Monday, June 19, 2017

Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia

Mike Resnick

The story of an African tribe moving to a new place (that happens to be a space station in the year 2130, but that is totally irrelevant) to create a utopia based on that tribe's founding values, shunning all things European and all results of colonization. It is told from the first person perspective of the mundumugo (the witch doctor or tribal elder or respected shaman), whose original vision it was to set up this utopia. The story takes place over the course of a decade or so, and each chapter is basically a stand-alone story that addresses a particular difficulty or challenge to the utopia. In each case, the mundumugo uses story and fable to guide the children and the elders how to think in order to maintain and enhance the cultural integrity of this utopia. And in each case, it turns out that only the mundumugo sees the bigger picture. This is a great story of power, colonization, utopia, wisdom, perspective, change, community, democracy, culture, tradition, story-telling and thinking.
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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ancillary Sword

Ann Leckie

Good ol' fashioned sci-fi, space thriller. Many systems, with "gate travel" allowing the traversal of vast distances relatively quickly. The galaxy is in political turmoil. The individuals in the story are trying to do right, and be on the right side for humanity. Love it. What makes this particularly interesting is the use of AI. The main character, Fleet Captain Breq, is actually an AI. And even better is the logical extension of how an AI development would happen. Breq used to be a ship (in the first book Ancillary Justice). The ship had part of its intelligence in ancillary humans (bodies with implants) and Breq is the last remaining portion of this ship. In the same way, the supreme ruler of this area of space is the Lord of the Radch, and this Lord is an AI who has also extended her intelligence into many thousands of ancillaries. The current "trouble" is that the Lord of the Radch was spread too thin and bifurcated... meaning she battles against herself. Fabulous. So many fun things to consider, and don't even get me started on the fact that the entire character set is female. Need to go back and read the first book now.
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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Killshot

Elmore Leonard

This crime thriller follows Blackbird, a first nations man residing in Toronto, through a few weeks of his life as an assassin for the Canadian mob. We start with a "standard hit" and then Bird gets connected by chance with a punk named Richie Nix, after which Bird's standard way of looking at, and interacting with, the world change. Regular folk Wayne and Carmen Colson out of Detroit get drawn into this story as well. The explicit plot tension is between the Colsons and the Nix/Bird duo. The more interesting tension is between the Colsons, and also between Nix & Bird. That said, I was only marginally engaged throughout. The story was good, and I enjoyed reading it. But it did not pull me in and demand that I read it. One of those books that lays around on your table for a month, half read.
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Friday, April 7, 2017

The Lord of Opium

Nancy Farmer

A sequel to The House of the Scorpion, we pick up immediately. Mateo is now the sole heir to El PatrĂ³n, who committed suicide and murdered his entire retinue with a massive dose of the proverbial kool-aid. And the border is locked down, so no supplied in, and no drugs out. The remainder of the story does a few of things: 1) documents the growing into power and solidifying of power by Mateo, 2) explores trust and friendship amidst explicit and massive power differentials, 3) explores human rights and 'the greater good', and 4) imagines a world of environmental care (be it accidental) and paints a picture of environmental value. In all, a fabulous book in its own right. I would say tells a better story and forces the reader into a more essential thinking process than the first. Highly recommend this series.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

A World Without You

Beth Revis

This is actually pretty amazing. Some weird cross in tone between Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children (of which I only saw the film) and The Fault in Our Stars. The story is a deep look into normalcy and mental illness from the perspective of both the afflicted and the family around them. Maybe because I loved her Across the Universe trilogy, I stepped into this expecting full Revis Sci-fi. And as the story developed, it unfolded for me in a way that seemed consistent with the unfolding for Bo, the protagonist. Excellent writing.

The story follows Bo, a student at Berkshire School for Students with Exceptional Needs. We are introduced to him and the fellow students in his unit immediately after a tragedy has struck the school. Bo spends most of the book exploring this tragedy, investigating it, and developing his powers to be able to remedy it. At the same time, we jump to the perspective of his sister Phoebe, who is attending local public school, is 'normal' and nearly invisible to her parents.

I take this as a particularly poignant view of families and relationships who are dealing with any variety of 'exceptional needs'. Not a happy book, per se, but hopeful in many ways. Definitely worth reading.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Underground Airlines

Ben H. Winters

Set in current time, but as an alternate history. President Lincoln was assassinated before the emancipation, and the civil war resulted in a compromise. This compromise allowed slavery to be a state decision and permanently disallowed federal oversight. In the current year, only 4 states remain as slave states, but as a result, the U.S. is on the outs with the global community, effectively under economic sanctions. Some of the subtle beauty of this novel is in how this reality filters through to language. For example, a passing vehicle is a SA truck - referencing its manufacturing origin of South Africa. Or a Pakistani Wagon. Just dropped clues about the impact of remaining a slave state. The protagonist is Victor, a 'semi-free' black man working for the U.S. Marshalls, charged with tracking down runaway slaves and returning them to their owners. On this particular case, he is working to infiltrate the 'airline' to track a particular man and there are a few things that strike him as odd. While he continues his tracking, he also encounters increasing memories and emotional resistance. Not only is this a fascinating take on an alternate history, it is also a well told story of the internal struggles that one develops when pursuing a profession that is inconsistent with your values.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Shades of Earth

Beth Revis
Book 3 in Across the Universe trilogy

Final installment and we are not disappointed. Elder, Amy, and about 1500 of the Godspeed inhabitants have decided to travel to the surface of Centauri-Earth, in spite of the promised monsters and dire warnings of both Eldest and Orion. When they arrive, they also thaw out the 100 earthborn military and science officers who are earthborn and who are charged with the next phase of the mission. It turns out that Amy's father is the ranking military officer and her mother is the chief biological scientist. And of course there is conflict between the military and Elder of the shipborn. There is racism, there are control issues, there are secrets, and yes, there are monsters. Amy and Elder continue their sleuthing, trying to solve the final of Orion's clues, keep everyone (shipborn and earthborn and alien) safe, and make a home while they are at it. Again, Revis has created a book that is interesting in its own right, fits in with the universe she created, and continues to develop this world into an increasingly deep and rich place.

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