersed between chapters are interludes - always told from Khalid's perspective - that detail how much time has passed since the coming of the Kéthani and often serve as an introduction to the next character's story.

    The small-scale focus works extremely well. What we get - rather than a big diorama - is a stripped-down, personal look at how these peoples' lives have been affected by the Kéthani and their ability to grant immortality. The stories are by turns sad, uplifting and extremely thought-provoking. Brown raises a number of philosophical questions: what role does God play in all this? What are the implications of not having the implant operation? Is the prospect of eternal life really as good as it seems? If you personally are against the implantation process (as many humans are), should you refuse to let your child be implanted? Is life suddenly made worthless by the fact that death is no longer something to be feared?

    Subsequently Kéthani is a novel that resonates with real meaning, as each character struggles with their own problems caused by the arrival of the Kéthani, often having to look deep within themselves to find the solution. The decisions they come to are not always what you'd expect.

    There are some flaws with the novel. The story does have a slightly disjointed feel to it, the result of many of the chapters originally being written as short stories. There is also a problem with repetition later on (the imagery used to describe the 'Onward Stations' and the scenes set in The Fleece pub are the main offenders here). Furthermore, the stories of some characters are more interesting than others and some of the individuals are not quite as well developed as some of their fellows.

    Nonetheless, Kéthani is for the most part an absorbing, thoughtful read that serves as a good reminder why fantasy kids like me should read more sci-fi.

    Rating: dddd
    Last edited by Hobbit; June 30th, 2008 at 11:33 AM.

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