Tag: John Scalzi

Review – Head On

Posted August 6, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Head On by John ScalziHead On, John Scalzi

I don’t know why it took me so long to read this sequel to Lock In; I really liked the first book, and Scalzi’s work is always breezy in the best way. Unsurprisingly, when I got to this I steamed through it in two days (and I’d gladly have finished it in just one day, but bedtime is a thing that has to happen now I’m getting to the ripe old age of 31). Head On is set a year later than Lock In, and to some extent, I think you can read it without the previous book; it catches you up pretty well on the most pertinent information.

The investigation centres around the death of an athlete during a game in which people piloting robot bodies try to tear each other’s heads off. Something about what happens during play when one of them gets his head torn off causes him to die… and the league pull his details from the live feed, arousing the suspicions of Chris Shane. It gets worse: right before Vann and Shane go to interview him, one of the bigwigs apparently kills himself.

Curiouser and curiouser, as they say. Everything spirals from there, with Scalzi’s usual pace and wit. Some aspects of the mystery were obvious to me pretty early on, but it’s fun to watch Scalzi spin it out and complicate it before bringing it home.

It feels maybe a little less urgent than the first book, somehow, and I probably still prefer Lock In… but it’s a worthy sequel, and I’d love to spend more time following Shane and Vann around as Vann bulldozes her way through all opposition to solve the case.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted August 5, 2020 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of A Scream in Soho by John G. BrandonWhat are you currently reading?

Probably a bunch of stuff that I’ve accidentally put down when I didn’t mean to… but primarily, I’ve just started A Scream in Soho, by John G. Brandon. There’s so much period-typical racial stereotyping (largely about Italians, but Germans too), and the murdered person is… well, the way the story puts it is that it’s a man disguised as a woman. Which the plot will probably bear out, given they’re probably a spy. Still, it’s not exactly aged well in various ways.

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziWhat have you recently finished reading?

I devoured a reread of John Scalzi’s Lock In, and then followed it up with the sequel, Head On. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, and I didn’t really need the reread of the first book… but it was nice. I still need to sit down and do my review of Head On and think through it, but I tore through both books.

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky ChambersWhat will you be reading next?

Goodness knows! I want to reread The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet for a Habitica book club readalong, so there’s that… but I also just got my replacement ereader and I had a bunch of books part-read on Libby that I need to get into the queues for again. If they’re not currently reserved, maybe I’ll be able to grab them and restart on those.

But as usual, it could really be anything.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Lock In

Posted August 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziLock In, John Scalzi

My review is going to discuss a certain aspect of this book that you might like to make your mind up about yourself, in case you haven’t read it. It’s not a spoiler per se, but it’s something you might like to bring a fresh perspective to!

So that said, Lock In follows Chris Shane, a brand new FBI agent… who happens to have had “Haden’s syndrome” as a child, leaving Chris “locked in”. It’s pretty much how it sounds: some people who get Haden’s syndrome after a bout of a particular pandemic strain of flu find themselves unable to communicate, unable to move their own bodies, but awake and aware. Back when it happened, Chris was just a child… and all kinds of funding and research was thrown at the situation to render Hadens (people who were locked in) to communicate, and eventually to pilot robot bodies around and interact with society in much the same way as anyone else.

Chris joins the team that deals with Haden-related crimes. The first week… does not go smoothly. Therein lies the story of a conspiracy, some real nastiness, and some familiar-feeling events and issues.

The first time I read this book, I read Chris as male; I’ve since experienced the narrator as female, having listened to the Amber Benson version of the audio (there’s a version with Wil Wheaton as well, a clever gimmick). This time… I didn’t really bother either way? Having realised that it wasn’t part of the narrative, I read Shane as being more like myself… but only now I know about the gimmick. Before that, even I couldn’t help myself!

Anyway, Lock In is a pacy and entertaining mystery, with some thrilling action scenes, banter and clever quips, and moderately high stakes. The characters are likeable enough, inasfar as you’re meant to like Vann, and in retrospect it’s an obvious set-up for a series (now with a follow-up, Head On). I’ve read it before, so I steamed through it knowing all the twists and turns, and just kind of enjoying watching Scalzi experiment with this narrator and with a near-future world.

He missed some tricks with his portrayal of the pandemic and its aftermath, in some ways; it’s surprising that Haden’s is caused by an influenza and there’s no reference to vaccines or anything… and somehow that same strain of flu is still burning on, still causing the same disease, when someone who caught it as a child is old enough to be an FBI agent. Other stuff is pretty on point, and one can only hope the funding and government initiatives that help Hadens in the book are coming for “long COVID” and vaccine research. I won’t hold my breath; I think Scalzi’s vision was really optimistic here (though I suspect partly based on initiatives like the March of Dimes for polio).

Enjoyable, even on a reread when it couldn’t spring surprises on me and I’d read all Shane’s lines before.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted July 8, 2020 by Nicky in General / 7 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan EatherleyWhat are you currently reading? 

Actively, I think it’s pretty much just Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch — my loan got renewed from the library even though there were people in the queue, which is weird but I’m not arguing, because it lets me take my time and let it sink in a bit more — and Invasive Aliens, by Dan Eatherley, which I will probably sit down and finish as soon as I get done with this post.

Invasive Aliens is okay, but it feels a bit scattered; there are themes to the chapters, but it starts becoming a bit “and ANOTHER thing” after a while.

Cover of Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette De BodardWhat have you recently finished reading?

I read Aliette de Bodard’s Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders yesterday in a hot bath, and narrowly resisted the urge to arise dripping and covered in bubbles to read bits to my wife, since Asmodeus is definitely her sort of thing. Instead I took photos of the relevant pages and sent them to her via chat, circling the good bits in red. It was rather nice.

(And yes, she’s convinced and plans to read it.)

Cover of Ninth House by Leigh BardugoWhat will you be reading next?

Book club reads this month are Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, and I’ve been meaning to read both more or less since they came out, so that’s probably something I’ll do soon. I’m probably in the mood for a palate-cleansing murder mystery from the British Library Crime Classics series first, and maybe an installment of the Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk as well. I also have a wicked bad urge to reread John Scalzi’s Lock In, and I might just listen to it.

So basically, as usual, it’s anyone’s guess.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Dispatcher

Posted April 30, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Dispatcher by John ScalziThe Dispatcher, John Scalzi

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 21st April 2017

I pounced to request this as soon as I saw it. John Scalzi reliably writes solid, entertaining stories, and I usually enjoy his central idea. I didn’t actually read the blurb on this one, so it took me a little while to get settled into exactly what was going on — I think I actually preferred it that way, because it made the opening of the story a little more confusing but in the way where you can start to work it out if you’re interested.

I don’t love the main character; while I like seeing grey areas in fiction, I felt like his character wasn’t explored enough for me to understand why he worked within grey areas and how he felt about it. With a little more of that context, I’d probably have enjoyed the whole story more — I tend to connect to characters before clever ideas, however clever the ideas are. Still, I found the story enjoyable, and though the idea is weird and you don’t know how it could possibly work, it’s a fun intellectual exercise to posit these constraints and then write a mystery story within them. Don’t worry too much about the how and why of the Dispatchers and what they do, because that aspect isn’t what the story is interested in.

My only quibble would be that some of the dialogue wasn’t really signposted well enough. Without knowing the characters extremely well, it’s hard to tell which is speaking, and there were long stretches here where it was just a back and forth of dialogue. Sometimes it worked, but not always.

Definitely enjoyable, pretty much as I’d expect from Scalzi.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Collapsing Empire

Posted April 17, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Collapsing Empire by John ScalziThe Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi

I originally received this to review, but then I also grabbed it the minute I saw it in the shop. I’m pretty busy at the moment with ridiculous amounts of class work, which seemed like the perfect time to read something by John Scalzi. His work is pretty much universally compelling, readable and fun — often with a great deal of humour as well. The Collapsing Empire delivered more or less what I expected: I could have done with less of Lady Kiva and her foul mouth and more of Cardenia and Naffa. Or indeed, Cardenia and Marce, when he reaches her; that’s a relationship I’m going to be happy to cheer on in future books, in whatever form it takes.

(Kiva herself is fun, all the same, particularly in her indiscriminate approach to sleeping with whoever she can. Hurrah for a female character who can do that with such abandon, and a world which accepts that. Too many people port over all our society’s hangups to a world removed from ours by vast distances or even dimensions. Scalzi dispenses with that. Good.)

The set up of the Interdependency works well, though the fact that it’s a scam is obvious from the beginning — at least to a sceptical-minded Leftist like me who distrusts Empire and anything that looks like it, just on principle. I don’t know how the science holds up, if it does at all, since relativity and quantum physics all sound like wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey to me — but in-universe, it held together and seemed convincing, which is what matters. (To me, anyway, and when it comes to physics. If you fudge biology, you might lose me, admittedly.)

It’s a quick and enjoyable read; I’ll be interested to read more. Just what I wanted from a Scalzi novel.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted April 13, 2017 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

Ssh. It’s not Thursday yet. I’m in a magical bubble of time dilation, or something.

Cover of The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel KayWhat have you recently finished reading?

Juuuust finished my reread of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan. My heart is broken, of course; he writes brilliantly, and the ending is so tragic and bittersweet. And ugh, I wish Rodrigo and Ammar could just… walk away, and not fight each other. It’s inevitable that they do, and that’s part of the heartbreak, but. Gah.

Cover of New Scientist: Where the Universe Came FromWhat are you currently reading?

With the usual caveat that I’m technically currently reading a lot of things, the top of my pile right now is The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi. I had an ARC, but I saw a published copy in the local bookshop and grabbed it. Couldn’t resist. And now I’ve finally started it!

What will you read next?

I’m fairly confident, for some reason, that on Thursday morning I will start reading New Scientist’s Instant Expert: Where the Universe Came From. Because I haven’t been bending my brain with relativity enough already. Possibly this has something to do with how I can time travel so I’m still in Wednesday as I write this…

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Review – Miniatures

Posted December 30, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Miniatures by John ScalziMiniatures: The Very Short Fiction, John Scalzi

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 31st December 2016

Miniatures is a collection of Scalzi’s very short fiction, plus one poem. Most of it is humorous, and if you’re au fait with Scalzi’s humour then you know what to expect. It’s more or less like reading his twitter feed — in fact, two of the stories come from his twitter feed. They’re funny because they treat aliens as routine, there’s fart humour (if you find that funny), etc.

It’s a fun collection, but not exactly satisfying: the stories here aren’t anything deep and meaningful. There are some fun ideas (I’m intrigued by the alien animal which made people depressed, for example), and if you’re a big fan, you probably will want to pick it up. The poem isn’t even terrible. Most of these pieces aren’t really available anywhere else, either.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Old Man’s War

Posted February 25, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Old Man's War by John ScalziOld Man’s War, John Scalzi

Old Man’s War was a reread, since when I read The Human Division, I didn’t entirely remember all the politics and so on, and decided I’d reread before I read The End of All Things. Besides, Scalzi’s books are good fun, and Ryan @ SpecFic Junkie was reading the books recently and encouraged me to do my reread too. So it was more or less irresistible, and definitely inevitable.

Old Man’s War is a fun ride: lightly written, with moments of pathos and depth as well. You get the aftermath of the main character losing his wife, you get the characters dealing with being thrown into a vicious war, you get them dealing with losing friends and comrades… It touches on humanity, what might make you inhuman, and identity. But there’s also plenty to laugh at, and John Perry is always ready with a smartass comment. “How are you feeling?” he’s asked, after a crash which ripped his body practically to shreds, and time spent regrowing his limbs in a tank.

“Broken up,” he replies.

There’s also interesting aliens and a wider world glimpsed around the edges, which don’t get dealt with as such here, but which play into later books — human vs alien politics, the situation on Earth, specific alien races which Perry’s units get involved with to a greater or lesser extent… And the Ghost Brigades, which become the main topic of the next book, especially reflect upon identity and embodiment.

A thought which occurs in closing: John Perry has the same first name as Scalzi, goes into the military and right away does well and gets promoted, makes the right decision in split seconds during battle situations, even manages to join a special unit and acquit himself well with them even though he has nothing like the same training and way of thinking, he always has the right sarcastic quip…

And I just checked on two people who I knew read both this and David Weber’s Honor Harrington (naming no names on who). Honor is apparently a Mary Sue for being a career soldier who does well in a difficult situation. John Perry is apparently just awesome, and perfectly believable. An ‘everyman’, even.

If that’s not ingrained sexism, I’m a bunny rabbit.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Lock In

Posted February 4, 2015 by in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziLock In, John Scalzi

I generally find Scalzi’s work fun, very readable, but maybe not too thought provoking, not too serious. This managed to combine that sci-fi fun feel with serious issues of disability politics, racial politics, gender — well, all kinds of identity politics, really. It helps to read Unlocked if you’re not very good at picking up context quickly, though I don’t think it’s necessary; it gives you a lot of background, and even a starting point for imagining the characters.

I would actually be interested in listening to the audiobook for this, because Scalzi avoided stating a gender for Chris Shane. Thus, there are alternate readers — Will Wheaton and Amber Benson. The existence of the two versions meaning that I don’t really consider this a spoiler! Particularly as it’s not germane to the plot: it’s a thing outside the plot that will affect your reading, because you’re almost inevitably going to choose which gender you assign to the narrator in your head unless you’re used to queer communities. Personally, I chose to read Chris Shane as female if I could. I ended up reading them as something more nebulous: if you grow up spending most of your time outside your physical body (in the Agora or in a threep, it doesn’t matter which), are you going to think of gender in the same way as embodied people do? I don’t think we can answer that with modern technology, but I think the answer might be no, and that’s how I read Chris.

In a way, this fits right into a tradition with Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, which is a mystery as much as it’s a sci-fi story, and which relies intimately on both elements to make the full story (rather than being a mystery story that happens to be in a science fiction world, or vice versa). And because one character is walking around in an artificial body and the other isn’t, and with some of the political issues. (Ask me another day how I react when Hawking says a robot uprising might destroy humanity, everyone reports it as news, and nobody wants to listen to the sci-fi fan in the corner yelling “Isaac Asimov got there first!”)

Ahem. Anyway, Scalzi keeps his lightness of touch here, despite all the issues that he explores; it remains intensely readable, a page turner, and something that can suck you in enough that you forget about your surroundings. And I love that it’s based on all sorts of real situations: some people are ‘locked in’, we are finding solutions like the ones here for them (my New Scientist this week has a cover story: “Out of the Twilight Zone: Portable mind-reader gives voice to the locked in”), there were epidemics like this before (the closest analogue being the flu epidemic closely followed by the sleeping sickness epidemic)… These are not concerns only relevant in a hypothetical science fictional world.

Rating: 4/5

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