Tag Archives: 3 Stars

Ringworld

Author: Larry Niven

This here is one of them-thur classics of sci-fi literature. Although written in 1970, it harkens back to the earliest days of science fiction, where men were men, women were things, things were people, and authors considered books mere excuses to explore (admittedly awesome) thought experiments.

Like this one: what if you could build a giant ribbon shaped world, with a radius the same as that of Earth’s orbit. You could get tremendous surface area per mass, and solar power to boot.

The sci-fi elements are pretty sharp – alien races manipulating one another, technological marvels, spaceships, and built planets. The story elements are tepid – one guy goes on this voyage literally because he’s bored. Many plot elements, including all the major turning points, are explained by a woman’s genetic gift of luck – a lazy author’s device, although one that admittedly intrigued me.


The Graveyard Book


Author: Neil Gaiman

Let me preface this review by stating that I would bear Neil Gaiman’s love child. I know that this would require significant experimental surgery and a long talk with my wife, but, in the end, it would be worth it. I came to this conclusion after reading Sandman, and renewed my decision with American Gods, Neverwhere, and Stardust. And his short stories and poems, some of which are amongst the best I’ve read.

But Anansi Boys was a little meh.

And now the Graveyard Book.

I looked forward to this book for months. It seems a return to Gaiman’s simply delivered and richly textured work that runs through Stardust and many of his short stories. Patterned after the Jungle Book, this is the story of a boy named Nobody who is raised by the shades that inhabit a cemetery, a story told in a series of short-story chapters that gradually develop an over-arching plot which only becomes directly referenced in the last chapter.

I expect to love it. To really love it, as I do Sandman. I expected this to be a book that I would re-read yearly.

I expected too much.

It’s good. I should say that, somewhere. It is – the story is charming and imaginative. There isn’t much borrowed mythology, and what is borrowed is creatively massaged to fit the world of the story.

I suspect my disappointment is a result of the fact that this is a book for young readers. That is, while Gaiman avowed that it was written for readers of all ages, the syntax and story are ultimately simple. And I guess there just wasn’t enough world and wonder replace that lost stimulation.

I strongly suspect that my opinion will evolve with additional reading – this just seems the type of book that I have to be in the right mindset to appreciate.  Maybe your mind is already thusly set.


Little Brother

Author: Cory Doctorow

While this is technically a Young Adult novel, I think I can confidently recommend it to an older audience as well. Not too old, mind.

This is the tale of the aftermath of a terrorist attack in San Francisco, of how the Department of Homeland Security came in and did more damage to the people of the city than the terrorists ever did. The protagonist, “I”, (actually, his name is Marcus and/or M1k3y, but of course it is written in first person, as required by the 2005 SciFi POV Disarmament Treaty with the UK…) Anyway, Marcus and pals respond by undermining the DHS and “jamming” their procedures. And by covertly recording DHS excesses (hence the term Little Brother). And by, er, occasionally by kind of being terrorists, just not the kind that actually cause death. Directly.

The book at times virtually becomes a manual for hacking and subversive activities. I would have killed with my bare hands and/or teeth to get this book when I was 14. The afterword points to more primary sources, too.

Let me pull no punches: This is propaganda. The opposing viewpoint – that security can and should be achieved by sacrificing personal freedoms – is made only poorly and by despicable or pitiable individuals. But it is propaganda that I agree with, mostly, and who loves a sermon better than the choir?

Little Brother does not patronize its target audience. Indeed, some parents may be uncomfortable with the alcohol, drugs, and sex mentioned in the text. And, you know, the overthrowing the government thing. But, aside from the last one, these are presented in a calm, straightforward, non-sensationalized way. That is, alcohol shows up, but it’s never the point.

Why do I keep putting this book down? I don’t know. I liked it (except when the protagonist temporarily becomes a tool), but it makes me a little uncomfortable. Maybe I’m getting old.

Now get off my lawn.

P.S. Like much of Doctorow’s work, LB can be found for free via Creative Commons licensing.