Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Eye of Cat

Eye of Cat
Eye of Cat by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fondly remembered from my teenage years - last would have read this 25 years ago, at the latest - and I was glad to discover that I still love it. I like how Zelazny doesn't even try to explain the technologies that enable his story; he just gets on with the story. We never know how the trip boxes work, or when they were invented, or really know why Billy has lived so long (though we can guess it's because of all the space travel he's done, it's never explicitly spelled out.)

The story gets a little mystic in places. The bits of Navajo culture interspersed are obviously modernised or adapted - which fits perfectly with what I know of the adaptability of Navajo culture, so it felt genuine even where it was obviously made up.

I will always hold a place in my heart for Zelazny, and though I can understand why some say his later works don't quite live up to his early promise, this too was one of his later works, and it is very fine indeed.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Little Brother

Little Brother
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was about 5 different really good books.

This a good teen adventure romp, with smart, believable characters who are interesting for adults to read about and (shouldn't, I must presume, by virtue of no longer being qualified to be sure) condescend to the teens it is aimed at. It's got a love story in it, but it's a pair of _people_ falling in love, not a pair of cardboard cutouts of 25-year-old-models-pretending-to-be-teens bumping up against one another because Destiny.

This is a chilling tale of post-9/11 America, taken a notch further by a second major attack, where we become essentially a police surveillance state. A world where all your freedoms are removed in the name of keeping you safe.

This is a wild yell of rebellion. Of fighting the good fight from the inside. Of outsmarting authority when authority is wrong. Of hackers and geeks knowing the system better than the bureaucrats, who don't know enough to realise that they're not even keeping us safe by spying on us. A rallying cry to not take your freedoms for granted.

This is quite literally the best layman's explanation I have ever read for a number of fascinating technical issues that impinge on everyone's modern lives. It does it in quick little asides - a paragraph or two, here and there - that add to the story rather than distract from it. Non-technical readers will follow it effortlessly; technical ones will still learn something new that may intrigue them.

This is a painting of a place. A picture of San Francisco that I recognise in its people and its places. It breathes. And yet it's a bit abstract; a bit surreal. It is the SF that I knew, but with twists and turns of counter-cultures and youth cultures that I never knew, but feel as real.

I don't think we live in Marcus' world. Not yet, anyways; hopefully not ever. I'm no molotov-lobbing anarchist who thinks we should abolish the entire government. And anyone who knows me knows that I'm no mindless "wit us er agin us" patriot either. But you've got to keep an eye on your own government - they probably _aren't_ actually evil, but they'll take away your freedom just because it simplifies the paperwork, if you let them. If we end up in a police state like Marcus', it wont be because we lost a war; it'll be a cost-cutting measure, for our own "good". This is a story that reminds us of that.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement
Rules of Engagement by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyed this; working my way through the series again, though I think this was the last one, last time I went through.

Solid 3d characters. Interesting world. Action and politics. My one problem with this book is that the central conceit, around which everything else is based, feels so contrived. Brun, who we like from previous books, is the rich girl taking classes at the elite military academy - without enlisting - to try and gain some real world skills. And we like that about her... but she's still a dilettante. She doesn't get what she wants at one point and throws a major spoiled-brat temper tantrum. Esmay, who we also like from previous books, walked away from a privileged life to devote herself to the military. She's taking two sets of classes, so she's overworked and stressed, so when Brun drops the tantrum - including calling Esmay herself a "cold fish", and more-or-less lying to say that she's slept with Esmay's boyfriend - Esmay tells her she's behaving like a spoiled brat, and should grow up. Which she is, and should.

After which incident everyone in the book, including a lot of Esmay's friends, treat her like she has tortured kittens in public. People make comments like "Wow; I'm glad _I'm_ not your enemy." She gets threatened with discharge from the military for goodness sake. And this isn't one person's reaction, its the universal reaction of every single person who sees the video of the confrontation (which gets out.) It was weird. I actually went back and re-read the section describing the confrontation again, because I was sure I must have missed something. Nope; she pretty much tells the kid behaving like a spoiled brat that she's behaving like a spoiled brat. And for this, everyone brands her as the Flanders Pigeon Murderer, and tries to drum her out of the corps. Its possible their society has different rules, and what she said really was quite awful to them, but we don't really get that from the book. Later, circumstances and backstabbing machinations make everyone's reaction worse, but it just rang a bit hollow because I knew they'd all seen the video of the actual confrontation, which really wasn't bad at all.

However, despite my grumbling, it doesn't take much away from a good tale. It'd be like not liking Lord of the Rings because you thought Sauron putting so much of his power in the ring was silly; all right, maybe the premise feels weak, but the story is good. We get Moon's usual touch for gritty realism informing forensics and battles and rescues in space, with an interesting cast and a deep, well-fleshed-out world.

A word of warning; there are some scenes and topics in this book I found disturbing. Not graphic, nor gratuitous, but skin-crawling all the same. Kidnapping, rape, and slavery all make an appearance.

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