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Beth Zuckerman
Science fiction fan, aerial dancer, cyclist, photographer, gamer, naturalist, geocacher, SCUBA diver, adventurer, never a dull moment.
Science fiction fan, aerial dancer, cyclist, photographer, gamer, naturalist, geocacher, SCUBA diver, adventurer, never a dull moment.

I wrote several years ago about how much I loved reading about the crime-fighting adventures of Haden's Syndrome victim Agent Shane and hard-edged "bad cop" Agent Vann in Lock In. You'll recall that Haden's Syndrome causes paralysis, and that its victims (Hadens) are able to participate in life only virtually or through robot bodies (threeps) or, occasionally, through the bodies of highly-paid human Integrators. In Head On, the Abrams--Kettering Act (which I keep confusing with the Kellis-Amberlee virus) has reduced the benefits to Hadens that allow them to afford to interact with the world, consigning the less affluent victims to a virtual-only life.

Hadens participate in a threep-based sport called Hilketa, the object of the game being to knock the head off of one of the player's (the designated "goat") threep and toss or drag it between goalposts. Hence the title. When player Duane Chapman's offsite physical body perishes during a Hilketa game, Agents Shane and Vann are called in to investigate the case. I don't love murder mysteries, and I of course don't love intrigue, but I did love following our intrepid FBI agents through their discovery of the machinations that led to Duane's death. This was an incredibly fun read.

As always, Scalzi's dialogue is the best part of his work. I particularly loved the sarcastic comments of obnoxious Agent Vann. She has it in for lawyers especially. Shane and Vann explore in depth the desperation to which the Abrams-Kettering Act has led, and how such desperation makes people vulnerable to Bad People, leading them to participate in crime and do Bad Things. Money matters.

I can't say that Head On breaks revolutionary new ground in the science fiction field as did the other murder mystery that I so loved this year, Six Wakes. But it is a delightful book, definitely worth reading!
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Yes, it is too late for Hugo nominations, and we need to be reading the works that have been nominated. But my library reservation for La Belle Sauvage came up, and I wanted to say a few brief words about it.

La Belle Sauvage is the first volume in The Book of Dust, a new series by Philip Pullman, set in the same universe, and with many of the same characters, as the His Dark Materials series. This series introduces a new protagonist, Malcolm, son of tavern keepers, and his friend Alice, a kitchen maid. I'm not sure exactly what it's supposed to symbolize, other than a general out-of-sorts-ness with things, but there is a lot of water in this book. A lot of water. Malcolm is a skilled canoeist, and La Belle Sauvage is the name of his canoe.

His Dark Materials is a rare example of a fantasy series that I actually liked. This new book is as charming and delightful as the His Dark Materials series; if you loved that, you will love this. That said, I didn't feel like this new work added anything particularly new to the series. It was just more of the same. Furthermore, La Belle Sauvage embodies a lot of what I so despise about fantasy, the emphasis on the importance of the genetic connection between a father and a child. So many of the gender roles were annoyingly traditional. Perhaps that is why, while I found Malcolm sweet and thoughtful and loved him as a character, I never warmed up to Alice.

Unless I hear that Pullman is doing something new, I'm not going to read any more of The Book of Dust series. I feel as if I'd already read it.
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I had never heard of Mur Lafferty before Six Wakes was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel, but I became extremely excited about the book by page 4. By the time I got to page 50, I was telling all my friends about this totally awesome book I was reading. As I read, I continued telling everyone who would listen that they should read Six Wakes, even though I didn't yet know how it ended. And when I got to the end, it was as good as the beginning! It was as if Neal Stephenson had come up with an ending for Snow Crash that was as good as the fabulous beginning. I loved Six Wakes, and, unless you are tremendously sensitive about violence and gore, you will, too!

Six Wakes is a murder mystery, in deep space. This book is absolutely genius, on the level of Stephen King, in the delicate timing of its revelation of information. Thus, there is not much I can say about it without giving spoilers. I will just describe the setup, from the first few pages.

This is a far-future novel in a universe where cloning has become commonplace. Mindmapping technology allows anyone to be resurrected in a new, 20-year-old version of their body, with all of their memories. A large group of people is traveling in cyrostatis on a ship to colonize a planet. The ship is crewed by 6 clones. The clones suddenly awaken in new bodies, but without current mindmaps. Their last memories are from the beginning of the voyage, 25 years previous. They find themselves surrounded by the murdered bodies of the last versions of themselves, floating around because the grav drive has failed. The computer has also lost all of its memories.

Whodunnit? Which one of them killed the others? How can they find out? It's all tremendously clever, as it plays out.

But Six Wakes is much more than a brilliant murder mystery in space. Lafferty uses science fiction in its very best way: to use technology to explore Big Questions. Through the mechanism of cloning, Lafferty explores much of what it means to be human, or not human. How much of us is in our memories? How much of us is derived from the contiguity of memory? Six Wakes is like Perry's Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality, only in an exciting murder mystery in space format. Lafferty also raises questions about how our bodies and our talents could be exploited by the unscrupulous if we could just be thrown into a new body at any time. There's a lot of evil in this novel. A lot.

OK. I'm really excited. I'm going to put down Six Wakes as my first choice for Best Novel. I'm sorry, Scalzi. I did love The Collapsing Empire--it's awesome. But it's going to have to be number 2.
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Emergence completes Ken MacLeod's Corporation Wars series. And the name of the series is apt: It really is about corporations at war with each other. In space, over exoplanets.

These books are just chock full of fascinating ideas. Most of the action takes place in VR, and many of the characters are AI's, so it easily lends itself to much speculation. Characters regularly die in the sim and wake up without memories since their last uploads. The series addresses what it means to be human, and what it means to be a corporation. This should be stuff I would eat right up, and I did love these aspects of it.

Unfortunately, though, I tend to be bored by war stories (not the ones in Firefly, mind you, but other war stories). I sometimes nearly doze off during fight scenes in movies. And these books have a lot of fight scenes. I was so bored at times, I had trouble keeping track of the action. An LotR-style map of the territory at the beginning of each volume would have aided my comprehension considerably. The plot underneath and between all of the fighting was excellent, and very well and cleverly wrapped-up at the end. It's a story of love, betrayal, lies, racism, radicalism, all kinds of great, high-drama stuff. But it was interspersed by so much that did not entertain me that I ultimately didn't enjoy the series as much as I feel I should have. YMMV.
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I always enjoy Mira Grant’s work, and Final Girls is no exception. Grant expertly spins a horrifying tale of scary new technology that allows researchers to see into, and manipulate, people’s dreams. It’s promoted as a form of therapy. Yeah. For instance, by throwing two estranged adult sisters into a dream scenario together, scientists can make them regress to childhood and build the relationship they never had but now desire. Grant’s heroine is a suspicious investigative reporter checking out how all of this functions.

It's all terribly scary, and Grant continuously reminds us of just how psychologically vulnerable we are, how easy we are to manipulate with drugs and neurological stimulation.

Where I’m disappointed (and I know this is a very strange thing to say about a work of literature) is that Final Girls is just too short. I think it is novella length, and this fascinating idea deserves much further fleshing out (ha-ha) than can be undertaken in such a short work. Quite honestly, Final Girls is nowhere near as scary as it could have been. Knowing Grant’s work, it feels as if she wrote a bunch of blood, gore, and dramatic psychological horror, and then edited it all out to bring the story down to novella length. I am hoping that, in the future, Grant will turn this concept into a full‑length, nail‑biting, nightmareogenic novel.

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Annalee Newitz has produced just the sort of novel we would expect from the author of Techsploitation--insightful, technical, and fun. Anonymous explores the drug patent system and motivations for drug development, with a number of rouge characters trying to produce and distribute inexpensive life-saving drugs to which large pharmaceutical companies hold patents. The villains are greedy drug companies and their hired thugs.

But Newitz does much more with this clever little novel. She also invites us to look at slavery and indentured servitude of both humans and robots, and what exactly the differences might be. She takes a hard look at our own neurochemical programming, how it's not so different from the software that operates robots, and how it can be manipulated through the use of drugs. As if all that isn't enough, she throws in some thoughtfulness on gender identity as well.

Newitz does all this in a story that's full of action, with fascinating characters trying to make their way morally through a corrupt system. The book is not at all preachy; it reads like a great novel. I'm glad I found the time to read this thoughtful book in time to nominate it for a Hugo.
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Tool of War is the next volume in the series Bacigalupi started with The Drowned Cities. I read it because I am a Bacigalupi fan, but I am not a fan of this corporate war-torn series. I think my review of The Drowned Cities says most of what needs to be said here. This book, as the title suggests, is about the superwarrior, Tool. It's the middle book of a trilogy, so naturally, it is mostly uninteresting. During the relatively few interesting parts, absolutely terrible things happen, so those parts don't redeem the rest of the novel. I'm going to stop reading this series and wait for Bacigalupi to write something else.

Quoting my review of The Drowned Cities below:

Although I am a fan of Paolo Bacigalupi and respect him a great deal, I did not enjoy his latest work, <I>The Drowned Cities</I>. This is a book about war, and it's full of all of the ugliness of war, particularly child soldiers. It's about as ugly as the ugly parts of <I>Perdido Street Station</I>, but without the mitigating elements. It was creepy, but not in a good way.

The story takes place in a future California where African armies have taken over and started a territorial war. At one point, some Chinese peacekeepers came in to try to get the warriors to grow crops rather than fighting with each other. The peacekeepers failed, and retreated. One of our primary characters, Mahlia, is left behind by her Chinese father when he retreats. Her native mother is killed in the war, and Mahlia loses her right hand. Amputations are a favorite technique of these soldiers. Mahlia's Chinese appearance makes her despised by most of the other people, but she is saved from death or further amputation by another "war maggot," a boy called Mouse. She and Mouse end up learning some medicine and assisting a doctor, who is also trying unsuccessfully to stop the war.

The other primary character a genetically engineered superwarrior called Tool. He's impervious to bullets and much stronger than any ordinary man, and he has dog genes that are supposed to make him obedient. But Tool demonstrates an ability to think for himself.

Thematically, this story is about how to stop war, and what makes war continue once it starts. In this way, it is fascinating. In order to demonstrate its point, it has to show the true ugliness of war at its worst. I felt, after reading parts of it, that I needed to take a bath. Yes, it's supposed to make you feel that way. But I found it all to be too much and did not care for it.

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The New York Times called Charlie Jane Anders "a master absurdist." I can't say it better. Charlie's lovely little book is full of absurdity, whether it be talking cats or inherited artificial body parts. But there is so much more wonder here than absurdity.

six months, three days, five others consists of six short stories. If there is an underlying theme, it is the tragic poignancy of the changes human relationships undergo with time. Sometimes things are sweet, sometimes they are very painful. The writing is powerful.

Charlie keeps the themes from becoming excessively heavy with her brilliant humor. The language often comes from inside the characters' heads, in the style of the ways we actually think. This makes these absurd situations feel familiar, emphasizing the similarity with our own lives and relationships. She humorously juxtaposes things that don't belong together, such as "cat treats and Sufi poetry." This is wonderful satire in the fine tradition of Kurt Vonnegut, ridiculing what's important to us, but recognizing the preciousness in our humanity all the same.

I loved this book, and it deserves a Hugo nomination in some category. I will disclose that I am local to Charlie and know her personally (along with some of the people she mentions in her acknowledgements).
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I'm sorry, Ann. I'm sorry, Crystal. I'm a fan, a huge fan, of Ann Leckie, I really am. I adored the imagination of the Ancillary series, thought it was some of the best world building since Dune. But I did not like Provenance.

Provenance is set in the same universe as the Ancillary series, but, instead of being about the Radch, it is about some of the other groups. But these groups are just not as interesting, or controversial, as the Radch. This book lacks the imagination that made the Ancillary series so exciting. The most interesting thing it has is a third gender--that's been done before.

This story is all about political intrigue. It's interplanetary intrigue, not court intrigue, but intrigue nonetheless. And it bores me. The book questions the legitimacy of government and of imprisonment. While those themes are interesting, they are nowhere near as deep as the themes of Leckie's previous books. This is kind of a cute little story about a heroine in competition with her brother the inheritance of political power from a parent. Not at all my kind of book.

So, with my sincerest apologies to an otherwise great author, I have to say I cannot recommend this book.
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I had Ian McDonald's Luna: New Moon on my list of books to read, but I never managed to get around to it. Probably I should have read that before picking up Luna: Wolf Moon. Alas.

My feelings on Luna: Wolf Moon are mixed. I loved about a third of it. There are some moments of fabulous space drama. I enjoyed many of the characters, particularly Lucasinho, and I liked the bits of Portuguese and references to Brazil. I absolutely adored the bit about baking in low gravity. But, even though this is absolutely a science fiction book and not a work of fantasy, much of the book is about competition between economic factions on Lunar settlements. It's about as much like court intrigue as you can get without actually being court intrigue. The book has a list of dramatis personae at the end to help you keep track of all of the characters and factions, and I'm sorry, I just don't have the patience for that. I yawned through a lot of it.

If you like both science fiction and fantasy, you will probably love this book. If you are like me and only like one or the other, you probably won't like a lot of it. I've decided I'm not going to read any more of this series.
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