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Two series, five singles - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Two series, five singles


Probability Moon, Probability Sun, and Probabilty Space (by Nancy Kress.)
I picked up these books for the Tinoori-people in them - a variant of humanity which has evolved with "shared reality", a shared worldview such that divering from the worldview causes headaches. There is thus no lying, and not even so much communication (because everyone already knows the shared worldview). There's also a space opera plot with a war with aliens and mysterious old jumpgates and weird physics. There were a lot of interesting ideas and good settings for things to be happening, but all in all, I found the execution... well, reasonable. I was hoping for more than just reasonable, though - a little grander, a little more clever, would have been nice. The alien artifacts aren't really that hard to figure out; the space battle of the first book is resolved kinda lamely; the clever rules of how the jump gates work do not, I think, quite make sense. The third book has an entire subplot devoted to a not-very-suspenseful chase, and has some Greek kids who suddenly take center stage for no apparent reason. They weren't bad enough that I didn't want to finish them, but they weren't good enough to particularly recommend. Three stars.
Magyck (by Angie Sage)
There was this cute short fat book at the MITSFS, and children's books are In right now, so I picked it up. Another "not so bad" book. A lot like Harry Potter in tone, actually. Cute spell names and friendly ghosts and Extra Bad Bad Guys with the full set of unpleasant mannerisms and overly simplistic plots (the way you take over a kingdom is you send your Assassin to walk into the throne room and shoot the Queen, who is sitting there by herself. No reason for anything more complicated). The "What happened to all the minor characters we saw for a chapter?" epilogue was particularly amusing. Three stars.
Age of Unreason: Newton's Cannon, A Calculus of Angels, Empire of Unreason, Shadows of God (by Greg Keyes)
I still like everything Keyes has written. Age of Unreason is not my favorite of his stuff, but it's still pretty darned good. Take eighteenth century, then add alchemy. Then add weird shit on top of that. I really liked the combination of the first two, but the extra weird bits (basically, anything involving angels) seemed much less grounded. I guess it's supposed to be, because it's intentionally in opposition to rationality and science, but it just fuzzied up the genre for me. The first book was probably my favorite of the lot -- there's less dashing about the world (I wanted a map to follow the action), and the set of characters is more limited. Each new book adds more people, until I was no longer able to keep track of them. The dramatic revelation that one character had been masquerading as another lost most of its effect because I hadn't really noticed the second character. Still, less-favorite Greg Keyes is still better than most other books. Four stars.
Beginning Operations (by James White)
The first half of the Sector General collection. The introduction (by Brian Stableford) talks about how the farther in the future you set your story, the less dated it becomes, but it's not the tech that dates these stories, it's the attitude. It's no longer the case that all the doctors are men and the nurses are women; we no longer refer to the "pretty little heads" of the nurses. And it's less common to see the hero spend two sentences saying "You must do exactly as I say! There's no time to explain!" before giving a very sensible and obvious suggestion. (Not as uncommon now as I'd hope, more's the pity). It starts as puzzle-stories (the conventions of which require the doctor to refuse to tell anyone his theory of treatment because if something goes wrong, it'll just be his own career on the line), and moves on to larger-scale novellas. The puzzles are fun; the grander stories are pretty good too (though I am dubious about the number of casualties considered acceptable in treating a single patient). All in all, an old-fashioned classic, for better and worse. Three stars.
Heroics for Beginners (by John Moore)
Moore is the author of The Unhandsome Prince, which I really liked. Heroics doesn't have anything to equal the brilliance of the opening frogs-in-swamp chapter from Prince, but it's not bad. The humor is a bit more like the List of Things to Not Do When I'm an Evil Overlord, and while it has some reasonably clever bits, it feels a little more haphazard and sophomoric. The villain is Lord Voltmeter, He-Who-Must-Be-Named. What this means is that you aren't supposed to use pronouns referring to Lord Voltmeter, you have to actually call Lord Voltmeter "Lord Voltmeter". Like that. Anyway, it comes up a couple of times but then the characters go back to using pronouns, because it's really unwieldly to never say "him". Three stars.
The Bone Doll's Twin (by Lynn Flewelling)
This is very nice. Mostly, it's a fantasy about a hidden heir and the secret good guys that protect said heir, but for all that the bones of the story are a cliche, none of the meat is. To spoil the very very beginning of the story: There is a prophecied line of queens who keep the kingdom well. When they don't rule, there's plague and drought and all that Lion King stuff. The line is taken over by a king, and he starts stamping out all his female relatives so they don't try and usurp him back. He isn't evil enough to kill his sister, just her daughter - so the conspiracy of mages takes the sister's twins and sets up blood magic to swap the semblance of the boy twin and the girl twin - and kills the boy twin. The king comes to kill the girl twin and sees she's already dead (because of the spell). So there's sacrifice-of-the-innocent and a vengeful sad ghost and a mad haunted mother and all this nice horror frosting on top of the vaguely young-Arthurian fantasy plot. (Behind me, my office mate asks if I've read Once and Future King. But he promises he's not reading over my shoulder.) The only complaint I have about the book is that nowhere does it say "Book one of a trilogy" - but the ending is in such a strange place that I went and looked it up on Amazon, and yes, it is a trilogy. The second book is out, but not the third. Four and a half stars, but don't start it if you want your stories finished.
A Dark-Adapted Eye (by Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine)
I like Ruth Rendell's mysteries quite a bit. As Barbara Vine, she writes psychological thrillers instead. One of those, the name of which I am annoyed to have forgotten, is one of the best such I've read. This one is interesting, but not brilliant. The book opens with the narrator's aunt being executed for murder. The rest of the book retells what happened to lead up to that, and why. Something an old-fashioned look at dysfunctional people. The afterword is fascinating, in which the author describes having two names (her mother's family couldn't pronounce "Ruth" so they called her "Barbara", and she grew up with "Ruth people" and "Barbara people" and finds it disconcerting when people switch. It sounded very much like "Grant people" and "Cael people"). I had always wondered about the use of a non-secret pseudonym. Three stars.
The Child Goddess (by Louise Marley)
A sad, thoughtful story. There's a well-rounded set of characters, including several who are made quite interesting despite only a small amount of time on stage. The good guys are good without being saints, the bad guys are really pretty obnoxious, but in a good villainy way, not an irritating-writer way. I could see the answer to "why aren't anchens people?" way before the characters asking the question could, which was a little exasperating. I'm trying to not spoil any of the major points of the book, not because they're big mysteries, but because the book's pacing is very measured, and knowing the answers might mar that. Four stars.

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Comments
From: tirinian Date: September 30th, 2005 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
What kind of accent can pronounce "Barbara" but not "Ruth"?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 30th, 2005 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Scandinavian, apparently.
dpolicar From: dpolicar Date: September 30th, 2005 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
"But I cannot say Silvester, so I will call you George."
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: September 30th, 2005 03:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Is "Heroics for Beginners" available for borrowing?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 30th, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup! I can give it to you with your griddle!

(For reference, since I forgot to mention before, everything from Heroics down is borrowable. The others were borrowed from MITSFS, arcanology and chenoameg. :) )
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: September 30th, 2005 10:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
with griddle - good in theory.
In practice I'm likely to next see you before galavanting around Boston. So perhaps not wanting to carry the griddle with me...

jencallisto From: jencallisto Date: September 30th, 2005 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
so what is your favorite Greg Keyes? i've been meaning to pick up something by him, but i'm not sure where to start.

as for The Bone-Doll's Twin, the exact same thing happened to me! a friend of recommended it, so i picked it up. and i really loved it, but i practically screamed at the end when i realized that it wasn't standalone. very frustrating. the second book is also good, but not quite as much to my taste as the first one, as it went a little more epic plot and a little less character-driven insular creation/discovery/world-building.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 30th, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Briar King is probably my favorite, but it's the first book in a trilogy, and the third isn't out yet. (Though it stands on its own better than Bone Doll's Twin!)
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