Machine, Jennifer Pelland
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m still not quite sure what to say. Machine is a powerful exploration of body dysphoria, set in a world where your consciousness can be downloaded into a medical android body replacement, while your human body is cryo-frozen to prevent the progression of disease. It reflects on body dysphoria in general, of course, and it’s pretty inconclusive about the answer — should you modify, should you learn to live with it, how will people around you react…
There are parts of this which are frankly disturbing — the erotica parts didn’t interest me, obviously, but I actually found them actively discomforting even to skim past. That’s 100% intentional, and that’s obvious, so that’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just something you might want to bear in mind if you find the book interesting.
I found it difficult to believe in the central couple, whose separation sparks the whole plot. Rivka doesn’t seem like a great person, if she couldn’t even tell her wife that she wasn’t happy with the medical replacement body before she went through the whole procedure. Character-wise, no one really shines — even the main character’s closest friend and people who are sympathetic to her do stupid things which out her to the world (which is fairly anti-robot), things which I wouldn’t tolerate in a friend even in the less fraught environment nowadays for queer people.
It was interesting and powerful, but not something I was willingly emotionally involved in, or emotionally involved in for the reasons I’d usually enjoy. The ending… it was what I wanted, in a sense, but it felt like a cop-out as well. Consequences-be-gone.
Star-shot, Mary-Ann Constantin
Star-shot is… weird. Fascinating, though. The first section, for example, features a woman in love with a building. And right across Cardiff, in the places I know so well, a strange silence is descending — you can lean into it, and the world goes silent and cold; lean back out, and you’re back to reality.
The novel follows various characters whose lives intertwine, as they eventually come together to solve the problem as best they can, and help each other along the way. Connection and communication is a big theme, obviously.
It’s hard to describe exactly what goes on; each storyline blurs into the next, and you can’t always tell which character a section is following at first. That’s very intentional, though; same as the way the speech blurs into the narration, because there’s no speech marks. (Worry not, though, there’s other punctuation.)
There’s some really gorgeous bits here, crisp writing, etc. Not quite my thing, in the end, but still a worthwhile read.
Good morning, folks! Today I’m off to Amsterdam with my wife to celebrate our paper wedding anniversary in bookshops. Hurrah! To celebrate the one-year anniversary of our wedding (and the 12th anniversary of being together), here are a couple of our wedding pics! Click to embiggen, if you’re so inclined.
And now, back to books.
I needed Caliban’s War for a book club read, and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived was on sale on the Kindle store for 99p!
Received to review:
A lucky week, though I’m still sad I didn’t get approved for Provenance or Into the Drowning Deep on Edelweiss!
Books read this week:
Reviews posted this week:
–Unnatural, by Philip Ball. This is billed as popular science, but honestly it’s as much lit-crit as it is science. Interesting topic, of course, but… 3/5 stars
–Nova, by Samuel R. Delany. I wasn’t as big a fan as I hoped I was going to be. I feel like a bad SF fan. 3/5 stars
–Personality, by Daniel Nettle. Landmark science this is not, but it is interesting enough. 3/5 stars
–Reality 36, Guy Haley. Not characters I want to hang out with. 1/5 stars
–Caesar’s Last Breath, by Sam Kean. Not as entertaining as his book on neurology, but still interesting. 3/5 stars
–Killing is My Business, by Adam Christopher. Another entertaining entry in this series — and I want to know where it’s going next! 4/5 stars
–Genomes and What To Make of Them, by Barry Barnes and John Dupré. Somewhat out of date now, and probably not worth picking up. 2/5 stars
–Top Ten Tuesday: Bookshops I Have Loved. More or less as you’d expect, though you might not expect that bookshops in Dublin, Ireland and Calgary, Canada are on the same list…
–WWW Wednesday. This week’s update on what I’m reading.
Genomes and What To Make of Them, Barry Barnes, John Dupré
This book is from 2008, so in terms of the science and its impact on the world, it’s a bit behind the times. It’s still a good primer on how the world was changing from a fairly monolithic view on genes to an understanding of the whole genome, “junk” DNA included, and it covers some worthwhile discussions. I found it a bit dry and pedantic at times, though it doesn’t help that the science was well below the level I understand now.
It’s most worth it when it focuses on the implications of the new genomics and the technologies involved. But I might be inclined to say skip it and look for something more modern if you’re not super interested.
Killing Is My Business, Adam Christopher
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 25th July 2017
I’ve enjoyed the other books and stories in this series a lot, and this is no exception. Take a Raymond Chandler-esque world, and apply one robot trained as a PI who has been somewhat repurposed as an assassin. Add the complication that he runs on limited tapes of memory — 24 hours at a time, no more storage than that. Add his AI handler, Ada, who very clearly has her own agenda — one which doesn’t always align with what their creators envisioned for them.
And, in this book, add the mafia.
I started it when I couldn’t sleep, and finished it an hour and a half later, without stopping once. Adam Christopher writes crisply, precisely; there’s no dead patches where you feel like you can put the book down, because if you did, well; something interesting might happen while you aren’t looking. I love the way Christopher uses Ray’s limitations to create parts of the mystery. This isn’t just a book with a detective/assassin who happens to be a robot; the fact that Ray’s a robot is vital to the whole thing.
Raymond Chandler’s probably rolling in his grave at the comparison, given he had no great opinion of sci-fi, but I’m not going to worry too much about giving him an unquiet rest.
Caesar’s Last Breath, Sam Kean
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 18th July
Sam Kean is an entertaining pop science writer in general, and though this isn’t as perfectly up my street as The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons, it’s still fascinating and very readable. It starts by reminding us that we’re breathing the same air as everyone who has ever lived — including Caesar, hence the title — and that there’s a high chance we’re breathing in some of the same molecules that bounced around their lungs. Then it goes on to talking about the foundation of Earth’s atmosphere, the power of gases and the road humans took to discovering that, and finishes with a look at how life affects its environment — of course, the changes in the composition of our atmosphere that we cause, but also how we might spot other species on other planets doing the same.
As you can see, that’s a lot of ground to cover, and Kean manages to string everything together into a pretty logical narrative. The longer chapters are leavened by interludes covering events that illustrate some part of what’s under discussion, like using hot gases to cut into a bank vault…
Overall, entertaining and interesting, especially given that Earth sciences and the study of our atmosphere has never been a great interest of mine.
Reality 36, Guy Haley
Many, many moons ago, I think this is one of the books I got free from Angry Robot when I visited them as a contest winner. But I’d been meaning to read it before that; I love the idea of cyberpunk and virtual realities, love messing around with the idea of AIs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this too well; first off, it felt unfocused because it took so long to figure out who the protagonists are. Okay, you get Richards in the two-page prologue, but then not again until fifty pages later. Veronique might be cool, and feels at first like a potential protagonist, but it’s clearly meant to be Richards and Klein — given the book’s called a Richards & Klein investigation.
I got a little further in and wasn’t a fan of Otto at all; he’s brutal, makes homophobic jokes about rape (there’s a whole scene with him taunting someone he sent to prison about how he must’ve been raped there, seriously), resorts to torture, etc. Just… not the sort of character I enjoy spending time with. So I skimmed from that point on, and didn’t really find anything that hooked me back in. The story very obviously continues in Omega Point, but I’m not interested enough in reading it. I get that a lot of the unpleasant stuff is part of the genres Haley’s playing with, but… it’s not the good stuff about those genres.
Disappointing, especially as I came back to this to give it a second chance after enjoying The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished the book I was reading earlier, so now the only book actively on the go is Guy de la Bedoyere’s The Real Lives of Roman Britain, which I’ve really only just started. Oh, and I’m still partway through rereading Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Other than that, there’s a bunch of books sat around with bookmarks in, but I haven’t touched them in, uhhh… too long. Oops.
What have you recently finished reading?
The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley. It was a lot of fun — yay, archaeology-based stories! Yay, romantic Scotsmen! Yay, friendly ghosts! Once upon a time I’d have described Kearsley’s books as a guilty pleasure, but stuff that. I like reading romance sometimes, apparently. (I do need recs for other stuff like Susanna Kearsley, Jane Aiken Hodge, Mary Stewart… Do feel free to indulge me, if you know of anything that might suit.)
Before that, I finished James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. Whoa. I need to sit down and collect my thoughts on that.
What will you read next?
I’m planning to try Lucy Hounsom’s Starborn, to see if I want to request the sequel on Netgalley. I think I’ll start on Caliban’s War, the sequel to Leviathan Wakes, pretty soon as well. So much reading to do. So little time. I should also get back to Assassin’s Apprentice and the sequels, and maybe finish up The Essex Serpent.
What are you reading?
Personality, Daniel Nettle
I don’t quite see why this is part of the Oxford Landmark Science range. To me, it’s a relatively low level analysis of the factors that go into personality, much of which I’ve read elsewhere in other popular science books which aren’t so tightly focused. It’s not that it’s a bad book, or uninteresting; there are some things I didn’t know, and it’s interesting to see how Nettle explores the two sides to each of the main personality factors identified — the downside to being extroverted, for example, and the downside to ‘openness to experience’.
Still, none of it is revelatory, and he doesn’t spare much time for the criticisms of the whole idea of studying people’s personalities as if they’re a real thing you can test and measure. His conclusion is basically that of course you can, because you can obtain consistent data that falls into particular trends. I don’t think I disagree, but I’m sure there are more criticisms.
It’s an easy enough read, surprisingly light even for pop-sci.
There’s still no official theme from The Broke and the Bookish, so this TTT is again of my own devising. This time I’m going to look at bookshops I have loved!
- Waterstones (Wakefield). I’ve had plenty of nice chats with the people working there, and some of the same people still work there from when I was a kid. They’ve held some great events — I attended a talk by Robin Hobb back when Fool’s Fate came out, for example — and though the shop is a little small for my tastes, the SF/F section has typically been good enough that I can find what I want.
- Waterstones (Manchester). One of the biggest bookshops in the north of England, I think? Nice little cafe, and so many books. And they have baskets you can grab at convenient intervals, which is useful because I’ve never got out of there without needing a shopping basket. A really great non-fic selection as well as a good amount of SF/F.
- Paramount Books (Manchester). When I last went, it was still tiny and inaccessible for someone in a wheelchair or possibly even on crutches, but it was a great place to browse, with all kinds of second hand books.
- Hatchard’s St Pancras (London). I’m not a huge fan of their fiction section, which isn’t divided up into genres. They have some SF/F books, but it’s not always easy to pick them out. I love how convenient it is to drop in on my way to or from the Eurostar, though, and their non-fiction section has pretty much always been worth the browsing.
- Forbidden Planet (London). Signed books, American books, new releases… I’m not sure what I haven’t been able to find there. And even though it’s Forbidden Planet, I don’t just mean comics. They have a great selection of SF/F books, and I’ve seen some really good bargains there as well.
- Wellfield Bookshop (Cardiff). It might be small, but I always felt at home there and perfectly welcome to browse. They’re very helpful and would always offer to order in anything I wanted.
- Sterling Books (Brussels). They’ve moved to a smaller location, which is a crime as far as I’m concerned, but they still have a reasonably good selection of English books, both fiction and non-fiction. Also, free bookmarks!
- Chapters (Dublin). New and used books, and tons of them. The staff weren’t the friendliest, but the selection more than made up for it.
- Fair’s Fair (Calgary). They have a couple of stores, and nearly all of them contained some delights for me. Seriously recommended, if you’re in Calgary.
- Troutmark Books (Cardiff). A treasure trove to me when I was a student — and apparently served my grampy with bags of books before me. It’s conveniently in the centre of Cardiff, and too many people miss it because it’s tucked away in one of the arcades. Well worth going to — great selection and great pricing.
That’s not all of the bookshops I’ve ever loved, of course, but I thought I’d share a little bit of the joy!