[By Nic Lindh on Tuesday, 14 May 2019]
Another sci-fi and fantasy-heavy book roundup. Almost like the state of the world is really bad and somebody is attempting to take his attention away from it with fantastic tales.
Brutally honest and raw, The Valedictorian of Being Dead chronicles Heather B. Armstrong’s life with treatment-resistant depression and the experimental brain flatline treatment that finally gave her relief from the disease.
Yes, brain flatline, as in, the brain has no activity. Scary stuff.
It’s a gripping read.
Armstrong is of course more well-known as Dooce, the original queen of the mommy bloggers, who I used to read even though mommy blogging in and of itself is not interesting to me. Armstrong’s voice, writing skills, and uncomfortable honesty made her blog a must-read.
And so it is with The Valedictorian of Being Dead.
The Mastermind reads like a techno-thriller but is instead a well-documented report of a talented and ruthless programmer who built a globe-spanning crime syndicate, a high tech Mafia.
There’s everything you want in a techno-thriller—drugs, murder, yachts, and strong encryption certificates.
The story is indeed hard to believe, that a programmer from the south of Africa managed to create a massive crime syndicate through sheer dint of programming skills and aggressive sociopathy, but it is fascinating.
The Mastermind is a solid page turner.
If you’re of a certain age you were lucky enough to watch Where Eagles Dare at an impressionable time of your life.
If that is you, Broadsword Calling Danny Boy will make you very happy indeed.
The book is what it says on the tin: An obsessive scene-by-scene rehash of the 1968 Manly Men WWII movie featuring a bleary-eyed Richard Burton and a stoic Clint Eastwood, written by a talented critic who knows—of course he knows—this is not a good movie, but who loves it anyway.
I had such a good time reading this. Broadsword calling Danny Boy, indeed.
The penultimate novel in the brilliant Expanse series, Tiamath’s Wrath does a great job of turning up the stakes for the last installment in the series.
Decades have passed since the previous novel, and the intrepid crew of the Rocinante are feeling their years, but still do their best to fight the fascist empire that has taken over human space, and which is not only being all kinds of unpleasantly fascist, but also upsetting whatever creatures or forces or whatever it is that exterminated the creators of the protomolecule. Yes, these particular fascists are on purpose poking their fingers in the metaphoricalleye of those beings.
Which sets us up for an intense final novel in the series.
Good, good stuff.
A who-dun-what in a fantasy setting narrated by a God. And it works! The Raven Tower is a page turner loaded with emotional weight and written in Leckie’s typical smooth, buttery prose.
The Raven Tower is immersive and ambitious and will keep you turning the pages way too late in the evening.
The third and final installment in The Alchemy Wars trilogy brings it to a satisfying and bloody conclusion. If you like the series, it’s a given read.
The Alchemy Wars is alternate history which posits a world where Christiaan Huygens (real-life historical figure and all-around one of the smartest people who ever lived) invented Clakkers, a kind of mechanical humans. Clakkers are strong and tireless and have a built-in compulsion to serve their human masters.
With Clakkers at their command, the Dutch then proceed to take over the world.
The Clakkers, however, are sentient, and their compulsions to serve work through hurting them. Give a Clakker an order and it is in increasing pain until it has obeyed.
A lot of the emotional weight of the series comes from the fact that the Clakkers are sentient, suffering slaves at the hands of human masters who choose to not recognize the sentience of their slaves since it would be an inconvenience for them.
You know, Dutch people.
The Alchemy Wars is interesting, thought-provoking alternate history with heaping helpings of emotional poignancy as well as horrific violence.
The Light Brigade is near-future dystopia where corporations rule the world and are also grasping for a colonized Mars, a Mars that has broken off from Earth.
In order to bring independent Mars to heel, the corporation research departments have come up with a way to literally turn soldiers into light so they can be transported those distances and back to fight.
But some soldiers take poorly to the conversion and end up having … issues.
The novel follows one of the soldiers with issues and her struggle to understand her own glitches and learning how the world she thought she understood and believed in actually works.
If you’ve read any of Hurley’s previous works, you have already correctly guessed The Light Brigade is dark, cynical and violent—par for the course for Hurley. It’s also anchored by an interesting thought experiment I’m not going to spoil here.
But in the end it just doesn’t congeal. Some interesting characters, some interesting world building, but it feels a bit like a re-tread, like I’ve seen permutations of this story before.
The light Brigade is a solid read, but not up to Hurley’s usual standard.
Almost 20 years later, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is still fantastic: As a WWII yarn, a late-90s zeitgeist, an elaborately plotted page turner, a crypto primer, and a nerd-positive statement.
It is also a brick, so take your time. Holy smokes, Stephenson can churn out a lot of words.
Note: The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny, tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.