Authors: Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience for language, violence, sexual content, and general adult situations
Little could Dr. Melisande Stokes have foreseen the consequences when she was initially approached by the dashing Major Tristan Lyons to do some obscure translation work–work that she had to sign nondisclosure agreements before she could even be told about. Certainly, she couldn’t have predicted that it would get her stuck back in 1850’s England! But then, the entire operation is full of surprises, as any government operation dedicated to reviving magic to time travel by way of quantum mechanics is bound to be. Actually, the whole thing sounds absurd, and yet, the U.S. government seems convinced that it’s actually possible . . . and they’re pouring in the funds to support their conviction. And so, armed with a research budget and their own skills and intelligence, Mel and Tristan form the beginnings of the Department of Diachronic Operations.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. captivated me before I even opened the cover. I mean just look at the cover design; doesn’t it just promise all kinds of fun?! And the story inside does not disappoint. To start out, the whole idea of quantum theory and magic being in any way linked is just mind-bogglingly strange . . . yet at the same time brilliant. If you think about their reasoning, it actually makes sense; there’s an element of plausibility that’s brought into the whole thing. And the way the story plays with alternate timelines and the interplay of quantum mechanics and magic is just fascinating–it’s all extremely well thought out, complex, and convincing. Yet while you have this almost hard science flavor being brought in with all that, there’s also this great sense of humor and people throughout. There are a lot of strong personalities at play in this novel, and they are allowed to roam free and do what they will, which creates all sorts of interesting drama and plot in a very natural, believable manner without being overdone. I also loved the way the entire story is told in documents–the majority of it being memoirs Mel is writing while trapped in 1851, combined with interdepartmental memos, diary entries, wiki pages, etc. It’s modern, expressive, and (again) just a very credible way of presenting the story that’s also full of humor and personality. The one thing that I didn’t love about this story is that it’s essentially a military operation, one that gets really big by the latter parts of the story, and as such, our main characters (that I love) get a bit lost in the shuffle for a while. But they pop back to the surface when things fall apart at the end, so it works out. Definitely recommended.
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Pip & Flinx, vol. 11
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Flinx really didn’t set out to make first contact with the (comparatively) primitive native population on the planet Arrawd. . . . Never mind that doing so is a huge breach of Commonwealth law, Flinx was honestly a bit more occupied with his search for the Tar-Aiym artifact and, you know, saving the known universe. So when his ship set down on Arrawd to conduct some routine maintenance, he had every intention to stay on board and wait. But then boredom coupled with his innate curiosity struck, he explored a bit, accidentally ran into a native Dwarran (as they called themselves) . . . and what with one thing leading to another, somehow he’s using modern technology to perform what seem like miracles to the native Dwarrans and gaining a reputation across the world.
Running from the Deity is the first Alan Dean Foster I’ve ever read, and to be honest, that’s kind of tragic because he’s such a good writer. I feel like I’ve been missing out. First off, just on the whole, he crafts an interesting story, plain and simple. And I know it’s weird to be jumping into the middle of a series like this, but this book is surprisingly well self-contained–while also clearly connecting to the other volumes in the series, should you want to read them in order. But starting the story at this point, I didn’t feel lost; I was given sufficient background information in a pleasant, approachable manner so as to be able to enjoy the story . . . without being subjected to a nasty info dump. The only chapter that felt even slightly out of place was the last, which jumps to a different character and sets the stage for the next volume. The characters are excellent–full of personality that is presented to the reader in scintillating detail and that drives the progression of the story in a remarkably credible manner. And the worldbuilding. Just, wow. Arrawd and its population are so utterly alien, yet they’re presented in such a comprehensible and interesting way that I could just see them. Physical details, culture, all of it is thoroughly developed in much greater detail that I am accustomed to seeing just about anywhere. The actual writing itself is equally impressive–easy to understand, interesting to read, yet also teeming with challenging vocabulary that had me pulling out a dictionary. So yes, I truly enjoyed reading Running from the Deity as a fascinating sci-fi story and would certainly recommend it.
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/.