Some stuff I've read recently:

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore:

    Predictably hilarious. Christopher Moore has yet to disappoint. This is the story of Jesus's childhood, and answers the important theological question, "What if Jesus knew Kung Fu?"

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore:

    Also awesome. An inept angel tries to grant a child's Christmas wish and ends up unleashing an army of the undead, to be fended off by (among others) a stoner Sheriff and his schizophrenic ex-B-movie scream-queen girlfriend.

Camouflage by Joe Haldeman:

    I liked this book a lot. It's a story about an immortal shape-shifting amnesiac alien who crashed on earth a million years before Humanity existed, who eventually works its way up the food chain and starts trying to be a person. It's a really interesting story, kind of an inside-out take on the Turing Test. It's a pretty short book, and I wish it was longer. The parts where the alien is trying to learn to fit in could have done with a Stephenson level of longwindedness; I wanted to hear a lot more about that. Still, good book.

Guardian by Joe Haldeman:

    Entertaining, but not terribly memorable. It's only barely science fiction at all; mostly it's a very episodic story of a woman travelling across country to join the Gold Rush shortly after the Civil War.

The Coming by Joe Haldeman:

    A story of the politics leading up to a first-contact in a near-future even-more-corrupt and fundamentalist Florida. It's kind of depressing. In the way newspapers are depressing.

Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan:

    This is about an artificially-created black hole (sorta) that starts swallowing the universe, and a bunch of scientists trying to figure it out. It's one of the most boring books I've read in a long time. Mostly it's just exposition from the author about a theory of physics where everything is running on top of a "Life"-like cellular automaton, and we're all made up of glider guns or something. I don't know enough about quantum physics to know which parts of this he just made up, and really, I didn't care.

    There is no characterization to speak of, and all of the players are emotionless, condescending godlike immortals with multiple redundant backups, so it's impossible for any of them to ever be in any kind of danger. It was amazingly boring (but thankfully, wasn't very long).

    I picked this up because I thought I remembered liking Egan's Permutation City, but then I later realized that I had hated Permutation City, and had just confused it with Circuit of Heaven by Dennis Danvers (which I liked a lot).

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50 Responses:

  1. bitwise says:

    Joe Haldeman is one of my favorite authors. If you haven't read both The Forever War and Forever Peace, I highly recommend them (they're not related). There's a sequel to The Forever War, called Forever Free, but I thought it was pretty weak.

    • 5tephe says:

      Forever Free seemed to be Haldeman attempting to turn his 'low' sci fi (and brilliant) earlier work into a 'high' sci fi exploration of some fairly arbitary theories (and stuffing it up).

      Never laid my hands on a copy of Forever Peace, though: was probably scared off by "- Free".

      So you recommend it, eh?- What's it like?

  2. jwilkins says:

    Permutation City and Schild's Ladder are two of Egan's worst. I recommend checking out Axiomatic or any of the others.

    • jwz says:

      I also hated Quarantine, so I think I'm done with him now (assuming I don't go and confuse him with someone better, like I did this time).

      • inoshiro says:

        He's pretty hardcore SF. Some works are better than others; I myself liked Diaspora, although the characters were (again) not exactly ones you remember later on.

        • korgmeister says:

          Yeah, I loved Diaspora but I've been a fan of Egan since way back.

          That said, he's always been utterly woeful at characterisation. Diaspora was good because he overcame that (somewhat) by making the setting virtually human-free (and killing off every single human for the sake of plot convenience fairly early on). But that's not so much an improvement as hand waving.

          His ideas have always been what fascinated me. But if they bored you then yeah, there's nothing in his books that's worthwhile for you and avoiding them would be a smart move.

      • jesus_x says:

        Ok, was it just me, or was Quarantine interesting for a while, then took a left turn into WTFville? The bubble is never addressed in any meaningful way (just some passing guesses about the "rest" of the galaxy not wanting us looking at them), and the ending was just a huge senseless curveball. Now, I do know enough quantum physics to "get" it all, but from a literary perspective, it was still like hitting a huge speedbump at 50 miles an hour.

  3. zuvembi says:

    I'm in the middle of Lamb now. I had to stop for a bit because I had a nasty chest cold and the book was causing me great pain through laughter. I quite liked Bloodsucking Fiends, so it sounds like most of Moore's books are great. Any I should avoid?

  4. From Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
    it just doesn't get better than this...

    I have to admit that I felt some sympathy for the scarecrow, although I don't believe I would have been singing about the lack of a brain. In fact, amid all the musical laments over not having a heart, a brain, or the nerve, did anyone notice that they didn't have a penis among them? I think it would have shown on the Lion and the Tin Man, and when the Scarecrow had his pants destuffed, you don't see a flying monkey waving an errant straw Johnson around anywhere, do you? I think I know what song I'd be singing:

    Oh, I would while away the hours
    Wanking in the flowers, my heart all full of song
    I'd be gilding all the lilies as I waved about my willie
    If I only had a schlong.

  5. Read "Sock" by Penn Jilette (if you haven't already). It's good.

  6. goulo says:

    I have only read a couple novellas by Greg Egan, but I thought they were very excellent and moving, with good characterization and great explorations of emotional/spiritual/philosophical issues rather than physics wankery: "Reasons to be Cheerful" and "Oceanic".

  7. pavel_lishin says:

    Schild's Ladder sounds familiar - is that where they create the false vacuum that spreads through the universe at half of light speed?

      • pavel_lishin says:

        That fucking sucked. I couldn't finish it.

        How did it end?

        • I finished it, but it sucked enough that I have either a) forgotten it, or b) suppressed the memory.

        • jwz says:

          Oh, two of the paper cutouts download copies of themselves to run on the glider-guns in the New Universe, find there a copy of the woman who started the whole mess in the beginning (encased in Glider Carbonite), they befriend the natives, stop the expansion, and everyone lives emotionlessly ever after.

  8. those christopher moore books sound pretty damned good. hmm. i wish they would magically deliver themselves to my doorstep tonight, as i am now in need of something new to read.

    there is something i am suddenly curious about--do you force yourself to finish something you're not enjoying? i just realized that i never discuss or review books i DIDN'T like in detail, since if i'm hating something i'm reading, it gets chucked at the wall before too long.

    • jwz says:

      It's more like I have to force myself not to finish books that suck, because I still want to know how they end. I try to force myself to bail, though. Usually I just end up skimming a lot.

      Like, with "Red Mars", I think once I passed the halfway point, I was reading every third chapter (that particular sedative of a book is like a thousand pages long, so a long stride was needed.)

      • wow. really? why do you care how they end, if they're boring or bothering the shit out of you?

        • jwz says:

          I don't know. I just need to know.

          • ok. i was just curious.

            i get far, far too impatient to care, and there's too many good things out there to read to excuse wasting my time on something i'm not enjoying. (this might be an effect of the extended time spent in higher education, now that i think about it.)

            one more: do you ever just skip to the end to see how it all turns out, or is "spoiling" the ending forbidden? whether you're enjoying it or not?

            i sometimes wish i could glue the pages of the last chapter together temporarily, so there isn't even the risk of the book falling open and giving me some accidental glimpse that hints at what's going to happen....

            • jwz says:

              I never feel the need to skip to the end these days, but when I was a kid, I used to sometimes read the last sentence in the book first, and then try to piece it together from that. It wasn't very satisfying, though.

              • why not? not enough data to come up with anything good?

                i used to do that too, but then knowing ANYTHING about the ending just resulted in upsetting me, like somebody spoiled christmas.

                these days, if i'm reading a section that's really climactic or action-packed, i'll sometimes resort to putting my HAND over the next page, so my stupid cheating eyes don't flick over to it and get the hint of what's going to happen next!

                • g_na says:

                  i used to do that too, but then knowing ANYTHING about the ending just resulted in upsetting me, like somebody spoiled christmas.

                  Not only do I never, ever want to prematurely look at the ending of a book, I also do not like to see movie trailers or synopses because they give too much away.

                  And along those lines, as a kid I once accidentally found my Xmas presents hidden in the closet. I felt so bad about that for so long.

                  • exactly. now i've taken to avoiding reading the synopses in book on the back (paperback) or the inside flap (hardcover), because THOSE give too much away.

                    and i did the same thing as a kid!!! now i plug my ears and yell "LA LA LA" whenever anyone tries to tell me what they're getting me.

                    surprises are so much better than anything else ever ever ever. which is why i hate predictable books and movies.

      • spendocrat says:

        So did you go on to finish the trilogy?

      • semiclever says:

        Red Mars was terrible. It's one of like 3 or 4 books I've never finished. I've heard great things about The Years of Rice and Salt (and I really like the premise -- the black death killed 99% of Europe instead of 30% and so the modern age is an Islamic one instead of a Christian one) but I'm afraid it will be another Red Mars.

        • spendocrat says:

          I was just coming back here to recommend The Years of Rice and Salt. It's not at all like Red Mars. Now I happen to like the Mars series, but I think I understand why people who don't don't like it, and that aspect isn't in The Years of Rice and Salt.

  9. brad says:

    and we're all made up of glider guns or something


    • strspn says:

      Why are all the deterministic scifi universes cellular automata these days?

      Whatever happened to every particle being a record in a big database?

  10. baconmonkey says:

    someone left a copy of "Rama II" in Coat Check. I got bored and tried to read it once. it was probably the worst piece of published writing I've ever experienced. I skipped ahead a bunch to see if it ever got interesting, and it never did. I think I read about 30 pages out of 512, and it was so awful that staring blankly at the counter while boring house music droned on in the background was more a better use of time.

    • taffer says:

      And you thought someone left it there accidentally...

    • jesus_x says:

      I bought 3001 when it was released in hardback. When I finished it, I went to the bookstore and asked for 6 hours of my fucking life refunded. Clarke is not the writing god he's made out to be. Childhood's End was good (and creepy), 2001, 2010, and 2061 were good too. But 3001 was another steamign pile. It was at the time when the meme of a computer virus was floating around hollywood, and they had no clue what the hell it really was. Clarke apparently didn't know either.

  11. krfsm says:

    I just finished Kage Baker's The Anvil Of The World, a semi-humorous fantasy. (Some of the reviewers compare it to Pratchett, but I don't think it's quite the right feel. More like Barry Hughart's "Master Li and Number Ten Ox" stories.)

  12. chrs says:

    absolutely loved Lamb to death. currently in the middle of The Stupidest Angel and loving every minute.

  13. waider says:

    It's a story about an immortal shape-shifting amnesiac alien who crashed on earth a million years before Humanity existed, who eventually works its way up the food chain and starts trying to be a person

    This is surprisingly similar to the core plot in Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

  14. luserspaz says:

    I wound up reading Camouflage when it was published as a serial in Analog. I'm enjoying my Analog subscription, there's more in it that I like than dislike.

  15. ninjarat says:

    If you can find a copy of it, check out "The Hemingway Hoax", Haldeman's Hemingway pastiche. It is an interesting take on the repeating life plot.

  16. willyumtx says:

    Try The Golden Age trilogy by John C. Wright.

    Or In Conquest Born by C.S. Friedman.

    Or have I said this before already?

  17. belgand says:

    Circuit of Heaven was quite good, but I felt that it was a bit too predictable. I also find it odd that the vast minority is on the outside. I've often considered the whole idea of personality upload and have to say that, as far as I'm concerned, it really isn't an effective form of immortality. The argument always comes down to the fact that if there can be a fully conscious, functional copy of me existing somewhere then I (as I exist currently) would not be aware of it therefore it wouldn't really matter to me.

    I have yet to conceive of a form personality upload or such that would allow for my individual, current consciousness to exist as a part of it. Now, get something like actual, functional astral projection going on and I'm all for it.

  18. vordark says:

    Read "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski. I'm pretty sure I recommend this every time you post a list of books. I think you'll love it, but then you might not.