August 2018 Reading thread

hitmouse

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Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories From a War Zone by Andrew Thompson, Heidi Postlewaite, and Kenneth Cain.

Recommended.

Despite the title this is not a salacious read. Very readable memoirs of the intersecting careers of 3 people from disparate backgrounds working for UN disaster and crisis management variously in Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Liberia, Haiti from the early 1990's to about 2010. The 3 have various motives for dropping out of conventional careers in the West, and as time goes on they go from idealism through various stages of anger/despair/cynicism/fatalism. Absolutely no self-aggrandisement or glorification in here, but a lot of humanity.

My 16 year old son was interested in what motivates people to do this sort of job, and what the work actually entails. A number of contacts in international NGOs separately recommended this as the single best primer on the subject. It is also a good adjunct to any post-cold war modern history.
 

Vertigo

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I have simply had no time to write reviews recently so here are just a few comments on my last 5 books, three of which have been sadly disappointing; not bad as such just a bit medicore.

Noumenon by Marina J Lostetter – One of the first interstellar multigenerational convoys is dispatched to a strange anomalous variable star that has been discovered with the possibility of either an unknown process or an alien Dyson sphere. Except the multiple generations will be clones not natural children to maintain the natural aptitudes the chosen crew without genetic variation. It sounds like a hard SF story; it is not. The focus is very much on the social dynamics of the crew and in fact the ‘anomaly’ is rather disappointingly given very short shrift. The ideas Lostetter presents are interesting though I would disagree with many of them. However being no social scientist that certainly doesn’t make them wrong just because I consider them unlikely. An okay but not brilliant book.

The Glorious Angels by Justina Robson – I have liked many of Robson’s books and she often seems to write novels that mix up science fiction and fantasy which I have generally enjoyed but this time the emphasis is far more on the fantasy side and consequently far less to my liking, which is a shame as it is a good if slightly slow moving fantasy thriller with definite elements of science fiction. Ten years ago when I was still reading fantasy I’d have probably lapped it up but now it was really just okay.

Deep Space Accountant by Mjke Wood – Based on the cover picture and the blurb I was expecting something of a spoof piece of science fiction, maybe along the lines of Toby Frost’s Space Captain Smith, but in the event I was very much surprised, in a good way, to find a pretty solid SF thriller with a fair bit of humour but more along the lines of Weir’s The Martian (though less snarky). In other words the book is far more about the good plot than the humour. A gamble purchase that has turned out to be pleasantly surprising. There is another book set in the same universe.

Synners by Pat Cadigan – One of the early classic cyberpunk novels, and very much filled with all the classic cyberpunk elements: implants, drugs, dystopia, virtual reality, bad language. I should have loved it but instead I found it an effort to get through. Maybe I’ve grown tired of cyberpunk? Of interest though is that in many ways this book is far more prescient than, for example, Gibson’s Neuromancer; her ‘dataline’ felt much closer to the present day internet than Gibson’s matrix. Though it’s interesting how all of those early cyberpunk authors, Cadigan included, seemed to miss the advent of the mobile phone. However Cadigan does at least have the first ‘cordless modem’ interface appear briefly in this book.

Vanguard by Jack Campbell – after several books that were without doubt a struggle it was nice to drop back into Jack Campbell’s worlds again albeit in the form of a distant prequel to the Lost Fleet series of which I was a little worried this was just going to be another re-badge, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it really quite different with a far more planet based bias. The main character, Rob Geary, is an ancestor of the Lost Fleet’s Jack Geary and a Desjani even puts in a brief appearance, though I felt both to be unnecessary and just a little tacky. But never mind it was still a fast enjoyable piece of military SF and probably the book I have most enjoyed out this little lot.

Sorry for the length of post but I just don’t have the time to write them all up as individual reviews.
 

Vince W

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Synners by Pat Cadigan – One of the early classic cyberpunk novels, and very much filled with all the classic cyberpunk elements: implants, drugs, dystopia, virtual reality, bad language. I should have loved it but instead I found it an effort to get through. Maybe I’ve grown tired of cyberpunk? Of interest though is that in many ways this book is far more prescient than, for example, Gibson’s Neuromancer; her ‘dataline’ felt much closer to the present day internet than Gibson’s matrix. Though it’s interesting how all of those early cyberpunk authors, Cadigan included, seemed to miss the advent of the mobile phone. However Cadigan does at least have the first ‘cordless modem’ interface appear briefly in this book.
In all honesty, I love cyberpunk, but when I read it now it's from the view point of reading a book from a period of time that doesn't exist any more. I mean, very few of us saw the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1984.

Actually, Gibson sort of did predict the mobile phone. In his Bridge Trilogy he talks about a hand held deck that lets the user jack in and walk around, oblivious to the world around him or her.
 

Vertigo

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In all honesty, I love cyberpunk, but when I read it now it's from the view point of reading a book from a period of time that doesn't exist any more. I mean, very few of us saw the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1984.

Actually, Gibson sort of did predict the mobile phone. In his Bridge Trilogy he talks about a hand held deck that lets the user jack in and walk around, oblivious to the world around him or her.
Most of my Cyberpunk reading has been the same; I really only started reading it around 2010, so very much after the fact. And I have loved most that I have read. But although Synners seemed to have all the ingredients that I have loved before and I really can't fault her writing (maybe a little too much stream of consciousness at times) I just couldn't get into the swing of it. Ho hum.
 

CTRandall

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@hitmouse Before starting Woodlands, I expected it to be a textbook, so I'm not put off by that. And I'm already gripped by the utterly astonishing biology of trees and history of woodcraft. Love the fact that decay and injury actually help trees become stronger and live longer. Nature is truly astounding.
 

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LordOfWizards

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Finished ~ Fear The Sky - Stephen Moss
Even though the writing is incredibly sophomoric, at times even a bit juvenile, It's a great story. The reason being is that the plot is interesting enough that it keeps the pages turning, and the characters and the science are well done. I liked it much better than "The Mote in God's Eye" (Niven/Pournelle) which was recommended. I'm not a big fan of Military SF. I didn't like "Starship Troopers" either for the same reason. I guess I'm just weird that way.
 

Parson

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Continuing my Ell Donsaii read-o-rama I've finished Defiant and have moved on to Wanted. Reading them all so close together gives you some insights that you hadn't seen before. One of the things that is striking to me now that was not so on my first much more leisurely read through is that there is a surprising amount of science and a surprising amount about how smooth Ell moves and how good looking she is. It's starting to wear on me a bit.
 

Vertigo

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All Systems Red by Martha Wells - although not a bad book as such I won't be reading more of the series because I resent being openly ripped off. See my review for more details.

I am moving on to begin my reread of Iain M Banks' Culture books. I first read these in a very haphazard manner and loved them. Ever since Banks' untimely death I have been promising myself a more measure reread, which I am now commencing with Consider Phlebas and, only 50 pages in, I'm already loving it. Which surprises me a little as I remember this being one of my less favourite of the Culture books.
 

The Big Peat

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The Glorious Angels by Justina Robson – I have liked many of Robson’s books and she often seems to write novels that mix up science fiction and fantasy which I have generally enjoyed but this time the emphasis is far more on the fantasy side and consequently far less to my liking, which is a shame as it is a good if slightly slow moving fantasy thriller with definite elements of science fiction. Ten years ago when I was still reading fantasy I’d have probably lapped it up but now it was really just okay.
When you say fantasy thriller, what exactly do you mean? You've piqued my interest a little here, but nobody seems to have the same definition of fantasy thriller ;)
 

Vertigo

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Ah difficult question @The Big Peat.

It is fantasy in the sense that there is magic (though it is suggested at the end that this may have been engineered - don't worry that's not really a spoiler it's still just background). It is also science fiction in that they have advanced but ancient technology that they still manage to maintain without really understanding it. Much of this technology is now failing resulting for example in there being a few flying machines left, but most transport is by horse and swords are the typical soldier's weapon. The line between the magic (talents like telepathy, spells to protect doors etc.) and the Clarksian technology, that's not understood and so advanced it's like magic, gets very ambiguous. Which is fine as the distinction is not important to the story, but it takes a little while to settle into as the reader.

There are also a number of quite different species involved but, again, the implication is that they are engineered rather than alien species.

It's a thriller in the sense that it's not a quest or any of the other common fantasy tropes but rather more like I imagine the Game of Thrones to be (I've never read it) with much intrigue going on between different city states that are nominally allied.

It also has a little bit of a Gormenghast feel to the city. With lots of towers and dusty hidden spaces no longer used and slightly bizarre and eccentric characters.

I should have also added that there is some sex in it, though not that much - maybe two or three scenes - but that sex is pretty explicit. It is not gratuitous though in that I think it's quite important to the story.

Really a very difficult novel to categorise which can be said of quite a lot of Justina Robsons work (at least her later work).

As I mentioned, a few years back when I was still reading a lot of fantasy I'd have loved this; it's a well written and well imagined world she has created.

I would suggest looking at the 'look inside' feature of Amazon where there is the Forward (worth reading) and the first three chapters or so, which should give a very good feel for the style.
 

Parson

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Finished Wanted last night 10 down in the series. Wanted I find to be just a little less involving than the previous books, but in saying that I've probably given some praise to Laurence Dahmers, every other series I've read past about 3 or 4 books has gone his precipitously, this only gradually.
 

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