2021-07-01 12:49:34 UTC
In appreciation of how I've benefitted from SF recs & info here over the years, I have a low-level goal to add more on-topic content. I’m aiming to do this type of post every couple of months, with this being the third one.
I think there are no spoilers this time, not even minor ones. If something does seem spoiler-ish, it happens early in the book in question and is front-and-center.
Below is a slightly augmented list of what I read in May&June, with a very primitive rating system:
“+” are good, and more “+” are better
“-“ are not good, and more “-“ are worse
If ratings seem overrepresented on the + side overall, it’s because I’m pretty fortunate at avoiding unenjoyable books. This group helps a lot with that, which also inspires my low-level goal.
I’m happy to answer questions about anything on the list.
Highlight - Balance of Trade just barely over Artificial Condition
Lowlight - China Mountain Zhang just barely under(?) Iron Sunrise
(++) Big Planet - Vance
I’m filling in the gaps of Vance books I have missed, and Big Planet was the next one up. This is very early Vance. In fact, Michael Moorcock’s forward says it is his first novel; however, you have to look below the surface —and for me, read Moorcock’s forward — to sniff out that it is early. It’s very Vance-like, and very good.
(++) The Iron Khan - Williams [Inspector Chen #5]
Although the happenings are rather dark and serious, somehow I’d classify this series as light and fun. It’s almost certainly due to the characters’ personalities, mindsets, and approaches. Inspector Chen is a human detective on Earth who often works for Heaven, and also ends up working with a demon from Hell on some rather thorny cases. As the series rolls on, there is a lot of world-building and development of characters. The characters are observant and often have the type of internal commentary and self-questioning many of us do. There is a 6th one “Morningstar”, but it’s self-published and very hard to track down - I have done some initial digging and not turned up a successful way to get it.
(+++) Artificial Condition - Wells [Murderbot #2]
This was so enjoyable that I wished it was longer. (It is short - maybe even novella length.) In this second entry of the series, self-named Murderbot investigates the incident that led to it becoming a self-governing entity; and it agrees to a specific short-term contract with humans along the way. It also gets to know the AI persona of a research ship - great interactions there. There’s wonderful internal dialogue, the right amount (and right kind) of snark, and it’s very enjoyable to observe humanity through Murderbot’s eyes while seeing Murderbot’s own reactions. Of course I’m looking forward to reading the 3rd one.
(++ -) Thicker Than Water - Carey [Felix Castor #4]
Felix “Fix” Castor sees spirits and can interact with the strongest of them (as well as exorcise them). He gets cases, often from the police, where he tries to help solve murders and/or mysteries. There’s a longer arc that develops alongside the book-long cases. This is a pretty solid series, though I wish Felix would tone down being such a jerk to his family and friends so frequently.
(++) The Hugo Winners Vol 5 (1980-1982) ed. by Asimov (I read this off and on between the previous novels)
For Volume 5, as you’d expect, there are some really enjoyable stories:
http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?33522 Amongst the re-reads, the Zelazny is one of my favorites of his. I just skimmed Lost Dorsai and The Pusher because I’d read them within the last couple years. To my surprise, I had not read Anderson’s The Saturn Game before - and I thought I had, so if not for this collection I don’t know how I would have figured that out. (The Saturn Game was “eh”, btw - too many stupid decisions by the characters.) For the ones new to me, Enemy Mine and Grotto of the Dancing Deer were my favorites. This volume is the last of the original series, though three years later Asimov & Greenberg started publishing The New Hugo Winners series. I will probably start looking for those.
( - - ) China Mountain Zhang - McHugh
You know, there’s an interesting world lurking in the background here (a China-dominated Earth, about 200(?) years from now). It probably has interesting people doing interesting things; but those things aren’t shown in this book. This book featured ordinary mostly-uninteresting people doing ordinary mostly-uninteresting things, where “ordinary” is sometimes relative to the world they’re living in. The chapters alternate point-of-view between the title character and numerous side characters. It feels like the kind of book that English teachers would assign and excitedly point out various symbolisms and allusions and other English-y stuff. To me, this was just a book-long shrug where pretty much nothing happened.
(+++) Balance of Trade - Lee & Miller [Liaden - hard to denumerate since the publishing order does not match the internal chronology - I think this is the 11th one I’ve read, almost in publishing order]
Lee & Miller create such wonderful characters within this rich and ever-evolving universe. As I progress through this series, I “miss” the previous protagonists, but the new ones have been just as good so far. Balance of Trade is the first of two featuring Jethri Gobelyn, who in this novel becomes the first Terran to become an apprentice to a Liaden trader, striving to become a trader in the Liaden guild. Very enjoyable characters, interactions, development, and world-building. I expect to read the next one (Trade Secret) very soon.
(+++) The Best of C.L. Moore - Moore (I read this off and on between the previous novels)
The only reason this isn’t a Highlight is that I’d read most of the stories already. From the new ones, “Daemon” is underappreciated (or under-publicized) and wonderful. “Fruit of Knowledge” was also a very interesting take on a well-explored setting. The re-reads included some Northwest Smith & Jirel of Joiry, and well-known classics like “Vintage Season”, “No Woman Born”, and more.
(+ - - -) Iron Sunrise - Stross
If you can ignore the over-the-top-Nazis-in-space aspect, this was…okay. If you can’t ignore the over-the-top-Nazis-in-space aspect, you give some minuses. I couldn’t ignore the over-the-top-Nazis-in-space aspect. Sheesh.
(+) The Time of Contempt - Sapkowski [Witcher #4 (4th book, 2nd novel - spine says “2”)]
I enjoyed this, but…Though there is progression and development, these are starting to feel kind of same-y. I’ll see how the next one goes, but if it doesn’t shed that feeling, I may stop.
(++) Dragon’s Egg - Forward
I really enjoyed this. Very interesting ideas and setup. To my brain, very similar in tone and approach to Clement’s Mesklin stories (which I greatly enjoyed). This is the first Forward I’ve read and there hasn’t been much commentary here over the years on his other works. What should I try next?
(+++) Carrying the Fire - Collins [non-fiction - re-read]
I pulled this off the shelf in the aftermath of Collins’ passing near the end of April. I was intending to just re-read a “best parts” version, but I ended up re-reading almost all of it. To me, this doesn’t feel like a typical autobiography. It feels much more like an insider’s look at the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo programs. Really enjoyable. RIP Michael Collins.
Long work - A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking - T.Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon)
Collection - Over the River & Through the Woods - Simak [just for the ones I haven’t read before]