Thursday, January 5, 2017


Jeff Vandermeer

Book 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy

So in book 2, we see the story from the perspective of the Southern Reach, which is a scientific research facility tasked with exploring (and containing) Area X. We are introduced to Control (aka John Rodriguez) who is the newly assigned director of the Southern Reach. Control is basically tasked with solving a mystery, or a series of mysteries. What is going on inside Area X, what is Area X, what happened to the prior director (the psychologist of Book 1), how did the biologist get out of Area X, what happened to her while she was in, etc. I still have a pretty mixed reaction here. Still lots of mystery (which I am not opposed to), but now we are 2/3 of the way through the trilogy and I am not seeing a lot of progress on solving those mysteries. This is beginning to feel like one of those novels/films where, in the last two minutes, everything is resolved with fortuitous facts revealed in the last three minutes. On the other hand, I am at least marginally interested enough to probably read the third installment. Still hesitant.


Saturday, December 31, 2016


Jeff Vandermeer

Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy

A biologist, anthropologist, psychologist and surveyor are the members of the 12th expedition into Area X. That is about all the clarity you will have by time you finish this novel. Area X is said to be a region recovering from an environmental disaster, and the expedition has data acquisition goals to evaluate the changes since the last expedition. But this isn't exactly true. The members don't know how they got to Area X (there were put under hypnosis to "ease the transition"), or even what their goals really are, or what they are even looking for. In fact, this entire novel reads like the introductory first chapter of a potentially good book. I am only sticking with it since the trilogy showed up on a "Best of" list for 2016. But I must say, this first book is basically just a big intro with a question mark.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Little Brother

Cory Doctorow

Set is modern day San Francisco, a terrorist attack has bombed and destroyed the Bay Bridge and the cross bay BART tunnel. Somehow mixed up in this, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a group of high school friends get picked up by the Department of Homeland Security and taken to a secret prision for interrogation. To be released, they are forced to sign non-disclosure documents under threat of further imprisonment. Unfortunately for the DHS, these high school kids are technologically literate hackers. And they take offense at illegal arrest and interrogation. So they start a guerrilla war against DHS, who fights back with all the power of the US Government and the newly expanded Patriot Act (refered to here as Patriot II), all under the guise of preventing terrorism. The bigger issues here remind me of the privacy issues raised in The Circle. In that case, it was a private company overstepping, here is is government. In both cases, I see how the fictional stories are not too far removed from reality, and there are not too many steps to get from here to there. What I wonder, who will be m1k3y in the real world? How do I (not a hacker) fight the small encroachments on privacy and civil liberty that either governments or corporations incrementally take "without notice".


Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Core of the Sun

Johanna Sinisalo

A mixed narrative style of storytelling, alternating between letters to sibling, and first person accounts from each of the two protagonists. The setting is Finland, where the government has evolved into a "eusistocratic society", meaning that the government makes laws that force people to make good decisions. This manifests as outlawing all vices (caffeine, chocolate, red meat, nicotine, etc.) and the Ministry of Public Health is the most powerful public bureaucracy. In addition, the "greater good" means that women are sorted early into those who are suited for reproduction (i.e. subservient) and those who are not. Women have no rights and this part of society is really middle ages. In this context, Vanna (our protagonist) turns out to be a drug dealer (and user) with her drug being capsaicin (from hot chile's). Throughout the story, we learn her past, how she became a user, and what her motivations are. The goal is the development of "The Core of the Sun", the hottest chile to exist. This is an interesting take on what happens with government overreach, in a bit of a silly way since people have resorted to chili as a drug. This is what I love about sci-fi, making a somewhat silly extrapolation to make a point about a larger societal issue.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Unity of One

Pittacus Lore

Book 7 of the Lorien Legacies series

The final book in the series, I have really enjoyed these. The read is super fast, low level reading so there is not a huge investment. And yet, the story held together pretty much throughout. In this installment, the final battle is presented. The Mogs have openly attacked all the major cities on earth and the Guarde are looking for a way to defeat them. Throughout the series, I will say that the setup has been as follows: a bunch of Guarde (9 of them) were put on earth and distributed for protection, but they would need to come together at the right moment to defeat the Mogs. And then the title of this installment, and I am thinking some sort of Transformers, everybody come together and a larger power/new combo legacy is revealed. Sadly, the battle (spoiler alert) is won. But won by basically a bunch of individual actions. Yes, every member of the team has a role in the victory, but essentially, nothing of unity or necessity of gathering was really offered. Don't get me wrong, this is but a minor disappointment in a largely entertaining series. Looking for some quick sci-fi reading this summer, this could be your series.

Monday, November 28, 2016

I'll Take You There

Wally Lamb

Felix is a film scholar who runs an informal movie group in the old single screen theater in town. Once a week, he screens a particularly important film in the history of cinema and then leads a discussion. Once day, while setting up of group, he is approached by a couple of ghosts of hollywood past, who are able to show Felix his life film. That is, they have his entire life on film and when he watches, he can step in to the scenes and truly experience all the emotion and drama of the events. In essence, this is a coming of age story for a 60-something man. It was an interesting road-trip listen, but I probably would not have had the patience to stick with it as a read.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Without Fail

A Jack Reacher Novel
Lee Child

Reacher is tracked down by a Treasury agent who new his brother. She is looking for an "outside consultant" to work up some opposition research on how to assassinate the Vice President. She thinks there is a mole in the department so only a trusted outsider will be able to help. Reacher enlists Neagley to help him out and they begin the unraveling of threat letters, assassination proof of access, and finding the mole. All in a days work, that somehow also allows time for Reacher and Neagley to process the recent death of his brother Joe.