Monday, September 29, 2014

Musical Monday - Crusader: No Remorse Rebel Base 1

This Musical Monday was inspired by the 2011 computer game Skyrim. More specifically, it is inspired by a comment I saw concerning the game in which the commenter observed that no matter what the player does in the game, they essentially cannot change how the story ends other than by choosing whether or not to advance the main set of plot quests. Basically, the player can either play through the main set of plot quests to their preordained ending, or they can choose not to. There are no meaningful choices to be made in this regard.

Naturally, to discuss this element of Skyrim, I am highlighting music from Crusader: No Remorse, a 1995 computer game. But lest one think that I'm not going far enough back in computer game history, I'm also going to reference The Summoning, a game that was released in 1992. And because Skyrim is made by Bethesda, I'm also going to throw in some obligatory Fallout 3 references. What is the common thread between all of these games? Quite simply, the decisions made by the player while playing these games don't matter at all. The end result when you "finish" all of them is fixed from the outset. And quite frankly, after twenty-two years, this kind of limited and restrictive story-telling is getting a little bit ridiculous.

The Summoning was released in 1992. It was a role-playing style game in which your character, the chosen hero, was sent into a massive maze to try to work your way into the fortress of the evil Shadow Weaver and defeat the villainous dark overlord. You could develop your character to a certain extent, mostly by deciding which weapons to get good at using and which kind of magic to be good at casting, but for the most part you ended up pretty much good at everything. But what you couldn't do is alter how the story turned out. You were, for the most part, limited to fighting your way through the particular part of the maze you were in so that you could get to the next part of the maze. The story, such as it was, simply progressed depending upon how deep into the maze you had gotten, and there was simply no way for you to change the outcome.

Three years later, Crusader: No Remorse was released. In the interim, the graphics of computer games had improved considerably. The game even included some (very badly acted) live-action cut scenes, mostly involving characters giving you missions, making chitchat between missions, or blaming you for things going wrong. But once again, you couldn't change how the story turned out. You could only successfully complete a mission and have the story advance along its predetermined path, or you could die. You couldn't save Private Andrews, or prevent Sergeant Brooks from getting captured. You couldn't stop Major Vargas' betrayal, or really do anything other than follow the provided missions and work your way to the end of the packaged story.

If we jump forward to 2008, when Fallout 3 was released, we see a much more open world, providing the player with a large sandbox in which to play. The player can  take their character and wander about the Capital Wasteland righting wrongs, fixing problems, engaging in nefarious deals, and generally getting into trouble. But, once again, the "main" series of quests that make up the "story" of the game are essentially immune to player action. You cannot prevent your father from dying. You cannot avoid getting captured by the Enclave. And in the end, you cannot avoid retaking control of the water purifier and activating it. Nothing your character does in the rest of the game changes these facts. There is a "karma" system designed to evaluate how good or evil your character behaves in the game, but how saintly or villainous you have been has no bearing on the outcome of the main quest. Your karma doesn't even change whether or not the vaunted Brotherhood of Steel will agree to work with you in the game's final conflict - they will, with no questions asked.

So we get to Skyrim, and the story is essentially the same: No matter what you do during the game, the main story-line is immune to your decisions. Your only choice is whether to keep following the main quest line, or to simply abandon it and leave it unfinished. Your choices as a player simply don't matter one way or the other. The story will resolve in one way, and in only one way. This isn't a unique feature of these particular games either. The list of computer games that have fixed stories is as long as my arm. And to me, that is something of a problem. Computer game stories are still at the same stage of development they were in more than twenty years ago. One can forgive older games like The Summoning and the two Crusader titles for having stories that limited the impact the player could have. Computer games were still very much a developing medium, and just having a coherent and interesting story of any kind was something of an innovation. But computer game developers have been turning out the same type of story for more than two decades now. It seems to me like there should be room for games in which the choices a player makes has an actual, substantial impact on how the game resolves. In fact, I think this should be the standard at this point. But it isn't. The standard for computer games is a lazy, linear, essentially non-interactive story. Choose Your Own Adventure books were doing a better job at providing interactivity in the 1980s than computer games are doing now. And that is a shame.

Previous Musical Monday: Festival Supreme Theme Song by The Doubleclicks

Game, Movie, and Television Music     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Blogger Hop September 26th - October 2nd: The Third Slave Uprising Led by Spartacus Was Crushed in 71 B.C.

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Stephanie of Books Are Cool asks (via Billy): How will be reading in 100 year's time? Will there be any printed books left? How about e-readers? What might they look like?

To a certain extent, this question is impossible to really answer, as there will almost certainly be technologies in 2114 that we can't even conceive of now. Think of the world of 1914, and what their technology looked like for comparison to the present: They could not have imagined personal computers, cell phones, e-readers, or many of the other technologies we take for granted today. The entire era of the pay phone passed as the technology grew into adulthood and faded into obsolescence between 1914 and 2014.  Now extrapolate that trend out another hundred years. In short, almost anything one were to say today will probably be regarded as laughably silly in one hundred years.

That said, I'm reasonably sure that printed books will still be made, for two reasons. The first is because of the truth contained in the observation that "the future is here, it is just distributed unevenly". No matter what technological progress takes place over the next one hundred years, there will be places where that progress has not been integrated into the local culture. As much as one might want to believe that the world one hundred years from now will be an egalitarian paradise in which no one lives in comparatively primitive conditions, experience tells us that this is likely not to be the case. There will be parts of the world where modern technology will have entered use only sparingly, if at all. And in those places, books will not be a quaint throwback to an earlier day, they will be current, cutting-edge technology. The second reason is simply this: Printed books are simply too useful to ever cease to exist. They don't require power to work. They are relatively easy to make, store, and transport. They don't require another piece of technology to make them function. Their format never becomes incompatible with current e-readers. And so on. There are a lot of advantages to storing books electronically, but there will always be advantages to having physical copies of books as well.

As far as e-readers go, I'll suggest that perhaps they will not even exist as a separate piece of technology any more. The trend in technology seems to be merging different things into one device - witness the merging of cameras, which were once an almost ubiquitous personal possession, with cell phones. Comparatively few people now have (or need) a separate camera to take either photographs or videos. I predict that much the same thing will happen to e-readers, and they will cease to exist except as a function found on a multipurpose device. This isn't that bold of a prediction as to a certain extent it is happening already - most e-readers come equipped with other functions already, but I'm reasonably certain that this process will only accelerate. I hope that e-reader formats will become more standardized across platforms, but I have limited confidence that this will happen, and even less confidence that this will be relevant in 2014.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, September 26, 2014

Follow Friday - Martina Navratilova Has 177 Tennis Titles

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Perusing Bookshelves and Worn Out Pages.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Book character(s) you’d like to see with their own Twitter page . . .

I might suggest the Rat Queens of the Rat Queens series, but given that they seem to destroy almost everything they come into contact with, this might spell doom for Twitter. Actually, now that I think about it, destroying Twitter sometimes sounds like a good idea. So the Rat Queens it is.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Review - Parasite by Mira Grant

Short review: Sally Mitchell died. But then she didn't. Now SymboGen pays all of her medical bills so they can study the genetically modified tapeworm inside her. And then things begin to get really creepy.

Deadly accident
Miraculous survival
Creepiness ensues

Full review: Sally Mitchell is a lucky woman. Well, she's not entirely lucky because she was nearly killed in a car accident. In fact, she was so badly injured in the accident that her brain stopped functioning and the doctors caring for her had brought her family in to discuss harvesting her organs for donation. But Sally has a SymboGen Implant - a genetically engineered tapeworm designed to release antibiotics and other medications in order to preserve her life - so she didn't die, but instead woke up right when the doctors were recommending turning off her life support. But now Sally can't remember anything from before the accident, and seems to have a new, entirely different personality. Maybe Sally isn't so lucky after all.

Parasite is a biological terror novel about the dangers that can be unleashed upon humanity as a whole by the hubris of a few. The novel is also about how willing people are to accept without much question a solution to their troubles that is probably too good to be true, and the terrible costs that such unquestioning acceptance can impose. The novel is also about the search for identity, as Sally Mitchell must grapple with the question of who she is now, as she retains no memories of who she was before the accident. These three threads weave together through the novel to the fairly obvious, but still extremely disturbing and unsettling conclusion.

As Sally Mitchell is the character at the center of the novel, the technology at the center of the novel is the genetically modified tapeworm she and millions of others carry in their gut. Manufactured by the biotechnology giant SymboGen, and marketed under the name the Intestinal Bodyguard, these living implants are something of a magic pill - keeping their hosts healthy by secreting chemical assistance to help combat everything from head colds to infected wounds. By the time of the events in the novel, these "intestinal bodyguards" have largely replaced most pills and shots, revolutionizing the field of personal medicine. Those implanted with this new technology no longer need to consult with a doctor when afflicted with an ailment, but instead can proceed with the confident assumption that their benign parasite will take care of the problem.

In the story itself, Sally is brought back from the brink of death, presumably by her implanted tapeworm. Because Sally's medical issues were so severe, her recovery is something of a mystery, and as a result SymboGen agrees to pay her ongoing medical costs so long as they can study her. When she woke up, Sally did not even remember basic life skills such as how to feed herself or how to speak and had to be remanded into the guardianship of her parents even though she was technically an adult. Despite the best care SymboGen's money can buy, six years after the accident, Sally still has no memories of her life from before the moment she woke up in her hospital bed. But if Sally has no memories of the twenty-something years she lived prior to her accident, can she truly be the same person she was before? Even though Sally appears to be a much kinder, nicer, and generally better person now than she had been before her near death experience, these differences still serve to unsettle and disturb her family.

Sally's crisis is set in a world in which other, even more disturbing things are taking place. People, it seems, are falling ill in a very specific way: First behaving erratically, and then falling into a coma from which they never recover. The medical community in the book is stumped, but the cause is fairly evident, at least from the perspective presented to the reader. In short, something is going wrong with the Intestinal Bodyguards, and it is also apparent that SymboGen is covering this fact up. Through the novel, SymboGen, and its charismatic and obviously overconfident CEO Dr. Steven Banks, is presented as a company that has enough power as a result of their unique position as the manufacturer of the Intestinal Bodyguard that they are able to get away with almost anything, including covering up a crisis that is a threat to the life of anyone with one of their products implanted in them.

The story stays focused on Sally while she attempts to deal with her own problems. Accompanied by her incredibly loyal and understanding boyfriend Nathan (who happens to be a medical researcher), Sally follows clues sent to her by a mysterious individual who promises to reveal what is happening, both to her and to the people suffering from the mysterious affliction that turns them into vicious, mindless automatons before they slip into a permanent coma. These clues are accompanied by excerpts from the incredibly creepy and extremely obscure children's book Don't Go Out Alone, a book that Nathan is surprisingly familiar with. The trail leads Sally to Dr. Shanti Cale, one of the missing founders of SymboGen, who had been presumed dead. Dr. Cale also turns out to be Nathan's mother, which is one of the elements of the book that seems a little bit too much of a pat happenstance. When this coincidence is combined with the coincidence that Sally's father is the commander of an Army unit investigating SymboGen, and Sally's sister is a medical researcher with that same unit, the entire book feels like it relies a bit too much serendipity.

One might also criticize the book on the grounds that the "big reveal" at the end of the book is telegraphed to the reader almost from the beginning of the story. But this transparency is not only not a negative element in the book, it is necessary to create the very tension that the story relies upon. The reader knows what has happened to Sally (especially after Dr. Cale's experiments are revealed), and what is happening in the world around her, even if the characters in the book do not. This dichotomy of information between the actors in the story and the reader reading about them serves to create the discordant pressure that builds until it is released in the brutal revelation that takes place in the final pages of the book. It is a mark of Grant's skill as a writer that she can essentially tell the reader what is going to happen almost up front in her story, and yet still craft a book that is still loaded with the high volume of suspense found in Parasite.

In the end, Parasite is a well-written and engaging techno-zombie thriller that approaches the subject from a biotech angle. Featuring a sympathetic and well-drawn central character, the story carries the reader through its somewhat predictable, but always interesting twists and turns, instilling into the read a rising sense of horror until the curtain is finally pulled back and one realizes exactly who one was rooting for through the book's pages. But this revelation really only serves to confirm what the reader probably already knew, leaving a final, deeply disturbing question: How could SymboGen (and, to be honest, Dr. Cale) not have already known what was revealed at the end? Given that there seems to have been almost no way for them not to have known, their silence on this subject through the book seems to be part of some sort of larger plan, a realization that should be disquieting to say the least. If you like stories about biotech induced terror, you will like this book. If you like stories about zombies, you will like this book. If you like stories filled with suspense, you will like this book. If you like all three, you will love this book.

Subsequent book in the series: Symbiont

Mira Grant     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, September 22, 2014

Musical Monday - Festival Supreme Theme Song by The Doubleclicks

Festival Supreme is a comedy and music event scheduled to be held on October 25th, 2014 at the Shrine Expo Hall and Grounds in Los Angeles, California. The event organizers decided to hold a song contest asking musical acts across the country to write a song related to the Festival. Naturally, the Doubleclicks decided to enter this contest with The Festival Supreme Theme Song. The song is equal parts upbeat music, snarky humor, and scientific facts about steam. Or, pretty much the usual for the Doubleclicks. The best part is that you can go and vote for their song right here. You know you want to, because the Doubleclicks are awesome and their song is too. So go and vote before it is too late!

Subsequent Musical Monday: Crusader: No Remorse Rebel Base 1

The Doubleclicks     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Blogger Hop September 19th - September 25th: French Speakers Who Are Not French Use the Word "Septante" for "Seventy"

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Stephanie of Books Are Cool asks (via Billy): How important is a book's cover to your overall impression of it?

I'm not going to say that I am completely unaffected by book covers, but for the most part, they simply aren't important to me. This may be due to the fact that I grew up reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and both of those genres have a long tradition of terrible and embarrassing book covers. But the salient point is that a book's cover generally means almost nothing to me one way or the other.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, September 19, 2014

Follow Friday - Ai Weiwei Will Showcase 176 Lego Portraits at an Exhibition in Alcatraz

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - BookCatPin and A Kernel of Nonsense.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question (provided by Take Me Away . . .): Blogger pet peeves?

I hate it when people send me e-mail requesting a review in which it is apparent that they didn't bother to read my review policy first. I think I'm reasonably clear about what I will and will not review, and yet I frequently have an e-mail in-box full of requests from people hoping that I'll review their e-book romance novel. Even worse are the requests from people who want me to do a book tour or who want to write a guest post. I'm certain I'm clear that I simply don't do either, and yet I can count on a requests for one or the other almost every day. I wrote those pages for a reason. I just wish people would read them.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review - Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Short review: Lucky Linderman is a teenager with problems - a father who is a turtle, a mother who is a squid, an aunt who is zoned out on pills, an uncle who hides in his weight room, and a long-missing grandfather who he visits in dreams in a POW camp in Laos. And everyone thinks he's the problem.

A suicide poll
A face ground into concrete
A lost grandfather

Full review: My brother maintains that no one can write a teenager as well as J.D. Salinger. I believe that my brother is wrong. No one can write a teenager as well as A.S. King. No one captures the combination of confusion, anger, boredom, and intense, bewildering feelings like she does. And in Everybody Sees the Ants, King's talents are on full display as she recounts the story of Lucky Linderman, a persistently bullied teenager whose morbid investigation into suicide results in a panicked reaction from his school and the adults in his life. Lucky is also afflicted with apparently uncaring parents and haunted by the memory of his grandfather - who disappeared in Vietnam before Lucky's father was even born.

Lucky Linderman is a fairly ordinary high school freshman. He's not big, or strong, or popular, and doesn't possess any of the other attributes that serve to make a high school kid stand out in a way that makes the experience more tolerable, and consequently he gets pushed around by Nader McMillan, a bully who has been tormenting Lucky for years. Lucky's parents don't get along - not so much because they fight, but rather because they both seem so indifferent to one another, and in their cold war, they generally seem to simply neglect Lucky. On the whole, however, Lucky is generally no different than many other teenagers who get dragged to the pool all summer so that their mothers can swim laps to work off their frustration.

Like most teenagers, Lucky makes mistakes out of foolishness and naivité, but in Lucky's case, his mistake is a very public one: As part of an assignment that requires taking a survey and presenting the results, Lucky decides to poll his fellow students about how they would commit suicide if they were to do it. This provokes a reaction from the school administration, which quashes his project and calls in Lucky's parents, both of whom react in very different ways to the supposed crisis. Lucky's mother, who he calls "the squid" presses forward with her regimen of relentlessly swimming laps to avoid dealing with the problems in her life, while his father, a chef whom Lucky calls "the turtle" reacts by spending much more time at work, pulling in his head in the hope that the difficulties will pass him by. Lucky's father tells him to deal with Nader's bullying by simply ignoring it, advice that simply boils down to "hunker down in your shell and it will pass". And everyone has their own idea of what Lucky "should" do, even the ants that speak to him, acting as something of a Greek chorus.

The ordinariness of Lucky's outer life creates a stark contrast with his inner life, which is dominated by the memory of his deceased grandfather. Early in the book Lucky recounts his activist grandmother's dying request to Lucky, asking him to help her missing husband find his way home. This is, obviously, an impossible burden to place on a child, and it profoundly affects Lucky, who has recurring dreams of going to the jungles of southeast Asia on "rescue missions". It is these dreams that skirt the border between fantasy and reality, as Lucky tries to rescue his missing grandfather while receiving advice from a man he has never met in the flesh. One might be tempted to dismiss these dreams as delusions or wishful thinking, but during his sojourns in the Laotian jungle his grandfather always seems to pass along some snippets of wisdom and every time Lucky wakes up, he has something tangible that he "brought back" from the dream world. These artifacts are what adds an intriguing ambiguity to this element of the book: Is Lucky merely imagining himself working to rescue his grandfather, or is he really engaged in a spiritual extrication?

Eventually an act of everyday heroism results in retribution that leaves a visible scar on Lucky's face. despite being willing to endure Nader's bullying himself, Lucky simply cannot stand by while Nader bullies someone else. This precipitates a larger crisis in Lucky's family that results in his mother taking him with her to visit her brother in Arizona, which is, as Lucky explains, the only place she could arrange for them to go on short notice that had a pool. Once there, Lucky discovers that the screwed up nature of his family is not unique. His Uncle Dave spends his time away from home or isolated in his garage weight room while Lucky's Aunt Jodi is addicted to bad food, the Dr. Phil Show, and pills that she may or may not need. Lucky is drawn to Dave's seemingly manly pursuit of muscles and his allegedly sage advice concerning women. He is, at the same time, repulsed by Jodi's intrusive but well-meaning meddlesome attempts to "fix" him. But as the story progresses, Lucky learns that the lives of adults are often just as confusing and screwed up as his.

But Lucky's story really develops when he forms a friendship with Ginny, a beautiful older girl (in the sense that a high school junior is "older" than a high school freshman) who has a career as a model and a contract to advertise shampoo. Lucky is somewhat awestruck by Ginny, considering her worldly and wise in a way that only a high school freshman can consider an upperclass high schooler to be worldly and wise. And while Ginny's life seems to be perfect at first glance, her family is, in its own way just as screwed up as Lucky's and she harbors much of the same confusion and resentment that he does. While she expands Lucky's horizons, in part by introducing him to the clandestine production of The Vagina Monologues she is performing in, and in part by her singular public act of rebellion, she is at best an unreliable guide to adulthood.

Ultimately, Everybody Sees the Ants is the story of Lucky blindly groping towards his own identity. For much of the book, he is defined by others. The adults around him see him as a suicidal kid. Nader sees him as a target. His grandmother sees him as a means of freeing her long-lost husband. For his dreamed grandfather, he is a means of salvation. For Uncle Dave and Aunt Jodi, he is a project - someone who they can fix. It is only when Lucky realizes that everyone else sees the ants too and are no better equipped to cope with life that he is able to forge his own path. In some ways, the story is about choosing which advice to take and which parts of your past to honor, but it is also a story about letting go of things that keep you from moving forward. No one is able to capture the brutal and glorious paradox of growing up like A.S. King does, and this book is a brilliant, tragic, and touching example of her doing exactly that.

A.S. King     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review - The Sowing by K. Makansi

Short review: Remy's family has fled from the food-dystopia of the Okarian Agricultural Consortium, and Vale Orleán is determined to hunt them down. At least he is until he starts to pull aside the curtain on the Sector's dirty secrets.

Remy and Vale are
Both two sides of the same coin
Fighting over food

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: The Sowing, the first book in the Seeds trilogy, is a young adult work of post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction in which agricultural policy is the tool that ruling elite of the Okarian Agricultural Consortium use to impose their will upon their fellow citizens without most of them even knowing it. Against this nefarious ruling elite is pitted a tiny but determined Resistance whose members are desperately trying to solve a secret code that holds the key to topple the oppressive regime. Oddly, both the ruling Okarian elite and the members of the Resistance are drawn from the same social circle, leaving the downtrodden farmers and the shadowy outsiders mostly out of the picture.

The novel shifts between two main viewpoint characters. Remy is a member of the Resistance, living in difficult conditions, separated from her parents while enduring the tough regime of training to be a guerrilla fighter with inadequate food, shelter, or equipment. Not only that, the opening pages of the book detail the pivotal event that caused her family to leave their lives in Okarian society and join the Resistance: The brutal murder of Remy's older sister Tai and the rest of her class as they were in the middle of a lecture on DNA synthesis. Vale, on the other hand, is comfortably ensconced in the elite of Okarian society, and although his position in the Okarian military means that he has to endure rigorous training, he is otherwise comfortable and showered with all of the necessary and unnecessary comforts of life. The contrast between Remy and her circle of young Resistance members and Vale and his crowd of friends and hangers-on is made murky by the fact that prior to her sister's murder, Remy was part of Vale's social circle, and the two were even somewhat linked romantically.

The book is, in large part, carried by this shifting viewpoint which illustrates both the stark contrasts and disturbing similarities between the lives and Remy and Vale live, and where their outlook on the world differs and converges. And the early part of the book needs this, because one minor weakness of the novel is that the dystopian nature of the Okarian Agricultural Consortium is not readily apparent. We are told that the senior members of the Okarian government were behind the attack that killed Tai, and that Remy's parents spend their time educating workers on the Consortium farms of the dangers their government poses to them, but we aren't really told what those dangers are, or what secret someone would arrange to kill a classroom full of college students to protect until well into the book. As a result, it is somewhat difficult to understand the nature of the conflict or what is at stake. Eventually the perfidy is revealed: The Okarian elite have implemented a program in which they have, via genetic engineering, manipulated the diet of the populace so that those on the farms become stupid and strong, while the privileged elite eat food that is designed to make them more intelligent.

But that revelation is fairly deep into the story, and in the mean time, the reader is able to get acquainted with the two main characters and the cast that surrounds each of them. Each story line involves the central characters chasing down a separate goal, with Remy attempting to unravel a piece of encoded DNA left behind by one of her former professors and Vale assigned to plan and lead a mission to capture Elijah Tawfiq, a key member of the Resistance. As might be expected, these two separate plot lines are on a collision course, and eventually Remy and Vale are reunited, although under less than ideal circumstances. At that point, their stories intertwine briefly, and then each character's story then diverges again, with Vale's trajectory, at least, changed fundamentally by their meeting.

One interesting element to the story is that neither Remy or Vale seem much interested in the larger political issues in which they are embroiled, and to the extent they are, they have very similar outlooks on life. Remy's primary motivation to join the Resistance seems to be the murder of her sister. Vale's primary motivation to excel in his military position seems to be a wish not to disappoint his parents. In fact, until deep into the story, Vale seems completely perplexed as to why anyone would choose to join the Resistance, a stance that betrays a severe lack of self-reflection on his part. This similarity highlights one of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Because almost all of the main characters are drawn from the same social circle of members or former members of the favored elite of the Consortium, there is a kind of bland similarity to the characters and how they view the world. The books has no character who represents the view of the mysterious "Outsiders" until well into its pages, and even that character is only relatively briefly on stage - and is on stage in such a way that really doesn't provide the reader with any substantial information about who the Outsiders are, or what they might want. Similarly, there are almost no characters from the Consortium's farming communities, and the ones who are in the book don't show up until very near to the novel's end. The Sowing is, in some ways, similar to what one would get if you changed all of the viewpoint characters in The Hunger Games to teens from the Capitol.

In one sense, this singularly focused set of viewpoints is a weakness for The Sowing, as the characters attitudes towards the world around them has something of a monochrome aspect. However, this myopic set of viewpoints also works to the story's advantage, as it becomes apparent that everyone represented in the book share some fairly gaping blind spots concerning the world in which they live. Because all of the characters who are ostensibly on "both sides" of the conflict operate under a common set of assumptions, they, and by extension the reader, can be taken by surprise when they encounter a character who doesn't share those assumptions. And once the reader realizes that the conflict as presented is essentially an intra-family dispute between two halves of a single formerly close-knit social circle, the revolutionary nature of the Resistance seems to be somewhat questionable. While life might be somewhat better for the workers on the Consortium's farms should the Resistance prevail, no one seems to have even bothered to consult them on what they might want. And no matter which side wins, things are likely to remain the same for the Outsiders. The realization that the "revolutionaries" don't seem to have really considered interests other than their own gives this book substantially more depth than many other works of young adult dystopian fiction, and provides the possibility of a stronger, richer story in future installments.

Despite the somewhat monochromatic nature of the central characters, they are all likable in the way that only naive, idealistic youths can be. Though the story in the novel presents a fairly simple conflict between heroic freedom fighters and callous tyrants, the elusive hints of a larger and more complex conflict are what raise the novel above the ordinary. In the somewhat crowded field of young adult dystopian fiction, The Sowing is well-ahead of most others, and will be sure to entertain and intrigue anyone who enjoys this genre.

Subsequent book in the series: The Reaping

K. Makansi     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, September 15, 2014

Musical Monday - Four Dead in Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

Let's have a history lesson. In 1968 Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, at least partially on the strength of a campaign promise to get the country out of the war in Vietnam. However, in 1970, the U.S. was still mired in the conflict in Southeast Asia, and, on April 30, Nixon announced an expansion of the war that has become known as the Cambodian Campaign, or Cambodian Incursion. The war in Vietnam was already deeply unpopular in the U.S., and this new foray didn't make it any less so.

At least partially in response to the announcement of the Cambodian Campaign, on May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of 1970 students and others protested on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. These protests were not peaceful, often degenerating into police attempting to alternatively disperse or round up protestors, who in turn pelted the police officers with empty beer bottles and rocks. By May 3rd, Governor Rhodes of Ohio declared the protestors "un-American", and then he launched into some truly colorful rhetoric, stating that the protestors were "worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes". He further elaborated that the protestors were "the worst type of people that we harbor in America," and "I think that we're up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America." To deal with the supposed threat, Rhodes called up the National Guard to handle the protestors.

On May 3rd, the National Guard tried to use tear gas to break up groups of protestors and imposed a curfew. Some reports say that while trying to enforce the curfew, the Guard bayoneted some students. An additional protest was planned for May 4th, but the University tried to ban it, distributing flyers that stated that the protest was canceled. About 2,000 students showed up to protest anyway, and the National Guard showed up to stop them. After a few rounds of advances and retreats by the Guardsmen (including one sequence in which they boxed themselves into an athletic field surrounded by a chain link fence), Sergeant Myron Pryon began shooting at the students with his .45 for unknown reasons. He was soon emulated by dozens of other Guardsmen who began shooting their M1 rifles into the crowd. Sixty-seven rounds were fired in just under 15 seconds. Four students were killed. Nine were wounded.

The four students were Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder. Two were participating in the protest. Two were simply walking from one class to the next. None were within 200 feet of the Guardsmen. None of the wounded students were within 70 feet of the Guardsmen (making the explanation given by the Guardsmen that they felt threatened somewhat suspect). The event sparked nationwide protests across the country as more than 4 million students went on strike, causing more than 900 colleges and universities to close. Kent State closed down for six weeks. On May 8th, eleven people at a protest at the University of New Mexico were bayoneted by New Mexico State Guardsmen. Five days after the shootings, more than 100,000 protestors arrived in Washington D.C. The President's Commission on Campus Unrest concluded that the shootings were "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable". No matter how one feels about the Vietnam War, or protestors, or any of the other political issues of the day, I would hope that everyone can agree that National Guardsmen killing University students who were armed with little more than a few rocks is a tragedy.

Forty-four years later, enter schlock merchandiser Urban Outfitters who, today, unveiled a new item in their catalog: A faded pinkish Kent State sweatshirt decorated with bloodstained holes. They claim this was intended to be a joke, but it seems like there's little to joke about in an incident in which four people were killed for, at most, the crime of voicing their dissent. Only someone entirely ignorant of history would think this was a matter fit for a joke. Urban Outfitters has since "apologized" for their tastelessness, but one has to seriously question the judgment of anyone who would have thought this product was a good idea to begin with.

Previous Musical Monday: Persona by Blue Man Group
Subsequent Musical Monday: Festival Supreme Theme Song by The Doubleclicks

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Blogger Hop September 12th - September 18th: 69 Is the Number Bill and Ted Were Thinking of When Talking to Their Future Selves

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): What books would you want to read again for the first time?

There are so many books that I wish I could read again for the first time that it is hard to keep my choices down to a manageable number. So here are my top ten, in no particular order:

Dune by Frank Herbert
The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, September 12, 2014

Follow Friday - Paragraph 175 Is a Documentary About Nazi Persecution of Gay Men and Women

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Something to Browse and Books to the Tea.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Before blogging (dark times people!) how would you find out about new books or did you?

Before the rise of the internet, I made great use of the library to find new books to read. When I was young, my family moved around a lot. First my father was in graduate school, and then later he joined the foreign service. As a result, for much of my early life I moved every year or two (in fact, when I spent three years in one high school, that was the longest I had ever spent at one school to that point). But every time we moved to a new place, there was always a library.

And each library introduced me to a slightly different set of books. I don't recall when, but at one point I discovered Andre Norton, so my first stop in a new library was always to locate where her books were kept and read all of the ones that I hadn't previously read. When I was in Tanzania I discovered Hergé's Tintin books and Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series. This was also I where found the non-fiction books of Ewart Oakeshott. And so on. Once I moved to a new home, I would locate the library and start working through their collection.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review - American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle

Short review: Dale Morton is an American craftsman, magically gifted and in the service of the U.S. Army. Then a mission assigned by the precognitive Sphinx goes bad and he ends up out of the service and on the run from the corruption within the heart of the Pentagon while trying to protect the Iranian woman he has fallen in love with.

A secret mission
Goes quite badly and reveals
Corrupt conspiracy

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Dale Morton is a man with problems. As a magically inclined soldier in service of the United States, he follows a long-standing family tradition. Unfortunately, part of his family history is somewhat checkered, and  includes the "left-hand Mortons", a family branch that delved into dark magic in an effort to achieve immortality, and so no one trusts him or any of his relatives any more. More problematically, Dale is no longer able to completely control his own magic due to a dying curse placed on him by an Iranian sorcerer. Now, Morton is out of the Army trying to figure out who set him up on his final mission so he can exact revenge.

Tom Doyle's debut novel, American Craftsmen imagines a world that is similar to our own in most ways except that magic is real and "craftsmen", as the members of a handful of magically-inclined families are called, can manipulate its power. In the United States, these families are supposed to have made a bargain with George Washington to provide their services to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and have served the U.S. armed services ever since with their existence kept a secret from the general public. Craftsmen are given credit for raising the fog that helped Washington's army escape from Brooklyn Heights, and with panicking Confederate troops into accidentally fatally shooting Stonewall Jackson. And, we are told, in the United States craftsmen are prohibited from practicing their craft on their own: They are required to serve the government or forego the use of their sorcerous powers.

Through the pages of the book we are introduced to the scions of several magical families in addition to the Mortons, most notably Endicotts, and the Gideons, as well as the Hutchinsons, and the Attuckses. Each family has its own tradition and array of powers. The Endicotts are austere New Englanders, steeped in Puritanism and gifted with the power of command. The Gideons are magical trackers, employed to locate and hunt down rogue craftsmen. In a clever twist, Doyle asserts that the Gideon bibles found in nearly every hotel room in the United States are actually the components of a magical monitoring system connected to the Gideon family. And then there are the "wild cards" - individuals who manifest magical powers but whose background is shrouded in mystery, perhaps intentionally. Among these is the Appalachian, a figure who inhabits and guards the sanctuary where the soul of America is kept. And then there are the "Sphinx", used by the Central Intelligence Agency to predict future possibilities, and "Chimera", used by the Department of Defense for much the same purpose.

It is in this world that Dale Morton's travails take place. After he is essentially forced out of service and barred from practicing his craft again, Morton retreats to his family home in Rhode Island. There, comforted by the ghost of his grandfather and the spirit of the house itself, Morton tries to figure out who is responsible for the disastrous mission that cursed him and caused him to be forcibly retired from Army service. Along the way, he runs into Scherie Rezvani, an Iranian immigrant, who then seeks his assistance so that she may acquire the skills that will allow her to return to her birth nation and fight against its oppressive regime. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Scherie is much more than she originally appeared to be, and her serendipitous appearance in Dale's life seems just a little too much of a lucky coincidence to be believable. But in the world of American Craftsmen magic is described as being the ability to affect probabilities so that the improbable becomes inevitable, which makes the unlikely seeming connection between Morton and Rezvani an example of the power contained in the the collection of countervailing nudges from Sphinx and Chimera.

Morton's efforts, of course, are not unopposed, and as the layers of intrigue are revealed one by one, the nature of the opposition shifts and changes. The most obvious foil for Dale are the Endicotts, as both the politically powerful General Oliver Endicott, and his son Major Michael Endicott harbor a deep mistrust of the Morton family. Both Endicotts (somewhat justifiably) believe that all Mortons are one step away from taking the "left-hand" way and indulging in unspeakable acts of depravity. But General Morton goes one step further: He's convinced (at least in part by communications from Chimera) that Dale has given in to the "left-hand" already, and that the Morton line must be ended. In the Endicotts Doyle has created a pair of characters of a type that are generally difficult for authors to pull off well - misguided but well-intentioned antagonists. Both General and Major Endicott start the book feeling that their distrust of Dale is entirely justified, and their efforts to work against him are the right thing to do. But in Doyle's hands, these two characters are believable and interesting "good" antagonists, although Major Endicott's character arc is, ultimately, much more interesting than Oliver's.

Though the plot is somewhat convoluted, with multiple twists and turns, apparent betrayals that turn out to be cunning stratagems, and actual betrayals from unexpected places, it flows fairly well, and in a manner that both feels plausible and unpredictable at the same time. Morton and Revzani wend their way through the double-crosses and double-double-crosses, unraveling the threads of the conspiracy they find themselves hunted by, until at the very end they peel back what they believe to be the final layers and emerge apparently triumphant. But even then, while they relax in their victory, the seeds of the next conflict are sown in the final pages of the book. Along the way, Doyle shows the reader glimpses and snippets of the magical world hidden within the real one, pulling back just enough of the curtain veiling the secrets of the craftsmen and their disjointed and heavily regimented society to make the story hang together, but still preserving enough mystery to leave the reader wanting more.

Although the novel is quite satisfying, there are some elements that are mildly bothersome, or at the very least unsettling. One plot hole that runs through the novel involves the contents of the Morton family house's basement. While the basement is the afterlife prison of the "left-hand" Mortons, it turns out that some rather critical members of that line are not present, although everyone, including Dale, his father's ghost, and his grandfather's ghost, are all certain that they are. This seems somewhat unlikely, since all of the Mortons are very concerned about the whereabouts of their nefarious ancestors, and are also very certain that they are safely tucked away in the nether regions of their family dwelling. The fact that they simply aren't there and no one noticed seems almost entirely implausible.

The second issue isn't really a plot hole, but is an unsettling aspect of the world described in the novel: The almost unquestioned complete government control over the lives of the members of the magically-inclined "fighting families". Subjected to mandatory government service, denied the use of their natural abilities in any other form of employment, threatened with arrest and secret trial for treason if they contravene these rules, and so on, the craftsmen live their entire lives beholden to the whims of government. And those whims are carried out behind closed doors, entirely out of the public eye, allowing individuals like General Endicott to make almost arbitrary decisions to assassinate another craftsman heavily colored by his personal dislike of the target. Not only that, but the members of the families are intentionally kept separate from one another, making them vulnerable to being picked off one by one, and allowing distance to permit old feuds to fester. This pervasive secret government control, to me, is more disturbing than the idea that there are people who can magically control the weather. A system that hides from public view is almost certainly a corrupt system, and the system that controls the "fighting families" is rotten to the core. And this goes almost entirely unremarked upon. There is a passing mention that this might not be such a good idea near the end of the book, but the comment is aimed at the policy of keeping the "fighting families" separate from one another, not the all-encompassing influence the government exerts over the craftsmen.

These quibbles aside, American Craftsmen is quite a good urban fantasy story. Set in an engaging world and populated by likable heroes, cantankerous allies, and villains that range from misguided to vile, the book is, all puns aside, a well-crafted tale of intrigue and adventure. It also appears to be the first in a series, which, given the strong nature of this volume, is excellent news. Anyone who likes their fantasy set in the "real" world and mixed with decent helping of military adventure will almost certainly enjoy this book.

Subsequent book in the series: The Left-Hand Way

Tom Doyle     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review - Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

Short review: Krina-114 is a bank historian in a post-human world tracking down the greatest banking fraud in history. To do this she needs to find her sister Ana, but along the way she has to deal with the corrupt clergy of the Church of the Fragile, accountant pirates, and and the paranoid ruler of a floating kingdom. After that, things get really dangerous.

Bank historian
Studies unparalleled fraud
And winds up a fish

Full review: To me, the most amazing thing about Neptune's Brood is that it is interesting. Sure, it is set in the same post-human future as Saturn's Children (although it is not a direct sequel, so not having read the first will not prevent one from enjoying this). Sure, it has killer androids, deranged clergy, paranoid despots, and ruthless space pirates. But the central plot of the story revolves around interstellar banking transactions, a subject that it would seem would be as dry as space dust, but in Stross' hands, this forms the basis for a tense and gripping tale of intrigue, mystery, and danger. Not only that, it is set in a future that is both very alien, and yet familiar enough to make the reader uneasy.

The story follows the travails of Krina Alizond-114, a bank historian who specializes in the history of banking frauds, as she tries to find her sister Ana so they can work together to track down the Atlantis Carbuncle, an item that will unlock vast wealth. As the book opens, Krina has just arrived at Taj Beacon, having beamed in expecting to meet her sister there only to find that Ana has traveled to the nearby water planet of Shin-Tethys without leaving any kind of explanation. This poses something of a problem for Krina, as she had arrived at Taj Beacon without substantial amounts of "fast money", and unwilling to draw the attention that would accompany converting her "slow money" reserve into usable currency. As a result, Krina accepts a working passage under aboard a mobile chapel of the Church of the Fragile under the authority of Deacon Dennett, the temporary leader of the mission.

This delay in Krina's plans allows Stross to discuss the two primary background elements of the novel: The nature of this post-human society, and how interstellar finance is handled in a world in which faster than light travel does not exist. Traveling on the Church of the Fragile - the local representatives of the sect dedicated to preserving and possibly reviving the "fragile" as the androids that populate the universe call humans (due to our easily damaged nature) - reveals just how different this world is from ours. Although Krina wears a human-looking body, this isn't her. In fact, it turns out that the body she wears at the opening of the novel was just created for her on Taj Beacon after she was transmitted from an entirely different star system (apparently as nothing more than a set of code sent on a light beam). One's identity is now stored in a "soul chip" placed inside the head of a body, which is why the high priestess of the Church of the Fragile isn't dead as the result of an on-ship mishap, but is merely incapacitated while Deacon Dennett generates a new body for her.

The other background feature of the story is interstellar banking, which is handled using "slow money", a form of currency that exists almost exclusively to finance interstellar expeditions to found new colonies. This "slow money" is contrasted in the book with "fast money" (which is what we would now normally consider "money") and "medium money" (which covers investments other than building colony ships and funding the needs of new colonies). But slow money is at the root of the interstellar financial system, and at the heart of the story. Because when a new colony is financed, it must go deeply into "slow money" debt, first to pay back the parent colony that sponsored the new one, and then to recruit new colonists to help with the new colony. But the only reasonable path for a colony to get out of slow money debt is to finance the construction of new colonies that will then be financially beholden to it as their parent. In short, slow money is something like a very slow-moving chain letter, and the colonies at the end of the line end up owing a pile of debt they can never hope to repay. The debt-centric nature of this future society even permeates to the personal level, as Krina reveals that people are born (or rather, created) owing a debt to repay their parent for the cost required to incubate and raise them.

One of the interesting unspoken facts about the world that Stross has created is that this "slow money" debt is, almost the sole driving force that for space colonization. In the post-human world where life spans are extremely long, the birth rate is consciously determined, and even if one's body is in a mishap that kills you there is a decent chance you can be brought back, there is no particular demographic reason for humanity to expand to the stars. As trading physical commodities between star systems would be prohibitively expensive, the only transactions between different colonies involve information and not material goods. The only real reason to finance and establish a new colony in another star system is to offload your own debt onto a new venture. This doesn't explain why or how the first extrasolar colony was founded, or how this colony was financed - the system Stross describes requires at least three inhabited star systems to work - but it is the underlying truth of how the system functions at the time the book is set.

It is against this backdrop that Krina's quest to unravel what she suspects to be the largest banking fraud in history is set. In a world in which interstellar banking looms over pretty much everything else, being a bank historian who specializes in studying the history of bank fraud is a relatively interesting subject, and Krina is clearly quite intelligent and understands the financial systems of her society quite well. But she is also an academic, and as a result, she is somewhat naive when it comes to the every day hazards that surround her. This combination of obvious intellect and naivete makes Krina a character that the reader can enjoy following about, but who is not so overly competent that she never makes missteps. And her missteps are often what drive the plot. When she takes passage on the Deacon Dennett's Church of the Fragile ship, Krina is oblivious to the lurking dangers that surround her, which in retrospect seem almost obvious. Krina is oblivious to the danger that pursues her, and even when she is taken in by the piratical "Count" Rudi of the Permanent Crimson Branch Office Five Zero, who is trying to locate Krina's sister Ana as his corporation had rather foolishly underwritten a large insurance policy on Ana, Krina is still more or less clueless concerning the direction from which the hazards to her life and freedom are coming from.

But to a certain extent Krina's story, as filled with intrigue, double-crosses, and misadventures as it is, is only the first layer of what makes Neptune's Brood interesting. When Krina reaches the water planet Shin-Tethys and lands in Nova Ploetsk in the Kingdom of Argos, she finds a nation ruled by the despotic and paranoid Queen Medea. But in a world in which one can make "children" who are little more than copies of oneself, a paranoid ruler can populate her bureaucracy with what amounts to one's own clones, ensuring their loyalty. And Queen Medea has done so, creating a self-reinforcing aura of paranoia in her government. But Medea isn't the only one - Krina's "mother" Sondra has herself created a collection of clones and almost clones to staff her bank, including the line that Krina comes from. Although not fully explored in the book, the idea of a world in which those with power can create clones and near clones of themselves to act as their own foot soldiers is both unsettling and, I would venture, a topic that would make for an interesting book.

This is not to say that the book is so filled with interesting world background that it lacks an equally interesting story. After surviving the intrigues of the Church of the Fragile, an assassination attempt by her own clone, and a kidnapping by a band of accountant-privateers, Krina finds herself pressed into service by the Nova Ploetsk police to assist their investigation into Ana's disappearance and presumed murder. In short order, Krina is abducted again, and this time her entire body is resculpted and she is dropped into the depths below the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Argos - because Shin-Tethys is a water planet, not only do the borders of nations have length and breadth, they also have depth, and the realm below Shin-Tethys is ruled by a communist collective made up of people who have not only adapted their bodies to allow them to live at crushing depths, but altered their minds so that they can function as part of a collective society. The sort of additive world-building in which mind-altered squid-people are integrated into the plot, is what makes this story so intricate and fascinating.

In the end, Krina exposes the largest banking swindle in history, which turns out to have its source a little too close to home to be comfortable. Because of the enormous financial stakes involved, the various players try to claim the prize to the best of their abilities, which range from comical ineptitude to unprecedented violence. In the end, the story wraps up in a satisfying manner with an interesting twist that ties off most of the loose ends. The primary weakness of the story is that Krina somewhat stumbles through many parts of the story as a result of nothing but blind luck, and only survives at several points because those around her think that she is more valuable alive than dead. This is mitigated by the fact that Krina is a likable character, and is clearly an expert in her own field despite lacking in "street smarts". With an oddly fascinating plot and a vividly imagined albeit somewhat disturbing future Neptune's Brood is an enjoyable and engaging book that is sure to entertain.

Previous book in the series: Saturn's Children

Charles Stross     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, September 8, 2014

Musical Monday - Persona by the Blue Man Group

Because of the raging controversy on the internet this week revolving around those people who self-identify as "gamers" and a set of allegations concerning journalistic corruption supported by evidence that ranged from flimsy conspiracy theories down to absolutely nothing, I have seen a number of assertions concerning said "gamers" and why they have behaved variously like misogynistic asses, screaming children, and ignorant shut-ins. The most common assertion has been that the identity of "gamer" is something they cling to because they have been uniquely alienated from "normal" society, and thus being a gamer is all they have.

My response to this is to simply say that is a load of crap. While they may believe that being a "gamer" is all they have, they are not unique in feeling alienated, or feeling like society doesn't care, or any of the other justifications that have been offered. As the Blue Man Group's song suggests, the feeling of being alone, being isolated, being alienated from society and oneself is something that is common. And most people don't resort to becoming a "gamer" who spins imaginary webs of corrupt conspiracies that always seem to end up targeting women. Gamers are not special snowflakes, and there is no reason to give them a pass because they were the nerdy kids in high school.

Being a "gamer" is not a pass so you can be either a woman-hating jerk or a clueless loudmouth braying about "corruption" without understanding that the tenuous connections made between game developers and journalists constitute nothing of the kind. There are many people who feel marginalized and victimized in this world, and most of them seem to be able to not end up being misogynists or completely ignorant of reality. To use a silly astroturf meme that a fair number of gamers have passed around, being a gamer is not a shield that will protect you when you act like a screaming child. And far too many gamers on the web right now are acting like screaming children.

Previous Musical Monday: Seize the Day by Symphony of Science
Subsequent Musical Monday: Four Dead in Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

Blue Man Group      Musical Monday     Home