Book review: Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds

The second book in the Inspector Dreyfus Emergency series brings back the old characters, throws in a couple of new ones and invents not one, but two emergencies for the people policing the ten thousand independent habitats in the Glitter Band.  Reynolds tones down on the technology and dark settings, and instead focuses on characters, their backgrounds and, to some extent, minor redemption arcs.  This makes it the most humane and one of the most approachable books I’ve read from this author.

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Hugos 2022 – Short Stories

The common thread of this year’s short story nominees is the lack of a twist or ambiguous ending.  The stories are expertly written, but they seem to lack deeper meaning that one could discuss later, or contain something of a shock value that would wake the reader up from these pleasantly sounding stories.  All stories, with a single exception, fall into this category, which is why it was easy for me to pick the outlier as my number one choice, but the rest is truly a toss-up.

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Classic Review: Babel-17 by Samuel L. Delany

This compact novel feels way ahead of its time.  It has an ambiance in the best tradition of Cordwainer Smith, it reminds me of the modern works of Alastair Reynolds, it explores an ancient idea that was immensely popularized in the 21st century, and it beautifully blends action, exposure, and introspection.  Babel-17 is a gem for those who take the time to read it and visualize its setting.

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Book review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

This Hugo Award winner is a weird beast.  I hesitate to call it a political thriller because it isn’t thrilling enough.  It’s definitely not a space opera, even though it is marketed as such.  It can be described as a detective story, but that mystery is resolved halfway through the book.  Memory is a beautifully written worldbuilding exercise, reminiscent of golden age science fiction where continuity and plot holes didn’t matter to the extent that descriptions the wonders of a fictional universe did.  However, it is also different enough to feature a very nuanced protagonist and offer a fresh spin on afterlife.

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Book review: In Fury Born by David Weber

In Fury Born has everything a fan of action science fiction could ask for.  A sprawling space opera.  Strong and personable characters.  Intense combat with set pieces that jump straight from the pages.  Emotionally charged aftermath that may be difficult to read at times.  If the book wasn’t so disjointed, and if it wasn’t for the titular Fury, this book would have easily been a modern classic.  As it stands, it is still a highly entertaining page-turner that I’d be re-reading in the future.

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Book review: King of the Road by R. S. Belcher

Two books in one!  Werewolves, killer clowns, ancient alchemy and so much more!  And no Elvis in sight…  The second installment of the Brotherhood of the Wheel series is not as strong as the first one.  With two completely separate stories, it feels disjointed, and the addition of a host of new monsters makes it more “fantasy” and less “urban”.  The grittiness is largely gone, replaced by too much action for my own taste.  It’s been a fun read, but I personally didn’t find it as gripping as the first book.

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Omelas in the times of Covid-19

Ursula K. Le Guinn’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is one of the best-known short stories in all fiction.  It won the 1974 Hugo Award, but it’s not necessarily fantasy or science fiction.  The term “philosophical fiction” is being commonly used, and for a good reason: the story caused generations of readers to analyze it to its greatest detail and draw their own conclusions.  It is time that I do the same, while drawing parallels to governmental response to the Covid pandemic.

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Book review: Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

I must confess that I have a problem with Neal Stephenson.  Based on his past performance, I have high expectations for his works, so even when he delivers something as technically proficient as Termination Shock, with interesting ideas that hit close to home, I may be left indifferent or even disappointed.  The verdict for this book is indifference.  Despite the ideas, I found it bland, dragging and full of shallow characters I could not sympathize with.

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Classic review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

What do ogres and Dick’s books have in common?  They are like onions: they have several layers, and when you peel one off, another will lie underneath.  The layers in Dick’s book can be very different: they may have little in common with the higher, more superficial layers, and can take the reader in a surprisingly different direction.  The one commonality they possess is that each one makes you think about the book for a long time after finishing it.  The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is no different in this regard.  What makes it stand out is its relative accessibility compared to many other works by Dick, and its timelessness.  Even today, people can find parallels or even inspiration in this novel.  And I’m afraid someone may have found this book motivating…

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Book review: The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R. S. Belcher

American highways are the battleground of a war between good and evil.  Monsters, both real and in human form, are being hunted by truckers and motorcycle gangs who trace their lineage back to the Knights Templar.  This may sound bombastic, but the book is anything but.  It is gritty, down to earth, and it feels far more authentic than other monster-fighting urban fantasy series.

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