Review – The Complete Robot

Posted 29 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Complete Robot by Isaac AsimovThe Complete Robot, Isaac Asimov

I’ve always liked Asimov’s work — one of my favourites has always been the expanded version of one of the short stories in this volume, The Positronic Man — and so this was a nice familiar read for me. I’ve read some of the stories, while some were less familiar, but it is a bit like comfort eating: with Asimov, I know exactly what I’m getting. It’d be a bit much to start here with Asimov, I think, and read all the short stories start to finish. I’d pick a smaller collection, rather than a collected one. But if you’re a fan of Asimov’s robot stories, then this is definitely worth picking up — there’re some in here I wasn’t really aware of.

I think what’s really great about these stories is that Asimov set up some rules, and then he bent them until they became almost meaningless within the constraints of the story. You can program a robot to never harm a human being, but if it decides you are not a human being, that rule no longer applies. Who is the judge of humanness? Or the stories where the hierarchy of rules fights against itself, with a robot trapped between compulsions. I love the way Asimov explored that. He didn’t just come up with a clever idea and then write robots you could sympathise with all the way; he liked stories that sympathised with robots, and he also saw how our society would really react to robots, and he got to work and told us stories that fit with what he saw.

I find it hard to talk about character or anything in Asimov’s stories, about not portraying women properly, etc, because I don’t think he portrays anything truly except robots. That’s what he was interested in, and that’s what he achieved. I can understand not liking them for that reason, but to me as a reader, it’s irrelevant.

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Review – The Broken Land

Posted 28 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Broken Land by Ian McDonaldThe Broken Land, Ian McDonald

I’ve had a review copy of this for ages. I was slightly put off by negative/ambivalent reviews, but this ended up being really, really fascinating. I’m a little taken aback by the fact that people see Israel/Palestine here and not Catholics/Protestants in Northern Ireland — I mean, come on: the language thing, read Translations by Brian Friel, and Confessors vs. Proclaimers… The language thing especially got to me, because you know, I’m Welsh and I live in Wales and yes, half the place named are bastardised into English, and there was the whole issue of the Welsh Not and the Treachery of the Blue Books and… so many of the issues spoke to me.

Others, of course, do speak to other conflicts, to other people’s; to discrimination anywhere and everywhere. It’s not purely about Ireland or Israel or anywhere: it’s about a land, any land, splitting itself in half. And maybe, maybe, coming together again afterwards.

The writing style is different — more reported speech than direct speech, a narrator that’s liquid and loose, more like a thought than a sentence spoken aloud. The world is fascinating, some of the characters really intrigued me, but somehow it was that liquidity, that flow, that really made the story fly by for me. It’s easier if you just immerse yourself in it and go go go; harder if you try to overthink it. It’s a dizzingly different world, and yet so much the same.

In other words, I was completely hooked and must read more Ian McDonald books.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Humans Who Went Extinct

Posted 28 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Humans Who Went Extinct by Clive FinlaysonThe Humans Who Went Extinct, Clive Finlayson

Basically a book that criticises making concrete judgements on the little data we have available, and then makes some of his own, which is kind of how a lot of this works, so no surprise there. On the technical side, I found his style off-putting: it seems to suggest an intentionality and directionality to evolution that does not exist.

Overall, the basic thesis is interesting: that climate and chance drove human evolution, and determined which branches of the evolutionary tree survived. That’s accepted when it comes to other animals, but in humans we do tend to make arguments about Neanderthals being stupider than humans, etc. And yet, put me in the environment the Neanderthals thrived in, and I’d have a lot of trouble, too — and here I am with bits of paper I can show you to prove my intelligence by our standards.

I did find some things funny, like Finlayson’s self-righteous little comment about people in their comfort zones pretending to care about people in less fortunate conditions and doing nothing. He’s writing for Oxford University Press — that glass house he’s sitting in is very conspicuous.

(Probably this irritation is somewhat prompted by the fact that I am one of those people in my comfort zone. On the other hand, I tithe a portion of my income to various charities, and give up significant chunks of my free time to charity work. I don’t think Finlayson’s research does as much good for the human condition, in the grand scheme of things. For all I know he donates all the proceeds of this book to charity, but still, he also flies all over the world doing his research and spends his time writing books like this. There’s a place for that, but you’d probably best not be making disparaging comments about your likely readers while you’re sat in that place.)

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Review – Gulp

Posted 28 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Gulp by Mary RoachGulp, Mary Roach

Gulp is definitely light, popular science, with an abundance of footnotes, irreverent comments, and some interesting facts/experiences. I wasn’t grossed out by it, since I can be fairly clinical, and rolled my eyes at some of the humour aimed at being gross; mostly it was an interesting read, certainly a quick one. It’s accessible, no matter what level your knowledge of biology is at, mostly dealing with the various topics in an anecdotal way.

I liked reading it, but now I have and look back, I think it dragged a little. Part of that’s doubtless my sense of humour, which is defective and needs to be returned for a refund. Part of that is the endlessly anecdotal nature of it. I’ve reserved another of Roach’s books from the library, but I wouldn’t buy it for myself; I do have a friend who I think would find this quite interesting.

Also, will people please quit hurrhurrhurring at the idea of faecal transplants? I’m sure it’s all very well to laugh at it from a distance, but a) it’s reinforcing the stigma about diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis which really are not funny, and b) I have high hopes that they will actually find a way to cure or at least greatly alleviate inflammatory bowel diseases as a result of studies into this kind of thing. Several close friends have IBDs, and I cannot wait for the day they can quit feeling that shame/disgust.

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Review – The Wizard’s Promise

Posted 27 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Wizard's Promise by Cassandra Rose ClarkeThe Wizard’s Promise, Cassandra Rose Clarke

I like Cassandra Rose Clarke a lot, and although her YA books aren’t as good (to my mind, anyway) as The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, they’re enjoyable. She creates interesting worlds that aren’t your typical run of the mill fantasy worlds, with female characters at the centre who aren’t limited in any way by silly sexism carried over from our world. We get several female characters, of varying importance, who do the same sorts of things as the men of their world, which is refreshing.

Some of the comments about the slowness of this plot are kinda justified, I think. It’s just awkward when your plot depends on a major character basically kidnapping another and sweeping them off into lands unknown and a fair amount of danger, without telling them anything about it. It’s hard for me to sympathise with Kolur, on those grounds, and Hanna’s entirely right to be pissed about the way he swept her off and his motives for doing so, to my mind. It’s not even entirely clear why he kept Hanna on board instead of just finding a way to send her home.

Isolfr is an interesting character in terms of what he is, but we don’t really see enough of him yet. I’ll be interested to see how he develops in the next book. I was actually a bigger fan of the husband and wife couple, Finnur and Asbera: they were good friends, understanding and accepting, and they had a strength and sweetness together that seemed entirely natural.

Overall, I enjoyed this, and will definitely read the second one when it’s available. And I, uh, need to catch up and read The Pirate’s Wish, ASAP.

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Readathon: Hour 16 Mini Challenge

Posted 27 April, 2014 by Nikki in Giveaways / 63 Comments

Hey everyone, and welcome to the hour 16 mini challenge! I hosted one last time before I had this blog, and now I’ve got a permanent bookish home it’s great to welcome you all back. Last time we had a guessing game, but this time I thought I’d do something a bit more interactive to give you all a bit more of a change from reading.

It’s pretty simple:

  1. Turn to page 35 in your current read.
  2. Find sentence #3.
  3. That’s the first sentence of a little piece of writing! It doesn’t matter if that’s a short story, a poem, the introduction to something bigger… anything creative counts. Bonus points if you make it a totally different genre to your original read!
  4. Leave the piece of writing in a comment here, or link to it in the comments here.
  5. I’ll pick someone at random to pick a book up to £10 in value from The Book Depository. So make sure you leave your email for me so I can get in contact with you, or you won’t be able to pick your book!

So, for example, I’ll just grab the closest book… The Bone Season (Samantha Shannon). And the sentence is: “I realised with a start that I was naked.” So here’s my little piece of writing:

I realised with a start that I was naked. That was the first thing — the fact that I was naked under the light sheet, and the quality of the light was somehow different to my own room back at home. I could hear someone moving around, careful and quiet. My chest tightened a little, and I turned my face further into the pillow, feigning a sleepy mutter.

“I know you’re awake,” he said. I knew his voice.

“Sam?”

“It’s me, sunshine.”

It was, too. It was his voice, and his nickname for me. The only trouble was, Sam had been dead three years. I didn’t open my eyes, just burrowed deeper into the pillow, trying to figure things out. He was waiting, just standing there, waiting for me to say something. If I hadn’t said anything… But hindsight, you know what they say about that. “Why are you here?”

He came across the room, and a cold hand touched my shoulder. “I’m here for you.”

Which takes a sentence completely out of context from a fantasy book I haven’t yet read and turns it into what is the beginning, or maybe the entirety, of a horror story.

So hey, whatever your writing skills, give it a go! It’ll give your brain a nice change from all the reading. This challenge will run for five hours, to give everyone a good chance to join in. I hope the rest of the ‘thon treats you well!

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Readathon Progress Post

Posted 26 April, 2014 by Nikki in General / 28 Comments

The 24 Hour Readathon starts in an hour, and the opening meme is already up, so it seems like a good time to do my first post. I’m still working for now, up until the readathon actually starts, but once it begins I’ll be diving straight in. Read More

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 26 April, 2014 by Nikki in General / 24 Comments

I haven’t bought anything this week! But I have been to the library and been approved on Netgalley for a book I’m particularly excited about, so there’s that. So, as usual, here’s my post for Tynga’s Reviews‘ Stacking the Shelves. Do go and check that out and see what other people have been up to — it’s fun just to browse people’s acquisitions.

Library

Cover of Uncanny X-force: Let It Bleed Cover of Green Lantern Corps: Fearsome Cover of Half Past Human by TJ Bass Cover of The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb Cover of A Kingdom by James Hanley

Review copies

Cover of The Buried Life by Carrie Patel Cover of Defending the City of God by Sharan Newman Cover of The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick Cover of The Blasted Lands by James A. Moore

I’m particularly excited about The Buried Life because I was in the acquisitions meeting for it, way back when I won the Robot for a Day competition. I’m really excited to read all of it, and to see how the finished product has turned out.

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Review – Among Others

Posted 25 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others, Jo Walton

I’ve reviewed this before, at great length. Rereading it was interesting, though, both because Jo Walton shares a lot of my thoughts on rereading (see her book What Makes This Book So Great, which is a collection of essays), and because it’s not the kind of book that is changed by knowing the ending, because it’s not a book with a climactic scene, really. There is one, but ultimately that’s not as important as the whole process of the book: Mori learning to live without her sister, learning to grow and find her place. I said in my original review that it’s set after the real climax of the story, and that still seems fair to say. We don’t even learn about exactly what the big events were, because what’s interesting about Among Others is watching Mori live with it.

I still feel quite personally close to this book. Mori’s general style reminds me of myself at the same age, though I was a 2000 version rather than a 1970s, so my journal was online and I had a bit of an audience, but the similarities are still there. This time I noticed the differences more — Mori’s physical disability, the fact that she was at a boarding school, the fact that she had a twin and I never did, etc — but I still felt that kinship with her, her imagination, love of books and her Welshness. Definitely not least because I still inhale books like Mori, and have a self-professed love affair with libraries. They don’t seem to make the interlibrary loan system as apparent these days, but it’s worth chasing up a little, because it might just surprise you.

Anyway, in many ways it isn’t just the big things I identify with Mori on. It’s little details. It’s when she talks about not giving anything away, because it can be used against her. When she befriends other misfits. When books are more interesting to her than the things people are doing around her. Little mistakes that she makes because she reads more than she interacts with people, like thinking “Jr” is a name in itself and pronounced “Jirr” (don’t get my mother started on this subject, please). It’s the exact same reaction to people claiming something is a “successor to Tolkien” or “as good as Tolkien”!

All in all, I loved rereading this. It made me smile, sometimes laugh; sometimes it made me shake my head at teens and Mori and myself at that age (and even, really, myself now). One of the best moments was coming to one of Mori’s entries about riding the train into Wales, rereading a book, as I was riding a train into Wales rereading Among Others. Delightfully meta.

And I still think What Makes This Book So Great makes a very good companion read to get into all sorts of classic fantasy and SF.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 24 April, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
I reread Among Others (Jo Walton) on the train today, which was fun because when I got to the bits about reading on trains it felt terribly meta. It ended too soon, and I still feel completely gushy about this book, and I love the way it’s put together and, and, and. You get the general gist. Also nice being sat on a train into Wales at the same point as I’m reading about the main character being on a train into Wales.

When I got back, I just read a Superman comic I need to return to the library, uh, today. By which I mean I shall have a tiny fine to pay in the morning. It’s okay, but I don’t think I’m really ever going to be much of a DC fan. Gail Simone’s Batgirl is the only one I get really enthusiastic about.

What are you currently reading?
The Broken Land (Ian McDonald). I thought I’d be able to finish it today, on the train, but people on the last leg of the trip were very loud. I am wondering why I was so hesitant to start on Ian McDonald, and why people keep saying his work is ‘difficult’, but while it’s different in some ways (the narrative style isn’t always straightforward, there’s more reported than direct speech, he’s representing non-verbal communication a lot), I don’t find that challenging. Just interesting!

What do you think you’ll read next?
Do you guys believe a word I say here? I can tell you that what I’ll dip into before I go to bed tonight is Gulp (Mary Roach), but beyond that, you may even have a better idea than I do. Half a King (Joe Abercrombie) is definitely coming up soon, after I read a review from someone I trust about it being very enthusiastic, but otherwise, it beats me.

(It strikes me that I could make a sort of lottery out of guessing what book I’ll actually read next. Or a raffle. It really would be very random.)

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