Author: Douglas Adams
My rating: 3.5 of 5
A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.
I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.
Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.
In honor of the upcoming 2018 Nebula Awards, Humble Bundle is offering a rather brilliant selection of fabulous (including numerous award-winning) titles in speculative fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. We’ve got previous Nebula winners, Hugo Award winners, Philip K. Dick Award winners, and World Fantasy Award winners. There are a few repeats from previous humble bundles, yes, but there are a lot more titles that I haven’t seen featured here before, including a couple of Jane Yolen novels I’ve been planning to get which, personally, make the bundle worth it in their own right. If you’re interested, you can find out more here.
In other news, Humble Store is having their big spring sale, which means lots of great games at deep discounts. Seriously, some of this stuff is up to 90% off right now. I found Hakuouki: Kyoto Winds for $8.99! Plus, there are some free games thrown in if you spend certain amounts. Again, if interested, check out the Humble Store at https://www.humblebundle.com/store.
Author: Neil Shusterman
Downsiders, vol. 1
My rating: 4 of 5
In the wake of her parents’ separation and her mother’s latest whimsy (a long-term trip to Africa), Lindsey finds herself shunted off to New York to live with her distracted father and her odious step-brother Todd. Meanwhile, deep beneath that same city, Talon finds himself challenging the precepts and perspectives of his own culture–a people who live beneath the city with their own noble way of life, isolated from the Upsiders whom they view as stupid. And when these two teenagers’ worlds collide, the result is staggering . . . possibly even devastating to both worlds.
Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, as is pretty obvious just from this blog. His books have such a different way of viewing things; they’ve very unique. Downsiders is true to his norm in that it’s quite different from anything I’ve ever read, but it’s also pretty different from any of Shusterman’s other writing. While there are aspects that are similar, I’m not sure I could have picked him out as the author if I hadn’t known. The pacing, while great for this story, is slower than in a lot of his books, and there just isn’t quite as much spark . . . I don’t know how else to put it. Also, the flavor is almost–I want to say Dickensian, but that’s not quite right–it’s as close as I can get to describing it, in any case. Still, while all that sounds kind of negative, I did actually enjoy this book. The concept of a complete, isolated culture living in the abandoned tunnels and forgotten structures beneath New York City is fascinating, and the actual development of this culture in the book was well written. The characters were also believable, and the choices and changes they went through during the course of the story felt true, honest–and important to us as readers because of that. The ending, largely due to those decisions being honest choices not fairy-tale ones, is both beautiful and bittersweet; the story is better for its being so. I wouldn’t recommend Downsiders for everyone, but if you’ve got the patience to dig into it, this book is a rewarding read.
Hey, just wanted to let you guys know that, for those who enjoy good sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction, Humble Bundle is currently hosting a bundle feature Nebula Award winners and nominees, as well as a few other collections and such thrown in. Several of the stories certainly looked interesting, including The Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman and Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen. If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/super-nebula-book-bundle. As of when I’m writing this post, the deal’s good for 12 more days. Enjoy!
Author: Hao Jingfang/Translator: Ken Liu
Published in Uncanny Magazine, Issue 2 (January/February 2015)
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Lao Dao has spent his entire life in the “Third Space” of the folding city of Beijing, a monument to human ingenuity in combating overcrowding that his father helped to create. Being of the lowest of the three social classes, Lao Dao works hard in waste processing for low wages, so when he is offered a small fortune to run a rather illegal errand smuggling a message to “First Space” during the Change when the city folds in on itself, he can hardly refuse the offer. He needs the money to get his adopted daughter into a good kindergarten, after all.
Folding Beijing is an intriguing little novelette that I first heard of through Fiction Fan’s post on it. The whole concept is quite fascinating and rather jarring–a whole city that folds into the ground in a regular cycle, allowing different social classes time in the sun while letting the others safely hibernate until it’s their turn again. Certainly a novel way to deal with overpopulation. The way in which this operates in this particular tale, however, is perhaps most notable for the way in which it brings to light the shocking differences between the upper and lower classes in the city . . . perhaps a commentary on present-day conditions? For me, I think the best thing about this story was the way in which the author unfolded the concepts gradually, showing the reader just a bit more of what’s really going on with each paragraph, like a flower slowly blooming. It’s actually really beautiful, although a bit perplexing while in the midst of reading it. I also have to note that Folding Beijing is rather more literary in tone than what I usually read–not that that’s particularly good or bad, just something to be aware of. It was nice to get to read something by a Chinese author; I feel like that is a culture and literary group that I have largely missed. So if you know any good suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would be grateful!
Folding Beijing is available to read online at http://uncannymagazine.com/article/folding-beijing-2/.
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Howard and his little sister (known to one and all simply as “Awful”) wander into their kitchen after school one day to find Fifi (the student who stays in the house to help out) as usual–as well as something most unusual: an enormous, and not particularly clean, man sitting in the middle of the room, taking up almost the whole of the kitchen floor space. Their bafflement increases as it becomes clear that this man, this “goon”, intends to stay right where he is until he can speak with their father, Quentin. The goon’s message, when Quentin does arrive home is even stranger: Archer’s waiting for his two thousand words that Quentin was supposed to write. As it turns out, for the past thirteen years, Quentin has been regularly mailing off random rubbish he’s typed . . . without knowing to whom or for what reason he was doing it. And while this “Archer”, whoever he is, claims to be the root of it all, Howard isn’t convinced; he’s determined to figure this out, especially when his dad goes stubborn (refusing to write anything) and Archer starts making all sorts of trouble, what with the Goon still parking in their house and the lights not always working and such.
I’ve said it before, but anything by Diana Wynne Jones is pretty much guaranteed to be amazing; if you haven’t read her books, you should totally start now. Having said that, Archer’s Goon probably isn’t the best book for someone unfamiliar with her writing to start out with, just because it’s a bit more gradual in its development. But it’s perfect that way. I absolutely loved the vague sense of unease, the way in which the strangeness just seemed to ooze out gradually, getting weirder and weirder. Yet somehow making sense, once you got to the root of it all. I swear, I have never read anyone with more imagination–or the courage to actually write the crazy stuff Jones has and pull it off. I think the slower pacing of the plot is supported–and still very interesting–because of the excellent cast. Howard seems fairly normal, sort of imaginative in a science-y sort of way, dreaming of rocketships and such. Awful lives up to her name with aplomb, which is actually kind of awesome; she’d be terrible to actually be around, but she’s got a stubborn streak and loads of ingenuity and cleverness in employing her loud and obnoxious little girl voice. It’s actually pretty useful, sometimes. I appreciated that their parents were present and involved in their lives . . . but human and distracted enough to be full and complete characters themselves. And let’s face it, no human, even a very responsible adult, would be completely pulled together in the circumstances they were facing. Truly, I think I have rarely, if ever, read a book as colorful and mesmerizing as Archer’s Goon; I would give it the highest recommendations without hesitation.