Review – The Martian Chronicles

Posted December 2, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 13 Comments

Cover of The Martian Chronicles, by Ray BradburyThe Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Another one read for my Coursera SF/F class. As usual when I’ve just finished a book, I have no idea what I’m going to write my essay about, but I have one day left to figure it out…

The thing that interests me most, I guess, is that Mars colonises the colonisers. In different ways in different vignettes, but it’s there — particularly in that last chapter/section. In a sense it feels like a recent book: the commentary on the spoiling of the world, and on colonisation; in others it feels so dated — the treatment of people of colour, women, the obsession with nuclear war (which is still an issue, but not the same kind of deep-seated fear, I think)…

The science itself (how long it might take to fly to Mars, being the obvious example) isn’t really important to the story/themes: it’s there as a backdrop, not at all used in the way H.G. Wells used science.

As with most of Bradbury’s work which I’ve come across so far, there are some gorgeous sections of prose here, and it’s all very well crafted and easy to read, as you’d expect.

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Carrie Patel

Posted November 28, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Today Angry Robot announced a new acquisition — a new author, even. Today they’re giving a big welcome to Carrie Patel, which is extra-special to me too because I finally — finally! — get to tell you a bit more about the acquisitions meeting I went to, i.e., the name of the author we acquired. And pssst, it’s a secret, but I was rooting for Carrie all along.

The first book is called The Buried Life, and here’s the summary:

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Ricoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

I’ve read the first five chapters, in preparation for that acquisition meeting, and I was really intrigued. There are strong characters — particularly strong female characters — and an interesting world. Lee Harris described it to me as a “steampunk adventure”, which seemed to fit what I was able to read: a steampunk adventure with cool, strong women — women from different walks of life/social classes, too.

I’m looking forward to seeing Carrie Patel’s book in print (I get an ARC, right? right?!). In the meantime, go say hi to her on Twitter @Carrie_Patel, or browse her website.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted November 27, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
A lot of Spider-man comics. I’m trying to read all twenty-two of the Ultimate Spider-man comics before I leave my partner’s and head back to Britain. I’m on volume thirteen. I don’t know if I can do it.

I also read a book from the local library, Tanith Lee’s White as Snow.

What are you currently reading?
Uh. Spider-man! And… more Spider-man. I’ve still got Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow partly read: I thought I’d finish that easily, but there have been so many distractions.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, I know I need to read The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) for my SF/F class this week, so that’ll probably be next. There’s also… a ton more Spider-man!

Books acquired:
I don’t think there’s been anything since last week! I’ve been tempted, but I’ve been good. Nothing on Netgalley yet, either, though I’m hoping for the latest Flavia de Luce book, and the conclusion of Maria V. Snyder’s current trilogy. Fingers crossed!

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Review – White As Snow

Posted November 27, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of White as Snow by Tanith LeeWhite As Snow, Tanith Lee

There are some beautiful aspects of this book, and then there’s the fact that nearly every female character is raped, often multiple times. The beauty is mostly in some of the writing and descriptions, though some of the ideas are also pretty interesting in theory — Lee blends the story of Snow White with the Greco-Roman myth of Hades and Persephone.

This isn’t either story as you know it, though, and for me it ultimately didn’t work. The two stories didn’t blend very well, because I was spending so much time drawing parallels, and because some of the parallels seemed a little laboured. Some of it is very sensual writing, while during a lot of it the heroines act like pieces of cardboard: I understand that is the reaction of some rape victims, some of whom may never “snap out of it”, but it does unfortunately cut out a lot of the potential feeling of the story.

I did enjoy the introduction, which goes into the background of the story, and introduced me to a glorious poem by Delia Sherman, “Snow White to the Prince”, which ends:

Do you think I did not know her,
Ragged and gnarled and stooped like a wind-bent tree,
Her basket full of combs and pins and laces?
Of course I took her poisoned gifts. I wanted
To feel her hands combing out my hair.
To let her lace me up, to take an apple
From her hand, a smile from her lips,
As when I was a child.

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Review – The Incredible Hulk

Posted November 26, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Incredible HulkThe Incredible Hulk, Jason Aaron, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio

I haven’t read any Hulk comics before, and I haven’t even seen the MCU movie with Edward Norton. I’ve only seen him in the Avengers movie, and goodness, I love Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Just the — the tortured look, and… Anyway.

This is an interesting view of Bruce Banner and Hulk, with Hulk as the calm one and Bruce being the one who is insane. I hope MCU canon doesn’t go this way, but it’s a very interesting look at the character. It does turn into a bit of a smash fest, because it’s the Hulk, and the character of Amanda von Doom is just… I don’t know if she’s elsewhere in the canon or what, but she didn’t work as a character for me. She seemed to be just there for sex appeal and witty one-liners.

It’s a bit of a weird one, really, and I feel very, very sorry for Bruce, but I’m interested to read more when/if the girlfriend picks ’em up.

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The 2014 Sci-fi Experience

Posted November 26, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Another readathon type thing readers here might be interested in…

2014sfexp200
At the same time as the Vintage SF reading group thing is going on, and Long Awaited Reads Month, although this starts earlier, we have a challenge/readathon all about reading SF. Again, something I can definitely get behind. I refer you to my Long Awaited Reads post for the books I might be reading…

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Review – Troika

Posted November 25, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Troika, by Alastair ReynoldsTroika, Alastair Reynolds

I love the “Big Dumb Object” trope that Reynolds uses here. It just seems so… possible. That something we don’t understand is out there, waiting for us to find it. Some almost unfathomable relic of an alien civilisation. I think Reynolds uses that trope pretty well in Troika: it’s a neatly executed little novella, with a good twist at the end. It may not seem much to look at — it’s quite a slim volume — but Alastair Reynolds writes well, and the structure is well-executed (much as I usually dislike stories where you go back and forth between past and present).

I’m not sure why Reynolds chose the idea of a Second Soviet to frame the story, but it worked well for me. It was a bit of a shock to go from the vague idea that this was Soviet Russia — the first Soviet Russia — to realising that this is a later Russia, post-internet, post-freedom.

I didn’t get the strongly pro-space travel vibes from this that other reviewers seem to have done. To me, the situation in Russia overshadowed the possible touches of commentary on that. If anything, there was maybe a criticism of using space as a means to an end (political, to show superiority, etc) rather than as an end in itself.

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Review – A Princess of Mars

Posted November 25, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Who did I see describing this as “old school, pulpy goodness”? I think that works pretty well. I’m not sure how I’m going to relate this to Herland in my SF/F essay, but I’m thinking on it… Obviously there’s a ton of colonial, North American stuff going on here, wherein a white man from Earth comes and suspiciously saves a red-skinned princess and reforms the Martian societies to good American values…

But it’s still sort of fun, and not a chore to read: the prose is straight-forward and not too crammed with infodumps, and I did get sort of fond of one or two characters, mostly Sola (perhaps because she was “civilised” and relateable before the Great White Man’s intervention).

No real surprises here, and I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to read other Barsoom books, but it’s enjoyable in its way.

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Victimless crime: piracy

Posted November 25, 2013 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

“Piracy is not a victimless crime.”

This was the warning on the Pacific Rim blu-ray my partner and I watched, which couldn’t be skipped, etc. As usual with these DVDs, even though the fact that you’re seeing that makes it pretty damn likely you bought the damn DVD. But it’s not really about DVDs — at least with the music and film industries, the reaction to piracy is more or less taken as read. There’s still a debate, though, in the book industry. With the availability of ebooks, suddenly everyone is afraid of piracy, everyone has an axe to grind — or some people (Cory Doctorow, mainly, Neil Gaiman to some extent, etc) embrace the genre, though there is some serious wrongheadedness on that side of things about the nature of an ebook.

(For my thoughts on the “dead tree books are the be-all and end-all” issue, please see an early post on this blog, RIP print?)

Look. The thing is… piracy is a victimless crime. It can’t be put on the same level as theft, because with theft there is a finite amount of an item which has cost money to produce, and the theft of that item means it can’t be sold for profit. If a shirt is stolen, it can’t also be sold to someone else at the same time. If a book is stolen, you’re out a copy of a book, and can’t sell it. But with ebooks… it’s a whole different ballgame. Okay, you’re being done out of a sale you might have made, but you aren’t losing a finite resource. The bits of code that make up your book aren’t unique. Even if someone takes off the DRM, copies it and sticks it on a torrent site, that does not stop you making a sale in the same way at all.

In fact, as many people who practise piracy will tell you, they use piracy as a way to sample media. Then if they enjoy it, they’ll probably buy it. I’m gonna ‘fess up: I loved Avengers so much that I got a cam of it the minute one was up so I could watch it over and over. I did the same with the first Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. The day the DVDs came out, I bought them. The blu-rays, even. Heck, I bought my blu-ray player so I could see Avengers in blu-ray, and I got the special edition pack with all the MCU movies in blu-ray at once.

Did I mention I also saw Avengers three or four times in the cinema? Same with Sherlock Holmes.

(If they made digital downloads available simultaneously with the theater release, I’d see a lot more films. As it is, pretty much only Marvel and The Hunger Games get my money before the DVD releases. I don’t do illegal downloads unless I’ve already been to the theater an ungodly number of times, but I’d be a heck of a lot more interested in a digital download or even streaming or… Anyway. Yeah. Not about the movie industry.)

I can understand the arguments against about intellectual value and ebooks not being free to produce, I really can, but it puts my back up when people talk about it being theft. Most people who pirate stuff would never buy it if they had to pay for it and couldn’t get it free. Most people who pirate a lot of stuff don’t ever view most of it.

I’m not sure I agree with the idea that piracy equals exposure and any exposure is good exposure. I can get why a bunch of hypothetical sales don’t look like much when it’d be a favour just to get a couple of purchases now. Working for free is never fun. But I do think we need to think carefully about how we define our terms: when it’s just a file full of code that’s been “stolen”, an infinite resource, “theft” seems very much like the wrong word — and accusing people of theft for doing something “everybody does” (which is, I know, not an excuse) isn’t going to win you any fans.

For whatever it’s worth, my suggestion is not to blame the individual fans who download pirated copies of your book (or whatever other media). Take a look at the sellers, see how much they’re jacking up prices or what kind of proprietary software they’re using, and change things. If it’s so essential to your income, you need to put aside a bit of your time each week to figure out who you need to serve take-down notices to. Heck, you can even ask your readers to report any unauthorised sites selling or giving away your book so you can get to it easier.

Don’t start from a place of suspicion. Engage readers in a dialogue, make them want to protect your work, and you’re more than halfway there.

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