Archive for Nebula Awards

a memory called Empire [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2020 by xi'an

A pleasant read for a few afternoon breaks (and vitamin D intake), that I chose as it was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards as well as a Not the Booker Prize Guardian choice. But not really worth the hype I think as the novel, A Memory Called Empire, is quite unidimensional (which is unfortunate for a space opera). In that the few characters that populate the book manage to move by themselves the political structure of the interstellar universe quite substantially. Within a few days. These characters are definitely attractive but somewhat too nice to be true and the way they bond and connect with one another is just implausible, even for a science fiction novel

“…no algorithm is innocent of its designersAn algorithm is only as perfect as the person designing it.”

The most interesting part in the story, although somewhat stretched too thin, is the conflict the central character feels between her attraction to the highly sophisticated culture of the Empire and the feeling that she will never be fully incorporated within that culture. Despite mastering the language and the societal codes well-enough to reach the upper spheres of society and impact them.

“…the real inspiration for the number-noun naming system comes from the naming practices of the Mixtec people of Oaxaca…” Arkady Martine

But, beside borrowing a lot to Japanese culture, and a wee bit to Maya or Aztec societies, the universe created by Arkady Martine is quite close to ours in its mundane aspects, including plastic spoons..! With very few truly novel technologies. But with email delivered on USB keys after travelling faster than light between star systems. The threat of an alien invasion is pending, by the end of the book, paving the way for an incoming second volume.To be read…

Murderbot 2.0 [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2020 by xi'an

After reading (for free) the (fab) four “murderbot diaries”, I got enough infected to fall for the fifth installment, Network Effect, and buy it upon release on May 5. This is definitely a continuation of the on-going development of the growth of the central character, SecUnit, a rogue android operating free-lance after it hacked its own OS. With private name Murderbot. And  with biological human parts and a more and more human way of thinking. Except it is faster and seriously multitasking. Characters that came to life in All Systems Red (an Amazon bestseller in Science Fiction!) and the following diaries are still around and active, including the super AI ART which is the closest to a friend Murderbot can think of. Corporate entities are still revolving around the story, with an unlimited greed that leads to catastrophes on new planets they turn into mines and often abandon if the economy does not come their way. As previously, a large part of the plot is hardwired in that it involves hacking, killerwares, unfortunate reboots, and hidden recovery files, which sounds like lazy plot lines at times but remains enjoyable. The fact (!) that some characters are androids means that they can even die and be rebooted if a safe copy of their OS is available. Which makes for a schizophrenic and hilarious inner dialogue at a point of the book. The part I found the least convincing cannot be divulged without being a spoiler, but it made the explanation for the bad guys being bad guys lame. And reminded of a terrible short story I had written in high school involving a sentient blurb which… (Well, it was getting worse from there!) But overall, this is quite a fun and enjoyable if rather geeky novel, with witty exchanges (although AIs with deep minds should have been able to come up with better ones!).

bloggin’ nebulas [link]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , on May 25, 2020 by xi'an

Just to point out that the SF and fantasy editor Tor Books has posted on its site a series of blog posts on all the competitors for the 2019 Nebula Novel Award, including one of Gideon the Ninth I have enjoyed very much. With the mention there that the novel could be seen as “the Mobius Strip of over-the-topness”! To be announced on May the 30th.

a journal of the plague year [confined reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2020 by xi'an

Watched TV series His Dark Materials produced for the BBC, which is much much better than the earlier film, as the actors are all fabulous—first and foremost Lyra, but also Ma Costa, the Gyptian Muter Courage—, the gypsy community is given a much stronger role, the characters are deep and complex, as eg Mrs and Mr Coulter, both ready to sacrifice kids for the greater “good” without appearing as absolute monsters! The special effects are a wee bit deficient as often with BBC productions but not enough to make a case. Although I sort of cringed each time a bear moved!

Read The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, which I noticed standing on my son’s bookshelves. The original Shannara Trilogy was one of the very first fantasy books I read in English in my undergrad years (after Lord of the Rings of course and possibly The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which did not leave me with an everlasting feeling of superlative literature, to say the least. This avatar of the original Sword of Shannara trilogy did nothing to improve my feelings as the plot is lazy at best, with super-powered villains suddenly acting, last second deus ex machina rescues, endless internal debates, heavy hints at treacheries and double-treacheries, and, worst of all!, intrusion of 20th century technology, e.g., computers, AIs and robots, that the far future characters make sense of. Only suitable for a time of lockdown and even then… I should have left it on the bookshelf! Incidentally, one fight scene against a cyborg was highly reminiscent of the black knight scene in Holy Grail!

Watched by chance Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. For the first time. And was totally un-impressed. Highly pretentious construction falling flat from being a modern reconstruction of antique dramas, endless dialogues (which could have been cut by half if removing all the occurrences of fucking from them), boring and threadbare story, and artificial characters that essentially make no sense. I cannot fathom why this film is so highly ranked..! (And even less to witness it being compared with Rashomon!)

Read [part] of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳) but, lockdown or not, I simply could not finish it. Despite its fantasy approach to Chinese martial arts, which I usually enjoy (at least in planes!), and some proximity with the Judge Dee stories by van Gulik, the story felt very contrived and somewhat out of reach, plus [not yet] Genghis Khan being depicted in a fairly positive way [at least in the part I read]. Too irrealist for my reading buds, I presume…

Cooked plenty of new dishes, thanks to the delivery of weekly farmer boxes, from radish stems & buckwheat pancakes to celery roots purées, to fregola sarda (leftovers from ISBA 2016!) con acciughe, to chard gratins, to pea pod and cauliflower core soups, to flaxseed bread and buckwheat naans (as we ran out of wheat flour). We also managed to use and survive most of the out-of-date cans and bags that had stood forgotten in the back of our cupboard… Not visiting a supermarket for two months was actually most pleasant, living very nicely from the above mentioned farmer boxes and the occasional delivery from a cheesemonger, and supplementing weekly visits to the baker with attempts at home made bread.

Read Matha Well’s Murderbot diaries, my first read on a Kindle!, for free courtesy of Tor. Starting with All Systems Red, which won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Locus Award, and the American Library Association‘s Alex Award. Very good if somewhat classical (Blade Runner anyone?!) trope of the rogue robot turned autonomous and human, so human! This is a sequence of novellas which means a fast-paced story and an efficient style. (Including a less exciting third novella, due to a lazy scenario.) More mind-candy à la John Scalzi than profound literature but quite enjoyable for a quick read during lunch or tea break! But which induced me to buy the first and incoming novel in the series,  Network Effect. (To be commented in a subsequent entry…)

Leading to (re)read the Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi, the last volume in the series being just out. Very lazy buildup, in the traditional spirit of a few people driving the future of the entire Universe, with unlimited resources and unrestricted hacking abilities, but with funny dialogues, as usual with Scalzi. In this binge (re)read, I actually realised the frustrating intricacies of Kindle ordering as (i) I could not use my amazon.com account and hence none of my associate gains (ii) I could not merge several amazon.fr accounts and (iii) prices varied a lot between using directly the Kindle and ordering from amazon.fr…

And even growing some salads and radishes over the two months and eating them before the end of the lockdown, as the weather in Paris was quite mild most of the time. Although it meant a daily-basis fight with slugs. The arugula did not resist that well, though…

Reading Tade Thompson’s Rosewater for more than a month, having trouble keeping my concentration as the story goes in loops and not a particularly well settled plot. With a central idea of an alien race taking over humanity a few cells at a time. Which reminded me of Greg Bear’s Blood Music I read during the first year of my PhD. The book has some appeal, from being located in Nigeria 30 years from now to America having completely vanished from the map after Trump pulled the ultimate drawbridge. It won the 2019 Arthur Clarke Award after all! But I found it too hard to complete to even consider embarking upon the next two volumes on the trilogy…

the Hainish novels [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2018 by xi'an

 

When Ursula le Guin passed away earlier this year, I realised I had not read anything for her except for the Earthsea series. I thus ordered the two volume collection of the Hainish novels and short stories beautifully published by The Library of America. This boxed set has been at my bedside for the past six months and I completed reading the first volume while on Vancouver Island. The short novels (Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions) and both novels (The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed) are not part of a coherent cycle but relate to the same Universe, run by the mysterious Hains. Ursula le Guin herself describes the collection as a forest rather than a tree. There is nonetheless a strong common theme of displacement and of confrontation of one character with another culture, this character being often turned into the representative of his native culture. While the stories involve faster-than-light interstellar travel and mind reading and genetic engineering, their major thread is more of sociology or anthropology fiction than of science fiction. I enjoyed all these novels, both for their underlying common thread and for the massive diversity in the stories reported in the novels. If I had to pick only one, it would be The Dispossessed, as it merges a deeply realistic description of an anarchy run planet with the moving story of a top physicist faced with the individual doubts of pursuing research and the societal constraints imposed by a harsh arid planet and the pressure of the entire society. Albeit anarchist in principle, it still produces power structures and pressures, while being nationalistic at the planetary level by refusing any entry from another planet. In particular, I found most interesting the realisation by a group of friends that the society was no longer revolutionary and mostly replicating traditions and patterns. The reflections about scientific creativity and bareness in this novel as well as the power structures within academia are also most meaningful and should appeal to most researchers (and beyond!). Before the end of the Canadian trip, I was further able to read The Word for World is Forest in the second volume,  which is about the threat of destruction for a planet and its native humanoids, by Terrans seeking wood as the new gold. This theme has been reproduced in the subsequent sci’ fi’ literature, as in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, but the short novel remains striking (and in line with the permanent theme in Le Guin’s books of conflicting cultures and the difficulty to apprehend the fullness of the other culture(s)… Le Guin notes in the introduction to the second volume of the box that strong similarities have been pointed out about “a high-budget, highly successful film [which] resembles the book in so mamny ways that people have often assumed that I had some part in making it.  Since the film completely reverses the book’s moral premise, presenting the central and unsolved problem of the book, mass violence, as a solution, I’m glad I have nothing at all to do with it”. The film is Avatar, James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster.