December 22nd, 2008

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Here we go again...

82. The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat (Eric Roston)
This is an almost excessively topical book, but it is an interesting subject, and I was looking forward to a popular-science approach to the question. Unfortunately, Roston oscillates between being too specific and not specific enough -- sometimes it feels he's writing for an audience of advanced university students and sometimes for an audience of elementary school students. The inconsistency of tone was particularly noticeable on the numerous occasions when he'd break away from his main subject to justify the scientific method -- "scientists disagree! This is good and healthy!" The book as a whole would have benefitted from more visual aids, and not just pictures of Darwin. When describing in-depth the physical structure of molecules, it can be helpful to just provide an illustration. My other complaint would be that the unifying thread of the book is a little weak at times. It's very clear that the "civilization's greatest threat" angle is of much less interest to the author than the discussion of the evolution of early life. For a book that's marketed to be so very topical, that's a little odd and disappointing (Although the evolution of early life is definitely an interesting subject in its own right). Individual sections of the book were interesting, but the book as a whole didn't feel as cohesive as one might have hoped. Nor is it as friendly to a non-scientific audience as one might have desired. ***

83. The Steerswoman's Road (Rosemary Kirstein) -- omnibus of The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret
This series has been a really good discovery for me (for reviews of books 3 and 4, see below). The only really disappointing aspect is that there are only 4 books so far, and I'm going to have to wait for the rest. Jo Walton's review at Tor.com turned me on to the series, and her summary is a good one. I love the way, especially in the first volume, that fantasy tropes get turned on their heads as we learn more and more about Rowan's world. It takes considerable skill to make everything fit together just so, and to make the story interesting on both the fantasy and sf levels. I am also impressed that, even as the reader figures out things that Rowan doesn't know, there are still mysteries that the reader doesn't understand. There's still more to find out. And these are books that are about

84. Teseracts 11 (ed. Cory Doctorow and Holly Phillips)
As always, this is a good anthology, with lots of really good stories (I'm particularly fond of "Joe and Laurie Save Rock n' Roll"). I really liked Doctorow's introductory note, comparing Canadian sf to sf from Australia and other similar countries -- it's not that the world needs Canada per se; it's that slight outsider's viewpoint that can be valuable and interesting (And if you'd like a summary of the doctoral thesis I will probably never write, that's it in a nutshell). ****

85. The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (Ursula K. LeGuin)
LeGuin is pretty much always great. Her short stories are wonderful little thought experiments, and make for fascinating reading. I particularly loved "Solitude" and the generation ship novella that closed the book. A great look at an idea that should really be shopworn by now, but isn't -- at least not in LeGuin's hands. *****

86. Love and Sex with Robots (David Levy)
This book got off to a good start, but was ultimately rather disappointing -- I didn't feel Levy really convincingly made his argument. There's nothing objectively wrong that I can point to, but neither is there anything really convincing that he was able to present. There is a difference between the affection people feel for an anthropomorphized Roomba, the love they feel for a cat, and the love of a person -- but Levy just assumes that it's just different degrees of the same feeling. And the sex section just ended up being an extended extension for why we should all want to have sex with robots. It didn't convincingly distiguish between elaborate sex toys (which yes, people will have sex with) and robots as sentient or semi-sentient entities. He also completely ducked the ethical implications of programming sentient robots to be our sex slaves -- which just seems like a really creepy idea to me. Levy also has a degree of faith in the scientific development of robotics -- and, more, its successful commercialization -- that I don't share, making his fundamental argument (that we'll be falling in love with and having sex with robots soon) hard for me to accept. ***

87. The Stone Gods (Jeanette Winterson)
Like all of Winterson's work, this is an elliptical, poetic work, and the story's logic is the logic of a poem rather than of a straightforward narrative. I love the idea of repetition and endless loops of time, where it all comes 'round again. Unforunately, Winterson's future dystopia feels more like a caricature of capitalism than a properly convincing sf-nal future -- and the satire is so extreme that it threw me out of the writing a bit. But that's really my only complaint. The prose is, of course, beautiful, and I was left at the end wanting more -- as I usually do when reading Winterson. ****

88. The Lost Steersman (Rosemary Kirstein)
See above for my general review of the Steerswoman books. My only additional comment for this one is that the xenosociology described here is completely fascinating. *****

89. The Language of Power (Rosemary Kirstein)
And now we're getting into the tricky bit -- Rowan has to learn about things that we, the reader, understand already. It's generally handled pretty well, although there is some minor awkwardness.

I want more! How long do I have to wait for the forecast next 3 books?

I will be very interesting to see how she's going to handle the Rowan/reader perspectives in the next books... and I am really curious about the rest of the puzzle -- I want to know how we got here... ****

90. Victory of Eagles (Naomi Novik)
This is the latest, and much-anticipated volume in the Temeraire series (dragons during the Napoleonic wars). We get much more of Temeraire's viewpoint than we have in the past, which is probably necessary since poor Lawrence is so depressed and in such a bad place that we need Temeraire's naivety to balance things out a bit. And poor Temeraire! His intentions are always good, but he lacks a fundamental understanding of human (British) society, and without this understanding, he cannot succeed in his efforts to reform that society. And speaking of British society, it seems to be that Britain's stubbornness vis-a-vis the dragons is almost more understandable than France's sudden about-turn -- but then, I guess it's really only one man (Napoleon) who had to be convinced there.

The book ends with as good a resolution as could be hoped for -- but I do hope that Temeraire manages to get Lawrence to talk to him, and that he can pull the poor man out of his depression. As always, I wait to see what happens next... ****

91. The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson)
This is a genuinely creepy book. The atmostphere is expertly handled, and the viewpoint is note-perfect. *****

92. All the Windwracked Stars (Elizabeth Bear)
It's the end of the world -- and not the first world, either. Magic and technology are both so advanced that they can be used together in the field of technomancy. This book is completely different from anything I've ever read -- and that's a compliment. It's also utterly absorbing. There is something about the way Bear writes that just sucks me in completely. The characters are convincingly non-human and yet completely human and comprehensible, which has got to be a tricky line to walk. And there's going to be more to this series, which is going to be interesting -- how do you write a follow-up to the end of the world? Well, if anyone can do it, Bear can. *****

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