Thursday, February 4, 2016

You know you've neglected your blogging when-

-your ancient post about mermaids has risen to the top of your eyeball stats once more.

But in the spirit of the Still-New Year and of feeding y'all some red-meat content you can use, here are some book recommendations if you're feeling cold, wet, and dreary this February.

SPQR - A murder mystery set in Ancient Rome in the years before Julius Caesar rises to power. Fast-moving, historically accurate and a lot of fun.

Robots Have No Tails - a collection of old-school shaggy-dog science fiction stories written by Henry Kuttner, one of the forgotten geniuses of the genre. The stories center around Gallagher, an alcoholic engineer who can never remember, sober, the purpose of the inventions he created while drunk. Written in the '40s and '50s, and utterly un-PC in its treatment of addiction. Nevertheless...

Earth Is Room Enough - Seventeen short stories by the master, Isaac Asimov. They all take place on Earth, and only a few of them have robots. Enough hits to make the misses worthwhile.

The Age of Unreason - A series beginning with Newton's Cannon and continuing with A Calculus of Angels, Empire of Unreason, and The Shadows of God. An alternate history in which Newton is more successful as an alchemist than as a physicist. Brilliantly researched, full of fascinatingly flawed historical characters, from Ben Franklin to Peter the Great.

And now, a couple of disses.

I've read two of the most-discussed SF books of the last couple of years: Ancillary Justice and The Three-Body Problem. And I say..."meh." [SPOILERS AHEAD]

Both books are ambitious in ways that my above recommends are not. And both have some really interesting ideas. Ancillary's treatment of the question of individuality and the group mind is handled in a way that was both original and chilled my spine a bit. TBP's use of China's Cultural Revolution, the seven untouched dimensions of particle physics, and what it might take for someone to sell out the whole human race were all new...and if you can't have new in SF, where can you have it?

But there were long stretches in both books that made my eyes glaze over a little bit. In TBP it was the narrative time spent inside a VR game that's a recruiting device for the aliens. (Not only is any literary "holodeck" experience mostly meaningless, in these sequences the protagonist completely passive - it's not clear how he "wins" to the next level.) In Ancillary it's the time that...frankly, I can't even remember. (I read Ancillary Justice a year and a half ago, and it didn't stick.)

So...there you have it. More to come.

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