Friday, August 28, 2020

Review of The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy is one of the past decade’s more polished bits of space opera. (I know, I know, it’s technically moon opera.) McDonald calling the storyline “game of domes”, he created a multi-faceted view to a lunar society, and the tensions and conflicts that forced power changes, conflict, and outright war through the lenses of progressive social systems. Such a rich setting, a couple of short stories have spun-off—“The Fifth Dragon” and “The Falls”. There is now a third, 2020's The Menace from Farside.

The novella tells of the adventures of Cariad Corcoran and her small clique of friends. Initially an unspoken rite of passage for the newest member of the group, the four head out of their underground biodome onto the moon’s regolith to find Neal Armstrong’s first footprint. Needing to be a bit mischievous to pull off the stunt, it isn’t long before the group’s daring turns into outright hazard—the dangers of the moon, both physical and political, show up sooner rather than later.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Summer vacation...

The last two weeks of August have come, which means schools - at least those which have been open through COVID - are closing, and parents and children are off to somewhere to fill the time until the school year begins in September.  I know the past year has not seen postings as regularly as the first several years, and two weeks without fresh content might not be noticed, nevertheless, for that thimbleful who might notice, don't hold your breath.  I'll be in Croatia with the fam.  (P.s. I'm bringing Jack Vance's Alastor trilogy, the last of his sf/fantasy work I've yet to read, for the beach.)  

Review of Zero History by William Gibson

Confession time. Gibson has written three, loosely linked “trilogies” of novels to date, and may be in the middle of a fourth… To date, the third novel of each trilogy I’ve read has been the weakest of the three—still good, but not as strong as the two novels that preceded them. In each I’ve felt Gibson spread himself too thin, tried to converge too disparate a number of storylines, resulting in each getting less of the author’s trademark focus to develop and evolve them. Question is: will Gibson adopt the same approach in Zero History (2010), third and concluding volume to the Blue Ant trilogy?

Like all the trilogies prior, Zero History features the return of some characters from prior novels, but not all. Hollis Henry, former rock-n-roller now journalist that first appeared in Spook Country, returns in Zero History. Fully in the employ of Bigend at Blue Ant, in the early going she is asked to find the source of a pair of rare denim jeans that have an underground clique popularity. Milgrim from Spook Country is now getting over his pill addiction after some experimental surgery, and is likewise in the employ of Bigend, helping him track down and survey obscure articles of fashion. When people within Bigend’s own employ start to display signs of internal espoionage, the wheels of Hollis and Milgrim’s missions start to unravel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Console Corner: Review of The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us is for a lot of people their favorite game of all time. For me personally, the game had such a huge emotional impact that it affected ideology. While it doesn’t give you an actual choice in the climactic scenario, I would have done what the developers programmed me to do anyway—a real surprise given how much of a pragmatist, utilitarianist mindset I often have. I had developed such a relationship with Ellie throughout the course of the game that I couldn’t imagine things turning out any differently than they did despite the immorality inherent to it. Almost ten years later and Naughty Dog have come up with a sequel, The Last of Us Part 2. Will it again challenge the player’s beliefs? Will it again take players on an emotional ride? Will it again define ‘video game experience’—a mix of gameplay and cinematography not easily forgotten?

The Last of Us 2 begins on familiar, organic ground. Joel and Ellie are living in Jackson, Wyoming among the community they returned to upon the conclusion of The Last of Us Part 1. Four years later, Ellie is now a young woman, a young woman with a secret: nobody knows she is immune. But Ellie has more personal concerns. Drunkenly kissing a friend at a local dance has put her in a precarious situation among her groups of friends, something that becomes all the more complicated when she and the friend are paired to go out on patrol. Tragedy striking just as the two are starting to come to terms with the kiss, Ellie’s whole view on life takes a major twist. Everything shaded in the red of revenge, she sets off on a hate-filled mission to satiate the demons which have been tossing and turning inside her since she and Joel’s tragic cross-country trip. But who else is on the same mission? And can those demons be stilled by any other means?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Review of Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh

Betrayer (2011) confirms it. Conspirator-Deceiver-Betrayer rights the Foreigner ship by presenting what I believe to be the real third trilogy—a re-writing of Destroyer-Pretender-Deliverer. Where those three novels wavered in focus and quality compared to the first two trilogies, Conspirator-Deceiver-Betrayer gives us more of what made the original Foreigner books so interesting: conflict around Otherness in a new context that advances the story without getting caught in its own shoelaces. I offer Betrayer as the final proof.

With matters in the west up in the air, Betrayer finds Bren being sent on the most important diplomatic mission he’s ever been sent on Atevi. It’s so important, in fact, even Cajeri, who had occupied full chunks of narrative in Conspirator and Deceiver takes a slight backseat. More importantly, Barb-drama takes a full back seat. She’s still there, and still part of the action, but is not allowed to be the Barb people don’t want her to be. I don’t want to spoil the story any further, except to say that the mission Bren is sent on reintroduces the Foreigness I recall from the first trilogy, but in a re-contextualized way that is all the more interesting for it.

Review of Deceiver by C.J. Cherryh

Deceiver (2010) was to make a clear sign for me: is this Cherryh's true attempt to re-write the third trilogy with a real story, or another slip into the mediocrity of said trilogy?

In Deceiver, the events set in motion in Conspirator escalate. Bren's southern estate is anything but a stable, safe place, and the happenings of Deceiver only bang that message home moreso. Action happening relatively fast (at least for a Foreigner novel), Cherryh switches around between the action of attacks on Najida to tense interrogations of Geiji's nephew, making for engaging reading, while Toby and Barb do their best to derail a tight narrative. (Just kill them and be over it; fans love a tragic death or two.) The best new addition to the series might just be... wait for it... Bren's new bus. All I could picture was an African tyrant in an American schoolbus jaunting through the jungle with his crew of bodyguards sipping pineapple juice. Ride on, atevi.