Saturday, December 30, 2006

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

My review of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi is up over at Fantasybookspot. I enjoyed this book – it was a fun and entertaining read, which is what I’ve come to expect now that I’ve read this and The Android’s Dream. It lacks the philosophical punch of something like Starship Troopers or The Forever War, but does entertain. 7/10
Related Reviews: The Android's Dream (at FBS) and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Review: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers defies typical sub-genre classification – part science fiction, part urban fantasy, part time travel story, part historical fiction, part thriller, part noir, and part secret history – yet it is not the sum of these parts, but something excitingly different. Since its release in 1983 it has deservedly become a ‘new classic’.

A small group of ancient Egyptian sorcerers in the early 19th century initiate a plan to end English domination of Egypt and reestablish it as a world power of its own right and religion, without the pollution of such up-start religions as Christianity and Islam. Magic has faded in the world and become perilous to use – a powerful spell intended to bring ancient Egyptian Gods back into direct interaction with the world fails, dramatically altering an attending sorcerer and blasting holes in the space-time continuum over a period of several hundred years.

A rich, powerful and eccentric old man in the 1980s seeks a way to conquer terminal cancer and discovers these gaps in time and how to use them for time travel. He seeks the help of an expert in early 19th century poetry to lead a group of high-paying, time traveling tourists to observe a lecture – the hapless Brendan Doyle. As expected, plans are more than they seem and they don’t last, leaving Doyle stranded and in grave danger.

The Anubis Gates is a plot-driven novel that keeps you wanting more once the story gets moving. While the plot is action packed and full of plenty of twists and turns, the lack of great characterization eventually catches up. One can’t help but cheer for Doyle, but his continued idiocy left me cold and questioning his character. Other characters are merely present, lacking the depth they beg for.

However, whatever The Anubis Gates lacks in character development, it makes up for with the sheer genius of the story. I might not be singing its praises as loudly as some, but I do recommend it to readers well beyond the traditional boundaries of SFF, as well as those of us within. On my 10-point scale, The Anubis Gates scores 7.5.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

From the Files of the Time Rangers by Richard Bowes

The mosaic novel is at once a very new ‘brand’ of the literary tradition and one of its oldest examples. In the Afterword Bowes admits that he believed the term originated from Jeff VanderMeer, while VanderMeer explained that someone else coined the term. Bowes goes on to correctly place the mosaic novel’s origins in ancient Rome and Greece with the likes of Apuleius, Petronius Arbiter, and Ovid.

Why do I begin this review with the exploration of the origins of the mosaic novel as Bowes explains in the Afterword? The answer is because it took the Afterword to reveal to me what From the Files of the Time Rangers is – it is a celebration of speculative fiction, as well as the American Northeast that Bowes has known. While the pieces contained are dark, ominous, and rather pessimistic toward the human condition, the homage is one of love, hope, and remembrance.

The Time Rangers are international police force of a kind under the direction of the Gods, specifically Apollo, the God of reason. The Gods realize that through their own mismanagement and human kind’s self destructive nature the time of humans will end, and with it the Gods themselves. Through the endless parallel time streams the Gods and their proxies fight each other and other interests to keep the world from ending.

The pieces of the mosaic follow a small group of Time Rangers as they work to fulfill their mission of ensuring the success of the God’s chosen one. The setting is various times throughout the 20th century in the American northeast while Gods and myth flow through the back- and foreground of the stories.

The prose is powerful and dead on – if not always easy to read. The characters can be hard to follow through the often confusing web of time and space. The point of it all is elusive. However, when it all finally clicked in my head at the end, I was left with a sense of awe. From the Files of the Time Rangers is not an easy read, it is dark and disturbing and can be very confusing – clearly not a book for everyone. It’s not perfect, pieces were written at many different times and places, not necessarily with the others in mind, but the mosaic comes together and ultimately works (two of these pieces were finalists for the Nebula Award in 2002 and 2003). On my 10-point ranking scale, this mosaic homage scores 7.5 – in the end it was worth every bit of the effort.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Title for Harry Potter 7 Announced

The title for the final Potter book will be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The announcement is all over the web, but I saw it here first.
Yep, this is basically a post to increase hits to the blog - Potter is pure gold.
What Science Fiction Writer am I?

Sometimes I'll do these (generally) stupid quizzes when I'm board and procrastinating. It's very rare that I'll consider posting on the blog, but this one just seems appropriate - though I am not a SF writer myself, just a fan. Via VanderMeer's blog.

I am:
Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs)
A quiet and underrated master of "hard science" fiction who, among other things, foresaw integrated circuits back in the 1940s.

Which science fiction writer are you?

I haven't read any Clement before - maybe I should look some up.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Conservative Freaks Get All the Press

The SFF genre seems to be suffering a real image problem right now, and we have the likes of Orson Scott Card and Michael Crichton to thank for it. Is this how the genre is really perceived by the general public? Is this image really out there? Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I would consider the best the genre has to offer to have a ‘liberal’ slant to it if you had to label it.

I’m not trying to have a political discussion, though anyone who has read enough of what I post here or at various message boards likely has a good idea about where I fall on the political spectrum, BUT I find this disturbing. Look at this article in the LA Times, or at the bullshit that Crichton has pulled lately, this essay by Card, and who can forget the objectivist ranting of Terry Goodkind (you’ll have to search that out on your own).

My gut reaction to all this: horrified, saddened, angry, darkly amused, nauseous, speechless.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Year In Review

This blog still hasn’t seen its one-year anniversary (which will come in February), but I have posted reviews here of most of the books I’ve read during the year of 2006 and even a few from 2005. It really has been a great year here at Nethspace – in November I saw the 5000th visit and 10,000 page views was exceeded in October (this does not count visits and views from RSS readers). I posted 41 reviews, a lesser number of rants and other posts, and conducted my first author interview with Sean Williams. I’ve started doing reviews at FantasyBookSpot and have managed to get several review copies from Pyr. I’m quite happy with how things are and where they seem to be going.

For me, I consider this year to a slow year – it looks like I’ll finish at just under 40 books read for the year. Last year the number was 43, and I have general goal of reaching 50 every year. Looking ahead, I actually think I’ll have a bit less reading time next year, but I still expect to read over 30.

Many websites and other organizations like to have a year’s best list. To be honest, I’m terrible at making lists, and will almost certainly never create an all-time favorites list. However, I will give you the top 11 books that I read this year. Why 11 – because everyone does 10, it’s time to give a bit of respect to 11. They are not really in any particular order since I liked each book for its own reasons and I am not entirely comfortable comparing them directly to each other. Know that it is entirely my opinion based on how I felt about the book, its quality, and my enjoyment while reading it (the full reviews are linked). Some were published this year and others were published in previous years.

Nethspace’s Top 11 Reads of 2006

Forever by Pete Hamill

This is the story of New York City from its beginnings to modern times told through the eyes of an immortal Irish immigrant. The city itself becomes a powerful character.

The Scar by China Miéville

The world of Bas-Lag is a dark, macabre place that is brought vividly to life by Miéville. This story takes place on the high seas where the floating pirate city of Armada seeks to harness unfathomable power.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The horrors of war are told by Vietnam veteran Haldeman as the human race faces off against an alien race throughout the galaxy. Parallels of today cannot be ignored in this classic of science fiction.

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer

This is a mosaic novel set in the VanderMeer’s city of Ambergris. The stories are darkly uncomfortable, powerful, and stylistic. If I had to pick a number one read for the year, this would be it.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

The colonization of Mars is told as only Kim Stanley Robinson can. My wife is a planetary geologist who studies Mars, as are many of my friends – this is Mars colonization for Mars scientists (and you too).

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

The winner of the 2006 World Fantasy Award is a beautifully told story of the journey of an adolescent in Japan. There is so much here that it will say different things to different people at different times.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

A fun novel in an alternative past where dragons are powerful weapons of war. The Napoleonic Wars have never looked like this.

Bangkok 8 by John Burdett

This is not a SFF book, but still one of my favorite reads. Thai noir – an engrossing view of Bangkok and the people of Thailand.

Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

Science fiction meets the corporate board room in a distant future – a wonderful debut.

The Prince of Nothing Trilogy by R. Scott Bakker

I know that this is three books and not just one – but it is one story. This is probably the best completed epic fantasy I’ve ever read. Think crusades, think jihad – a holy war at its worst with a greater conflict looming.

The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams

A wonderfully dark fantasy unlike any I’ve read before. Twin brothers, gods and monsters, a love triangle, and the cataclysmic end of the world – a great read.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

New ideas in the world of science fiction are hard to come by, and to be honest, I’m not sure just how new Infoquake really is, but it feels new. David Edelman’s debut is about cutthroat economics, technologic innovation, and government control that are played out in corporate boardrooms, work stations, and product release presentations. Most importantly, Infoquake remains engaging throughout.

Far into the future, corporations dominate the world economy under the guidance of a world government. Humanity nearly faced extinction when it developed AI machines that ruled the world; in the aftermath science and technology were shunned as the world put the pieces back together. A charismatic and brilliant scientist changed this track by developing bio/logic technology, allowing people to harness programmable nano-machines in the body to revolutionize human existence. The world evolves into a ruthless economic system based on the creation of the bio/logic programs for the human body and mind with the usual power struggles between corporations, government, and the equivalent of religious organizations.

The corporation at the heart of the story is the Natch Fiefcorp, run by the Natch, a brilliant and darkly motivated young master with a shady past. The Natch Fiefcorp is on its way up in the world through any means available, and then comes the offer it can’t refuse – the key role in developing the next technology to revolutionize humanity. A technology the government will do anything to keep out of the hands of the general population and leaves Natch’s long list of enemies salivating for a piece.

Edelman has created a fully-realized future with many parallels to the world we live in now – the boom and bust, high-tech, high-rolling economy will be familiar to many of us, as are the questionable actions of corporations and the world government. But the real power of this novel is in the players. Natch is brilliantly intimidating and mysterious and Edelman is at his best as he delves into Natch’s past. We know what his motivations are, we know how he came to be this way, but do we know what he will do next? Balancing Natch are the apprentices Jara and Hovril and his childhood guardian. These characters all function in some form as Natch’s conscience – not that he listens very often.

At first I was a bit worried to see 10s of pages of appendices, including a glossary and history of the world – I feared that the book would bog down in technical terms and the need to constantly consult supporting material. However, these fears were not realized – the book is a remarkably ‘easy’ read with a good flow and pace. The supporting material is just that, supporting.

Infoquake is a futuristic corporate thriller of a different sort and the first installment of the Jump 225 Trilogy. The book is compelling and suspenseful while it stands well on its own, the reader is left wanting more, needing to know what will happen next. Edelman’s first book is wonderful debut and one of the best books released this year – 8/10.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

NFL Network Sticks It to the Fans

I apologize for going off-topic; yes this is football related and has nothing to do with SFF.

I HATE the NFL network, or at least what the NFL has decided to do with it. In my mind the NFL is the best run major professional sports league in the US, but this really knocks them down a long way.

Does the NFL not want people to watch games? Are networks not paying them enough money? What is the point of playing games on an obscure network that almost nobody can watch?

As far as I know, to watch a game on the NFL network, you need to have satellite TV. Very few if any cable outfitters have picked up the network yet. Why? Because the network wants cable providers to pay them like they are ESPN and not a new, unproven upstart for a niche market. What’s the result – fans are cut out from watching games. Fans get pissed off (like this one), fans look at the greedy owners in the league and are completely disgusted, and the reputation and quality of the entire league goes down.

Look, I have satellite TV, but I refuse to watch the network. Now, I did break this boycott to watch for a few minutes last Thursday. And what is the quality of broadcasts? It’s even worse than the announcers for Monday night games (something I didn’t think was possible) and the quality of the product looks like it did over 10 years ago. There is absolutely no step forward, only backward.

I can only hope and plead the executives in charge pull their heads out of their asses and stop this. Let the established and accessible networks doe their jobs and televise the NFL. I hope all fans in the league join me in refusal to support this crackpot and short-sighted move of the league – don’t watch the NFL Network.

So, the big test comes next weekend when my Cowboys play Atlanta in a Saturday night game on the network. This game has big playoff indications, and I would want to watch it even if it didn’t. But I hate the NFL network and don’t want to support it in any way. I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I do know that I hate the NFL network and consider it an insult to the fans that have helped make the NFL the league that it is.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

A couple years ago I set out on a quest to read all the Discworld novels in order of publication. As anyone who has seen The Stack can guess, there are lots of distractions that keep this from becoming a fast moving quest. When I was knocked out last weekend with the latest incarnation of the ‘crud’ going around, a return to Discworld seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

Sourcery is a relatively early book in the series, and like all of the books, it more or less stands on its own. Pratchett returns to the life of Rincewind who is probably the most incompetent wizard of all time. When the eighth son of an eighth son breaks the traditions forbidding Wizards to mingle with the fairer sex he has an eighth son himself, bringing a Sourcerer into the world.

So typical things happen – someone tries to cheat death and makes up a destiny for the newborn Sourcerer, setting in place the necessary pieces for the end of the world. Rincewind, a hat, the Librarian, and a handful of other colorful characters do their best to stay alive.

Pratchett can be absolutely brilliant at times and positively unremarkable at others. Unfortunately, Sourcery is one of these other times. There is relatively little outright satire going on, and very few political or pop-culture references, which is where he tends to shine as an author. Aside from a few funny lines and an amusing scene in a pub with the Four Horsemen of the Apocralypse, this entry in the Discworld series is entirely forgettable. On my 10-point rating scale, Sourcery scores 5, an unfortunate score for a writer who can do better.


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