heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
So, the deadline for Hugo Awards Nominations is in 2 days, so I thought I'd put up my list. I looked at the list of nominees for the Nebula Award, and mostly agreed with their choices for the various short fiction pieces and honestly don't read that much short fiction. However, my choice for best novel differs drastically from the Nebula Nominees, and with one exception (noted below) I think all of my choices are superior to those

Best Novel
  • The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher; Red Wombat Tea Co.
    Her best work to date. I quite like Vernon's books written at T. Kingfisher, but this one goes from good and fun to truly wonderful
  • Memories of Ash, by Intisar Khanani; Purple Monkey Press
    Excellent fantasy, this and the previous (and first) novel in the series Sunbolt are rich and wonderful
  • Four Roads Cross, by Max Gladstone; Tor Books
    My favorite of his novels so far, I particularly enjoyed seeing how things have progressed in Alt Coulumb and how that interacts with the rest of the setting so far. Fantasy is not typically a genre with lots of political and social commentary, but these books do an excellent job of it.
  • Occupy Me, by Tricia Sullivan; Gollancz
    Strange, wonderful, and unexpected. I read it last month and revised my entry after I read it, it's up there with The Raven and the Reindeer and my two favorites of the five here.
  • False Hearts, by Laura Lam; Tor Books
    Excellent and powerful near future SF
If there was space for a sixth nomination, I'd definitely put Ninefox Gambit byYoon Ha Lee on this list, and honestly it's as good as any of the books on this list, and I only didn't list it because it's up for a Nebula Award and the others on my list aren't.

Best Novella
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
    Both of these are both brilliant and wonderful.
I haven't read any of the other Nebula Award nominated novellas, but these two are quite excellent.

Best Dramatic Long Form
Arrival, Paramount Pictures
Definitely the best SF film of the year, and Rogue One (which was very good) doesn't need more votes, so I'm just voting for Arrival.

Best Dramatic Short Form
  • "The Adventures of Supergirl", from Supergirl, on The CW
    This season, I enjoy this show notably more than before, but the first two episodes are by far the best, with both Calista Flockhart doing a wonderful job as Cat Grant, and Tyler Hoechlin playing the absolute best and most perfect Superman I've ever seen in any film or TV show.
  • "Vertical Mobility", from Incorporated, on SyFy
    An excellent and disturbing modern cyberpunk show sadly perfect for the state of the modern US.
  • "First Contact", from Cleverman, on Sundance TV (US)
    Even more disturbing, just as relevant, and really good.


Best Series
  • The Craft Sequence; Max Gladstone; eligible novel: Four Roads Cross; Tor
    This series is here for the same reason that I nominated Four Roads Cross, excellent world-building, wonderful characters, and wonderfully done social and political commentary
  • The Commonweal; Graydon Saunders, eligible novel Safely You Deliver; Tall Woods Books
  • The Lady Trent Memoirs, by Marie Brennan, eligible novel In the Labyrinth of Drakes; Tor
    Pseudo Victorian natural history with dragons, it's fun, well written, and wonderful
All three series are wonderful and well worth reading.
heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
In the past several months, I've read two novels set in Nigeria, one by a Nigerian living in the UK (Tade Thompson), and the other by someone whose parents moved to the US from Nigeria and who has repeatedly visited Nigeria (Nnedi Okorafor). Thompson's novel Rosewater is SF set in a near future Nigeria and which I decided to buy after a review by James Nicoll as well as (correct) assurance on his LJ that it wasn't too grim (although it was very far from an optimistic novel).

I'd heard many positive things about Nnedi Okorafor's writing for a number of years, after she won the World Fantasy Award and much acclaim for her novel Who Fears Death, but I didn't read it, and never plan to, because by all reports it's impressively grim and bleak, and that's remarkably far from my preference. I avoided her work for that reason, until last year's Hugo Awards, when her novella Binti was nominated, and won. It was brilliant and pleasantly non-bleak, and I happily voted for it. I was unaware that she had written other novels that I was willing to read, but recently ran into mention of her novel Akata Witch, because it has a sequel coming out sometime relatively soon.

I loved Akata Witch, in large part because it's both a very standard YA novel of the sort where a teen learns she can perform magic and begins studying it with several other teens that she becomes friends with. It's well written, fun, hits all the tropes quite well, but it is also set in Nigeria, that style of magic is Nigerian, and these facts are deeply woven into the fabric of the novel.

It's also fascinating and nifty for me to have a (small) data set of novels set in Nigeria, written by people who know this nation to some degree as an insider, and to see how they differ. The two versions of Nigeria in the two novels are very different, in large part because the protagonist of Rosewater used to be a petty criminal and has first hand experience with that nation's criminal subculture and with lethal vigilante justice, and the protagonist of Akata Witch is a middle class urban teen who has no contact with any of this.

Discussing these novels also reminds me of a prior post I made about novels written about non-white protagonists by people who and aren't members of that race, but in this case, I'm thinking about novels by people who are and aren't (to at least some degree) people who are part of a particular nation's culture. Although the author is white, South African author Charlie Human's two novels & Apocalypse Now Now & it's sequel Kill Baxter provide a very vivid sense of life in Capetown and other parts of South Africa, but it's more difficult for me to judge, because I haven't read novels set there by anyone else.

Prior to reading any of these novels, the best SF&F novels I'd read set in Africa were both by white residents of the UK, Evolution's Shore (published as Chaga in the UK) & it's sequel Kirinya, by Ian McDonald, and the Poseidon's Children trilogy by Alastair Reynolds. I think all of these books are excellent and I loved reading them (and very much hope that someday Ian McDonald finishes what looked to be another book in his series, since I can definitely see room for one), but they are very much novels written by outsiders. McDonald's novel has a white woman from the UK and her daughter as his protagonists, and Reynolds' novels are all set several centuries in the future in an Africa that doesn't resemble anyplace in our world all that much.

As with my previous post, there's a depth and a sense of culture and connection that I find in the novels by Tade Thompson, Nnedi Okorafor, and Charlie Human that I don't find in those by Ian McDonald or Alastair Reynolds, and also a different perspective on race in those by Thompson and Okorafor.

It sometime feels a bit odd to me to look at the far greater diversity now available in media while awaiting the incoming US government, but I highly recommend both Rosewater & Akata Witch.
heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
First off, to anyone unfamiliar, here's info about the words emic & etic. In any case, I've been reading a surprising amount of fantasy recently, a bit of urban fantasy, but mostly fantasy set in more magical versions of the 19th century or in fantasy worlds with technologies and societies ranging from the late Renaissance to the mid Victorian era – fantasy set in eras with somewhat higher technology and more and larger cities than before has become more common, in part I think because the rural entirely pre-industrial past is moving even further out of living memory that readers are looking for something a bit more familiar, a change I highly support.

There's another equally obvious change, a growing number of minor characters and also protagonists who are of a racial minority and who must deal with issues of prejudice and discrimination, often in late pre-modern setting where these sorts of problems were considerably worse than they are now. I'm seeing such novels written both by authors of color and also by white authors, and while generalizations are difficult, I have noticed one that I think may be true – white authors writing about non-white protagonists facing racial prejudice more often seem to have that character relatively isolated from any community of such people, either because they left voluntarily to go and seek their fortune, because they were raised outside that community, or because they were kicked out.

In contrast, most authors of color I've read who write similar novels (and my sample here is sadly smaller, because I mostly read novels written by white authors) have protagonists who move between a community mostly composed of members of their race or ethnicity and the outside world, where they face significant prejudice, and such character are (unsurprisingly) more likely to have close friends or family members within their community. Also, from what I've seen at least, authors of color are more likely to write novels featuring non-white protagonist in settings where the protagonist is a member of the dominant (or only major) racial or ethnic group.

I don't see either of these sorts of stories as being inherently better than the other (beyond the obvious fact that having more authors of color writing SF&F is clearly a good thing, because there aren't enough and they face considerably more problems getting published than white authors, but I do find the differences to be interesting.

This current shift also reminds me of a similar change I saw starting almost 45 years ago – an increase in the number of both female SF&F authors and a far greater rise in both female and male authors writing about both female protagonists and important female minor characters. Once again, I saw differences in how female and male authors wrote these characters. The most notable being that male authors seemed more likely to have the sexism the protagonists face be somewhat over the top or at least exceptionally overt and brutal, while female authors seemed (at least to me) more likely to depict characters facing constant low level disapproval and censure, but I also don't think the differences was quite as pronounced as between non-white and white authors writing about non-white characters facing prejudice. I also noticed a few authors (the most obvious Gordon R. Dickson in his 1977 novel Timestorm attempt to write several important female characters, and fail utterly (in that he instead wrote a series of rather over-the-top stereotypes). Thankfully, I've not run into anything quite that dire among the white authors I've read who have written about non-white protagonists.

In any case, if you are looking for some exceedingly well done works with non-white protagonists that were written by non-white authors, I recommend:

Novels:
Sunbolt and Memories of Ash both by Intisar Khanani (a third novel will be out next year), Serpentine, by Cindy Pon (sequel coming out in less than two weeks), and Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (which I hope someday has a sequel, but is complete as is).

Short fiction (read online):
Hunting Monsters and Fighting Demons, both by S.L. Huang, who also writes the the awesome Russell's Attic series (modern day SF set in LA).

Also, for a good fantasy novel dealing with race by a white author, I recommend Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
heron61: (Hat)
My latest sojourn into molecular gastronomy was lamb tagine (in retrospect, any beef suitable for stewing would have worked just as well). First I made beef broth in a pressure cooker, cooking a 1 lb. beef bone, half a pound of hamburger (browned in the pressure cooker first), 4 cups of water, ½ cup red wine, and a bit of leek, carrot, onion, bay leaf, and thyme. That all went in the pressure cooker for two and a half hours. The result was beef broth that was as solid a Jello when it was refrigerated. Also, I got 3 cups and only needed 1.5, so I can easily do this again. The next step was pressure cooking 12 oz lamb (cut in 1-inch chunks) and 1.5 cuts of the broth in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes. Once again, it's clear that using the pressure cooker on the absolute lowest possible heat setting is always best. In any case, the result was utterly delicious – I drained off the broth, reduced it, cooked up some diced onion, dried apricot, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, tomato paste, and honey, and then added the reduced broth to this, added the lamb and served over rice (Arborio rice, where I cooked onion in the pot, then added the rice to brown it very slightly, and cooked it with almonds and currants).

Tonight, I'm making Thai chicken coconut soup, and I'll be sous vide cooking the chicken, since that worked out so well before. I definitely need to rig up a better sous vide cooker, but a large pot, baggies, and a thermometer worked well enough last time.

In other news, Ancillary Sword was different than Ancillary Justice - it was smaller scale, but also a bit deeper, and excellent. I'm also guessing that Ann Leckie has as least two more novels in the series, since I don't see it ending with the next book.

The other book I've read recently was the latest Vlad Taltos/Drageran Empire novel by Steven Brust – Hawk. This was the first of these novels that I've actually loved since Issola, it had considerably more life that the recent ones and was a whole lot of fun – in large part because it's about Vlad being proactive for the first time in quite a while. It also has a truly lovely bit at the beginning that will be familiar to anyone who shares my taste in TV cut for paragraph-long quote ) It's not an awesome novel, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.

I was also pleased and fascinated to learn that there will definitely be a Supergirl show, presumably next Fall. It's done by the same people that did Arrow and The Flash, which means it should be moderately good, and given the way licensing works, it will be set in a universe with Supergirl, but w/o Superman, which should be very interesting.

I'm sad that it will be on CBS, both because larger networks typically equal lower quality, but also because if it was on the CW, there could be cross-overs with Arrow and The Flash. In any case, I saw this bit of news on a link from this site about upcoming supers films. There are no Marvel films and only one DC film with a female protagonist, which is a shame, but there are quite a number of "Unknown Movie" for Marvel, and I'm hoping we get to see at least a Black Widow film, and hopefully at least one or two others. However, what I really want is more TV with female supers, in part because I like long-form storytelling better, and more importantly because it's clear (at least to me) that a well done modern TV series is better than almost any movie, and well better than any modern action film, since there is so much more opportunity for character depth and growth. I'm still holding out hope for someday seeing a Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers tv series.
heron61: (Hat)
My adventures in molecular gastronomy continue. I tried chicken soup. Given the basic philosophy, the recipe involved cooking all ingredients separately and assembling them at the end. Step 1 was making the chicken stock, which requires 90 minutes in a pressure cooker. The recipe claimed to make 5 cups of stock and called for 1.5 lb of chicken wings and 1.5 lb of ground chicken (both of which you throw away at the end), which struck me as too wasteful. So I used

1 lb chicken wings (blanch them in boiling water for a minute first and throw out the water)
0.75 lb of ground chicken
100 g sliced onion
50 g sliced carrot
50 g sliced leek
1.5 TBS sliced garlic
½ tsp whole black pepper
1 liter water

Cook in a pressure cooker for 90 minutes. Presumably because I have a $40 pressure cooker and not a fancy $120 one, more steam escaped, so I ended up with 3 cups of stock, but it was 3 cups of seriously awesome stock. I'm used to good chicken stock thickening in the fridge, but this stuff became the consistency of almost set jello – it glopped rather than poured, which at one point almost ending up with half of it glopping on the floor.
So, I supplemented it with 2 cups of good store bought broth, and the next day cooked all that with herbs (adding the herbs at the end preserves more of their smell).

Then, I cooked whole carrots and whole leeks (white parts only) in a pressure cooker (the recipe said 5 minutes, I didn't trust it, so I went with 6 minutes and mildly overcooked them. Also, next time I'll only use carrots that are uniformly thick, the thin parts overcooked even more. If you want a way to cook veggies fast this is it – put a little water in the bottom, place the veggies on a raised platform above (not in) the water, and pressure cook.

At the same time, I tried home sous vide cooking the chicken. Place each boneless chicken breast in a baggie (immerse the baggie in water before closing to get the air out), and cook on the stove at 146-150 F for 50 minutes. I used a dutch oven mostly filled with water, because of the large surface area and large thermal mass. After getting it up to temperature, lowering the stove to the lowest simmer setting, and moving the pot 1/3 of the way off the burner, I got a constant temperature, and put in the chicken. The result was delicious & perfectly cooked. Then, instead of homemade noodle, I asked [livejournal.com profile] teaotter to make her delicious dumplings in 2/3 of the 5 cups of broth, and in the other third I cooked rice noodles for [livejournal.com profile] amberite. The result was very impressive indeed. Not cheap by any means, but a wonderful treat or dish to show off to guests.

The equally wonderful novel is Ancillary Sword by Anne Leckie, sequel to her Hugo, Nebula, & British SF Award winning awesome first novel, Ancillary Justice. I'm 1/3 of the way through and loving this novel as much as the first one. If you like SF at all, buy and read these novels.

Also, as I was getting ready for bed at 2:50 [livejournal.com profile] amberite mentioned a friend of hers in LA said that there was a total lunar eclipse going on. By chance, the sky was actually clear here, and so we both stood out in the yard for half an hour watching a total lunar eclipse, which is the only total lunar eclipse I've ever seen.

Also, as a final and entirely unrelated to any of the above note, after seeing a thread about playing shapeshifters in fantasy games on rpg.net, I wrote up (and added to) a shapeshifter character class that I helped create and extensively played in the early 80s. Because it seems to be the best and most popular extant D&D version, I wrote it up for Pathfinder (ie mildly improved D&D 3.5)
heron61: (Hat)
So, I thought about doing more with my LJ.  I've been deeply amused by my preferences for the new TV shows this season – I looked forward greatly to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and while it's no longer exceptionally dull and (episode 3 was considerably better than episode 1 or 2, and the only bright spot in episode 1 was J. August Richards), but at best it manages mildly entertaining. Witches of East End is coming up on episode 3, and it may also jump from dull and terrible to OK, but I'm certain it won't get better than that.

I had also greatly looked forward to The Tomorrow People, which may someday go from being unwatchably bad, to being watchably bad, but for now it's episodes are lurking on our Tivo, waiting for us to just bored enough to see if it continues to suck as the pilot did (20 minutes of episode 2 was almost as bad).  One bright spot was Ironside, which I was dubious about, but [livejournal.com profile] teaotter suggested we try, and it was quite good and looked to be getting even better – except that it was cancelled after episode 4 - I'm guessing have a protagonist who was both black and in a wheelchair was a bridge too far for most US audiences.  Unlike most modern TV, the premier of The Blacklist was actually quite good, but it feel down very swiftly after that, both by being morally repellent and also by having the male lead be far too smug one to many times.

So, the only new show I'm consistently looking forward to is of all things Sleepy Hollow - yes, the highlight of the first episode was the headless horseman chasing our protagonists through a graveyard while firing a submachine gun, but while episode 2 was pretty bad (albeit a bit better than the 2nd episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), it went rapidly up from there.  The last couple of episodes have reminded of some of the more fun bits of Supernatural, except instead of being a show where two white guys go around investigating the supernatural murders of women and people of color and every woman who appears in more than one episode is either swiftly dead or completely evil, Sleepy Hollow isn't a piece of racist misogyny. It's fluff, but it continues to be fun fluff.  Such is new TV.

OTOH, if you're looking for an excellent SF novel, you're very much in luck. New SF author Ann Leckie's first novel Ancillary Justice was a gem – it was well written, thoughtful, and with a fascinating protagonist.  It also had interesting bits about slavery and colonialism (colonialism has been a major theme in SF since the end of WWII), and the use of pronouns was very cool and unexpected.  Rather than say more, I recommend [livejournal.com profile] teaotter's excellent review of the novel.  As a potentially useful side-note, on the Amazon site, the brief blurb has a Read More to click for more of the blurb - don't do that if you wish to avoid a major spoiler.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
A few weeks ago, I read The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, it was brilliant, but also exceedingly complex, and so I waited to write about it until I had the chance to think about it and then reread it. I finished rereading it a few days ago and found it even better on second read as first. It's an impressively high-context book, both in the sense that it assumes familiarity with the sub-genre of modern transhumanist-influenced SF, and more importantly because the author throw you into a complex and strange world filled with wonderfully arcane terminology. There's even an extensive Glossary on Wikipedia (which contains spoilers, but it useful after or during reading the book, to learn the etymology of terms like Sobornost (a Russian word meaning a spiritual community or collective), Gevulot (a Hebrew word for borders), or Tzadikkim ("a title given to personalities in Jewish tradition considered righteous, such as Biblical figures and later spiritual masters"). It's also well worth looking these terms up, since the meaning of these words is in all cases important to why they are used. The author is quite simply a genius with language.

It's also clearly the first book of a series, and while it is in no way unsatisfying, you also don't learn all of the answers by the end of the book, and right at the end, you get a few more questions to go along with them. The plot of this book is all about identity and memory and in a setting where both can be edited and duplicated, is exactly as complex as you'd expect. This is half the reason for wanting to reread the book, the other half is being able to appreciate it in considerably more depth once I understood the basic structure of the world and what it meant and implied.

The book was also made more personally interesting because I discussed it extensively with [livejournal.com profile] teaotter who read it shortly after I finished it for the first time. Given that she mostly reads fantasy and older-style SF of the sort written by authors like Jack McDevitt, I was impressed (once again) at Becca's ability to gain quite a lot of meaning out of a book, despite never having read any SF of this sort before. This is really not a book for people entirely unfamiliar with transhumanist space opera to get their start – Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, or Linda Nagata are all far better choices for that purpose. However, it's also the best book I've read in well more than a year, both because of the plots and ideas and also because of the sheer excellence of the prose.

It also brought home to me one of the reasons I prefer to read this sort of SF when it's written by Europeans. In addition to having many other levels, one of the major thematic levels of the book is about freedom and responsibility. The most powerful political entity in the solar system is based on enslaving uploaded minds – the many serve the few, and any who's not in charge has their mind, body, and free will entirely in the hands of beings who feel no compunction about using all these as they see fit. A variety of non-villainous societies also appear in the book, and while very different from one another, all share two common features, a lack of slavery, and the fact that instead what you have is a society where people effectively pay their taxes and work for the common good (in various exotic posthuman ways), while also clearly benefiting from these labors. Far too much US SF has the sort of libertarian bias that would result in a very different, and from my PoV, rather hideous book. It is also not a novel, where you have the protagonist spewing nonsense about how being a natural, unaugmented human is in some way morally superior (something that would have had me throwing Sean Williams' recent novel Saturn Returns across the room if it hadn't been a library book).

I also have a few observations that are perhaps best read by people who have already read the book minor spoilers follow )
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I just finished the new Bordertown book Welcome to Bordertown . I really enjoyed it, and I also found it to be a fascinating microscosm of how much of SF&F fandom and SF&F writing has changed since the previous Bordertown books, which were all written from the late 80s to the late 90s.

The basic idea of all of the stories, poems, and the comic in the book was that Bordertown was cut off from the mortal world for the last 13 years, but that this only seemed like 13 days to the residents, who are suddenly faced with the arrival of modern day people with their new ideas, fashion, music, blogs, and suchlike. This worked well and also served to highlight the differences in feel between modern SF&F and work from 10 or 20 years ago. This is a Bordertown book with stories about people of color, people who were homeless or living very modern sorts of crappy dead-end lives before they left the mortal world, militant civil rights activists, computer geeks as well as an abundance of queer people. I talked about this book with [livejournal.com profile] teaotter, and her comment that in some ways this was a book by and about many of the sorts of people who enjoyed these books before, but who were not present in them.

While there's still no shortage of bigotry and privileged ignorance of various sorts in SF&F fandom, it's also clear that progress has been made among some subcultures within it, and this is very much where most of the book comes from. I also found the book to be a whole lot of fun, and previously I had largely lost interest in the Bordertown books by the early 90s. The story by Cory Doctorow was exactly what you would expect it to be, a story about the person who brought the internet to Bordertown, and was quite good, and the stories by Nalo Hopkinson and Catherynne Valente were both exceptionally good, as was the comic, which turns out to have been written and drawn by two Portland locals that I have met at various parties, and the stories by Tim Pratt and Christopher Barzak, two authors I had not previously encountered. Here's the Table of Contents. This is definitely a book that makes me feel hopeful about SF&F fandom, as well as being quite a lot of fun to read, as well as a source for new ideas who I'll look up more by.
heron61: (Default)
Optimistic: Optimistic SF (and even SF devoid of doom and gritty misery) has been in short supply of late. Especially since September 11, the watchword for much SF, and almost all near future SF has been grimness . I have however, at last seen some signs of change. In addition to Jetse DeVrie's excellent 2010 anthology Shine, there have been a few novels like Charles Stross' excellent Halting State , which depicts a world around 8-9 years in our future that is much like today, and thus devoid of the sorts of ubiquitous jackbooted oppression (common among modern progressive authors), endless terrorism and evil teeming people of color (horrifyingly common among modern conservative writers of SF), or ludicrously massive technological collapses (which is simply far too common).

Sawyer's WWW Trilogy – Wake, Watch, and Wonder is none of these. It's SF set in a 2012 that looks much like 2009 (when the first book was written) or for that matter, 2011, and the overall tone of the book is quite optimistic.

Old School: When I think of or call a modern SF novel or series "old school" or "old fashioned", generally this is a bad thing, and I mean that it's either written by someone who remains clueless about modern technology and modern life or (more commonly) that it's filled with the racial tokenism and (mostly) covert misogyny that was the hallmark of most SF written before the 1970s, and far too much written since then.

However, in this case, I mean something very different and I mean it in several ways. It's first and foremost about a "marvelous invention" (an emergent AI) that changes the world, of the sort that used to be very common in SF. I've read examples ranging from Poul Anderson's Shield to James Blish's They Shall Have the Stars, and many, many others. However, I haven't seen a modern version of this trope in quite a while, until this series.

Also, it's contains the sorts of tidbits of science that used to be fairly common, with once crucial exception. The works of Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, and many others (all the way back to E.E. Doc Smith) who contained significant information about and explanations of various sorts of science & technology always focused on physics and chemistry, with occasional sidelines into electrical engineering. In this book, the focus of the science is math, with sidelines into computer programming and game theory – in short it's an interesting and fairly well done modern update of an older style of novel that I haven't seen in a while.

It's also (to a somewhat lesser extent) a book about an "amazing family" who changes the world, which is another older trope that I haven't seen in a while. However, once again it's a modern take on this trope - the teen math genius is female, the father has asperger's, and there are several minor queer characters in the book.

In short, it's the sort of book that I used to see a fair amount of when I was a child and young teen, and haven’t seen much of since. It's also been nicely update to the modern day, both with the various changes I mentioned above, and the fact that the author is writing for an audience who are mostly assumed to be (at least by US standards) people with fairly strong progressive values. In short, it's a series that I enjoyed quite a bit. I didn't find it particularly memorable, but it punched the right emotional buttons, kept me eagerly turning the pages, and would be awesome airplane reading, as well as definitely being an excellent YA series – it's not marketed as YA, but it works well in this genre. I've read several more impressive and memorable books so far this year (with Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief, leading this list, followed shortly behind by Elizabeth Bear's Grail), and this is even a bit lighter than Daniel Keys Moran's The A.I. War, Book One: The Big Boost (which I also really liked), but the WWW series was a whole lot of fun, as well as being well written.

As a side note, I found it interesting that (for the first time in quite a while) I found this series at a bookstore. I was down at Powells books with my parents (which has become a rarity for me of late, since Amazon is so much cheaper, and has everything, in a way no physical bookstore ever can), and the cover caught my eye. I'd previously tried to read a novel by Robert J. Sawyer (Starplex) and never managed to get more than 20 pages into it – it just didn't hold my attention, so I largely wrote him off as an author. Now I'm reconsidering a bit, and also considering the fact that flipping through books at bookstores clearly has more value than I'd considered, even in a world of ubiquitous on-line reviews and recommendations.
heron61: (Default)
I first got online in September 1993, using a 2400 modem, in a NEC laptop with an odd blue on silver monochrome screen. I remember the dreams I had after my first 5 or 6 hour on-line session – endless scrolling blue text. Within a short time, I discovered mailing lists – I remember the first two I joined (in large part because they were the first two that I found that I was interested in – back then, in the pre-web days, finding something you were interested in was remarkably difficult and haphazard) was a list for the SF RPG Traveller, and a list for author Daniel Keys Moran's Continuing Time series, the first two of which I had recently read. This second list was responsible for the very first piece of useful (to me) new I ever got from the internet. In October 1993, the third book of Moran's Continuing Time series, The Last Dancer was published, and I learned this fact on that list. It wasn't as good as the previous two novels (in part because Moran can write fairly good female characters, but not as protagonists, and also the protagonist of The Last Dancer is a remarkably dull character).

I also learned that future books in this series would come out soon, including another two books with Trent Castanaveras, the pacifist thief/revolutionary who was the protagonist of the second novel and one of the more fun characters I've encountered, and another book which would take this cyberpunk-like series and advance it forward in time into full-blown space opera, a concept that definitely appeals to me a great deal. However, those books never happened – there were problems with the publisher and suchlike and so after reading some interesting excerpts from unpublished novels, I waited, and 7 or 8 years ago decided that I'd never see another novel by Moran. During this time, I also finally unsubscribed to the Traveller RPG mailing list, because the game had become far too anachronistic for my tastes, and there were better and less archaic options. However, I stayed on the Continuing Time mailing list, in large part because traffic dwindled to a trickle, and I assumed that I'd never hear anything much from it again.

A few days ago, I was proven wrong. AI War part 1: The Big Boost is now for sale as an ebook – it's the first novel of what seems to have become a trilogy rather than two novels. It's also a hell of a lot of fun, Trent remains an impressively engaging character and the book has same fast action and interesting world-building that I so enjoyed in The Long Run. In the last few years, I have seen new novels by both P.C. Hodgell and Daniel Keys Moran, and unlike many later additions to series, they are actually quite good. In any case, I'm halfway through The Big Boost and liking it a lot.
heron61: (Gryphon)
After recent discussions of SF both on my lj and on rpg.net, I've decided to try many of the various recommendations. The first to arrive at my local library was The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld. I finished it on Tuesday and ran out yesterday to buy both it and the sequel The Killing of Worlds Thankfully, unlike far too many modern books, it's not part of a series, there are just two books.

I'd read one novel by Scott Westerfeld before, Polymorph, written in 1997, and was deeply unimpressed – it was exceptionally generic cyberpunk with a dull main character and a trite plot. However, it was also his first novel, and he clearly has improved greatly since then. The Risen Empire is a rip-roaring space opera romp that is very much in the tradition of modern space opera – cyborgs, AIs, and an absolutely marvelous and exciting scene that is a battle between dust-size tele-operated probes and dust-sized nano-defenses. This novel is not hard SF – in both tone and details, it's fairly different from the work of various hard SF authors like Alastair Reynolds. However, it's also very much not science fantasy – I consider it Medium-hard SF, along the lines of Brin or Niven's work, but considerably better than most things Niven has written.

Also, and rather unexpectedly, even the worst villains have completely comprehensible motivations, which places it well above many similar novels. Also, by half-way through it was quite clear that the easiest way to tell heroes from villains was that heroes were almost always motivated primarily by love, and this includes some fairly unlikely heroes, including one that initially seemed to be a villain.

Romantic, heroic, modern space opera, with all manner of nifty transhumanist touches... Pretty much exactly the sort of thing I love reading. I haven't had a chance to do more than read the first 20 pages of the sequel, but it looks equally good. Highly recommended!

As a sidenote, a while back [livejournal.com profile] amberite mentioned that while the SF genre is not thriving, young adult fiction is doing exceptionally well, and these two books (both written in 2003) were Westerfeld's last adult SF novels. Since then, he'd been a prolific writer, having written 11 YA novels since that time. Such is the way of modern genre publishing.
heron61: (Default)
Other than Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that my dad read to me at age 4 (and which I remember reading on my own in secret, with the strange and utterly unfounded childish certainty that my parents would immediately cease reading to me if I showed that I could read on my own), the first SF novel I read was The Time Traders by Andre Norton. I have read all of her novels, many of them several times (a rarity for me), but I still vividly remember being 6 years old and reading that book just after I had gotten it from the local library. Andre Norton is arguably my all-time favorite author and is someone who, through her books, almost certainly had at least as much affect upon the person I am now as my parents.

I recently checked out two new Andre Norton novels from the library: Beast Master's Ark by Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie (sequel to The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder) and Atlantis Endgame by Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith (a new Time Traders Novel). Andre Norton is 91 years old and is almost certainly not doing much more than providing some advice - although she might be doing more than this, her most recent solo novel Brother to Shadows was published in '93.

more thoughts about Andre Norton, her effects on my life, and these recent novels )
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