jueves, 26 de marzo de 2020

The Fog/The Rats by James Herbert

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

The Fog (1975)

I wanted to read an horror novel and I found this one. Although the writer is well known -and also the book is considered a classic-, I did not know James Herbert’s works before.

The fog is not an horror novel like the ones I used to know (Ahem! basically Stephen King’s books and some H.P. Lovecraft’s tales). I consider this book is also a disaster novel, like these seventies movies; and also a zombie war avant la lettre, and the main issue -the fog that transforms people- can be considered science fiction; in other words, it has a scientific justification.

In short, the book has a best seller-esque style and sometimes it captivates me absolutely... and I confess that sometimes not. To be highlighted, a lot of brutally and violent action scenes, some of those I consider very well written. However, it is possible that the novel suffers for being a classic written in the seveties: some developments of the plot, and some scenes too, nowadays we have seen them in a lot of horror movies.

So, reading the book, have I been scared, as expected in an horror novel? I think not, but it was a very entertaining reading. 

The Rats (1974)

After reading The Fog I was curious about The Rats, Mr. Herbert first novel and a success that made him instantly known; and when I saw it in the Kindle Flash discounts, I could not resist.

Despite its fame, as Neil Gaiman comments in the prologue, it is still a first work and and you can see it in some aspects, but the pace is good and the reading is very entertaining too.

I must note that the characters are well described. Somehow their behavior seems more like in a movie than in a novel, I think because the best-seller style of Mr. Herbert. It is interesting how the author describes (very well) de daily life of some London citizens as a resource to give realism to the novel, of course before becoming victims of the rats; although this can sometimes divert attention a bit from the main plot.

To highlight, the notably well constructed scenes of violence and gore when the rodents attack beggars, housewives, old people and even children, so nothing escapes from their voracity. As I commented about the previous James Herbert reading, I was not really scared from this horror/science fiction reading (as in Stephen King's stories, for example). However, the rats looks really ugly and repulsive creatures.

martes, 17 de marzo de 2020

Sky Coyote, The Company series #2, by Kage Baker

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

I did not know that time travel was so funny. This novel is the second in the time Company series and it has a less tragic tone than the previous one.

In this case, Joseph, accompanied by his unofficially adopted Mendoza, has the mission to save a tribe located in what will later become California from the white men invaders. For this, he must impersonate the native god Coyote Sky. The Chumash were an advanced tribe in their time, especially compared to other neighboring communities. They have -at least in this novel- an advanced social and mercantile structure, so at the first contact they doubt if Coyote Sky really exists. 

I must say that the description of the Chumash seems to me a bit inaccurate -they are a very, very “Californian” tribe- but in return they are so amusing: it helps the ingenious manners and dialogues of both the natives and the inmortal employees of the Company. About the latter, they deal with myths and religions with some irony, with the attitude of someone who has experienced similar situations on many previous occasions; and they have adapted very well to their job, knowing how to appreciate the luxuries of each century in which they work. 

This novel, in addition to the Chumash, opens up new intrigues about the Company and about those who rule its destiny in the future, and it delves into some characters; apart from Joseph and the embittered Mendoza, also with some interesting people from the Chumash. For me, the characters are the best part.

As a result of when the novel was written (published in 1999), it also offers a criticism comparing the Company's future personnel, all them political correctness and light/insipid food lovers, with the blatant appreciation for the pleasures of life of the immortal field agents, leading to comical situations.

I get the impression that the Time Company series, or at least this has been my impression of the first two novels, offers a science fiction intended to entertain but without forgetting a certain level of quality in the approaches and with a previous historical study of the places where the action takes place, so “in a future” I intend to read the next novel of the series, titled Mendoza in Hollywood.

viernes, 6 de marzo de 2020

Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, by Jonathan Straham (editor).

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

I received this book from Negalley in exchange for an honest review, so here we go:

Robots. A fascinating issue, but I must note in advance that half the stories - more or less- are about IA or artificial persons (by biologic, industrial and unknown procedures); that is, not as we understand the term, as a machine that operates with humanlike skills.

Briefly I review each of the stories:

A Guide for Working Breeds by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. The author repeats the style shown in the great Fandom for Robots, that is, a robot cyber-conversation. A curious mix with cybernetic IA logic and human imitation. For me it was difficult to understand all the argot. 

Test 4 Echo, by Peter Watts. In this tale he deals with a robot IA in the search for subaquatic life in Enceladus and about moral dilemmas. Typical of Mr. Watts, a story of disappointments that does not disappoint.

The Endless, by Saad Z. Hossain. An AI vengeance. The development is a bit tricky but it was a funny read:
Mi name is Suva. Like the airport, Suvarnabhumi. An odd name, you say? Because I am the airport, motherfucker.

Brother Rifle, by Daryl Gregory. A story about how an AI can help a marine do his work and then how the doctors with the aid of another one tries to redeem him. 

The Hurt Pattern, by Tony Onyebuchi. A police robot shot a thirteen year old black boy. Why? It is more complicated that it could seem. 

Idols, by Ken Liu. Idols wonders about the possibility that someone can construct a simulation of a persona based on all the feeds shared in the cloud (that is, social networks, media, works, etc.). This can be useful, for example, to interact with the deceased loved ones. A good story. Note: I read before about this captivating idea in a catalan written novel, El somriure d’un Eco by Jordi Gimeno.

Bigger Fish by Sarah Pinsker. The author of the excellent And Then There Were (N-One), shows here an asimovian crime story. Very good, one of the best in the book.

Sonnie's Union, by Peter F. Hamilton. A kind of chimera organic beings created for clandestine fighting.

Dancing with Death by John Chu. Planned obsolescence, but robots want to work, love… and ice-skating. Good. 

An Elephant Never Forgets, by Rich Larson. Bioengineered humans, Nexus 5 style. A person who does not remember anything wakes up in a kind of asylum...

The Translator, by Annalee Newitz. A future job: to translate IA messages to an understandable human language. By the author of Autonomous.

Sin Eater, by Ian McLeod. One of the best stories in the book. The last Pope and a robot. Amazing.

Fairy Tales for Robots, by Sofia Samatar. If you wanted to give humanity to a robot that is about to be born, how would you do it? Reading they fairy tales. A very well thought out story. 

Chiaroscuro in Red, by Suzanne Palmer. Very good! In a future, the rich do not own workers or slaves, they own robots. More robots, more wealth. Stewart is a short on money student who receives a second-hand robot as a birthday gift from his parents. What can the robot do for Stewart?. What can he do for the robot?

A glossary of Radicalization by Brooke Bolander. Artificial persons, cyberpunk & radical thinking. 

Overall it is a good anthology, although half of the stories are not strictly about robots, and neither strictly about revolution as indicated on the cover. However, in one way or another, the two issues are sufficiently addressed. For me, it was a good way to read about this fascinating topics and discover unknown authors (at least for me), and also to meet some of those I already know.

Thanks to Solaris and Netgalley for this book. It will be published on March 17.

viernes, 7 de febrero de 2020

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

This story has been told a lot of times. Usually there are two aspects in war stories. The good war, that is, just for the fun (fun for the reader of course); and the pacifist story that is the case of The Light Brigade. I love both types but in this case, simply this book is not for me.

So there is a future war, but apart for the means of transport, basically there are no future weapons and no future improvements to kill people (okay, I really should not complain about that).

About the military stuff, the story starts by the main character enlistment and the brutality of the training; and then to the war itself, but as I said before we have seen it in a lot of movies, particularly in the vietnamesque ones, and it is difficult to tell something really innovative here.

Awesome cover by Eve Ventrue
The other aspect of the novel is about an ultra-capitalist dystopian future. Well, we also know the criticisms about the excesses of capitalism today but curiously this part is a bit more entertaining that the war stuff.

The story is explained in the first person by the main character, the soldier Dietz. If you do that in a novel be aware that your main character has no inconsistencies, and Dietz has some... disorders (and she has some psychological disorders too). I mean that her narrative is not entirely coherent, even taking into account her evolution throughout the story. However, I understand that it is very difficult to do it in a complex plot like this one.

I admit that in half the reading I was totally disinterested of the story. I considered giving up but I think the book does not deserve this; it is not bad written, of course not. So I decided to read more and expect that the ending was better. And it was, I must say that at least the ending improves a bit the story and justifies -partially- this mess.

But the reading is hard. For example the constant Marine style chatter (F*ck this!, F*ck that!, f*ck everyone and everything!), or the repetitive mention of the soldier names from every platoon is both tiresome and confusing: Dietz!, Saldana!, Landon!, Prakash!, Ortega!, Tanaka!, Jones!, KOWALSKI! and a lot more. About the last one you must visit TV Tropes and read the post Why so many Kowalski-s? (LOL). In any case, my advice is not to read the book after dinner.

Also there is the abuse of lapidary phrases and rhetorical questions: Because they were going to lose the war. Everyone loses in war. or The brass was full of ideas. Aren’t they always?. If the author wants the reader to be depressed of war she is successful but not in the way she intends to do.

So, despite the good reviews of The Light Brigade I can not blame myself if I find it boring. I understand that the plot development proposed by the Kameron Hurley is very difficult to achieve; but it was not me, it was the book! I also think that with a third less pages the story would work better.

domingo, 26 de enero de 2020

The City Among the Stars, by Francis Carsac

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

A classic of science fiction? Good! An unknown science fiction author, and French? Very good! I admit that before I downloaded it I looked for the original French edition -Pour patrie, l’espace-, but I did not find it (at least in ebook), so there is my honest review from the forthcoming English edition, for which I must thank both Netgalley and Flame Tree Press.

As the cover points out, this is the first edition in English of the classic French science fiction novel published in 1962. However, Francis Carsac’s novels were very popular in the USSR, and he has also two translated into Spanish. Francis Carsac was the pseudonym of François Bordes (1919-1981), known as a prestigious prehistorian, with numerously bibliography for his Paleolithic studies.

At first it surprises me that this novel is a happy precedent of Culture starships by the missed Iain M. Banks. There are people who want to live in space, in enormous city-state spaceships and not with the contemptuously called planetaries. There is also a decadent Terran empire, in the form of a dictatorial aristocracy vs. a sort of space technological anarchism. About the latter, apparently an utopia then, but soon we will realize that there is no perfect human society. But I will not talk about the plot, if you want you can read the synopsis provided by the publisher.

Of course, for a novel written in 1962 some issues are expected. The style of writing science fiction from nearly sixty years ago has changed, for example the pace is slower. Also some didactic and a bit silly explanations, mixed with the author own philosophical ideas (Confess, reader!, if you were a writer, will you resist the temptation to explain your own ideas in your novel?).

On the other hand, habitually we must accept the way that the women are disregarded in classic science fiction. If not, we would not read none of them. This book is not a exception, but the women have a curious role: in some way they are important for the story, but mostly as a sentimental counterparts of the hero. In this utopian spatial society they are imagined as independent and capable, for example as technicians or soldiers (In France times were changing, six years before May 68) but her role in the story is mainly as partners of the protagonist. So there is plenty of flirting issues in this novel between the hero and... three women!, and it includes a ridiculous catfight. I must add also that the protagonist warrior ego is a bit tiresome.

For all this I get the impression that the author facet as a science fiction writer is mostly due to entertainment. The novel contains spaceships, intersolar empires, space battles, terrific aliens, adventure and a lot of flirting… In other words, this is pure space opera! It is difficult to translate the French title, but it means something like My Country, the Space. Does it remind you of another very influential novel, written a few years before?

I must add that the novel has some minor plot nonsenses -even for being a space opera-, and also some illogical style problems, but I have to keep in mind that this is an evaluation copy and that it needs a final correction before its publication on May 21. In the marketing aspect, in my opinion the cover is more than right, it shows the beginning of the story with the hero marooned in space.

Finally, can I recommend this novel? Of course if you love classics like I do. By classics I mean pre-cyberpunk or better, pre-New Wave literature. Also to space opera lovers, the book has an interesting and different -or eccentric- way to tell a science fiction story.

domingo, 19 de enero de 2020

Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology by Adrienne Mayor

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

Briefly, Adrienne Mayor's book intends to make a comparison between the ancient myths -mostly greek and roman- and our modern science fiction dreams.

As I said, the book is just a comparison, it does not explain a cause effect or an influence between classical myths and contemporary science fiction stories. It is clear that the author is an expert in classical stories but not an expert in the science fiction genre. However she is well informed and the comparisons are clever; and, above all, the myths and classic legends about made, not born creatures, or about automata, enhanced powers, etc., especially in the Greco-Roman antiquity, are so fascinating that by themselves they captivate us as much or more than any good science fiction novel.

A brief example of the content. There is a chapter that deals with the myths about human improved powers, by pharmaka or biotechne (or also by life through craft, for example, Daedalus), or the one that deals with mechanical automatons like Talos, the giant warrior protector of Crete in the Minoic era. 

Talos, from Jason and the Argonauts movie (1963).
Can I recommend this book for the science fiction readers? Really I do not know, particularly when she cites the sources of each case the book becomes repetitive (after all, it is an academic book), but on the other hand the subject matter of the ancient fantastic myths is very interesting. So, you must decide for yourselves.

domingo, 5 de enero de 2020

Sea Change, by Nancy Kress.

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

I receive this book from Netgalley in exchange for a honest review, so here we go:

Sea Change in one phrase: In a near future, Renata Black is an illegal activist who fights for her cause despite her own personal circumstances.

I could seem that the author’s personal life is involved in the story. Well, all the authors do this to a greater or lesser degree. In this novel -narrated in first person- you can notice this in the personal issues dealt: divorce, the loss of the loved ones, the stubbornness of not giving up… But in second thought I think that this explanation is better: Renata Black is a very well developed character.

So, the novel can be understood as a good picture of the future quotidian life in the USA after a catastrophic event and I think this is a positive aspect. However, I do no like it. Why? I am not sure, maybe it is about the proportion of personal life/science fiction in the story. In both ways it's interesting, I do not deny this, but together, for me at least, it doesn't work completely.

On the other hand, although at a first glance the main premise of the book may look a bit absurd -there are a lot of stupid things in our world, and they exist and they rule our lives-, actually this is the best part of the book, the issues in which Nancy Kress excels. I mean her accurate hard future speculation due both to her scientific knowledge and her incisive imagination. These are some of the topics dealt: genetic modified organisms vs. natural crops, the danger about a genetic engineering in capitalism, irreversibility of climate change and how to deal with it, power abuse vs. civil society activism and the enemies of liberty (fear, ignorance & fanaticism).

Finally I must note a good aspect and two complaints about this novel. About the former, the absence of bloodshed: violence is not necessary to explain a good story. On the latter: Nancy Kress plays the deus ex machina card in the usual computer hacking way and second (a minor one), the USAcentric perspective, but I understand that this is a lot to explain in a short novel.

You can read another review about this author here.