Tag Archives: fiction

Review: Accelerando, by Charles Stross

Accelerando Accelerando, by Charles Stross. Ace, 2006.

This novel explores the Singularity: What happens when AI, uploading, and other variations of humanity (or non-humanity) start to happen. I was worried that a novel on this subject would basically be, "Computers take over, and who knows what they're thinking?" Instead, we follow the protagonist's family through generations, and get a plausible and enjoyable flavor of what the Singularity could mean. 

Review – Ruled Britannia (Turtledove)

Ruled Britannia

Ruled Britannia, by Harry Turtledove.

This is another of Harry Turtledove's alternative history novels. In this case, the Spanish Armada succeeded in the late 16th century, and Spain has taken over England. This is the time of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, and Shakespeare ends up involved in politics and intrigue – what will become of England?

It's good fun – lots of small changes in plays and titles, and lots of witty dialog and snaps in a Shakespearean style.

Review – Musashi

The Clockwork Man  

Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa. Kodansha International, 1995. 

Swordplay, true love, and a man climbing up the side of a cliff. It's not the Princess Bride; it's the story of Musashi, the most famous swordsman of Japan.

This is a romanticized, historical fiction novel. Musashi started out on the losing side of a battle, and spent his life seeking the true way of the samurai. The story has many coincidences and near misses (though fewer than the average episode of 24), but the charm and fun overcomes that.

Review – C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy

Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
A linguist (Ransom) is kidnapped and ends up on another planet. (The science is wobbly, but it's a classic travel story stretched to unexplored worlds). How will he work with humans or with those of that world?

PerelandraPerelandra , by C.S. Lewis
Ransom has to go to Venus, a world where paradise hasn't fallen. He's in a battle with evil to prevent the fall from grace. Of the three books, the religious overtones are strongest in this one.

That Hideous StrengthThat Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis
Lewis explores evil that sneaks up on you. A newly married man gets involved with a social and political group that is actually ruining England. How do you extract yourself when you realize you're deep inside something wrong? (I'm reminded of both 1984 and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, but they were written after this one.) As often happens with Lewis, there's a combination of Christianity and mythology that comes through.

I enjoyed these, but it definitely requires accepting that they are written from a particular moral stance. The story moves forward well and makes a fairly quick read.

Review: The Clockwork Man (Jablonsky)

The Clockwork Man  

The Clockwork Man, by William Jablonsky. Medallion Press, 2010.

Late in the 19th century, the world's best clockmaker creates a clockwork man (who doesn't like being referred to as a robot). He (it?) lets himself run down, and wakes up more than a century later, to figure out what happened before and where he should go next.

It's a short read, written in the form of a diary or journal. I thought the ending was foreshadowed too much, but it was an enjoyable story and I'll look for this author again.

(I saw this tagged as "steampunk" on Amazon; I hadn't run across that category before but it fits.)

Review – Mabinogion Tetralogy, by Evangeline Walton

Mabinogion Tetralogy, by Evangline Walton. Overlook. 2003.

This is an under-appreciated work of fantasy. It’s based on the Mabinogion, a set of Celtic myths found in Welsh documents. The version I bought 25 years ago was in four separate volumes, but I’ve linked to a recent version with everything in one volume.

The Prince of Annwn tells of a prince who helps a mysterious Gray Man. A few years later, the druids blame him for troubles in the land, and he vows to take a wife. (Throughout these stories, you see interplay between old tribes and new tribes, men and women.)

The Children of Llyr starts with a time when people are starting to figure out how men are involved in procreation. Inheritance had passed down to one’s sister’s children, since you knew they were related. This is a story of brothers and the troubles between them that resulted in death and change.

The Song of Rhiannon ties the first two stories together, following the story of one of Llyr’s children.

Finally, The Island of the Mighty tells of a sorceress who tried to control someone’s destiny but found she could not.

If you enjoy fantasy, or would like to sample it without picking up something as intense as Tolkien, these are an excellent read.

Review – Mythology, by Edith Hamilton

Mythology, by Edith Hamilton. Back Bay Books, 1998. 

Hamilton works through the basic myths, mostly from Greek and Roman sources. Topics include “The Gods, the Creation, and the Earliest Heroes”, “Stories of Love and Adventure”, “The Great Heroes before the Trojan War”, “The Heroes of the Trojan War”, “The Great Families of Mythology” (Atreus, Thebes, and Athens), and “The Less Important Myths”. She closes with about 15 pages of Norse myths (just a taste). The stories are typically brief, easy reads in a fairly modern style. I was struck by how she describes the difference between different authors (though I’m not to the point of distinguishing them myself). 

Review- The Dark Tower and Other Stories

If you want to complete your collection of C.S. Lewis fiction, this volume will do that. (Note that about 1/3 of it overlaps with the stories included in Of Other Worlds by the same publisher and editor). “The Dark Tower” is a partial story (about 70 pages) about a parallel universe; the characters overlap a little with the “Space Trilogy.”

“The Man Born Blind” is a story of a man who is given sight and wants to understand light. “The Shoddy Lands” is a short study in perspective. “Ministering Angels” is about a trip to Mars (and reminds me of some of Isaac Asimov’s humor pieces). “Forms of Things Unknown” is about a dangerous trip to the moon. “After 10 Years” is a partial story (about 20 pages), a followup to a Greek myth. 
In general, the science fiction is “just” a carrier to get us to places unknown rather than being integral to the story. The stories themselves are good (though sometimes rough), laced with myth in his trademark way.

Review – Legends of Dune (series)

The Legends of Dune series: The Butlerian JihadThe Machine Crusade, and The Battle of Corrin (or the Box Set), by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson. Tor Books, 2003-2005. 

This series is called “Legends of Dune.” It’s set thousands of years before “Dune,” when people were working out all the technologies and schools that showed up there. Find the roots of the Harkonnens, Atreides, Corrinos, and more. Being set so much earlier does free the authors up some; any discrepancies can be put down to the confusions of time. 

The first book has humans against robots and cymeks, and shows why the Butlerian Jihad got its name. The second book follows the struggles of the cymeks, early space-folding, and a human who grew up with the robots. The third book traces the ultimate battle with robots.

These books use the Dune universe, but I found the style closer to Asimov than Herbert (with lots of bouncing around following various characters and threads). It was enjoyable enough, but don’t expect the equal of Dune.

Review – The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and the Amber Spyglass

The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. (3-volume set) By Phillip Pullman. Laurel Leaf (pub.), 2003.

It’s hard to review this series without giving away too much, but here goes:

The Golden Compass:This story is set in a world where part of your personality takes the form of an animal (called a daemon, but not like the ones in Unix:). We meet a girl named Lyra in Oxford in another world. She acquires an amazing compass that helps guide her on a dangerous journey through what we’d call a fantasy realm because it has witches and armored bears.

The Subtle Knife:
Lyra ends up in a different world, and meets Will from our world. They quest on, meeting with enemies and unexpected allies in different worlds. Will takes on new missions.

The Amber Spyglass:
The story continues and concludes with Lyra, Will, and many others. We’re treated to an unlikely evolution that sounds almost plausible, another amazing tool, and a struggle affecting angels and demons, the living and the dead.

Overall, the series is compelling and interesting. It blends an interesting mix of scientific and religious ideas, with a notable anti-organized-religion bias that will put some people off.

Review – Dune

Dune, by Frank Herbert
When I think through my favorite science fiction, I always come back to Dune. It’s a sweeping and powerful mix of intrigue with ecology. Herbert creates a unique but plausible world, and explores the forces that move through it. This book is the starting point of a series, but can be read on its own. If you haven’t read Dune, you’re in for a great read; if you have, maybe it’s time for another go.

Review – Frankenstin (Koontz)

Frankenstein (Dean Koontz et al.):
Prodigal Son (vol. 1)
City of Night (vol. 2)
Dead and Alive (vol. 3)

(I can’t resist posting this review on Halloween.)

A pair of detectives are working to solve murders and other other mysteries. Frankenstein or his monster are involved. The dialog is snappy, the characters are fun, and it’s a page-turner (as you’d expect from Dean Koontz). The third (and last) book was weak, with a lot of chasing around to close loose ends, but up till there it was a very enjoyable series. (The third book changed it from a keeper to an airport read for me. )

Review – The Well at the World’s End

The Well at the World’s End (volume 1 and volume 2), by William Morris, Borgo Press, 2000. [Originally published 1896!]
This is considered the first fantasy novel set in its own world. William Morris was an artisan (leader of the Arts and Crafts movement), decorator, poet, producer of the first recliner chair, and all-around multi-talented guy. The story is of the heroic quest for the Well that gives long life. With its knights, archaic language, and reliance on a little more luck than seems common, you can see its influence on C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the rest of the fantasy genre. (Reviewed Oct., ’09) [The version I had was in one volume; I think these two are the equivalent together.]