Posts Tagged With: sci-fi

Mini Review: “The Rapture of the Nerds” by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

This post is a part of a series of mini-reviews of books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.  I received a review copy of The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross while at BEA in exchange for an honest review.

The Rapture of the Nerds is the story of a man who wants nothing more than to be human.  Young Hew is a bit of a Luddite, and remains on Earth even as most other humans have uploaded themselves to the cloud.  The people who have chosen to stay behind are all a little weird, and make great fodder for practical jokes.  That’s why the plans for all new technology must be evaluated by a court to make sure that they’re legit.  When Young Huw is called for Tech Jury Duty, his life is forever changed as he comes full circle with his biggest fears.

The book is divided into two main sections, both of which parallel and build off of each other.  The first half is set on Earth, and the second half takes place in the cloud.  The second half of the book is simultaneously creative and confusing in a way that only transhumanist literature can accomplish.

Singularity fiction is, by its very nature, a bit absurd, but The Rapture of the Nerds takes the cake.  Doctorow and Stross clearly had a lot of fun writing this one.  It’s what you’d get if Douglas Adams was on crack and spent too much time on 4chan, and I mean that as a compliment.  There are a lot of references to both science fiction and pop culture.  At one point, the “rustled my jimmies” gorilla pops up.  The overall tone is satirical, and the plot is used to make fun of attitudes and mindsets present in our own society.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Priest-Kings of Gor” by John Norman

When I get stressed out, I find myself drawn to so-bad-it’s-good pulpy sci-fi, which is why I picked up book three of John Norman’s Gor series.  For anyone who hasn’t read my reviews of the first two books, think A Princess of Mars, except all the women are sex slaves who seem to be relatively happy about it.  If you’re looking for high-quality literature, then run.  This is not the series for you.  I’d compare it to a meth addiction (Disclaimer: I’ve never actually tried meth, but I’ve watched my fair share of Intervention).  You know on an intellectual level that it’s bad, but somehow you can’t make yourself stop doing it.  That’s why I’m in the middle of book four as I’m writing this and am impatiently waiting to jump back into it.

In my review of Outlaw of Gor, I mentioned that the book felt like a side quest.  Priest-Kings of Gor picks up with the main story.  Tarl Cabot, in a quest to avenge the destruction of his city, travels into the mountains of Sardar, from which no man ever returns.  He intends to find the technologically advanced Priest-Kings of Gor.

The Priest-Kings were not what he expected.  They are giant insects who dwell in an underground nest.  Most of the Priest-Kings are genderless.  The Queen is the only true female in the Nest, and she is dying.  This means that the Nest is dying.  Tarl Cabot finds himself caught between two opposing factions, one that wishes to destroy the Nest, and one that wishes to save it.

I found myself impressed with the world-building as the author describes the social structure of the Priest-Kings and of Gor itself.  The Priest-Kings’ culture involves a strong sense of loyalty to the Nest, to the point that it can mean forgiving betrayal if it is committed by someone who is a part of the Nest.  Outside the Nest, the Priest-Kings are less forgiving.  After seeing the way that humans blow each other up on Earth, the Priest-Kings forbid humans from having technologically advanced weapons.  If a human tries to build a gun or explosive, he is incinerated by the dreaded “Flame Death.”  This is what keeps Gor so primitive, and part of what gives it its charm.

The Priest-Kings keep slaves, but those slaves are still considered to be “of the Nest,” which is considered to be a higher social status than being outside the Nest.  One of the turning points in Tarl Cabot’s struggle was when he taught two slaves who had been raised in the Nest that rebellion and free will is part of what makes us human.

There’s a bit of a double standard going on, because when it’s a guy slave, rebellion and free will are glorified, but for women, submission is considered to be the ultimate form of existence.  It’s almost like women are viewed as wild animals that are dangerous if they aren’t tamed.  This can be demonstrated through Tarl Cabot’s encounter with the treacherous slave girl Vika, who only when fully dominated decides to switch sides and help Tarl instead of working against him.

Verdict:  If you’re in the mood for some creative pulpy sword-and-planet featuring technologically advanced insect-people, then give it a try.  The rampant misogyny is going to be a deal breaker for a lot of readers, so be forewarned.  If you know what you’re getting into, it can be a fun read.

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“Outlaw of Gor” by John Norman

I picked up Outlaw of Gor, sequel to John Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor, because I was having a stressful week and wanted something mindless, pulpy, and fun.

Tarl Cabot goes on a camping trip into the mountains and once again finds himself swept away to the planet Gor, known as the Counter Earth.  When he arrives, he finds that his city has been razed and its people scattered, including the woman that he loves.  Tarl vows his revenge upon the Priest Kings and embarks on a journey to confront them.

On his way, Tarl visits the city of Tharna.  Unlike any other place on Gor, Tharna is ruled by women, who coincidentally wear creepy masks as further proof that they are evil.  Men have no social status, and are generally enslaved.  Reproduction is handled medically, and there is no place in Tharna for sex.  Love is forbidden.  There is no laughter, song, dancing, or anything else to relieve the monotony of life.  When Tarl finds himself captured and enslaved, he mounts a rebellion to change Tharna.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding in Outlaw of Gor far more than in the first book.  Norman’s passages on Gorean society, flora, and fauna are such that you feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never been.  You can tell that he’s spent a lot of time thinking about his world, and that he cares about it.  In the first book, it felt like an infodump, but in this one, it makes me want to visit Gor and see the wonders he describes.

I read the book in one sitting, and it worked wonders for my mood.  This series has become one of my guilty pleasures.  I should probably be outraged by the treatment of women, but I’m not.  Strangely, I think it adds to the books’ charm, and let’s face it, the male characters are no less objectified in sword and planet books and movies.  That being said, these books aren’t for everyone, and readers should know what they’re getting into.  Pretty much every female character is a happy sex slave (or discovers she’d be happier as a sex slave, as in the case of Lara, the ruler of Tharna).

I’m eager to read the next book and to see where Tarl’s adventures take him.  If the Gor series were a video game, Outlaw of Gor would be a side quest.  The adventure in Tharna was fascinating, but the plot line with the Priest Kings and Tarl’s mysterious return to Gor are left unresolved.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Tankborn” by Karen Sandler

Back in June, I won a giveaway at The Book Smugglers for Karen Sandler’s novel Tankborn and its sequel Awakening.  The books are from Lee & Low, a new publisher focusing on multiculturalism and diversity in children’s and young adult literature.  Their mission is something that I fully support, and it’s especially heartening to see some of their science fiction and fantasy offerings.

Kayla is a GEN, short for Genetically Engineered Non-human.  The GEN don’t have parents in the traditional sense; they’re born using a tank and then fostered.  When a GEN is 15, he/she is given their Assignment, sent to work as slaves for the humans on Loca.  The GEN are marked by prominent tattoos on their faces, making it impossible to be mistaken for another social class.

Kayla’s friend Mishalla begins her Assignment first, but finds that something’s amiss.  Her task is caring for low-class (but not GEN) babies, some of whom have been injured.  Mishalla realizes that everything isn’t as it seems, and that the humans she works for are involved in something shady.

As Kayla begins her own Assignment, she begins to question what she’s been taught about the roles of the GEN and humans.  She meets an upper-class human teenager named Devak, and the two begin to fall in love.  Personally, I found Devak to be a bit insufferable for most of the book, but it’s understandable because he’s a teenager who has led a relatively privileged life.  For most of his life, the plight of the GEN was something that could easily be ignored, and even though he’s always been kind to the GEN, it wasn’t until meeting Kayla that he really started to get it.

Sandler uses Kayla and Devak’s story to explore how racism can become ingrained in culture.  The social classes in Tankborn are rigidly enforced, and appearance is a major determinant of one’s social position.  GEN do go to school, but their lessons are geared toward their capacity as workers.  Even the GEN religion points to fulfillment only by serving humans.  The GEN and the upper classes are taught that there are major differences between them, and that even touching one another can have serious consequences.  Kayla and Devak both have to challenge their prior assumptions and take risks to be together.

Overall, I’m a big fan Tankborn.  Kayla and Mishalla’s intertwined plot lines are filled with mystery and intrigue as they discover the real history of the relationship between the GEN and humans and fight to break down the social barriers between them.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, YA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Morlock Night” by K. W. Jeter

I received a copy of Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter from the fine folks at Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review.  Angry Robot puts out some awesome books, and if you haven’t already, you should definitely check them out.

Morlock Night is a steampunk novel that picks up where H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine leaves off.  The protagonist, Edwin Hocker, attended the dinner party in Wells’ story and heard the tale of the time machine, but thought that it was merely a fanciful story.  It turns out that the story was true, and now the Morlocks have possession of the machine and are poised to take over Victorian England.

Morlock Night is an ambitious novel, as it pairs the story of The Time Machine with the legend of King Arthur.  That’s right.  Who better to save England from her most dire hour than he reincarnated Hero of Britain?  Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds, because Merlin’s archenemy, Merdenne, has joined forces with Morlocks.  He’s captured both Arthur and Excalibur, and so Hocker must suspend his rationality and disbelief, otherwise all is lost.

For such an enterprising and complex story, I felt that Morlock Night accomplished its goals well.  I’ve read other steampunk novels that feel cluttered, or that try to incorporate so many different elements that they don’t quite do any of them well.  I didn’t get that impression here.  Jeter was able to integrate several different mythologies, including King Arthur, The Time Machine, and the legend of Atlantis, and I was impressed that he was able to pull it off.  Jeter does take some liberties with the source material, but it’s for artistic reasons, and I’m okay with his interpretation of Wells’ vision.

Jeter incorporates the same tone as H.G. Wells as he tells his story, which makes the novel campy and fun.  This isn’t *serious* reading, and it’s not meant to be.  It’s a pulpy steampunk adventure, and I loved it.  One of the things that I enjoy about steampunk is its ability to incorporate strong female characters.  In this case, Hocker’s sidekick from the future is a woman named Tafe who fought in the resistance against the Morlocks.  She disguises as a man when she time travels to before the invasion, and Hocker wouldn’t have been able to succeed without her.

If you’ve read The Time Machine and are into steampunk, Morlock Night is an excellent adventure.  It’s a quick read and definitely worth giving a chance.

By the way, does anyone else adore this cover as much as I do?  I love the 1960s psychedelic feel that it has.  If it were a poster, I’d want it on my wall.  The creepy eyes and the submarine are awesome.

 

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Color of Rain” by Cori McCarthy

“The Color of Rain” by Cori McCarthy is a YA dystopian novel about prostitutes in space.  Set in a distant future, the novel features Rain White, a young woman living the industrial planet of Earth City.  Rain’s parents are dead, and her younger brother is Touched, which means that he has a neurodegenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s.  There is no cure for the Touched on Rain’s planet, but there are rumors that advanced medical technology exists beyond the Void.

When a handsome pilot named Johnny arrives on Earth City, Rain sees a chance to save her brother.  She sells herself to Johnny in exchange for passage for her brother’s passage, but after arriving in space, she discovers that Johnny’s up to something much more sinister.  Not only is he running a prostitution ring, but he’s also trafficking a hold full of the Touched to be sold as slaves.  Rain must use every tool at her disposal to put an end to Johnny’s plans.

Although the novel is being marketed as Young Adult, I think that it’s a prime example of the New Adult genre.  It’s written in a similar style as YA novels, but because sexual violence and coercion is a major plot element, it’s more appropriate to older teens or college students.

The relationship between Rain and Johnny can best be described as a battle of wills.  Both of them are the type of people, for better or worse, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.  The scenes between Johnny and Rain resemble a game of cat-and-mouse, but Rain quickly realizes that she can manipulate Johnny by playing up his view of the ideal woman.

Much like in “The Hunger Games,” Rain finds herself almost entirely on her own aboard Johnny’s ship, because he uses violence and social stratification to keep his prisoners in check.  She very quickly learns that any friendships she has will be used against her.

Rain’s one ally is a Mec named Ben, who becomes the book’s primary love interest.  The Mecs are cyborgs, enhanced since birth to have increased perception and physical strength.  People are suspicious of Mecs because they’re afraid of them and don’t understand their humanity, but Rain is able to look past her initial perceptions and see him for the good person that he truly is.  Ben and Rain make a great team and a cute couple, and they bring out the best in each other.

Cori McCarthy brings us an action-packed sci-fi thriller.  Recommended for fans of dark-and-edgy dystopian fiction.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, YA | Tags: , , , , | 14 Comments

“vN” by Madeline Ashby

I received a copy of “vN” by Madeline Ashby from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Amy Peterson seems like an ordinary little girl, but she’s not.  She’s a vN, short for von Neumann machine, a self-replicating robot.  Her normal childhood is only possible because she’s eating a restricted diet, preventing her from growing at her normal speed.

Madeline Ashby imagines a world where robots are governed by specific rules.  One of those rules, as first laid out by Isaac Asimov, is that a robot cannot harm a human being.  For that reason, all vNs come programmed with a failsafe which prevents them from hurting humans and forces them to be  subservient and non-threatening.  This meant that vNs could become integrated into human society, albeit as second-class citizens.

When Amy’s long-lost grandmother shows up at her kindergarten graduation and attacks her mother, something goes wrong with Amy’s failsafe.  She eats her Grandma and flees from the authorities.  Since Grandma was not a part of her diet, Amy is forced to grow up fast and to realize what a dangerous world she lives in.  Oh, and did I mention that Granny’s still stuck in her head and keeps trying to control her?

Granny was one of my favorite characters in the novel.  Yeah, she’s demented and sadistic, but she says things that need to be said about vN rights.  Violence isn’t the answer, but her ability to speak her mind was wonderful, even though she did a lot of things that were awful and made me feel queasy just thinking about them.  She’s evil in every sense of the word, but you can understand that her reactions are in part based on the extreme injustice found in society.  Her need to hurt and kill humans stems from years of exploitation.  One of the most powerful moments in the book was when Amy was standing in a trash heap filled with the bodies of malfunctioned vN babies, wondering why they didn’t merit a proper burial.  I found myself wanting Granny to take over and go after those responsible, which says something, as I abhor violence.  Madeline Ashby makes you feel outraged for everything the vN are forced to endure, which is the mark of a powerful writer.

One of the biggest themes of the book is the idea of autonomy and free will.  vNs can think independently and make their own decisions, but only to the extent allowed by their failsafe.  Since Amy spent the first six years of her life in a mixed vN/human family, she was raised not to think of herself as any different from her peers.  While on the run, she begins to realize what the other vN go through and how they are taken advantage of, often sexually, even as they are physically unable to speak out against the abuse, and forced at the core of their being to like it.

Without question, this is the best piece of singularity fiction that I’ve read.  It’s extremely well written, and Ashby is able to describe complex technological and futuristic concepts without alienating readers.  (Let’s face it, sometimes singularity fiction does that.  It’s awesome, but some of it makes me feel stupid.)

A big thanks to Andrea at The Little Red Reviewer for turning me on to this one.  It’s unputdownable.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , | 25 Comments

New Acquisitions – 6/19/13

IMG_0626Time for this week’s New Acquisitions!

From the library:

“The Red Plague Affair” by Lilith Saintcrow – Book two in the steampunk/mystery adventures of Bannon & Clare.  I read The Iron Wyrm Affair last year and adored it.

From Amazon:

“The Color of Rain” by Cori McCarthy – I was talking with a friend about books one day at happy hour, and she mentioned that her coworker’s sister was writing a book.  It’s YA/New Adult space opera about a prostitute, which sounded intriguing.  (As Ask the DM: Answers to Life, the Universe and Roleplaying has noted, apparently I read and/or enjoy a lot of books with prostitutes as protagonists.  I still maintain that this is purely coincidental.)

Review Copies:

“The Lemon Orchard” by Luanne Rice – This is a love story about an upper-class woman who falls in love with her Mexican gardener, putting a human face on the issue of illegal immigration.

The next three books on my list are from the publishers over at Angry Robot.  They’re moving offices and found a bunch of ARCs that they needed to get rid of quickly.  I requested three, all of which I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time.

“vN” by Madeline Ashby – I’ve been meaning to read this one ever since reading a glowing review by Andrea at The Little Red Reviewer.  I’ve had it in my hands at a bookstore no less than five times now before having a cheap attack and putting it back, rationalizing that I should read the books that I have on my shelves before buying lots of shiny new ones.

“Morlock Night” by K.W. Jeter – A steampunk classic that imagines Morlocks running amok in Victorian England.

“The Great Game” by Lavie Tidhar – I’ve been following the author’s blog without having read any of his books, and it’s time to change that.  This is actually the third book in a steampunk trilogy about aliens invading an alternate Victorian society, but each book in the series has a self-contained plot, and the Goodreads reviews say that I should be able to understand it without having read the others.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

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