Tag: book reviews


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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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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Review – Superman: What Price Tomorrow?

Posted 23 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of DC's Superman: What Price Tomorrow?Superman: What Price Tomorrow?, George Pérez, Jesus Merino, Nicola Scott

This wasn’t as bad as I expected from the general trend of reviews on Goodreads. I don’t think I’m really a fan of DC’s stuff in general, though. I mean, I remember Superman in bright colours, as wholesome as Marvel’s Captain America, but here it’s all dark and broody. Maybe part of the problem is that I never read the comics before, but was a devotee of the tv series. No, not Smallville — Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman!

Anyway, this was… okay. I liked the redesign of Superman’s costume which keeps the important aspects of his iconic image and tweaks things we could do without (the underwear on the outside of his costume thing). I didn’t feel strongly about the art either way, though I did feel that the criticisms of the number of panels and cluttered pages are pretty valid.

The story is okay, but like I said, there’s a lot of dark and broody here, which I thought was more Batman’s line. There’s some stuff intended to make it relevant and modern, like the Daily Planet’s way of dealing with the move to digital media, but all in all, I don’t know how that works. In my head, the Daily Planet smells of paper and ink, and Metropolis never really joins the digital age.

So the only New 52 titles I’ve really been interested in following are Batgirl and Batwoman. Hmm.

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Review – House of M

Posted 21 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of House of M by Brian Michael Bendis.House of M, Brian Michael Bendis

House of M actually seems a bit old hat, coming to it after I’ve already read other crossover events and the aftermath of House of M, The Children’s Crusade. I’m trying to fit it together with some of the other comics I’ve read, and I’m a little unsure — Wanda’s children, how do they end up being Billy and Tommy from Young Avengers? When does that happen? That’s not really explained to my satisfaction anywhere in the story.

Did like the cast here, though it feels a little crowded. Spider-man gets some good lines, and I love that Ms. Marvel’s pretty important in this world. I’m not a big fan of Wolverine, and I don’t know much about Emma Frost, so their prominence wasn’t especially helpful for me.

All in all, it felt frenetic, more than a little crowded. I didn’t need background from other comics for it, but it felt like I would’ve liked it: so many people were referred to glancingly, and I know so little about them, or what I know is from Ultimates, or…

Anyway, it’s fun, but not an essential, I think.

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Review – The Holders

Posted 17 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Holders by Julianna ScottThe Holders, Julianna Scott

I love the ideas behind a lot of Strange Chemistry books, but when I get round to reading them, it ends up feeling like there’s something missing. Maybe it’s just that while I enjoy some YA, I tend to be picky, and maybe more critical of it. On the other hand, I do love other Strange Chemistry books fairly uncritically, so I don’t know. I mean, on the surface this is right up my alley: female protagonist, Irish setting, comparisons to the basic ideas behind X-Men, family bonds and conflicts… But somehow I never really got hooked.

There are some really great reviews out there for this book, and I’m somewhat inclined to write off my reaction to crankiness or bad timing, and maybe put it aside for later. Given the enormous length of my reading list, and how bad my current ratio is on Netgalley, I can’t justify reading the second book when I didn’t really enjoy this one. It’s not even that there was anything particularly bad about it — I’m not a fan of the destined love type trope, and I didn’t get super invested in the characters, but this isn’t a review to say this book is bad. Maybe ultimately just “not for me”.

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Review – Maus

Posted 16 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Maus, by Art SpiegelmanMaus, Art Spiegelman

It’s hard to figure out how to rate or review this. I mean, do you rate it as art? As a story? Or as non-fiction? As something in between, that nonetheless tries to express the truth? I quite liked Spiegelman’s style: the panels were maybe a little too busy at times, but the drawings had character and life.

More importantly, I think in writing his father’s story, Art Spiegelman managed to capture something we can be prone to forget: the Jews were not necessarily all nice people, all innocent victims and young girls like Anne Frank. There were greedy Jews, Jews who survived because they were quick-thinking and put themselves first, Jews with horrible opinions and so on. Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek isn’t a pleasant character in many ways, but what he goes through and the finer aspects of him show us that it doesn’t matter what kind of people the Jews who suffered and died were, they didn’t deserve Auschwitz and Dachau and all the other concentration camps. We don’t need an idealised innocent young girl to know what happened for the horror it was — that might make it easier on us, but to me it’s equally important to remember collaborators and cowards, the everyman and the rich banker and even the ones who stole each others’ food or lorded it over them to survive. Half of those horrors were created by the conditions anyway.

Which is to say… there were no perfect people. It’s a mistake to forget that, to forget that we’re still talking about humans all their messy glory. Maus reminds us pretty firmly that horrific things can happen to people who aren’t that nice themselves, and remain horrific.

So all in all, I don’t know that I like it much, but it’s one of those things where I have to consider the work that went into it and what it says, what it does, more than my personal enjoyment or not.

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