recent books

  • Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, edited by Karen Haber & Jonathan Strahan

      I enjoyed just about every story in this comp, which is a really good hit rate. Actually the only one I didn't like was the Le Guin story; all the others were great. I especially liked "A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman, and "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge.
  • Singularity Sky and its loose sequel Iron Sunrise, by Charlie Stross

      (Hi autopope!) Really entertaining space-opera where our heroes are running around trying to prevent interplanetary wars while avoiding the wrath of a post-human godlike intelligence who likes to smash planets whenever someone comes close to violating causality. Both books are packed with cool ideas. And also there's a morally ambiguous party clown.
  • RedRobe by John Courtenay Grimwood

      Anti-hero assassin killing for the church in space. I didn't like this one very much; it was just kind of ugly and bleak all the way through. By far the most interesting character was an AI-powered handgun, but the gun doesn't get much screen time. I preferred his previous book, ReMix.
  • The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

      This was crap. It was mostly a mystery, and it wasn't very mysterious. It felt like it was written to be a TV series or something, with each chapter having a contrived cliffhanger, ending on a note like, "they gazed with shock at the words that were revealed!" and then you get to find out what those words were two pages into the next chapter.

      I suppose it would have been more suspenseful if I hadn't already known the legends about the Merovingians and Templars and the Grail bloodline and all that, but even already knowing all about the "surprise", I expected a more interesting story. I guessed every twist except the identity of Dr. Mabuse "The Teacher", and by then I didn't really care.

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34 Responses:

  1. greyhame says:

    Have you read Ilium by Dan Simmons? I thought it could have used a better editor, but the premise and story are excellent.

  2. I recently actually bothered to read Gaiman's prose recently and was really blown away. He's quite good. Somewhere between John Crowley and Gibson. American Gods is huge.

    And also there's a morally ambiguous party clown.

    You'd have to forfit an employee in the event of a movie adaption.

    I've been mostly avoiding The DaVinci Code on the premise that I couldn't possibly like it as much as the friends who were telling me it was good, and I would subsequently think less of them for it. Sounds like I've been doing exactly the right thing.

  3. waider says:

    I've found John Courtenay Grimwood's stuff to be a fairly mixed bag. He's very obviously got a William Gibson fetish, to the extent of mating a guy called Gibson (first name Alex, but I suspect that may have been a proactive legal choice...) with Molly Millions, er, I mean "Steppin' Razor" to produce some sort of freaky offspring in one of his books.

    Everyone's been referring me to The DaVinci Code as a great read; from what I've been fed about it it sounds like another take on Foucault's Pendulum/The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail/etc. There was a nice web-and-telephone-based treasure hunt attached to the book, which showed some inventive ideas: not simply one website leading to another, but puzzles on each site, a mail responder, and two voicemail boxes in the real-world phone system that directed you to the next step of the puzzle.

    And now back to my rereading of Gaiman/Pratchett, Good Omens.

    • ctudball says:

      If you have read the likes of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail then The Da Vinci Code really wont hold much for you. Think of it as a retelling of the contents of the former book in a more palatable form for the masses.

      It's not a bad retelling, but not exactly the amazing form of literature some have claimed.

    • flipzagging says:

      The Da Vinci Code is like the TV movie version of Foucault's Pendulum. My take is about the same as jwz's.

      But if I had known more about medievalism or art history, I think I might have hated it. I got two chapters into his cryptography thriller Digital Fortress before I wanted to throw it across the room for being so dumb. (Also, I found the plot hard to stomach, because the NSA are the good guys, and the EFF are the bad guys.)

      • ckn says:

        Digital Fortress was horrific. After reading that I wanted my money and the time I spent reading it refunded.

      • jwz says:

        the NSA are the good guys, and the EFF are the bad guys

        OMFG. I need to hear details on that one!

        Bruce Sterling's "The Zenith Angle" was similarly insulting in it's canonization of Bush's security aparatus; there are actually a few paragraphs where he talks about what a genuinely nice guy Rumsfeld is. I don't know why I bothered to read it, since I'm pretty sure I've hated every book I've ever read by the guy. At least I borrowed it instead of buying it.

        • flipzagging says:

          I don't own the book. My father is a techno-thriller fan -- I read Da Vinci Code and the first few chapters of Digital Fortress over the Christmas holidays.

          What I remember:

          The premise is that the NSA has a super-duper computer called TRANSLTR which decrypts all internet traffic. TRANSLTR uses quantum hardware and can even decrypt algorithms it's never seen before. (This, I could accept as necessary suspension of disbelief.) The EFF are these silly misguided people who think they are protecting privacy. Little do they know the NSA is keeping the world safe from... stuff.

          Public-key cryptography is described as an advanced substitution cipher (which made me go arrggggh, but I passed over this.)

          The inciting incident: TRANSLTR receives a message it cannot decrypt. The first thing the NSA people ask each other: "is it a virus?" For a one-of-a-kind machine. Apparently the NSA is just like your mom; whenever anything goes wrong, it's probably a virus.

          The un-decryptable message turns out to be the work of a former NSA engineer, who thinks it is wrong that the NSA is reading everyone's mail. Note: he is the bad guy.

          This is as far as I got... then even dumber things happen. Those nasty EFF hackers invade and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

          BTW, in the dedication, Dan Brown alludes to shadowy NSA figures who helped him write the book. And if you thought the writing and characterizations were terrible in the Da Vinci Code, just wait till you see this.

          • Digital Fortress was so bad I had to stop reading after 75 pages. I did enjoy Angels and Demons, though my experience is somewhat more distant from its subject than from DF's subject.

        • wilecoyote says:

          Wow, really? All the advanced reviews and blurbs that I had read pointed in the opposite direction: like, "satiric look at the high-tech security industry", "cynical", "a darkly comic fable"... Doesn't mesh too well with "the government are actually the good guys".

    • nothings says:

      In addition to the other complaints, it appears that the DaVinci Code is also exceedingly poorly written, enough so that it prompted this
      detailed critique
      from a linguist who doesn't seem to have much experience with writing reviews:

      Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives.

    • cadmus says:

      As I said below, Grimwood's later books are much different than the earlier Gibson worshipping ones. Try picking up Pashazade, the first book of his recent North African trilogy. Much different in tone.

      • autopope says:

        RedRobe was one of Jon's earlier novels. He really took off with the Arabesk trilogy (Pashazade, Effendi, Felaheen), which examine the 21st century of an alternate time line in which the first world war remained the fourth Balkan war, and the Ottoman Empire didn't collapse the way it did in our own history -- they're very sharp, wry, politically savage, and gripping, sort of like Effinger's "When Gravity Fails" only better.

  4. zkzkz says:

    I'm not sure how you could have failed to guess the identify of "The Teacher". It's not like there was a single other plausible character that could possibly have been the bad guy.

    • lifftchi says:

      I guessed it. . . but as I recall, there's one sequence where you're privy to the guy's thoughts, and it seems as though he can't be "The Teacher." So, while reading, I shrugged and crossed him off the list of suspects.

  5. omni_ferret says:

    You might enjoy _The Atrocity Archives_ too. It combines H.P. Lovecraft, spy stuff, & the POV of a geek in a soul-sucking corporate environment.

    I've tracked down most of what he's written; it's surprisingly rewarding.

  6. fantasygoat says:

    Agreed on Singularity Sky - a good read.

    Every Richard Morgan book I've read has been excellent as well, especially the linked one. Highly recommended.

    • jwz says:

      I read "Market Forces" and I fucking hated it. In fact, I think I didn't even finish it, which is pretty rare for me. It was "what if somehow Car Wars became legal, and middle-management desk jockeys have to kill each other on the way to work for promotions." It just didn't make any damned sense at all, and I despised each and every character (including, I think, the ones who were supposed to be sympathetic.)

      It was so atrocious that it'd take a lot to get me to try him again.

      • spendocrat says:

        Car Wars was much worse, and much dumber than Altered Carbon.

        And I don't think you were supposed to like any of the characters.

        • waider says:

          And I don't think you were supposed to like any of the characters.

          I've always wondered about this sort of approach. Generally I find that unless there's someone in the story for me to get behind, I lose interest in the book. I mean, if you hate everyone in the story, why do you care what happens to them?

      • fantasygoat says:

        I'll agree, the premise was stupid and absurd and I especially hated the gameshow-like car battles, but the writing itself had the hard edge and style from his previous novels that I liked so much. Unfortunately the story itself ruined it - not his best work by a long shot. Also, it wasn't hard SF set in the distant future like his other books. Of all the books of his to pick, that was the worst.

        Try Altered Carbon, if you like hard SF. It has the excellent writing with a much more interesting and far less absurd premise. Of the three books of his I've read it was the best. Broken Angels has the same main character and it's a good read but the story isn't as engaging. If you get it and hate it as much as Market Forces I'll paypal you the cost of the book.

        I'm that confident because the last book I liked as much as Altered Carbon was Snowcrash, so it's been awhile.

  7. chronovore says:

    A Study in Emerald is available to read of Gaiman's site, and Vinge's The Cookie Monster is up at Analog.

  8. harryh says:

    I recently read Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. It was, undoubtedly the worst novel I've ever laid my hands on. It was so bad, that it made surrounding novels worse. There is no way that anything written by this man could be anything more than mediocre.

  9. cadmus says:

    I like Grimwood quite a bit but the series of books he wrote earlier on have a much different tone than the ones that he wrote more recently.

    He just finished the Arabesk trilogy and it is quite good without being as constantly bleak and nasty as Remix, Redrobe and Lucifer's Dragon. I'd recommend the new trilogy if you liked him at all. He's definitely got an edge when it comes to refugees and people getting fucked over though.

  10. ckn says:

    Ironically enough this evening I read ELECTOR, a short story in September 2004's Asimov's Science Fiction magazine by Charles Stross. In this one he continues on with the "weakly godlike intelligence" recycling the mass of the solar system in order to build an organized network of nano-computers theme you speak of. This story focused on a colony of reconstituted yet purely digital human personalities who are scheming to escape the "weakly godlike intelligence" before they came to recycle the mass of Saturn where they were cloistered. I was pretty impressed with the theme, the plot and some of the devices he used to convey his amazing ideas in this short story. However the character development and dialog was just to melodramatic to give the short-story a raving review. I was unable to bring myself give that much of a fuck about the politics going on between waring feuds of reconstituted human personalities over the course of 40 pages. Perhaps that will be different over the course of a couple of hundred pages.

    Yet the short impressed me so much that I am going to pick up his other books including Singularity Sky and its sequel Iron Sunrise. Perhaps if i like them the two short story books he has.

    Thanks for the tips. I have read both Gamian and Virge and both were enjoyable experiences. I too have read The DaVinci Code and was left with a mediocre experience.

  11. kraquehaus says:

    How is is new book? I haven't heard much about it, and the last (and only) thing I read was True Names and that was aeons ago...

    • jwz says:

      Vernor Vinge is fantastic -- you should read everything. He also had a short story comp come out recently.

    • chronovore says:

      I've not read True Names, but Vinge became my current favorite SF author with "A Fire Upon the Deep." His next book, the somewhat unfortunately named "A Deepness in the Sky" was at least as good, and perhaps even more thought provoking as a sidelong statement about wage-slavery and business management.