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Embedded (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 18 August 2012 20:38

I hate Embedded.

I hate Dan Abnett.

This is writer's hate, you see. It happens when a writer reads a book that's really, really good. I just sit here hating the book, the author, all while I'm really, really marveling at it.

Think I'm alone? Hemingway felt that way...

Gil: I would like you to read my novel and get your opinion.
Ernest Hemingway: I hate it.
Gil: You haven't even read it yet.
Ernest Hemingway: If it's bad, I'll hate it. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it even more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.

Well, this comes from the movie Midnight in Paris, but it's still true.

Seriously, Embedded is good cutting-edge scifi. The first moment I hated it was when some journalists said the work "freeking®". That's right, with the register mark behind it. Finally the main character asks about it - it's a "sponsored expletive". Turns out that the government office behind the journalists being there wanted to broadcast to a wide audience but didn't want to have to bleep everything. So they gave the journalists "ling mods" (linguistic mods, i.e. changed their brain wiring) so they would say "freeking®" every time they swore a blue streak. And "freeking" is such a weak word - it just fits, and you could see corporations actually doing that, registering an expletive. Bloody beautiful.

I hate it.

So the book is about a once-famous-but-going-to-pot journalist who gets into something that looks like a war zone - not civil disturbance, not terrorism or anything humans have seen for three hundred years, but a war. A real shooting war. And to get that cutting-edge story, the journalist gets his consciousness injected (via new cutting-edge technology) into a soldier's head (totally illegal, but there's a little cash on the side, and what harm can come from it?)

Except that the soldier takes a disabilitating head wound, and now the journal's mental presence is all that's keeping this staggering body going.

The story rolls along with us finding out along the way who's behind the war, how it's going, and more hints as to why it started. I'll give Abnett this, his combat scenes will have you ducking when the shots are flying, and his dialog feels pretty much like soldier talk. So, man, do I hate him.

If I've got a complaint, I began to suspect what was behind the war about fifty pages short. It's a bit of a old-school reason, and I was hoping he'd come up with something new. It's a shame since everything was new and fresh, but the wrapup was a bit of an old chestnut.

But still, I hated this book. And I strongly recommend that you go out and get a copy - you'll hate it too!



Last Updated on Saturday, 18 August 2012 21:11
The Odyssey (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 09 August 2012 20:10

Odysseus' household is in trouble, worse than an upside down mortgage. See, this King of Ithaca has been away in the Trojan war for nine years, then missing for another decade. Convinced that he is dead, a hundred suitors for his wife Penelope's hand have flooded his hall, working through the larder like cockroaches, threatening his son Telemacus. They are insistent to wed Penelope (not for her beauty, which appears to have held up well into her mid-thirties (if not later), but for Odysseus' riches).

She's already started one gambit, claiming that she needs to finish sewing a funeral pall for her father-in-law, claiming she'll pick one of the bores once she completes it. Years go by before they realize that she's been sewing by day and unraveling by night. Suckers.

Telemacus, meanwhile, has launched a private expedition, attempting to gain world of his missing Pappy (like Popeye, in a way). The suitors, not wishing him back, stake out a narrow strait, intending to deep-six the troubling youth. And where the hell in all this is Odysseus?

See, I thought this book would be a Sinbad the Sailor sort of thing (which I've read), where he goes from adventure to adventure, all while losing crews to horrible disasters (who would want to work for these guys?). And yes, we do get some of Odysseus' alibi (he and his crew getting trapped by the cyclops, of the cyclops eating a couple of them (See???), of him tricking it and putting out its eye, of them sneaking away. This angers HIS pappy, Poseidon, who makes Odysseus' life a seagoing hell. Several crews later, he finally manages to get home.

And this is where the book really caught me. With the help of Athena the Goddess, he disguises himself as a beggar. After being reunited with his son, he sneaks into his own house. And now the epic king plays it crafty. Odysseus takes his time, shuffling about like Pig Pen, being buffeted and humiliated (and taking names). Soon will come the accounting. Soon will come the payback. And when it comes, it's godlike.

I won't say this is an easy read. The story hops back and forth between the present and the story-telling past. Also, people tell their backstories over and over. And there are those poetic memory tricks (used in a more verbal day) for describing the wine-dark sea, the dark-hulled ships, the bronze-gleaming dawn, dialogs of winged words.

Different time. Different storytelling. But still a must-read for anyone curious about the origin's of western plot devices and narrative pace. I enjoyed it, I'm glad I read it, but like the true Odyssey, I'm glad it's over.

Have a look.


Last Updated on Thursday, 09 August 2012 20:42
Perdido Street Station (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 05 August 2012 10:00

So you’re sitting around one night, poised in that indecisiveness readers occasionally flounder into. What next? Science Fiction? Steam Punk? Magic? Fantasy?

Why not all of them, wrapped together in a plot which chafes so delightfully?

China Miéville is a London author – it shows. His city of New Crobuzon is a sprawling, dangerous, vibrant, cruel place, a fun-house mirror image of London. Steam-technologies work. Magic (in a limited yet practical form) works. The city is a melting pot of story types and urban fears. Presumably New Crobuzon has a positive side, a side of decent people, quiet suburbs, theaters and museums. But hanging around with the likes of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, we never get to them. No, we base our stay in the dirty sections of town.

Where London seems to be coping with interracial issues, New Crobuzon faces problems of interspecies. There are cactus men, winged Garuda, and Khepris (along others), all living in their sections of town, all bringing down each other’s property values. In fact, our main character Isaac is dating across the species line, taking a khepri lover (who has a woman’s body and a bug for a head – creepy). But he gets along with Lin well enough, and he’s got his interests, specifically the difficult assignment of fabricating wings on a Garuda who’d had them sawn off for some unspeakable crime against his people.

The thing I loved about Perdido Street Station (and its sister books, The Scar and Iron Council) is the scale. New Crobuzon is a sprawling city existing on a massive continent, surrounded by dozens of half-understood seas. 5000 miles away, there is another city and culture, but the New Crobuzonians hardly know anything about it. It is a world where pictures of dragons are drawn on maps, not in art but in warning. It’s a place where no matter how many steamer lines and telegraphs are thrown out, you can never know it all. It’s a gigantic world where everything is possible, everything discomforting, and everything is sinister.

Buggy Lin is asked to create art for a dangerous mob boss. And Isaac’s searches for an avionic solution to his Garuda’s problems are leading him down some dangerous paths. Slowly the truth unravels, truths about cationic victims found babbling in alleys, of the mob’s involvement with horrific winged creatures hunting across the city, of the government’s contact with demons. And when the black threads of the plot finally come together, the reality is almost too terrible to believe.

I liked China Miéville’s writing – it is a mixture of Victor Hugo and H.G. Wells, with a touch of Lovecraft to spice it. It’s long and sprawling and bombastic and unsettling. I can’t recommend it enough.


Not eveyrone likes him, it seems...

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 August 2012 10:09
Nausicaa (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 29 July 2012 11:18

It happens sometimes, with work and class and trains and general malaise, that I don't get a book read in a week (before I had a weekly column, I was even slower). I'm currently wending through the Odyssey, which is a pretty stiff read. However, I was interested to find a character in it with the unlikely name of Nausicaa, which was also the character of an amazing translated Japanese comic I'd read over the years. Turns out that's where it's author/artist, Miyazaki, got it from.

So cute, so determined...It's been a while since i read it (I've got them all here next to me right now and am flipping through them, marveling as always at the amazing art). Essentially, it's the story of a proud little princess who's tiny little kingdom becomes a pawn between two larger empires in a dark (or shall I say, ochre) future earth. A thousand years before, pollution and a massive war toppled everything and birthed a massive forest, the 'Sea of Corruption', which is slowly spreading over everything (carried by the various huge insects that serve it). Nausicaa is everything you'd want in a hero, strong, honest, thoughtful and compassionate. She tries to end the war, tries to understand the protagonists, tries to set the world on a better course.

But just as her actions are "heroic", the actions of the various other characters are often "human". The Torumekians invade the Dorok lands, a blitzkrieg in a scale Miyazaki's art captures. Then the Doroks respond by purposely spreading the corruption over the battlezone, resulting in a loss of life even more staggering. And on it goes, violence and destruction, while Nausicaa attempts to understand, and perhaps even solve, the multi-layered problems.

As I write this, fond memories are bubbling up - I remember a Dorok priest, a bald little guy, who first sought her death and then, slowly, began to understand and perhaps even support her. I remember how much his own story moved me, as he shifted from unthinking nationalistic/religious standards to something more humanist.

I've got my seven-volume set I assembled out of Amazon here - I'll have to give it another read. I can recomend looking it up. Also, a foreshortened version of this was created by Miyazaki's anime studio and wonderfully dubbed by Disney, Nausicaa of the valley of the wind. It's a small taste of the scope of the greater epic, but one well worth watching.

Great story. Great art. And I loved her little fox/cat creature.



Last Updated on Sunday, 29 July 2012 11:50

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