Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Book Review: Transmetropolitan, Vol 3

book cover for Transmetropolitan, volume 3The first two volumes got readers acquainted with Spider Jerusalem and the city that he loves to hate. The stories were primarily single or double issues with the overall narrative running in the background. Volume three gives us a story over six issues, "Year of the Bastard."

The presidential election is coming up, and the Opposition Party convention is in town. Spider is assigned to cover it. Two candidates figure prominently, and Spider wants to know if either is capable of taking down the current president, aka "The Beast". He interviews one and attends a campaign rally for the other. Neither of which make him feel good inside. As the convention convenes and a candidate is nominated, Spider smells a rat and digs until he finds the truth.

With the departure of his first personal assistant, Spider receives a new one: his editor's niece, Yelena. Spider's not exactly a charmer, so it doesn't take long for her to hate him. While resolving their conflict, Ellis gives a bit of insight into Spider. There's also a back-and-forth between Spider and Vita Severn, a political director for one of the candidate's campaigns. She recognizes the importance of having the press on her side, and he enjoys the access to the candidate that she provides. But there's more going on there.

Written over 1998-1999, it is just as relevant now as then. Besides the obvious oversaturation of media in our daily lives, there's the politics. This quote from Vita Severn about one of the candidates sounds like it could've been about the 2016 campaign:
"His Florida campaign for the candidacy rested entirely upon cultural and economic divides, the exploitation of tensions and the vestiges of prejudice. His appearance in Sanford looked like a Nuremberg rally."
Spider relies on the usual assortment of cigarettes, booze, pills, and sex to help him cope with his resurgent celebrity as well as sift through all the political bullshit. Inspiration is typically the result of intuition and amplified by the biochemical mixture in his system. After the binge required to write a column, there's always the comedown and hangover. Copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes get him through it. Going forward, it might take more than that. While this volume has concluded, it is clearly just the first act in a much larger story arc.

Darick Robertson's artwork continues to vividly convey the story. All of the characters' emotions, the action, the minutiae of city life, and the chaos of the political maelstrom are exquisitely rendered in fine detail.

4 stars.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Book Review: The Quantum Thief

book cover for The Quantum ThiefThink of this as a post-Singularity heist story. The main character is modeled after Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief from a series of stories by Maurice Leblanc. You don't need to know Lupin (or Lupin the Third) to appreciate the story—I certainly didn't.

Rajaniemmi does a superb job imagining what life could be like for our digital descendants. While there are several "interludes" that assist the reader in understanding this world, Rajaniemmi throws the reader in the deep end of the pool from the start, forcing us to gather the meanings of new words from context in order to swim through the story. I'd imagine that plenty of readers have drowned along the way.

The story starts with our hero, the gentleman thief, in a dilemma prison. Shortly thereafter, he's busted out of said prison, for a price, and whisked off to Mars to retrieve his memories. His rescuer/employer is Mieli, a woman who needs him to pull off a heist to rescue her lover, a secret she keeps hidden from him. The other major character is Isidore, a promising young detective in the mobile city of Oubilette on Mars. He starts off as a bit of a puppy dog, trying to please the tzadikkim, a group of highly respected vigilantes in the city, but gradually comes into his own.

While some futurists will have you believe that the Singularity will bring paradise, Rajaniemmi posits a future where that certainly isn't the case. Equality is a lie. Some of those responsible for forging Creation 2.0 have granted themselves far greater powers for their uplifted minds than others. Rajaniemmi's new gods are just as capricious as the ancient ones, and their struggle for power always leaves mere mortals as collateral damage.

The malleability of memory is an important theme running through the book. It seems that our digital descendants have a harder time with memory than our analog selves. While memories can be shared, it appears that they can be forged as well. While we've been struggling with disinformation on the internet the last few years, at least there's a way to uncover the truth. That doesn't seem so easy here when collective memories can be overwritten. The truth has never been so fragile.

There are many interesting elements that I'm not going into such as time as currency, personality pirates, multi-level privacy shields, matter shaped by thought, death as a time of public service, and so on. Recommended for sci-fi fans looking for something challenging and different.

A solid four stars.


Friday, January 4, 2019

2018 Ends; 2019 Begins.

calendar image courtesy of animateit.netYep, I survived the 2018 holiday season. Three months of prepping for not only holidays, but birthdays as well. Woo boy, I'm exhausted. Still catching up on lost sleep, and now I need to lose ten pounds. Seriously. Twenty would be better.

Unfortunately, the fourth quarter of 2018 was a bust for writing. There hasn't been time. I completely understand why some writers run away to remote locations or hide themselves to get work done. I love my family and friends, but maintaining healthy, happy relationships requires time and presence. So, writing is neglected. And as I watch the pages on the calendar flip by on the breeze of time, I try really hard not to let it eat away at me.

Here's to a more productive 2019.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review: Overtime

book cover for OvertimeStross runs Christmas through the Laundry. Who's coming down the chimney? Is it Santa Claus? Heh. If you know Stross's Laundry-verse, you know the answer.

Bob forgot to put in for time off for the holidays (too busy recovering from the events in The Fuller Memorandum), so he's forced to work Christmas Eve as the Night Duty Officer. In essence, he's there to field any calls that come in regarding extra-dimensional nasties. We endure the limited budget office Christmas party, complete with a guest speaker by the name of Dr. Kringle, and walk with Bob as he patrols the spooky almost-Escher office building.

Recommended for Laundry-verse completists. Better than "Down on the Farm" but not as good (or as scary as) as "Equoid."

Be sure to save room for the mince pies.

3.5 stars.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Disconnecting the Feed

ethernet cable disconnet
When I started this blog, I'd intended it to be a PR feed for all things pertaining to my writing career. I didn't have any illusions that progress was going to be so great that this was going to be a "must watch" space, but I'd hoped for a bit more than it has been. Life has a way of throwing up roadblocks and detours. Let's leave it at that for now.

The blog feed link is a nice feature on Goodreads. It lets authors keep fans updated without having to remember to cross post. But I really haven't been doing that. What this space has become is a repository of book reviews in case something goes awry with Goodreads. I post little else. I have conflicting ideas about privacy versus self-promotion. I also don't want to repeat the mistakes I made with my first blog.

Since my blog feeds into Goodreads, anyone following me there sees double of my book reviews in their feed. That could be perceived as annoying. So I'm disconnecting my blog from Goodreads. This will be the last post that appears there. If I've got something to say that isn't a book review and want it posted there, I'll just use the "general update" feature or their built-in blog.

On the social media front, I'm transitioning from Google+ to Facebook. It's still in the early stages. I have to study what other authors have done in separating the professional from the personal. I'm not posting a link from this blog to Facebook until I'm 100% ready to go. I realize that could be never.

I haven't ruled out other social media platforms, but besides finding the right fit, network size is a major factor in determining if it's worth the effort. At this stage of the game, I'm still unknown enough that I haven't ventured beyond square one. When Gateway is finished (currently about 50%), I'll have more of an impetus to drive social media and marketing. Right now, it's not worth the time or effort.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book Review: Cloud Atlas

book cover for Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite... Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter... From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life... And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.

But the story doesn't end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

A frustrating read. While there were parts that were clever, other parts were irritating and annoying. In the end, I was left unsatisfied. Clearly, I'm in the minority on this one, but I will endeavor to explain why.

The book takes a nested narrative structure, a bit like the dream diving within dreams scenes in Inception (or the "Lawnmower Dog" episode of Rick & Morty), but with different characters. We get the first half of each story and then proceed on to the next until the sixth story, whereupon the order is reversed until the end. In essence, they were cliffhangers with varying levels of intensity. This was annoying. Not only did I have to wait hundreds of pages to resume the earlier stories, but each transition into the new story felt like I was starting over. And on the resumption of the stories, I had to go back to the first halves to recall some of the characters and plot points. The first half of the first story ended so abruptly—mid-sentence—that I thought I had a corrupted file on my Kindle!

Each story is told with a different style. We have journal entries, personal letters, a standard mystery thriller manuscript, a fourth wall breakdown, an interview, and a campfire tale. Each story is referenced by the one that comes after it, while clever, it opens up a potentially fatal flaw. The fourth story refers to the third as being fiction, but with all the references to the two preceding stories, I'm left wondering how much that story's "author" made up and what she incorporated from the "real" world of this novel. I have too many questions and to properly ask them would be spoilers.

I appreciated the changing of the narrator's voice from one story to the next. There was a good deal of playing around with language, too. You've got Victorian English in Adam Ewing's journal. The letters are written with Frobisher's shorthand abbreviations, formal continental vocabulary stocked with antique words, and sprinkled with French and Latin. After the two contemporary stories, Mitchell subjects language to further modifications. Our Korean tale is filled with shortened words, the phonetic spellings taking over (ex- to x-, -ight to -ite). And with it being a corporate dictatorship, brand names are substituted for everyday words (ford for car, nikes for shoes). But I absolutely hated the Huckleberry Finn dialogue style used for the last story. While certainly a possible outcome, it made the last story practically unreadable for me.

The characters, while they were all unique, were a mixed bag. I had trouble making a connection with or caring about most of them. Sonmi and Luisa Rey were the two I rooted for (honorable mentions to Sixsmith and Napier). Frobisher was a foppish fool at first, but improved with time. Ewing was dreadful. Don't get me started on Zachry. Cavendish was the worst. He was an insufferable jerk in the first half of his story. While he was still an ass in the second half, there was enough growth in him to warrant finishing his story.

I'm going to give Mitchell credit that he can write in any style he chooses, but I'm not sure about the choices he made here. Journals and letters, interviews and fireside storytelling, just don't work for me these days. The first two are dated. The latter two aren't strong enough to carry entire stories. One hundred page interviews require a recollection of minute details that only computers have, but apparently Sonmi did. Fireside storytelling for 70+ pages, especially in that dialect and without any back and forth conversation, is tiresome.

I don't want to go into too much about the messages or the reincarnation bits. I'm too tired and have spent too much time finding the right words for my complaints. Quite simply, I found the reincarnation thread to be lacking, and the execution of the messages heavy-handed and pedestrian.

No, I haven't seen the movie, though that's probably less likely now. Maybe with the right direction and proper editing, these stories will reach their full potential.

2.5 stars.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Book Review: Saga - Volume 4

book cover for Saga volume 4It's been several months since the events in Volume Three transpired. Alana is working as an actor for some kind of lame super hero soap opera, while Marko is a stay-at-home dad. Hazel is a rambunctious toddler. Marko's mom and Izabel the ghost nanny still live with them too. The whole situation is extremely stressful and putting a definite strain on their relationship. There are temptations which cloud their judgement and make them forget that they're a team. Kudos to Vaughn for bringing in an element of everyday life to the story.

Prince Robot IV is trying to find himself—more like he's losing himself—on the pleasure planet, Sextillion. Not only is he spoiled in the material sense, but in an emotional sense as well. Meanwhile, his wife has given birth to their son. We learn that not everyone on their world is as fortunate as the royal family, and the story takes on a decidedly dark turn.

The Will is still in the hospital, lost in a hallucinatory dreamscape. Gwendolyn and Sophie are out looking for a cure and run into The Brand, who is out seeking revenge for what happened to her brother. Not nearly enough Lying Cat in this issue!

There's the usual sex and graphic violence, but there's a birth mixed in with all the death. The artwork continues to be excellent, but here it's not so much about the fantastic elements as it is capturing the everyday and encapsulating a character's emotional state with just a single frame.