Review: Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

•February 4, 2014 • 1 Comment

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Something More than Night was published December 2013 and Tor provided me with a copy to review.

The flap copy starts off like so:

Ian Tregillis’s Something More Than Night is a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas’s vision of Heaven. It’s a noir detective story starring fallen angels, the heavenly choir, nightclub stigmatics, a priest with a dirty secret, a femme fatale, and the Voice of God.

And that was more than enough to pique my interest, but 1 page in and it’s clear that the setting is a near future earth in the throes of a slow apocalypse with climate and technology deteriorating. It’s also clear that I’m going to enjoy the language of the book. Bayliss, the first of 2 narrators, is ripped straight out of the pages of Raymond Chandler. I actually flipped through my Library of America Volume on Chandler’s early stories for comparison. In addition to strolling through the narrative with a lit cigarette and an inability to avoid slang, Bayliss has a casual knowledge of building blocks of reality. His metaphors and similes are just as likely to contain entropy and exotic matter as they are to contain booze and jazz.

The second narrator introduced is a bit more down to earth. Molly was human before she died and thus views the realm of angels she’s thrust into much as the reader might. She’s given very little information but does a spectacular job pulling it all together. Her initial goals are small and straight forward. Reconnect with her ex-girlfriendand help her brother get his life together. As she figures out where she fits in the puzzle, she’s able to expand her altruistic intentions.

Molly’s story is the cross between a super hero origin story, a literary character study and a healthy dose of psychological horror. Watching her come to grips with everything while attempting to remain sane is dramatically juxtaposed against Bayliss. All of his screws are loose and he’s more than content to fall to pieces as long as he can do it with a stiff drink in one hand and a smoke in the other.

Between these two views mysteries unfold, not the least of which is what possessed Tregillis to tell the story this way. Alternate Cosmology is a large but fun step away from the Alternate History of his previous trilogy (which I haven’t read, but have heard good things.) I’m a Christian with a physics degree that is fascinated by a good mystery. I don’t think Tregillis could have found a better target for this novel. I enjoyed the novel line by line, but when ALL the stylistic choices started falling into place and making sense I fell in love with it.

Science fiction readers that like their fiction heavy on the science will love this but take the longest to warm up to it. Readers that can revel in the play of language will get sucked in even if they don’t fully appreciate quantum mechanics and neutrinos. There really is a lot to love here.

Review: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

•January 5, 2014 • 1 Comment

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Cover by John Harris, Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Published by Tor

Humanity is competing for space in our local section of the galaxy with hundreds of other alien races. A scientist has turned his back on humanity and allied with some of the aliens. The solution? Drop a backup of the scientist’s mind into a super soldier, Jared Dirac, and see what happens from there.

The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. It focuses on the eponymous special forces that were a smaller part of the previous book. Instead of transferring the minds of old people into genetically improved bodies, the soldiers of the ghost brigade are a mental blank slate inside a body that’s a melange of the best genetic material the military can find – fallen soldiers, aliens, etc. I read this series out of order. I started with Zoe’s Tale (my review) and followed that up with Old Man’s War. Both were read a few years ago, so I pretty much read this entry as a stand alone novel. It works that way, but it also had the neat affect that as Jared Dirac remembered things I found myself remembering bits of the storyline as well.

There’s a foundation of humor in Scalzi’s writing. This is a serious book about identity, choice, loyalty, love, war and genocide, but it’s a delight to read, even at it’s baby killing darkest moments because you’re never more than a page away from a laugh. Explicit laughs from bad joke telling. Laughs because of the audacity of the sci-fi eyeball kicks. Laughs at the innocence of super soldiers protecting children 3 times older than them.

I like how Scalzi writes aliens, particularly in the opening where the aliens are us. I like the tone, as I’ve mentioned. It’s as action packed and fun as any other Scalzi I’ve read, but the reason I’d suggest this to people at the moment is the questions it raises near the end when we find out why someone would betray humanity. Have Snowden and/or Assange done more harm or more good? Neither are as clearly sociopathic as the traitor Scalzi writes, but government secrets provide a jumping off point for discussion. And there’s the question that all good military science fiction from Starship Troopers on asks. What should the relationship be between the military and the civilian population be? Lots to chew on here, but plenty to enjoy even if I’m making it sound to heavy.

If you read and enjoy The Ghost Brigades, I’d recommend reading Blindsight by Peter Watts for more on intelligence versus consciousness. In the acknowledgements Scalzi calls out as “influences” Edenborn by Nick Sagan, The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld, and David Brin’s Uplift books. You could read the rest of the Old Man’s War books (The Last Colony and The Sagan Diary in addition to the ones already mentioned) or pretty much anything else by Scalzi. For more on consciousness transference, I’d point you at Greg Egan’s Axiomatic and Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels (my reviews: Broken Angels and Woken Furies. What novels and stories do you associate with the Old Man’s war books?

If you’d like to follow what I’m reading, friend me on Goodreads. If you like this review, comment and let me know. I could use the encouragement. If you want to discover something new (speculative fiction) to read, head over to my other website, TagShadow and explore. The copy of The Ghost Brigades I read has been on my shelf for a while and if the bookmark inside is any indication I originally bought it at Vromans in Pasadena. Some of the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, but otherwise I’ve gotten no compensation for this review.

2014

•January 1, 2014 • 2 Comments

This blog was rather sparse in 2013.

May it be less so this year.

Waiting for Athena

•November 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I bought a copy of Your Hate Mail will be Graded when it was released by Subterranean in 2008. I was just starting this blog and prolific bloggers like Scalzi and Wheaton were an inspiration.

Along with the hardcover, Subterranean Press sent a chapbook entitled Waiting for Athena, a short collection of posts Scalzi wrote during his wife’s pregnancy. The subject of parenthood was not really forefront in my mind, so I promptly loaned the chapbook to a coworker who also happened to be a new father. It was returned at some point and it found a home on a shelf and pretty much hung out there for the last couple years.

I no longer share an apartment with my wife, which is a longer story that I’ll return to later. The chapbook surfaced as I moved stuff into my new place. Reading about new beginnings seemed to fit my general mood, so I finally read Waiting for Athena.

I’ve not been writing here for a while, but writing about reading about new beginnings seemed to be a good place to start. Potential parenthood is a good topic and Scalzi weaves his anxiety and excitement into pieces that I’ll definitely return to if I find myself approaching fatherhood. That’s not the next stage in my life, but I hope I can weave something productive out of my personal anxiety.

Review: God Engines by John Scalzi

•September 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

God Engines

The God Engines by John Scalzi was released as a standalone novella by Subterranean Press in 2009. It was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo. It’s been on my radar for at least that long, but I just got around to reading it.

This is a story that fires on all cylinders. The magic system is tied to religious imagery. All the elements expected in a space opera have analogs in this system. Space ships, faster than light travel, communication at a distance, etc. Religion has replaced science and we’re shown repeatedly that the standard metaphors employed by this religion’s texts are NOT metaphors, but truth. It’s all delightfully twisted and wrapped around some interesting characters.

As the story progresses, it becomes less and less clear who we should be rooting for. Everyone is telling the truth as they see it … except when they’re lying. The religious intrigue feels like religious intrigue, the magic rituals feel like magic rituals, the first contact scenario feels like a first contact scenario. Nothing is what it seems.

Scalzi deftly writes what initially seems to be a transparent commentary on the excesses of religion but settles into a solid speculative fiction yarn. Scalzi doesn’t shy away from the horror and gore. He doesn’t shy away from a crazy dark ending. Awesome. The moral if there is one would go something like religion isn’t evil, but twisted people can use religion to do some insanely evil shit.


Part of the discussion about faith hit close to home. There’s a statement made near the middle of the novel, “My faith is as third-made iron.” In the magic system of this story, iron which was ejected from a star, is known as first-made iron. Iron which has been a part of the geological processes of a planetary body is known as second-made iron. Iron smelted and worked by human hands is known as third-made iron. The magical power of first-made iron is stronger than that of second-made, is stronger than that of third-made. That quote then manages to express how I feel as the son of a minister and member of a very Christian family. I’ve struggled to express that feeling that “my faith is third-made” and somehow weaker. It’s something I think about a lot and it was kind of wild to find it expressed so vividly in the middle of such a powerful story.

Review: Legion by Brandon Sanderson

•September 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Brandon Sanderson just won a Hugo for his novella The Emperor’s Soul. Looking for an electronic copy of that I also found this novella, Legion. The version of the cover in the middle above is by Jon Foster, for the Subterranean Press edition. The other 2 are the eBook covers designed by Isaac Stewart. I read the red version, an epub. The blue version is what shows up on amazon for the kindle.

This is a great reading experience because of what Sanderson has done with the abnormal mind of the point of view character. We have here something similar to, but a bit more dramatic than, a functional schizophrenic. Legion is a collection of eccentric (and a bit crazy in their own right) geniuses crammed into the mind of an otherwise seemingly ordinary man. He sees them as hallucinations and lives in a large house with many rooms so that he has space to put them away when he doesn’t need them. I immediately thought back to the schizophrenic character in Blindsight by Peter Watts. Sanderson’s description of Legion’s various hallucinations is sort of how I imagined that character from Blindsight might see the world if we’d gotten her point of view.

The MacGuffin has potential. A fun device which plays with the tropes of time travel while keeping our ensemble of a protagonist firmly rooted in the present. The science vs religion debate is a heavy topic to handle in an otherwise rather light thriller. Ultimately the simplistic plot is overshadowed by the interesting characters in the narrator’s head and the unanswered questions beg for the story to be continued. I’ll be watching for a future volume.

I’ll leave you with 2 related bits (sort of from the “truth is stranger than fiction” department), a Ted talk about Schizophrenia:

and an interview with the author of Zealot:

The Historical Jesus – This…Is Interesting on KCRW.

TagShadow: The 2013 Hugo Winners

•September 2, 2013 • 1 Comment

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See Locus for more details and the winners in categories that don’t track well in TagShadow.  I didn’t even attempt to follow the Hugo ceremony this year after my frustration last year, but the winners have been announced and I’ve updated Hugo Winners TagShadow accordingly:

 
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