Thursday 13 February 2020

Review: Moontangled

Moontangled Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was just what I was looking for: a well-written, well-edited, fun book (but not pure fluff and nonsense, either). Having struggled recently with a run of books that did not meet the criteria just mentioned, I enjoyed it very much.

It's part of a series, and I haven't read the earlier books; there's enough backstory given that I wasn't confused, but clearly I need to go back and read those books. If they're anything like this one, I'll enjoy them quite a bit.

Magic users, romance, challenging of traditional gender roles, a bit of tension and danger, people working out their problems by actually talking to each other (when forced to do so, admittedly) - it's all good stuff.

A novella, which meant there wasn't a lot to it and I was left wanting more, but if the other books are novels, I am definitely in.

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Monday 10 February 2020

Review: The Wild Swans

The Wild Swans The Wild Swans by Peg Kerr
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I got far enough through this that I'll write a review, even though I didn't finish. I won't give a rating, though.

It's a very serious book. I found it a bit of a slog, more for reasons of taste than the author's ability. There are two storylines in different times (and genres; fairytale retelling versus realism with slight hints of magical realism starting to creep in). When I gave up at 61% the two stories, which alternate chapters, were finally starting to develop tenuous connections to one another that were not just thematic resonance or echoes of imagery, but I still wasn't really loving either one of them. They're beautifully, even lyrically told at times, but they're so very earnest and tragic and unrelieved by any lightness whatsoever that I couldn't stick it out to the end.

I guess I'm just not the audience for this one.

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Review: Paris Adrift

Paris Adrift Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had two main problems with this book, one a matter of taste and one a matter of philosophy. As a story, it was fine; not amazing, not outstanding, but perfectly fine.

Taste first. I have very little interest in characters such as these ones, young drifters who drink too much, smoke, and work all night in the kind of bar you couldn't get me into without a gun to my head, who are mostly aimless, who have parent issues, sibling issues, and limited ability to form successful relationships. That I didn't hate the book despite this tells you that the author was doing something right, at least.

It's one of the rash of change-the-timeline-for-the-better books that have sprung up since 2016 for some reason, and as such books go, it's not unusual. This is where my philosophical problem comes in. The hope presented to stave off a future in which the spiritual descendants of Marie Le Pen are in fascist control of France, "disappearing" people who don't conform, is twofold. Firstly, to even have that future replace one of global nuclear war, the main character must prevent the marriage of an ancestor of the demagogue who incited it (by getting her her cello back when she's being rescued from the Nazis during the occupation of Paris; she's Jewish, and for some reason it's known that if she had the cello, she would never marry). The main character must also prevent the construction of the church on the steps of which the demagogue stood to give his speech. It's replaced with a green windmill, which becomes a symbol of resistance in several different times. Because... churches are bad, I suppose, and no hateful demagogue would choose to give a speech in front of a windmill?

Then, to prevent the victory of the Front National, the main character must prevent the assassination of a charismatic leftist politician who preaches a "new bohemia" (from in front of the windmill) because without her, everything falls apart.

Not only is this the widely criticised Great Man(/Woman) theory of history, the kind that assumes that without the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand we wouldn't still have got World War I, but it seems to be suggesting that the only counter to populist demagogues is... other populist demagogues with different values. What about changing how people think so that they can't be taken in by populist demagogues, or so that they'll reject tyrants out of hand from a profound sense of shared humanity with their fellows? There's a gesture in this direction in the "new bohemia" gospel, but there's also a strong sense that the mass of people are too stupid to really follow that at any deep level; they need a charismatic savior figure who will tell them what to do and think. I have a philosophical problem with that as a solution; I think it's dangerous and naive. But it does make it a lot easier to tell a time travel story with just a few travelers who don't have much in the way of resources. They can change a few small things and rescue everyone (for certain values of "rescue" and "everyone").

The time travel itself is reasonably interesting. There are people who are somehow mysteriously attuned to a specific location (different locations for each person) where, at certain times defined by the ebb and flow of some kind of power, they are able to travel in time to a date they aim for (with some minor degree of inaccuracy that never really ends up mattering). This removes the need for any inventor of a time machine; there's no machine, it's a natural phenomenon. I believe Annalee Newitz has done something similar in her recent book. The main character is one such attuned person, and (for reasons the other time travelers conceal from her until very late, because she must be kept in the dark and manipulated rather than honestly recruited, for reasons), only she, out of all of them, can rescue the timeline. Something, by the way, that the other time travelers generally try not to do, because of the risk, though they're willing to make an exception for human-species-ending events. After all, how much worse could the outcome be?

The prose does its best to be lyrical, and does OK at it. The background characters are mostly background; only the central character seems to have much dimension to her, and that's mostly her issues with her mother. The plot does plot things. I've read a lot of worse books (believe me), but I'm going with three stars because... well, because I'm a curmudgeonly middle-aged reviewer who doesn't have much patience with naive youth, when you get right down to it. Lots of people will enjoy this, and some may even think it's great.

I received a copy via Netgalley for review.

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Review: Echoes of Another: A Novel of the Near Future

Echoes of Another: A Novel of the Near Future Echoes of Another: A Novel of the Near Future by Chandra Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Neuromancer, though not set in Canada, was written there, so it makes sense of a sort to have what is a fairly traditional cyberpunk book (if that's a phrase that makes any sense) set in a nearish-future Toronto.

At least, I thought at first that it was a fairly traditional cyberpunk/nearish future book. There's implanted tech. There's a corporation. There are a bunch of disaffected, alienated characters, all single, all with a number of friends between zero and one.

Only it manages to avoid the usual tropes, in at least some ways. The corporation isn't evil. The arc of the characters - all the characters - is towards connection, including with each other, though there are too many of them. Haroon, in particular, added very little to the main plot and wasn't much affected by it, and his background is similar enough to Ray's that I found myself having to concentrate to remember which was which. He feels like he's being set up for a sequel more than like he's a part of this story.

After a slowish start, setting up that excessive number of characters, their stories start to connect up at almost the halfway point, after which it becomes gripping. Short, brisk chapters have a lot to do with this.

The characters are not as aimless as near-future SF characters often are; they want things and strive for things. At the end, though, they don't so much achieve resolutions by protagonism as get them handed to them as rewards for suffering.

The premise didn't completely work for me. There's a big glaring plot hole right at the centre: The application Kel thinks of is incredibly obvious, and if it could be done with common, standard tech (which apparently it can), someone would have thought of it probably even before it could be done, and certainly immediately afterwards. Nor do they need Kel's design, specifically; if she could invent it, so could someone else, especially since she's a research scientist rather than a technician. So the main plot driver failed to get me to suspend my disbelief.

Also, the US is kind of falling apart; that's mentioned in passing, as something that's neither surprising nor interesting. But among the many immigrants to Canada, there appear to be no US refugees.

So: very promising, well written on the whole, but has too many characters, takes too long to get going, and doesn't completely hang together or resolve completely organically. I'd probably read a sequel, though, since the strengths outweighed the weaknesses for me.

I received a review copy via Netgalley.

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