Book Review: Starplex

Starplex has everything: a galactic empire; several human-comparable alien species; hints of at least one god-like, far-advanced race of beings; hyperspace travel and wormholes; space battles and time travel and the secret of the universe . . .

So by all means, read all about it (before reading “it”, itself, that is), in my review at AE.

Thanks, Baen

Somewhat out of the blue last week, I found myself thinking of picking up some Heinlein. Maybe it was because I’d recently started a re-read of Jumper (just finished tonight). I went back through my own reviews and realized the last couple of Heinlein books I’d read (a novel and a double-collection) were a good two years ago, when I went on a review request spree just before leaving for Costa Rica, and spent the next few months working through it all during the rainy, tropical days.

The Heinlein books I had requested from Baen Books, which does a lot of military fiction, but after covering those, I haven’t asked for anything from them since. (I was assigned Bujold’s latest some time after that but didn’t get it from directly contacting the publisher myself.)

I went back to Baen last week to see the new Heinlein releases they’d made available in the last couple years, and fired off a quick email requesting five books. I found a mid-sized package in the mail today and there was every single thing I’d asked for.

Baen, I think I love you.

I have a pretty decent-sized Heinlein collection already, including a couple of omnibuses from the Science Fiction Book Club which sometimes contain two, three, or four short novels in one volume. But I wish now that all of them were Baen editions, because with their steady release of new editions, they also get some nice intros and closing remarks, the latter from various individuals, the former from Heinlein’s biographer, William Patterson, who always has some interesting tidbits about the history of the writing of the work in question.

I started reading one of the juveniles tonight. With this latest batch, I have nearly every Scribner book, and the one major middle-period work my collection was missing. Expect to see reviews over the next few months as I’m able to cram the reading in. The old grandmaster has a way of fitting into the smallest cracks of time, so I don’t expect it will take long.

The Hugos! and Death

It’s Hugo nomination season again. That’s fairly coincidental to my perusing one of my more frequently-consulted Wikipedia pages: The Hugo Award for Best Novel. The reason I come back to this page again and again is that one of my long-term reading projects is to read all the best novel winners of the last 61 (and counting) years, as well as any notable books that were nominated as well.

I’ve read none of the handful of winners (and just one 1959 nominee) from the first decade. Half of the winners from the ’60s and ’70s (plus another half-dozen that were nominated). Only a handful of winners and nominees from the ’80s and ’90s. But almost every winner since 2000, and as many nominees.

It’s not an overwhelming task. The trick is to grab a book and read, and not let it go into a pile that I won’t touch in awhile. I’ll have to be equally careful for epubs, now that I’m making regular use of my new reader (a basic Kobo, if you’re wondering). It’s easy to quickly thrown a dozen digital books on there. Humble Bundles and all that. How long will it take to read them all, or will I?

This is the great tragedy of the reader who is also an existentialist: knowing you will never manage to read all those books. Sometimes counting the remaining years of my life in the books I could optimally read brings home the frailty of human life in a more immediate way than anything else.

This took a turn for the morbid, didn’t it?

Book Review: Lockstep

Karl Schroeder makes a living plausibly guessing at the future. This might seem like it should be true of all science-fiction writers, but it’s really not. Some use fantastic situations to put the human soul under the lens; others dream up future settings, not because they’re likely, but because they make good jumping-off points for obliquely considering present-day societal issues. Others just want laser blasts and space battles. Few are professional futurists.

As fans know, however, Schroeder actually is a professional futurist, which is perhaps why he’s the one who works out plausible (albeit, yes, futuristic) new ways of reordering all society instead of writing an adventure story on Mars and calling it a day. You can read about which long-standing conundrum in space opera Schroeder has solved by reading my full review at the Free Press.

Skip the Book?

Today on AE, five books you can forgo in favour of the film. I’m a die-hard bookworm, so when I say the movie’s better, well, opinion is still opinion, but you might pay a little closer attention. Of course, the films in question are all genre (with Fight Club perhaps straddling the line a bit). Here’s one more that wouldn’t have fit on the list at AE:

Non-genre Bonus Example!

Into the Wild. The film is a dramatized version of the true story of Christopher McCandless, a thoughtful, adventurous young man with an inspiring zest for life. The book is a stunning example of long-form journalism by a master of the craft. Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction account of the McCandless story grew out of an article he wrote for Outside magazine. The book is a mix of narrative, interviews, the history of adventure travel, and some of Krakauer’s personal anecdotes.

In fine journalistic fashion, speculations are clearly labelled as such, multiple theories are floated and batted around. But in the movie version, a single interpretation is taken, a single cohesive narrative emerges, and it really feels like we see things from Chris’ perspective. In the film, we have a protagonist. In the book we have a subject. Most of us would choose the former.

Book Review: Paradise Burning

Just in time for its centenary, Robert Charles Wilson asks, what if the First World War had never happened? What if all the little things that go wrong before a breakdown in diplomacy had, instead, gone right? What if we were today celebrating a Great Armistice instead of a Great War?

Final review submitted in 2013, and first to be published in 2014. The full review is live at the Free Press.

A Final LJ Review

I did a quick write-up last spring on a book called The Science of Miracles — in fact, this was the last title I covered before resigning from the Library Journal due to my over-committed writing schedule. I missed its publication, however, until now. It’s reprinted in full on the book’s Barnes and Noble page, and elsewhere. On the B&N page you’ll find it as the first editorial review.

Another Literary Year in Review

The Winnipeg Free Press has another favourite books of the year list, which includes my own pick: A Tale for the Time Being by American/Canadian writer, Ruth Ozeki.

It really is quite excellent and deserves to be on a year’s favourites list (my editor was careful to explain that this is not a “year’s best” list; we’re not jurying a prize, here and having made an exhaustive survey). Along with his caveat, I’ll add two of my own: not every book I’ve read is for FP review, and not every book I read is for review, period. Many of the books I read are not even recent releases.

So if I expand the list to include anything and everything I’ve read this year, what was my absolute favourite?

I dunno. The older I get the harder it is to pick favourites. Let’s just say it was a good reading year and leave it at that.

*Tumbleweed*

It’s been a bit quiet here of late. Few updates. As it happens I have been writing a bit, but most of it’s been content development for a private educational company so it’s nothing I can link to here. But it’s also true that I’ve been limiting my work intake for most of the fall season. No real reason other than that I felt like slowing down a little bit and the easiest way to accomplish that is to accept less writing assignments.

Meanwhile I’ve made it a goal to make a small dent in the pile of non-review books I’ve been wanting to read. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction on social science topics which have all had more overlap than I had expected. I’ve just been working on an audiobook of Slavery by Another Name, which is all about the post-Civil War Southern United States.

It’s not a metaphor for racism or something vague like that. It turns out that after Lincoln freed the slaves, a huge number of them actually continued as slaves through corrupt economic and legal apparatuses that basically allowed small town sheriffs to arrest the United States’ newest citizens on phoney charges, whereby they’d be sentenced to hard labour, which was then contracted out to railroads, plantation owners, mines, etc. Often the paperwork would get lost and their “sentence” would never end. Yes, slavery actually continued well into the twentieth century, and no, it wasn’t a rare thing but actually extremely widespread in those regions.

I also just finished Debt: The First Five Thousand Years, which talked a lot about debt peonage, which works the same way, except it’s a fine or debt that has to be worked off, and which can never be repaid because the indebted person is only paid a pittance. So debt peons too are basically slaves, but it’s justified by an account book instead of racial ideology or archaic customs of war.

On the heels of wrapping up 1491, about North American society before (and, to some extent, also immediately after) Europeans arrived, I picked up Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, subtitled An Indian History of the United States. It tells the tales of Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and other leaders of indigenous nations set against or attempting to make peace with the United States during the same period discussed in Slavery (about the time of the Civil War until the end of the nineteenth century.

It’s an incredibly infuriating and sometimes hard to read story. Many indigenous groups experienced horrors a par with the Jewish Holocaust or African American slavery. In fact, in some parts of the country, huge numbers of indigenous people were kidnapped and sold into slavery, often in Mexico. And in many parts of the country (most, perhaps), American military and government groups sought no less than the complete genocide of all indigenous peoples, to the extent of slaughtering entire villages of unarmed women and children, begging for mercy (look up the Sand Creek massacre).

It’s easy to forget how recent all this has been. Yes, some of the Nazis who murdered Jews are still alive today. But some of the people who murdered indigenous people unconscionably (or who continued to keep African slaves in defiance of the 14th amendment) were still alive when Auschwitz was up and running, so it’s just one generation further back. All of this horrible stuff happened very recently, but maybe it’s easier to learn about the terrible things that happened across the Atlantic rather than what happened much closer to home.

Besides all this heavy stuff, I read Gateway, one of Frederik Pohl’s best-known novels, which I got at the used bookstore a few months ago. Coincidentally, I decided to read it just before hearing that he’d passed away, which made reading it a little bit, funereal, I suppose.

It’s quite good. Some of the old guard of SF have a reputation for not really getting character development or dialogue or other things of that sort. But Pohl’s pretty good in that department. The conceit that has almost the whole novel be told in a series of flashbacks during a man’s therapy sessions with a robot psychiatrist — I thought it would just be a gimmick but the novel has a psychological payoff that really worked for me.

Mr. Pohl, you will be missed.

So, what should I read next? (No, don’t tell me. My bookshelf is quite full.)