In chronological order, here’s what I’ve read since the last post (DW/LJ).
Lauren Beukes Moxyland (near-future dystopian cyberpunk, author recommended by ceb)
I must say I’m glad I read Zoo City, her second effort, first. Moxyland was a bit like Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (which was better overall): trying too hard to be cool. The cyberpunk world, technologies and the self-absorbed twenty-something characters are underdeveloped and unconvincing. The invented jargon serves to confuse rather than enlighten an already muddled plot, and the ending, while successfully tying off some of the loose ends, left me cold. If the revolution falls this flat, I expect no one will even notice that it’s happening.
Verdict: Forgettable. Read Zoo City. I hope this indicates the author is on an upward trajectory and that her third effort will be better.
Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London (urban fantasy detective novel, author recommended by pbristow and imyril)
Ah now, this was a breath of fresh air after Moxyland! The endearing bimbling of half-Nigerian, half-English PC Peter Grant into an alt!London full of magic, accompanied by his mentor, Thomas Nightingale, and his fellow PC, Lesley May, is peppered with wonderful historical anecdotes and wry humour. Nightingale balances a more mature perspective against the youthful Grant’s, while May* provides a healthy dose of skepticism and the rigour of proper investigative procedure against Grant’s intuitive leaps. Together, they work toward a solution to a set of grisly murders, with near-fatal consequences to themselves. A delight to read, with a full cast of multicultural characters.
*Side note: Why do so few of the reviews mention her? Grumble.
Verdict: Wonderful! Yes! More like this, please.
Ben Aaronovitch Moon Over Soho (urban fantasy detective novel)
RoL broke my determination to switch authors. I had to get the sequel right away and read it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as its predecessor. I suspect this is due in large part to the temporary shelving of both Nightingale and May. Although both novels are told from PC Grant’s perspective, I found him much less appealing without the tempering influences of the other two. The mystery is not quite as engaging, lacking the sense of discovery in the first novel and becoming a bit heavy-handed in its “acceptance of otherness” message (applied to fantastical creatures rather than human race or culture). Still, I liked it, and the little teaser at the end gave me hope that the next installment will restore the balance of characters and plotline.
Verdict: Mildly disappointing sequel, but still engaging enough to make me anticipate the third installment.
Lois McMaster Bujold Cordelia’s Honor (space opera, comprised of two novels, “Shards of Honor” and “Barrayar”, recommended by lots of people)
I admit it: I fell in love with this pretty much instantaneously. Cordelia Naismith! What a wonderful heroine. I was not at all put off by the heavy dose of romance that starts things off. In fact, I think it’s necessary to offset the horrors of the feudal political machinations in the story. I love the societies LMB creates in Beta Colony and Barrayar. I love their contrasts and complexities. Each has advantages and freedoms that the other lacks. Neither is better. On Beta Colony, for instance, all persons are encouraged the full range of sexual expression and experimentation from puberty, but you need to pay and qualify for a licence to have a child, and the barriers to having more than two are nigh insurmountable. On Barrayar, Victorian mores reign, but you can have as many children as you like. I love way these cultures are embodied, expressed and flexed by Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan. I loved reading about them so much that I nearly missed my Tube stop on three separate journeys.
I suspect part of the reason this resonated so deeply with me, particularly “Barrayar”, is that my current life experience, i.e. pregnancy relatively late in life, is integral to Cordelia’s narrative. And the idea of using a uterine replicator to grow your baby is very, very appealing. (Although Cordelia’s hand was forced in this matter - it was the only way to save her baby after she was poisoned.) Makes the experience much more equitable. Almost exactly like, say, tending and hatching an egg. I give my full backing to the development of this technology from science fiction to science fact. I’m sure the world of obstetrics research was just waiting for that. If only. :P
Lois McMaster Bujold Young Miles (military space opera, comprised of two novels, “The Warrior’s Apprentice” and “The Vor Game”, recommended by lots of people)
The first of the two novels is all about wielding the power of an amazing ability to meet a situation and blag it. Miles is the son of Cordelia and Aral, born with brittle bones and barely 4’9” tall in a society that values physical strength and shuns deformity. Cordelia and Aral were poisoned during her pregnancy. He has, however, both a brilliant mind and a remarkable gift of gab. He is a manipulator. A situation that he can’t talk himself out of, rare in itself, will usually end up going his way because of the loyalty his reckless personal risk-taking inspires in his associates. He manages, by dint of scraping people out of gutters and giving them second chances, to make himself a pirate captain. In space. Seriously. How was I not going to love this book?
The book introduces a dizzying array of cultures besides Barrayar and Beta Colony (both descended from Earth), including the Oserans and the Felicians. These are not quite as well developed as in Cordelia’s Honor, which delves deeply into Barrayar and Beta Colony through the two main characters. However, the tantalising glimpses given by the peripheral players in “The Warrior’s Apprentice” hooked me deeper into the series, if such an action could be deemed necessary. Miles’ internal dialogue is priceless and his eagle-eyed companions keep him from getting too enraptured with his successes - or sunk by his failures.
I resented the time I had to spend not reading this book.
The Vor Game’s pace proved less whirlwind than the first novel’s, maturing to match Miles’ development as he finishes his military training. A good portion of it is set in Barrayar rather than interstellar space. Barrayar being a rather sombre place, this made the tone less rambunctious. Once Miles manages to wriggle away from his minders (as usual) and off-planet, things pick up. They heat up a good deal more when he manages to land himself smack in the middle of his companions from the previous novel, an interplanetary struggle for control over a wormhole hub and a woman’s insane lust for power. Watching him attempt to sort all this out is both highly amusing and suspenseful.
Verdict: I’m trying not to rush through the entire Vorkosigan saga before the end of my pregnancy, when I expect I’ll be able to do little other than lie in bed read. I imagine, however, that there is a world of high-quality fanfic out there for me to explore when I do.
Currently reading: LMB Cetaganda (another Miles Vorkosigan, yes yes, I know, so much for not rushing), Thomas Levenson Newton and the Counterfeiter, and David Lodge’s Nice Work in dead-tree format. The last was a leaving present for the bloke from his Cambridge research group. It’s about a failed Cambridge academic who ends up taking a job in the fictional English town of Rummidge -- which happens to be positioned in the same place as Birmingham. Hrmmmph!