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Seven books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Seven books
# are ebooks, * are audiobooks

*The Dark Door (by Kate Wilhelm)
I'm not sure how this made it onto my audiobook queue. It's an odd book: take a horror story and cross it with a mystery, but then decide that what you want is a procedural thriller rather than a mystery with mysteries in it. And then surround it with an brief and somewhat inexplicable SF frame story that explains why the horrible bad thing is actually alien rather than supernatural. Put like that, it sounds either intriguing or terrible, but it wasn't either, it was just fine. Three stars, I guess?

#The King's Blood (by Daniel Abraham)
This is the sequel to The Dragon's Path. Okay, I also have a soft spot for this series because it's (kind of) about the attempts of the spider goddess to take over the empire once created by dragons, who are gone now. :) Anyway, I think I didn't like it quite as much as the first book, but on reflection, that's because the main characters spend less time doing the cool thing that they are good at. Joshilyn Jackson described her books as "Take a character, build them up, build their relationships and who they are, and then set them on fire and see what happens." The first book is much more building the characters up - you get to see Cithrin doing cool banking stuff, the acting troupe doing cool acting stuff, that sort of thing. But by the second book, they've all been set on fire, pushed out of their zones of competence, because more plot is happening. (Well, the acting troupe you just don't see much of, but their big scene is hilariously great). I really like how everyone's motives make sense from their own viewpoints - even the Annoying Accountant whose job is to be the banking plot obstacle makes perfect sense when she explains herself. Four and three quarter stars; I deducted a quarter star because Not Enough Banking Mechanic, and how often is that ever a complaint?

Kethani (by Eric Brown)
Hmm. This is more like a series of linked short stories about "what happens to humanity (as personified by a group of people who hang together) when aliens offer us immortality and make us better?" And it's trying to be a thoughtful story of first contact and of what makes us human, but I felt like it skipped over all the actual meat of the thoughtfulness. We never really learn much about the aliens; as a reader I felt like my understanding of them advanced from maybe one page of knowledge to two pages by the end of the book. And the lessons about the human condition are things like "Sometimes people who are in love drift apart" and "Religion can divide people even if they love each other" and "Sometimes your parents aren't very good parents". I mean, that's all true, but I wouldn't have minded some more depth to the profundity. And then some of the actual interesting details that I could imagine get totally glossed over. Okay, yes, I can see that the Catholic church might decide that physical resurrection through alien nanotech was no good if it meant giving up spiritual resurrection. Then the punch line of the story is the priest who is resurrected in order to go and tell the rest of the universe about God. But... what is he going to say? Is he going to talk about the birth of Jesus on Earth as a human? Is that relevant to wiggly-tentacle aliens on another planet? When the Vorlons turned out to be angels, that was because they were different angels for everyone, not just Earth angels who everyone else should believe in. I mean, this is basic SF-meets-religion stuff, but I have no idea how Kethani answers the question, because as far as I can tell it simplifies Catholicism to "Yay, God!" when it comes to prosleytization (wow, I have a hard time spelling that word). Two stars.

#First Shift (by Hugh Howey)
I really liked Wool, by this author. First Shift is the prequel, and it's about how society got from the near future to the post-apocalyptic Fallout-esque living-in-bunkers wasteland. Okay, first, a prequel that is predestined to End In Tragedy seems to be particularly hard (we all know how the Prequel Ending In Tragedy of my people turned out). Tragedy isn't easy - it can't be accidental, because that's pointless, but it also can't be inveitable, because that's, well, differently pointless. So there has to be choice, and it has to be plausible choice that gets made for non-stupid reasons, but the choices end up doomed. So on one hand you have the story of the stupid people who make stupid choices, and on the other, you have decent people crushed by the hand of fate, and who wants to read either of those? Howey's middle ground is mostly "the protagonist is well-meaning-ish but unwitting and manipulated - but cognizant enough to be worried about what's unfolding around him." Unfortunately, this mostly pushes him a little too much towards the "stupid choices" side, except that he's more in charge of implenting someone else's evil choices. And, speaking of evil choices - I am clearly way too politically biased, but making the Democratic National Convention the keystone of the secret plan to wipe out the rest of the world while keeping the 0.01% rich elite cryogenically frozen through the bad times - that felt a little too much like the "Obama is the Muslim anti-Christ who wants to death panel your grandmother and is destroying America through his Hitler-like socialism" hysteria I've seen too much of. Okay, you know, I'm probably oversensitive here. Somebody current has to be the villain if you're getting from today to the apocalyptic future. My other complaint is that I have no patience for the wife whose main character trait is "I am unhappy and jealous that you are having anything to do with your ex who you dated before you dated me." And the husband, the main character, does not help matters by being quite so mesmerized by the ex's breasts. And the ex is just traditionally evil by making all their work meetings be sexy dates when she tells the third person in the work group that they're cancelled, and trying to play footsie. So we're back to stupid people making stupid choices, and I don't mind if they all die by nanobots after all. Mr. Howey, I really loved Wool. But you just Phantom Menaced it. (I'm not going to give it a star rating, I didn't finish.)

# Midnight at the Spanish Gardens (by Alma Alexander)
A book that I didn't love by an author I usually love. It's an interesting musing on "how could my life have gone differently, if I made different choices", with five friends at a late night restaurant, each offered a choice of having their life might-have-gone differently. And that part was interesting, and thoughtful, and explored a lot of possibilities with little mini-stories, love stories and tragedies and what kind of lives we lead. But I guess there were two main things that didn't make it work for me as much as I might have liked. First, it's all about "did my life have any meaning?" and that sort of angst, and... I know that's a really common thing to think about, but I think it goes to bad places. I think it suggests that your life is not good if you are not famous, not rich, not a Creator of Epic New Things. That doing small things, fixing things that are broken, helping other people getting through the day, building meaningful relationships with other non-famous people, is not meaningful. And I don't quite think that Alexander is trying to say those words that I'm putting in her mouth, but some of the characters veer towards thinking that here and there, and I'm aversive to it. The other thing that seemed like a flaw was, several times the person making the choice ends up in a choice between a life in which they have kids and one in which they don't. The not-having-kids life has different benefits - true love, changing the world in other ways - and part of the point is choosing one set of good things versus the other. But, I seem to have this unshakeable belief that if you *have* kids that you love, that there is no way in hell you could ever choose another alternative in which they *do not exist*. I mean, I'm not a parent, I'm not planning to be one - but even I can't conceive of choosing to rewrite my hypothetical kids out of reality once I had them. (Which is why that happening to Marziah in Comet was one of the most tragic tragedies in the whole story...). Of course, since they're real-people characters, none of the characters in the book make that choice either, but it made those particular choices seem forced. Three stars - interesting, but not all I wished it was.

#Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass (by Mary Robinette Kowal)
The main premise is "Regency-ish, with illusion-magic, done mostly by women as an Art". The first is a romance; the second is much more spy plot. There's not a lot of depth to them, but they're enjoyable quick reads. Three stars.

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Comments
ricedog From: ricedog Date: July 18th, 2012 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Did the banking mechanic also involve anagrammatic pseudonyms?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 19th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC) (Link)
It involves some deception and disguise, but alas, no anagrams. :)

(Woo! Someone is reading the logs!)
From: brilit Date: July 20th, 2012 01:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
My biggest problem with First Shift was the avowed purpose of the plot. Let's destroy them before they have a chance to destroy the American way of life. By us destroying the American way of life.

Though it did end and tie things together nicely but that was really just the last two pages.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 20th, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's an extent to which I stuff the basic premise into my suspension of disbelief. And we do kind of know from Wool that the guys who set up the silos destroyed the world as a defensive first strike. So... yeah, it's stupid, but I feel compelled to give a book one free pass for the stupid that's part of the premise up front. :}
countertorque From: countertorque Date: July 25th, 2012 05:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I read Dragon's Path because I got it as part of that great 2 fer with Leviathan Wakes. I really liked Leviathan and I read the sequel Caliban's War and liked it too (though I still don't know who the f Caliban is). I didn't like Dragon's Path enough to get the sequel even on a 4+ star recommendation. It felt like too much copying Song of Ice and Fire and that long complicated trilogy by Stevensen that I couldn't get through. Plus, it was poorly edited.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 25th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I just finished Caliban's War (for in my next set of book reviews). I vaguely decided Caliban was the "monsters", but wasn't quite satisfied with that. Abraham says on his web site in answer to a question of "Who is Caliban?": Caliban is the character in The Tempest who is made to work as a slave but defies being controlled. So it’s pretty much the same character who was Leviathan in the last book.. I think "Caliban" is admittedly less easily mapped than "Leviathan" because Caliban is much more human than Leviathan, which is more of Big Scary Thing. But there it is. :)

If you didn't care for Dragon's Path, I certainly can't recommend King's Blood, though I would have to defend it as "fantasy with politics" being a genre rather than a particular work being copied.
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