Tag: book reviews


Review – What Makes This Book So Great

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

Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo WaltonWhat Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton

If you’re looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the “100 Must Read” books I’ve been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it’s worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan — she doesn’t claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn’t hedge about including one book over another because it was more influential. Those “100 Must Read” books are a reference, a list; this book is a conversation.

It’s rare for a non-fiction book to keep my attention so strongly as this one did. Part of it is, I guess, that various things Jo Walton’s written resonate right through me — and I also know a little of her personal warmth and kindness. While I’ve spoken to a few authors and even trade tweets semi-regularly with a couple, Jo Walton is the only one who makes me feel that she cares about me as a person and not as a fan to be casually courted. So there’s that: I’m utterly and completely biased about her and her work, and there’s some similar stuff going on in our backgrounds (Welshness, for one thing), and even our non-SF tastes like Heyer and Sayers (and casual references to the same, even in the context of talking about SF). So it’s no surprise that I adored this.

It also helps that it’s very easily bite-size. I could read a few entries, then roll off my bed and reluctantly transcribe another few words — or take some of her enthusiasm and interests with me into my slush reading for Lightspeed, or have lunch with my family, or watch a lecture on astrobiology.

It’s the enthusiasm that really makes it, though. She makes me want to hurry up and read all the books, not just the ones she talks about, but all of them. And then reread them. She made me sit up in delight and grin and go yes, me too. Or hey, I want that.

The books may not all be conveniently in print, as the editors of “100 Must Read” books and others of that species try and arrange, but there’s a love of the possibilities of a tiny second-hand bookshop and the charity shop find that had me scrawling down a list of stuff to look for. It’s not a catalogue, a marketing ploy, a competition to be the most well-read — it’s just sharing books and the love of books and our idiosyncrasies about books.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels

Posted 26 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of 100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels, Nick Rennison and Stephen E. Andrews

100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels is, like its fantasy counterpart, pretty predictable in many ways. There are some I hadn’t heard of, but it’s still predominantly from the white male establishment. There is some lip service to the increasing diversity of science fiction in the introduction, but that isn’t really carried through to the books. Flicking through it, I landed on female SF writers only twice in 84 pages.

On the other hand, the introduction is an interesting whip through of the foundations of the SF genre, and there are a fair number of novels here that I hadn’t heard of or hadn’t got round to yet that are now (higher) on my reading list. As long as you realise that it is limited in scope and not a definitive list of the best SF novels out there, it could be a useful resource.

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Review – Through the Language Glass

Posted 25 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Through the Language Glas by Guy DeutscherThrough the Language Glass, Guy Deutscher

I can understand people who feel that Through the Language Glass didn’t quite fulfill its promise. The subtitle might be more accurately, “does the world look different in other languages?” And the answer is yes, but in a limited way that won’t be satisfying to those who want the answer to be an unequivocal yes. People feel that the world is different (for them) in different languages, and even that they are different in other languages, but there just isn’t the scientific data to back those feelings up.

(For me, and this is a brief digression, I do suspect that those who “feel different” when they speak other languages aren’t taking into account context. For example, say you speak Hebrew with your family and English in school. You are a different person in those two contexts, but not because of the language you speak. You’re adapting yourself to the situation, including the language. I suspect that even years after that division is so clear, where you might speak Hebrew to someone in the workplace, the associations remain.)

Anyway, I found the book itself a bit dense and prone to repetition, but overall, very interesting. I loved the discussion of the issue of colour in Homer’s work, as it’s something that inevitably came up when discussing his epithets in class. Why “wine-dark sea”? How could the sea look like wine? And this book has the answer.

It’s fairly conservative in its conclusions, not going beyond the available data — and mocking rather people who did go beyond their data — and explaining everything at some length rather than packing in various new ideas. It does include a lot of examples and interesting facts about various languages, like languages which don’t use egocentric directions but always geographical ones. I would’ve been interested in a bit more on gendered language, but it doesn’t seem as if the work has been done there, yet. It also gives some credit for ideas that were ahead of their time, even if they were founded on shaky principles, which was interesting.

Ultimately, Deutscher explains why early assumptions that language affects the way we perceive the world were wrong — but then goes on to explain that that instinctive feeling isn’t wrong in itself.

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Review – Captain Marvel: Down

Posted 25 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Marvel's Captain Marvel: DownCaptain Marvel: Down, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christopher Sebela, Dexter Soy, Filipe Andrade

As with the first Captain Marvel book, I liked half the art (Dexter Soy’s work) and then hated the latter half. More so in this one. Carol just looks deformed in half of this. But story-wise, this is another good volume: Carol as Captain Marvel is rash, determined, unstoppable, and the latter half of the book with the worries about her health kept me interested. It doesn’t matter that I’m lacking some of Carol’s backstory — and the Helen Cobb story from the first volume seems to be playing a bit into this, too, which I enjoy. I’m even a bit anxious about Carol and how exactly this will play out.

I love her interactions with the people around her. I haven’t read anything with Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel — actually, I haven’t got round to anything with her in it at all — but I loved her back and forth with Carol. I enjoyed the inclusion of Spider-Woman, too, and Captain America and Tony Stark’s brief appearances.

Really need to get hold of The Enemy Within, pronto.

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Review – Steve Rogers: Super Soldier

Posted 24 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ed Brubaker's Steve Rogers: Super SoldierSteve Rogers: Super Soldier, Ed Brubaker, Dale Eaglesham

I have a soft spot approximately two miles wide for MCU Steve, before he gets the serum. It’s probably something vaguely maternal about wanting to protect him, but either way, I think he’s precious. There’s a bit of that here, but not that much. It’s a fun little story, even disconnected from the other stuff going on around it (like the issues of Steve’s death/resurrection, Bucky as Cap), but it isn’t very substantial. There were some bits of Cap canon that I wasn’t aware of — Anita Glass, mostly, but also the villain, Machinesmith.

It is fun to see Steve without his powers, to see that he’s more than his powers, that what made Steve happened before he was ever injected with the serum. I love the “phantom” shield that they’ve drawn in, so it’s clear he’s using the same tactics he learnt as Cap. It just seems right.

This title definitely isn’t a must, though.

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Review – Emilie & the Sky World

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

Cover of Emilie and the Sky World by Martha WellsEmilie & The Sky World, Martha Wells

I was pretty excited for Emilie & The Sky World, so I moved it up the reading queue when I got the ARC, along with the previous book which I only recently finished. It really is a great girl’s own adventure story, with plenty of strong, capable women and some intriguing other races — in the previous book, Rani and Kenar, in this book, Hyacinth. I love that while Wells has a fertile imagination, she doesn’t tell all she knows — Hyacinth leaves at the end of the book, with so many questions still hovering around it.

The Emilie books are very fast-paced, and I agree with people who say they feel quite slight. Definitely not the same audience as City of Bones (my other read by Wells), but it’s not the book’s fault if it doesn’t work with an audience it’s not meant for. I mean, it’s on the Strange Chemistry imprint, not Angry Robot: I’m expecting YA, and that’s what you get here — perfectly pitched, to my mind.

There are a couple of nitpicks, maybe. Emilie vacillates a bit between being a total kid and a capable person, but… that happens, with teenagers, so it isn’t so strange. I enjoyed the realism of her relationship with Efrain, her younger brother, and the bit at the end where she resolves things with her uncle. It isn’t perfect — it’s awkward as heck — but it feels genuine.

Also loved the casual inclusion of an LGBT relationship. It just feels so… normal. Martha Wells isn’t making that dumb mistake of just taking the mores of our (past) societies just to borrow the steampunk motifs that work for her. I like that a lot.

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Review – Ultimate Hawkeye

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

Cover of Marvel's Ultimate HawkeyeUltimate Hawkeye, Jonathan Hickman, Rafa Sandoval

Ultimate Hawkeye seems to be the jumping off point for a larger plot about “the People”, who are like mutants and are staging a revolution. It isn’t really about Hawkeye being a badass, but nor is it like Matt Fraction’s take on Hawkeye where he’s more like an ordinary guy. Hickman’s Hawkeye is… kinda badass, kinda snarky, definitely Fury’s right hand man.

It’s okay, but I’m not that interested in reading more. I was most interested by the part Bruce Banner/Hulk played in this, I think, the way he was just brought in as a weapon of brute force. I think I might’ve appreciated it more if this was a story about Bruce and how he’s used by Fury.

As others have noted, it’s kind of annoying that Hawkeye has powers here. Not very impressive ones — modifications to his eyes — but still. He’s not an ordinary person who is preternaturally good with a bow, here. I think what makes Clint interesting to me — and I come at it from the MCU angle, I didn’t read comics much before I saw Avengers — is that he is an ordinary guy, a soldier, a spy, caught up in a world of gods and heroes. I want to see this guy who seems destined for a supporting role having to step up to the plate. This is not that. Fingers crossed for Jeremy Renner’s portrayal in the next Avengers film.

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Review – The Atrocity Exhibition

Posted 19 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Atrocity Exhibition by JG BallardThe Atrocity Exhibition, J.G. Ballard

I didn’t expect to like or understand this book much. The concept, the experimental nature, drew me to it, but I know it isn’t the kind of thing I enjoy. Find interesting, maybe, but not enjoy. The Atrocity Exhibition is so bizarre to me, so lacking in coherent narrative, that it’s doubly hard to read.

This book, the central character (such as he is, with his constantly fluctuating name/identity), is just — it’s a very fine portrayal of someone who is completely disturbed. I find myself wondering if my mother (a psychiatrist) has read it, and what she’d think.

(Knowing our shared taste in literature, I would venture to guess that she doesn’t think much of Ballard, but I meant in a psychiatric sense.)

End result: I’m convinced of Ballard’s skill, no doubt — he writes with a cold clear edge — and glad I tried this book, but I’m not keeping it, and I think Ballard’s imagination is a bizarre and unpleasant place (science as pornography?!). One image that will stay with me is his repeated image of the landscape as the contours of anatomy, or vice versa: “these cliff-towers revealed the first spinal landscapes”…

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Review – Emilie & The Hollow World

Posted 18 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Emilie & The Hollow World by Martha WellsEmilie & the Hollow World, Martha Wells

I’ve only read one of Martha Wells’ books before, but that was enough to make me a fan. Compared to that one, City of Bones, Emilie & the Hollow World is a much more simplistic story, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Someone described it as a “girl’s own adventure” story, which I think is pretty accurate. The main character Emilie is resourceful: I don’t understand people who are criticising it saying she spends the first half of the book just following people around. She runs away from home, stows on board a ship, saves someone’s life with impulsive action, and immediately starts making sensible suggestions to the crew of said ship.

Now, if you were to say she’s a bit wish-fulfillmenty, well yeah, maybe. But heck, I loved Emilie’s adventures and her resourcefulness; I don’t see why it should be odder for a girl to be plucky and resourceful than for a boy. There’s also people complaining that she doesn’t act like a Victorian girl, but… this isn’t meant to be set in the Victorian period? It’s plainly another world entirely, for all that the vaguely steampunkish trappings might make you think it’s just alternate Victoriana, and there’s a hint of Victorian-ish morals around Emilie’s family. Still, those’re parallels; that doesn’t mean Wells has to stick with it.

Which brings me to another point I really liked — the world-building. I expected that, from the standard City of Bones set, and while this is lighter, that imagination is still there. I loved, for example, the half-underwater city. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything quite like that before. There’s other stuff to appreciate, too, like the casual flipping of gender roles where Rani talks about Kenar pining for her, and when they reunite, she spins him around in her arms!

Overall, very much looking forward to my ARC of Emilie & The Sky World.

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Review – Red Sonja

Posted 16 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Red Sonja by Gail SimoneRed Sonja, Gail Simone, Walter Geovani

I’ve heard of Red Sonja before, though only as a really sexist comic character that didn’t sound at all appealing or interesting. I remember the arguments and debates around the SFWA Bulletin cover that was a tribute to Red Sonja in all her chain mail bikini glory: looking at it now, the cover itself seems less offensive, but the defence of it by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg remains completely offensive. Gah. Need to get that bad taste out of my mouth.

So I’ll talk some more about Gail Simone! I’d heard of her work on other comics, but I hadn’t read anything she’d worked on yet, so I was very curious about this. I love that she’s taken this sexist character and surrounded her with other women, peopled the world with strong women who in various different ways support each other and make the world a better place. There are some good male characters, too, but the focus is definitely on women — and women as protectors, as fighters, as able to fight for themselves.

Sonja herself isn’t the most likeable character in some ways: if she chooses to wear that chain mail bikini, for one thing, her taste has got to be terrible. She’s uncouth and she drinks a lot and she glories in violence. But… she’s also honourable, brave, capable of love. Her origin story isn’t anything particularly special, and maybe I wouldn’t find this book so good if I wasn’t so well aware of the sexist past behind it, but I did really enjoy it, and enjoyed seeing the range of female talent that went into making it.

Received from Netgalley!

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