Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: Round Up!

So, we are still in "round up" mode and this time it's all the reading I've been doing. Somehow, I feel I'm making more time for reading this year (writing being a whole different story, sadly) and I'm making an effort to try new stuff that I've missed. I also want to make a bit of a return to the Science Fiction genre, which I've not been deep into for many years now, hence the prescene on this list of a couple of "classic" series that have been mentioned us as we've put out new episodes of Dissecting Worlds. So, with apologies for the brevity, lets get on with catching up.

Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell
I'm certainly reading through David Mitchell's work in the wrong order. Ghostwritten was his first publised novel, and shows his preoccupations straight off the bat. Here we have a series of contained stories scattered across the world, with different styles and focuses, that weave a loosely connective narrative via small connections and thematic links. Its got some great ideas, and some lovely writing, but if I'm being honest falls apart a little at the end. Like any novel using an anthology format, you can end up slightly short-changed when you move away from the more engaging stories, but there isn't a weak one really. 

I guess if this was the  first Michell novel I'd read I'd have been more impressed, but having seen so much of this done better in his later works I ended up slightly underwhelmed. I'm sure thats fair to the book, either, and its still worth a read, but that feeling still remains.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go, by Phillip Jose Farmer
For some reason I'd never got around to reading any of the Riverworld books, despite being aware of the series and it's central conceit. In short, everyone who has ever lived wakes up one morning on a planet around which weaves a vast, seemingly endless river. The environment is temperate, food is limitless and provided by great constructs along the river, and if you die, you are simple reborn somewhere else. Onto this clean slate humanity proceeds to inflict all it's old habits; rape, murder, slavery, colonialism and the rest, and Farmer uses this to explore notions of humanity, hope, despair, and the possibilty of redemption.

This, the first book, follows Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton in his quest to reach the end of the The River, and I rather enjoyed it. There is a tendancy for every character to be "someone famous", which is fun, for sure, but does mean that there is a massive lack of female or non-white characters which gets more noticable over time. That it doesn't weigh down the book is a credit to the rich concept and thoughtful tone. I'm currently reading the second book, which features Samuel Clemens building a Riverboat.

Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Another recent recommendation has been the Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The first two of these, neither featureing the character who would become the series focus, are very different, but both a good mix of high adventure and strong subtexts. Falling Free is about the fate of a race of genetically engineered humans suddenly faced with their own obselecence, and what the corporation that "owns" them intend to do with them. It covers frontier corporatism, bioethics and self-determination, as well as a bunch of good old fashioned "against the odds" adventurism. 

The second, Shards of Honor, is set years later and in a different part of space, as two powers, one democratic and one autocratic, prepare to go to war. Here the themes are women in war (with all the horrible consequence), politics, espionage and trust between enemies. Part survival story and part political thriller, Shards of Honor seems to reach a climax and then have another several chapters to go, which was a little strange, pacing-wise. However it's central character pair are both strong and interesting, and I intend to plough on with the series as soon as I can - even though we're about to change characters and locales once again.