Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the first book in Bujold’s wildly popular Miles Vorkosigan series. In fact, it’s technically the 0th book in the series, because this is pre-Miles; it tells the story of how his parents met, and introduces us to pivotal characters and events that influence the entire series. It really should be read before any other books in the series.
We meet his mother, Cordelia Naismith, an officer in the Beta Colony Expeditionary Force. She is leading a scientific mission to an inhabited planet. While she and another crew member are away from their base camp, the camp is attacked by forces unknown. As Cordelia rushes back to aid her crew, she is attacked and knocked unconscious. When she awakens, a gruff officer from Barrayar (a military caste planet) is her captor. But he is wounded, and also seems to be a victim of the attack. Nevertheless, they do not trust each other, at first, but as they make their way to what he says is a cache of supplies, they begin to find admiration for each other, despite their differences. (Beta Colony is very “free” sexually, and has no rigid societal rules, while Barrayar is ruled by an emperor and the military ruling class of Vor families.) We discover that her captor is Lord Aral Vorkosigan, of one of the more prominent families on Barrayar.
After several harrowing close calls, Aral manages to return to his ship, with Cordelia as a prisoner. We discover that Barrayar is attempting military expansion in the area. Events ensue such that Cordelia manages to escape and eventually return to Beta Colony.
Months later, the war progresses, and once again Cordelia ends up a prisoner on Aral’s ship. Critical events transpire on this ship, this time, and Aral and Cordelia realize they are in love. (At last!) The book ends on a hopeful note for all concerned.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and the blossoming romance is handled with a minimum of “cute.” (It is nice to have a mature romantic relationship, and not moody, emo teen romance!) We learn much about both Cordelia and Aral - their backgrounds, planets, and especially their shared sense of honor. All of this sets up the appearance of Miles in later books. But, even as a stand-alone novel, this is a good space opera, with a nice little romance thrown in for good measure. A most enjoyable read!
Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Well, I guess I’m in the minority, here, as I didn’t love this book or find it fabulous and life-changing. I enjoyed it, it was ok, but it felt like reading a rom-com, with the standard events for the genre: couple meet “cute,” couple disagree about things and think they hate each other, couple eventually ‘discover’ they were made for each other and end up getting married. The End. The only thing setting this book apart from other stories like this is the narrator being on the Autism spectrum (probably high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome.) Everything else was completely as expected, including the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Rosie.
But, I get ahead of myself.
The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman, a professor of genetics at a university in Australia, and his search for a wife. His Asperger’s Syndrome makes him a humorous narrator, as his quirks are on display in full force. He decides to apply logic to the problem of finding a wife, and creates a long questionnaire to weed out the undesirables (smokers, vegans, etc.) His best friend, Gene, a womanizing psychology professor, helps him find women to evaluate, and one day Rosie appears in Don’s office, telling him that Gene sent her. From the very first, Rosie is obviously unsuitable, according to the questionnaire, but Don decides to help her in her quest to find her biological father. Hijinks ensue.
I found the book mildly humorous, and the mystery of Rosie’s father was handled well. The story moved along at a good pace - I read the book in just two sittings. Nevertheless, I had issues with it, overall. As mentioned above, Rosie is a quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Nathan Rabin, who coined the phrase, defined a MPDG as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” That is Rosie to a T. This book was ALL about Don learning to embrace life and its quirks, and not be so regimented. And that’s what Rosie does. She dresses non-traditionally, has tattoos and piercings, and is generally depicted as a “free spirit” who introduces Don to the fullness of life. I had trouble fully enjoying the book because of the shallowness of her character, and her blatant MPDG qualities.
The other issue I had was Don’s Autism/Asperger’s. As he is the narrator, we get first-hand experience of his thought processes and approach to life. I almost felt as if we (the ‘normal’ readers) were supposed to laugh at this poor sap who has his life scheduled out to the minute. “Ha, ha, ha, those crazy Aspies! Aren’t they funny?” I just felt uncomfortable the whole book, as if Don were someone to be ridiculed and pitied. This is in sharp contrast to the (also fictional) narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the non-fictional narrator of \Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. With neither of these books did I feel that the narrators were comic relief, as I did with The Rosie Project. (I should note that two of my book club members who listened to the audio version of the book did not feel that way toward Don, so maybe it was just my interpretation as a reader, versus a listener. Still, I didn’t feel that way with the two books I just mentioned, so I don't think I have a super-sensitivity to narrators on the Autism spectrum.) I would be curious to know the opinions of people on the spectrum to this book and narrator, to see if they felt he was the object of ridicule or not.
So, in summation, this was a light, mildly enjoyable read, but one with definite flaws. It would be a nice diversion for someone looking to be entertained, especially if they enjoy rom-coms. It hasn’t much else to offer.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the third book in the very loose “Bridge” trilogy. (The first two are Virtual Light and Idoru.) Despite the connection among these books, it’s not really necessary to read the first two before reading this one. While I have read the first two, it’s been decades since reading them, and I don’t remember many details, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. That being said, reading this one has made me want to reread those two, and maybe I’ll find more links among them than I remember.
On to this book:
Like all of Gibson’s books, ideas and their implications for society are at the fore. His world building shines again, with a not-too-distant future full of tech that is just barely beyond today’s science. (Note: this book is copyrighted 1999.) The main characters are Colin Laney, a man whose consciousness has been altered by an experimental drug; Rydell, an ex-cop; and Chevette, Rydell’s ex-girlfriend. Colin’s new abilities to “see” data has him convinced that a major “node” is coming, which will end the world as we know it. Because Laney is sick and dying, he hires Rydell to be his “boots on the ground” in San Francisco, where the node is centered. It is there that Rydell runs into Chevette again, and all of them have roles to play in the Big Event.
Gibson is a master at creating his vision of the future, and totally immersing the reader. His descriptions are evocative and make the world come to life. The first part of the book, where we meet each character, is chock full of little vignettes that help draw the reader deeper into the world he’s created.
Once he’s set up the characters and the situation, then the action starts. And it goes at a break-neck pace from there on out. The ending is a little abrupt, however, and if you’re not paying attention, you won’t understand what just happened, and how it really does change everything.
Anyone who enjoys future tech and/or thrillers will find this book quite satisfying. It’s believable, the characters are interesting, the future world is fascinating, and the story is compelling.