Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

561 pages (hardcover) Orbit books

Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2012), British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel (2012)

There are novels that are great entertainment and some novels that are achievements, 2312 is a fine example of Science Fiction literature that is so well written and and composed it transcends the genre ghetto. Since KSR has decades of genre publishing experience it will be marketed as a genre novel. If it was the work of a first time author (think Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow or David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas) it would have been promoted as straight literature. The novel functions on multiple levels, in many ways it is a history of a possible future, a road trip novel but at it's core it is a love story between a person born and raised on Mercury with a person who grew up in the shadow of Saturn.

Set three hundred years in our future humanity has survived some less than pleasant centuries in part by expanding out in the our neighborhood in space. The novel opens in Terminator city a colony on Mercury. As you can imagine the bright side is too hot and and the dark side is too cold. In order to find the goldie locks spot the city of Terminator stays just beyond the horizon by moving on 42 tracks across the planet at 5 KPH. Sure it is a gee-whiz idea but KSR writes about these wonders like a painter with a skill for landscapes.

The landscapes are a strength of this novel but don't think for one minute he has fallen into the sci-fi disease of ignoring the characters for the gee-whiz stuff. At it's heart 2312 is a love story. Spacers in the future don't think about gender in the narrow terms we do. The main characters are Swan who mostly identifies as female and Wahram who identifies as male. KRS however breaks down these gender steroetypes in a couple hundred pages and the reader like the future society pays little attention to he/ she stuff and focuses on the persons and their amazing story.

The Maguffin of the story is the death of an aunt named Alex who leaves Swan instructions to carry on her work designing and terra-forming habitats around the solar system. The mystery comes when someone or something seems intent on destroying their work. The city on Mercury is attacked and almost destroyed. As Wahram and Swan investigate with the help of a 24th century inspector from Titan they begin to believe the suspect is not human at all.

Along the way they spend time on Venus, the moons of Jupiter, surf the magnetic waves of the Saturn rings and of course spend time on the ecologically crushed home world of humans.

Married to a scientist Robinson blends science and narrative about as good as anyone maybe even better than Arthur C.Clarke. He writes beautiful prose and never dumbs it down, some of it will likely go over your head but usually I could figure it out in time.

Being a left coast liberal and radical thinker Robinson explores the nature of capitalism, hierarchy and environmentalism. While he may not get the attention from the crusty punks the way Ursala Leguin and Octavia Butler have gotten recently this is a subtly subversive speculative novel.

I loved it. I think you should check it out.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: Heaven's War by David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt

Heaven's War by David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt

432 pages Ace books

Thanks to the writers strike a few years ago The screenwriting duo behind this novel decided the movie they were developing might make a good novel and they tried their hand at a first novel. That novel Heaven's shadow that fantastic. In 2011 I said “This is an excellent addition to the the Big Dumb Object genre and my favorite Sci-fi novel I have read so far this year. The authors have built groundwork for a trilogy that cannot stay in the same sub-genre. That's great I am excited to see these characters again and the different direction the story will have to go into.”

I really loved the first book, though it operated on full warp drive and I was excited to read the sequel. I wonder if the first book benefited in way the follow-up did not from the writers strike. Were Goyer and Cassutt not as committed to this second book?

The first problem I had was that it seemed like nothing happened until 250 pages into the novel. There were lots of awkward flashback backgrounds of the characters and that didn't feel weaved into the book. They took over the first act of the book and helped to make the plot feel like it was sinking in quicksand. This was a planned trilogy, and that is a difficult part of a narrative how to write the middle book so it doesn't feel like a bridge. And that is sadly what this book feels like a bridge between book one and two.

Book two doesn't always have to suck. The middle part of trilogy is a dangerous business if you don't do it right. Do it right like say “Empire strikes back” or The Strain Trilogy then you can often craft the best entry in the series. Goyer should understand this as he just wrapped up writing a great film trilogy in Batman, that trilogy like Goyer's blade trilogy had strong second entries. What made those middle parts work is they took the tension up and knott left you worried for what was going to happen. (In empire the heroes lost, in the The Strain the world ended)

In this book I am not sure what happened. This is not a complaint you hear out of me about I think they undersolid the concept of the trilogy, but maybe I was just too lost on the book already. I made it through, but it was a boring read altogether. This makes me sad because I LOVED the first book. I greatly respect Goyer and think he is a wonderful story teller. I'll probably read the third book but I might not rush to do so.

Book Review: The Art of War Blackguard Book Two by Edward R. Morris

The Art of War: Blackguard book 2 by Edward R. Morris

281 pages Wildside press.

This is the sequel to Edward R. Morris's criminally underrated first book Father and Sons. Here are some of the things I said about that book. “[Morris]wears his influences on his sleeves like patches sewn on on punk rock leather jacket. What we end up with is an edgy novel that is not quite cyberpunk, military sci-fi, First Contact story or distopia. It is all those things and more.”

Picking up where the first book ended in mid 21st century Portland after a failed attempt at leaving the U.S. To be it's own country Oregon and Portland is not that different from the city we know it is today. Biggest difference is the massive mile long network of dance clubs downtown. Blackguard is in part the story of Sean Mallory who heads the team of bouncers for owner Paisley Jones. What they are not aware of is the two species of aliens who are hanging out in the club working to position themselves for game that could involve a very nasty future for the human race.

This series best asset is it does something that is almost impossible to do after so many years of Science Fiction literature – it is bold fresh and above all original. This series invites comparison, but take cyberpunk for example, it is similar to some cyberpunk but it is not really cyberpunk in a traditional sense. One thing that adds to this feeling is ERM's ability to to write about the iceberg, what I mean is when you see an Iceberg you are seeing a small part of it, most of it remains under water unseen, this book is written about what happens above the water line. You know and understand there is more going on. ERM uses an economy of well composed words that make for pretty prose that don't over tell the story. This series will massage your imagination, and you'll find yourself stopping to ponder it's scope.

It is laced with humor, some of it helps if you are from Portland. Other strengths include the characters and the the general bizarro-ness of the future Rose city.

I have a bias, as ERM is a friend and we are currently working on a novel together but I feel pretty safe suggesting this series to those who who like high class speculative fiction, as that is what this is.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Review: Milton's Children by Jason V. Brock

Milton's Children by Jason V. Brock

80 pages Bad Moon books

Milton’s children is a short and but eventful novella that is one of those rare books that will leave you actually wanting more pages. It is the story of an arctic expedition which finds a series of islands that had been hidden under ice, once there they find several unusual creatures and the expedition is split in two and then the horror begins.

The best thing about Milton’s children (which is reference to Milton’s Paradise Lost) is the old school pulps feel that it has. Without the overly Victorian language Brock captures a old time adventure feel, while the characters dialogue grounds the story in modern times the creepy tone often gives the story a feel like your reading from an old yellowed paper pulp magazine.

It is an excellently composed piece of storytelling and Brock certainly has the chops, if there was anything I didn’t like was the transcription style used towards the end when half of expedition finds a video shot by the other characters. This style choice had the effect of pulling me out of the story, not sure that will effect most readers.

Jason Brock has been making a name for himself as an editor (formally of Dark Discoveries) now Nameless magazine and two anthologies (the Bleeding Edge and the Devil‘s Coattails) with Logan’s Run author William F. Nolan. He is also a filmmaker with three documentaries either out or in the process of being finished. No one can question Brock’s commitment to the dark arts, he gets shit done. So far as a writer we mostly have short stories to judge from, many of which have been found in his own magazines and anthologies. All have shown great quality and growth from an new author on the scene.

This is a longest piece we have read yet, and it is great start I hope we will get to see what Brock can do in the novel form soon. If this novella is any indication I’m ready to read that one.