It’s time for Ketchup!

I need to come clean.  A while ago I was worried that I’d read too slow and I let myself accumulate a backlog of books in order to make sure that you didn’t have a big gap between posts.  Well, I think we all know that there was STILL a gap between posts and I gotta tell you, that backlog ain’t blogging itself.

So, I’d like to catch us up with some of the less memorable books in one large post.  I’d like to point out that less memorable doesn’t mean BAD, just means I can cover what I want to say in a smaller blip.  This means that we’re out of order but you should get better reviews of the newer stuff I’ve read.  And honestly, if I don’t catch us up, I’m going to start to get lost.

So, let’s get dippin!  (Ketchup, dip, get it?  ah.. nevermind)

*****

soul_identity_small Most people believe that their souls live on past their bodies, but what if there were a way to identify and track your souls progress across several lifetimes?  You’d be able to pass along things to your future ‘soul self’, building a bridge across the ages passing along wisdom and valuables.  Scott Waverly is a security expert and has been hired to protect the company from a suspected insider attack, but along the way he’ll need to figure out what he believes.

****

Not a bad book.  Bought it for a penny on the Kindle and it was worth a bit more than that.  Amazon is selling it in dead tree form for $10 and I like my price better.  It’s not a bad book but not the best.  This is one you could easily take on a plane and leave in the airport bathroom for someone else when you’re done.   Not that I’ve ever done that, but if you found a mediocre book in the ladies in the Little Rock airport, you’re welcome.

Soul Identity by Dennis Batchelder, 268 pages (per Amazon’s product page)

*****

little brother cover-small In the not too distant future, citizens are RFID’ed, computer networks are monitored and the illusion of privacy is just that – an illusion.  Marcus, aka “w1n5t0n”, is just a kid who likes to push the boundaries – putting pebbles in his shoes to fool the programs that identify you by gait and cracking the browser security on his school issued laptop.  When he and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus gets a deep and dirty look at the inner workings of Homeland Security and the Government that is supposed to protect us all from harm.

What follows is a perhaps too logical path to a 1984- like societal monitoring that Marcus and his friends begin to question and, in doing so, begin to recognise that the only way freedoms can be taken is to stand by and do nothing.

*****

Free.  This book is free.  I’ve linked you all to a place where Cory has released this on a creative commons license for everyone to read.  So if you feel like it, go grab it and read it.  My personal take?  Honestly, I think it’s overdone.  I get it, we live in a world where fear has caused the general populace to put up with borderline personal rights intrusions.  And it’s a slippery slope.  Most people don’t complain about taking our shoes off at the airport (really.. are you safer, really?) but now there are x-ray scanners that can see beneath your clothes.  I believe that things like wiretapping under the guise of “safety” isn’t right, and so does Cory Doctorow, but this book practically beats you to death with it.

And I’m probably tired of him shilling it all over the place.  Anyway, I suppose it’s worth reading, but I can’t say that I’m buying it for everyone I know.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow,  384 pages (per Amazon’s product page)

*****

Scarface’s Burden – Joseph Devon. No fancy artwork.  No page count (honestly it’s short.  Like… oh.. short).  But if you like Jonathan Coulton and you like the song “Skullcrusher Mountain” you will like this little story written by an oh-so-put-upon personal assistant to a mad scientist.

http://josephdevon.com/2007/11/29/short-story-scarfaces-burden/

*****

beautiful_red Meet Jack.  Office cube dweller working corporate security by day, technological tinkerer by night, Jack lives in a ever growing connected world.  People are constantly plugged into the web and one of her best friends she’s never actually even met.  But when she notices that someone has broken into her company’s computer system, she starts down an investigatory path that will lead her to the Reds – a group of people who don’t share her worldview.  As she investigates, she discovers a whole new perspective and is forced to examine her own beliefs.

*****

Good one.  Another creative commons license (which means free, folks), I first tried to get into this one when it was on Podiobooks.com.  Side note – Podiobooks.com is really cool.  Free serial audiobooks delivered to you weekly (or as the author writes the next chapter) and it’s a great way to find some new authors.  That’s how I found Scott Sigler (horror author) and a couple of others who are starting to hit mainstream.  Check them out, it’s pretty cool if you like audiobooks.

ANYWAY, Wehm has created a world that I think is (unfortunately) a pretty logical evolution of our own.  Personal interaction is much less important than the online world – in fact people have implants that let them be constantly on network.  But you know if that’s that case, there’s always going to be a faction that thinks that’s not night (get offa my lawn, you smoochers!!) and this book paints that resistance pretty well.  Plus, it’s got some nice little twists.

You can download it free on the link in the picture, it’s short so it’s worth reading if you have time.

Beautiful Red by M.Darusha Whem, 164 pages (per the download website)

*****

black dahlia Elizabeth Short was found brutally murdered in 1947 in an abandoned field.  After her death, she was known as the Black Dahlia.  Her killer was never found.   This novelization imagines the people who found her, the police who worked her case and what a strange and tangled web the Dahlia wove around the people she knew.

The story is seen through the eyes of Bucky Bleichert, an ex-boxer and current policeman, he finds himself drawn into the investigation.  His obsession with the Dahlia and her story threaten all the important things in his life, and in the end he learns something about himself – and perhaps more than he wanted about some people that he cares about.

*****

Ellroy is the master of this sort of writing.  A mix of truth and fiction, he’s woven a mesh of logic and almost unbelievable fantasy (not in that whole fairies and wizards way) into a story that feels like it could have happened that way.  Ellroy also wrote “LA Confidential” (which is somewhere in the “read me” stack) and both The Black Dahlia and LA Confidential have been made into really good movies.  I don’t know what that really says other than you can have a themed movie night if you read both of his books.  Or maybe it means that he writes compelling stories… and that I’d agree with.

(If you get the book with the afterward by the author, read it.  It’s worth it for an interesting insight into Ellroys relationship with the Dahlia… and it’s not what you think!)

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, 337 pages

Tuf Voyaging

tufHaviland Tuf is not necessarily a likable guy.  But he’s been double-crossed by the folks that hired him and his cats to take them to the “plague star” and it looks like he might not live to collect his meager payment.  One thing Tuf is is smart.  And when it turns out the “plague star” is actually a EEC Seedship -a modern day ark – suddenly the stakes change.

The seedship has samples of every known living thing from every known planet and a sophisticated genetic modification system – which basically means that whoever owns the Ark owns considerable potential for good or harm.  And who better to own such potential than a man who loves cats and, mostly, disdains people?

Thus begins a series of adventures across the Universe.  And it’s not always going to be easy to please everyone.. in fact in most cases, it’s going to be pretty tough voyaging.

*****

George R.R. Martin is mostly known for his current grand epic A Song of Ice and Fire. This isn’t really in the same vein – it’s not fantasy, it’s sci-fi to the core.   This book is actually a collection of short stories about Tuf as he (and his cats) travel in the Ark solving problems.  It’s a fun throwback to some classic sci-fi (it feels very traditional in some ways) while being very clever and smart overall.  The characters are not always as fully fleshed out as Tuf is, but they are developed enough to carry the story (another key to classic sci-fi where the story was paramount over highly developed characters)

Tuf is the most defined character and you really get the feeling that he’s an honest, moral guy who really just doesn’t understand people very well.  Or if he does he’s just living in a constant state of disappointment by the behavior he sees.  He’s a strange ‘hero’, but one that you come to understand.

There’s quite a bit of humor in this book, it’s just not overt.  It’s more of a “oh Tuf, you bastard” chuckle sort, which is fun in itself.  I’d totally recommend this one if you are looking for a fun, classic feeling series of stories or if you are a Martin fan and want to see what he does when he’s not writing sweeping epics that seem to drag on and never really get to the plot.  Heh.  Not that I’m judging or anything.  (grumble, read all those other books, series still not done, seems like it never went anywhere, no, I’m not bitter not at all)

*a note.  I believe that this book is out of print, so look for it at in a library or borrow if from someone who has it.

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin, 440 pages

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 9:47 am  Comments (2)  
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The Stars My Destination

the-stars-my-destination Tiger!  Tiger!  burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

~William Blake

Gully Folye is unremarkable.  His Merchant Marine card tells that world that he has “Education:  none.  Skills:  none.  Merits:  none.  Recommendations:  none.” and Gully has no real desire to change that.  But then something miraculous happens:  Gully manages to survive in the dead of space for 170 days and escape back to Terra with a grudge the size of Jupiter.  And while he doesn’t know it, he also processes a secret that could change the world.

Suddenly, Gully Foyle has some very interesting motivations for action and some very important people should be on their guard…

*****

It’s always fun to read a sci-fi book that was written a long time ago:  Alfred Bester wrote this one in 1956 and it holds up pretty well.  His futuristic ideas aren’t the typical “flying cars and talking computers” variety (although we’re already at the talking computer part… where’s my flying car?!) and are more along the lines of mankind beginning to understand more about the mind and human abilities.  But, if you’re looking for hard science, you’ll be disappointed in this one.

This is more the story of drive and revenge and what it makes a person rather than “ooh, look at the shiny gadgets I made up” tale.  Bester does a great job of pulling us along for a pretty hectic ride… Gully doesn’t have much down time and either do we.  This is a character that you get to watch change pretty dramatically over the course of the novel and I honestly spent part of the book hating him.  But then you start to think about his motivation and you begin to put yourself in his shoes and realize that his slight psychosis is probably justified.  Probably.

The version that I picked up has an introduction by Neil Gaiman which is pretty good – but read it last because it’s got spoilers.  And I really hate that… I think that they should make these afterwards or warn you.  On the other hand, I should know better.  In all actuality, I think I only picked up one small one before I realized what I was doing and moved on to the real story.

One last note on the Blake poem:  the original name of this book was “Tiger! Tiger!” and if you read the book you’ll better understand the reference.  I’m leaving it at that because I think this is worth picking up or borrowing if you’re interested in a quick moving story of survival and retribution (with a possible side of salvation?) set amongst a future where low tech protects the high powered and the world has been changed by the power of the human mind.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, 258 pages

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (3)  
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The Sparrow

the-sparrow3 Matthew 10:29 (New International Version)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

When SETI finally hears a song from the stars, some of the first people to understand the potential are a close knit bunch of friends led by a Jesuit priest.  Their story of first contact – of acceptance and separation, of disclosure and secrets, of exploration as the will of God – will make you think about a modern Columbus and what we’ve learned from the past.  It will also make you explore the notion of “God’s will” and will make you take a close look at the sacrifices needed and made for the better good.  And in the end, it may make you ask why God lets sparrows fall at all.

*****

I’m not an overly religious person, and I was a bit surprised at how religious this book actually was.  I didn’t find it preachy though and it approached the questions of faith and what it meant to truly devote your life to God in an interesting way.  Although there is a compelling cast of characters, this is really the story of  Emilio Sandoz, a devout Jesuit linguist who is searching for his connection with his church and his faith.

As Emilios story unfolds, we see him come to terms with his past and learn to accept his future.  This isn’t an easy journey to watch, and there were times  when I wanted to reach into the book and shake him.  This may be partially due to my own background, where I often felt that church rituals and rules took many of the good things in life and made them sinful.  I won’t go into a theological discussion here, but I would be interested in seeing what people with other views thought.  I was sympathetic to Emilio, but found myself exasperated with him.  I absolutely credit the author, Mary Doria Russell, for allowing for some personal interpretation of what faith might mean, and not writing a pure “glory be” novel under the guise of exploration.

Speaking of which, this story is an emotionally hard read at times.  We learn early on that Emilio is the only survivor of the mission to Rakhat – the foreign planet.  Russell tells the story using chapter length flashbacks, and the juxtaposition of the “pre mission Emilio” and the “post mission Emilio” creates a much more powerful impact than a linearly told story might have.  In some books it’s hard to keep it all straight when it jumps around, but I didn’t have that issue with this one.

If you like first contact, character driven, philosophical sci-fi stories then you will probably like this one.  The religious aspects are worked into the story naturally and logically and it doesn’t feel like a Sunday sermon if you’re not looking for one.  Russell says that she wrote this book when she was bringing religion back into her life, so it’s really a semi-exploration of what place religion can or maybe should play in life rather than preaching.  I think she’s done a masterful job in this one.  This book is the first in a series and, while I’ll borrow the second one to check it out, I don’t know that I feel compelled to see how the story could move on from this book.  I did read that Brad Pitt’s production company picked up the rights to this one… and I bet we already have a few people that would join me to see this translate to the big screen.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, 405 pages

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 10:41 am  Comments (7)  
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Celestial Matters

celestial-matters The ancient Greeks believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. The great astronomer Ptolemy mapped the solar system and stars, locating each heavenly body in a crystalline sphere, the spheres forming a concentric series that progressed in an orderly fashion outward from the earth. Celestial Matters is a startling novel of hard SF, set in an alternate, ptolemaic universe in which these beliefs are literal scientific fact. The greek empire of Alexander the Great has lasted for a thousand years, and for a thousand years it has been at war with the Empire of the Orient. Now, a spaceship has been built to voyage through the spheres to the sun and return with the ultimate weapon: a fiery piece of sun matter.

(summary from Google books who wrote it much better than I could have)

*****

Okay, this is what they call “hard science fiction”.  What seems like magic or impossible is actually based on real theory (which has since been found wrong) and has a logical baseline.  That doesn’t mean that it’s an easy read, though.  You have to get used to the idea that the ancient theories of matter and space were right and that gods are regularly talking to scientists and war generals.  Richard Garfinkle takes these old assumptions – that the Earth is the center of the Universe, that there is breathable air within each celestial sphere, that you could take a piece of the sun – and creates a world where these theories are laws.

Garfinkle has also created compelling characters.  It makes sense that Spartans are the warriors and that Athenians are scholars.  They each have their own viewpoint on the world and their place in it, and the honor that they owe to their society. I have to admit that I would have probably found a different enjoyment in the book if I had a better grasp on Greek and Taoist history and science, but I found it completely accessible even without it.

The only criticism I have is the ending.  I might have missed something along the way, but I think I’ve missed something subtle.  Also, it seemed to end a little abruptly which was a surprise.  It’s a first novel, so I think that I can cut him a little slack given the general expanse of the book.  I’m sure I’ll come back to this one at some point – but I need to do some additional reading before that happens.

Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle, 348 pages

Published in: on January 20, 2009 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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