Pushing the Limits of Absurdity – A Review of The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Tor.com Publishing, via Netgalley. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on October 30, 2018.

This is a review of the ninth book in a series. While it contains no spoilers for the book under discussion, it may contain spoilers for the previous books in the series. Please do not read this review unless you have already read the previous books.

Some acquaintances of mine have commented on my ability to sustain interest in long-running series before they are completed. Trilogies, they say, are easy enough to maintain interest in, especially if the author is good enough about delivering a book once a year or so. Romance novel series are also fairly easy to maintain interest in even if some of them can run into several books long, because each book deals with one specific couple and can therefore be read on its own.

But in genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy, maintaining interest in a series that runs beyond four or five books is, so my acquaintances say, an almost herculean feat of focus – especially if the series has yet to be concluded. For my part, I do not see how that sort of focus is herculean – not least because I often reread books in a series if it has been some time since I engaged with it and need a refresher before diving into the latest volume. It can be a bit tedious to have to do so, especially if the previous novels are doorstoppers in their own right, but doing so does not require any great expenditure of effort, nor is it in any way onerous. There is something pleasant, after all, about revisiting a story one has already engaged with – especially if one enjoyed it.

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The Water Will Never Be Safe – A Review of The Devil and The Deep, ed. by Ellen Datlow

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Almost since the beginning, humanity has simultaneously loved and feared the ocean. This ambivalent relationship is most clearly illustrated by the many gods and goddesses associated with the ocean: at times benevolent, at other times vengeful and full of wroth, ocean deities were a constant reminder to their worshipers that the ocean was never to be underestimated, that it was to be treated at all times with respect.

That is a trend that continues into the present day, with or without the gods. For every story that presents the ocean as a tropical idyll or a means to adventure, there are others that present its dangers. The movie Jaws is a powerful, visceral reminder of the threats that inhabit the ocean, and though Titanic is more known for its love story, it is also an excellent reminder of how thoroughly human hubris collapses in the face of the threats the ocean presents. Even being near shore does not guarantee safety, since people can and often do die of things like riptides and jellyfish stings. And this does not even take into consideration the things that lurk deep in the ocean’s depths, in the places where humans have yet to explore.

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What For the Price of War? – A Review of Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher Ace via Netgalley. The book is slated for release on September 18, 2018.

Some of the very first anime I ever remember watching were the ones involving giant robots – mecha – battling it out against aliens trying to invade Earth for one reason or another. I remember watching Voltes V (Chōdenji Machine Voltes V), Daimos (Tōshō Daimos), Combattler V (Chōdenji Robo Combattler V), and the first Voltron (Beast King GoLion). For some odd reason I missed out entirely on Robotech while growing up – or it could be that I did catch some of it, but didn’t get to see enough of it for it to make an impression.

However, of the aforementioned anime, the one that sticks out the most, not only in my personal memory, but in the memory of an entire generation of people, is Voltes V. It might seem silly to think of an anime being historically significant, but in the case of the Philippines, Voltes V is precisely that. Voltes V launched in Japan in 1977, and then a Philippine broadcast network started airing an English dub in 1978, becoming immensely popular while it was on the air. But, when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law the following year, Voltes V (which was just a few episodes shy of the finale) and other shows with similar themes were soon pulled off the air. The official government explanation for the pullout cited “excessive violence” as the reason, but many suspected that the ban was due to the themes of uprising and revolution that underpinned many such anime. Marcos clearly did not want his constituency getting any bright ideas while he was in office.

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A Slightly Smaller, But No Less Entertaining, Adventure – A Review of The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt

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This is a review for the second book in the Axiom series, and therefore may contain spoilers for the first book, The Wrong Stars. Please do not read this review if you have not yet read the first book.

This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Publishing. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on September 4, 2018.

“Science fiction is supposed to be fun.” For a long while, I took this seemingly innocuous statement as a given, albeit with certain caveats surrounding the word “fun”. While there is plenty of literature out there that doesn’t fall into my personal definition of “fun,” as a rule genre fiction has always symbolised “fun” to me – as it does for a great many other readers out there, I am sure. We wouldn’t be engaging with it otherwise.

But not too long ago, that statement was twisted into the tagline of the “cause célèbre” espoused by the Sad and Rabid Puppies, who in 2015 tried to rig the Hugo Awards in an attempt to push a slate of finalists that was more to their liking – i.e. a more racist, misogynistic, and homophobic vision that they claimed was more akin to some non-existent “golden age” of the genre. (To be clear: not all the finalists themselves are racist, misogynistic, and/or homophobic; indeed many requested removal from the slate after learning they were nominated by the Puppies.) According to the Puppies, the progressive and literary slant genre fiction has taken in recent years was making science fiction “less fun”, and something had to be done about it – by which they meant: attempt to rig one of the most important awards in genre fiction to go their way. They failed, thankfully, and as of this year’s ceremonies, the Hugo Awards continues to show how progressive genre fiction has become, with N.K. Jemisin making Hugo history by winning Best Novel three years in a row.

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The Correct Reaction is Not to Roll Over, But to Fight Back – A Review of Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Crown Publishing, via NetGalley. This does not in any way affect my review.

It has been a little over six years since I first read Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, but that novel has stayed with me in a variety of ways. On one hand, it has given me a reputation amongst my friends as a “life-ruiner” because I recommended the book to them, and the resulting emotional devastation was such that now, they always look askance at me when I say “Read this book! You’ll love it!”, fearing that I will just break their hearts wide-open again as I gleefully cackle over their pain. (They are not wrong.)

On the other hand, Lies has influenced the kinds of novels I like to read. I’ve always enjoyed genre fiction, but it was only after reading Lies that I developed an enormous soft spot for witty, clever characters; found-family narratives; and daring, complicated heists. While I still have a deep, abiding love for the noble, selfless characters that dominated fantasy for a long while, it is also true that I relate far less to them than I used to. Perhaps it’s grown-up pragmatism speaking, but I realise now that sometimes, it is necessary to circumvent, bend, or sometimes break rules entirely in order to do the most good.

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