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Four books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Four books
Spin (by Robert Charles Wilson)
This book is mostly a big exposition gradient. There are three characters: Jason (the brilliant one), Tyler (the narrator), and Diane (the oddball), and the technical knowledge gradient involves a lot of Jason explaining things to Tyler, and Tyler explaining things to Diane. The trouble is, Tyler has an MD and is technically competent enough to be paying attention to the terraforming project, and Jason isn't *written* as brilliant, he's only *designated* as brilliant by the author, so the gradient has some serious bugs. For example, two exposition flows:
  • Jason and Tyler "How could life survive a stellar catastrophe? But obviously, that depends on what 'life' is. Are we talking about organic life, or any kind of generalized autocatalytic feedback loop? Are the Hypotheticals [the name for the not-yet-seen aliens] organic? Which is an interesting question in itself..."
    "You really ought to get some sleep." It was past midnight. He was using words I didn't understand.
  • Tyler to Diane "...We want an ecology, not a monoculture." In fact, the launches would be timed and staggered. The first wave would carry only anaerobic and autophototropic organisms, simple forms of life that required no oxygen and derived energy from sunlight..."
Anyway, my complaint is that someone with an M.D. who can use "autophototropic" in internal dialogue should not have any problem with "autocatalytic" and "organic".
It's a Big Picture story, and the big picture is actually reasonably interesting. I couldn't get beyond thinking of the main characters as sock puppets for exposition, so I didn't really care about the unrequited love plot or the dysfunctional family dynamics. Towards the end, the personal plots started growing larger and more personal, and there was one really touching bit coming from a character who I had long ago written off as useless, but I think it was too late for me at that point. (Also, the back cover says 300 billion when the rest of the book says 3 billion; the former number bothered mjperson quite a bit, but I guess the author doesn't write the back cover). Three stars. (This book beat Learning the World, A Feast for Crows, Old Man's War, and Accelerando to win the Hugo in 2006. I liked Learning the World better, and Old Man's War is on my to-read list.)

Eifelheim (by Michael Flynn)
A 2007 Hugo nominee (okay, I think I have to make this a reading theme now), but beaten by Rainbow's End. The smaller fraction of the book is a present day couple (historian/sociologist and theoretical physicist) looking into the disappearance of a village in the Black Forest in the 14th century; the other half is what actually happened (aliens!). I started out deeply dubious at the amount of non-English larding the present-day story; the historian keeps scattering words and phrases in a plethora of languages into his speech - I certainly don't understand him, I find myself wondering if his partner does, and I immediately decide he's insufferably pretentious. But we get less and less of the modern people as the book goes by (and, I seem to have missed the point of the first-person narrator for the modern bit, who appears only at the end), and the historical bit does make up for it.

It's slow, but thoughtful. I did enjoy the discussions about How Things Worked, especially between the alien with language limitations and the essentially Aristotelian-science monk (yes, God made everything, but God made everything to act according to its nature, so you can still figure it all out!). A little more history trivia than I was really interested, but very nice aliens and interesting philosophy. Three and three-quarters stars, having deducted a quarter star for the annoying modern people.

The Straw Men (by Michael Marshall)
This is the same guy as Michael Marshall Smith, author of Only Forward, but this is his name for thriller fiction instead of SF (sort of like Iain M Banks, who I like, versus Iain Banks, who I don't much care for). The humor is nice ("The town sits on the Allegheny River, in the shade of muscular hills, and has more trees than you could shake a stick at unless you had a lot of time and were unusually demented.") and there's the Everything Changes moment (this time, fairly early in). But the Everything Changes moment doesn't change the whole universe, just the situation of one of the protagonists (after the funeral of his parents, he finds a note from them: "We're not dead," and it gets odder on from there...). The computer stuff is about par for movie hacking, though I wish for better from a book. And the "pfiz drive" sets off my Finux Cryptonomicon hackles - why bother making up fictional technology that's just the same as real technology? Anyway. There's the Weird Conspiracy plot, and the Serial Killer plot, which do a good job of running in parallel and finally coming together, to produce a not bad thriller, with some interesting thought-provoking bits. The biggest flaw for me was the bad guys, who seem to have the power of "Being evil makes us rich!", which is admittedly not uncommon in fiction. Three stars.

Old Man's War (by John Scalzi)
Cory Doctorow's cover quote says "Starship Troopers without the lectures; Forever War with better sex". I can't say the sex was particularly memorable, but I think I prefer that for science fiction. The aliens are cartoonishly horrible, the and carnage is polite enough to go in horror movie order by killing the extra-annoying people first. I liked it better than Spin, but it really is a fun popcorn-movie type of book rather than something more Serious. Three and a half stars.

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Comments
dpolicar From: dpolicar Date: September 20th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Was there even sex in FW? Sexuality came up a bunch, as our narrator's het-ness became a recurring theme, but I honestly can't recall anyone actually having sex -- on-camera, anyway -- in the whole book.
From: brilit Date: September 26th, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, there was. It was all at the beginning though, when they were in training on earth and on pluto. Even mentioned assigning sex buddies amongst trainees. I don't think it was very descriptive, but it was on-scene.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: September 20th, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
The reason the dude who uses "autophototropic" doesn't know "autocatalytic" or "catastrophe" is that he's a dumbass. First, "autophototropic" isn't a real word. How would that be different from "phototropic"? Self-phototropic? They grow towards their own light? Huh?

Second, by the parallel structure it sounds like he really wants "photosynthetic" anyway. Second and a half, simple organisms can't be phototropic (let alone autophototropic); tropisms are growth toward something, not movement toward it. The word you would want for swimming towards light is "phototaxis". (And there's a different word for the thing plants do where they move around during the day to get more light or to minimize evaporation or whatever, but I forget that word.)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 20th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I thought he wanted "swimming towards and photosynthesizing light", but then, I didn't know the word phototaxis. :)

fxz From: fxz Date: September 20th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

I like these "this book got beat down by this other book" comments, as they remind me of the total injustice of the world. Spin is no match for Accelerando (which may also have sock puppet characters, but is practically wallpapered in crazy ideas), and (as much as I like Vinge) Rainbow's End isn't a four-star book.
ricedog From: ricedog Date: September 20th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Hugos are nominated and awarded by a mob, so it is no guarantee of anything other than popularity among a small group.
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