In 1997, the world of “it’s all online” was even futher away than it is now, and Greg Bear did a pretty good job anticipating a lot of it. This story takes place in a future where the US is fractured into many different political regions and the unifying theme for people is their consumption of data feeds called Yox. These are sort of lowest-common-denominator geared entertainment streams or feeds that people on welfare can just barely afford. Through all this something nefarious is happening. People who received therapy -- which itself happens through the addition of internal nanotech that keeps things balanced -- are finding it failing, chaos is sneaking in, things are falling apart. This book follows a set of disparate characters who all play small roles until the big brouhaha at the end of it.
Readers who enjoy Bear will like this, there’s lots of fun science and verbatim quotes from the Yox while ring errily true to how a lot of Internet stuff seems to be going. On the downside, there is no central character and I spent a lot of time in the book keeping track of what seemed to me to be three or four separate stories. All of these stories were fine, none of them was so compelling that I was dying to know what happened next which is how I often feel when reading Bear’s books. This was a lot of balls to keep in the air at once and while I liked all the characters somewhat, I didn’t like any of them enough to really care and worry about what happened to them. As a result, the final scenes where they all come together were a little disjointed and cluttered with a bunch of characters I felt like I barely knew. It’s just a small kvetch though, overall I enjoyed Bear’s new world
This is the only Greg Bear book that I haven’t thought was just awesome. It’s the follow-up to the “end of the world” novel Forge of God which was really pretty interesting. This entire book takes place in spaceships after the destruction of the earth and a team of children are assigned by unknown beings to destroy the beings who destroyed their planet. It’s convoluted and weird and bear has a real task set out for himself to describe a whole bunch of places that are completely foreign, with no familiar hooks to hang descriptions off of.
That said, it’s flat. There is a lot of description and very little human interaction that is familiar. The kids are precocious, bisexual, and directed in almost all of their daily routines by these silver robots. It reads a lot like the child packs in some of Orson Scott Card’s novels but with less of an emphasis on social aspects. In short, I didn’t like any of the characters and there was a lot about how their society was organized that just needed to be taken at face value. Many of the rules seemed odd or forced. When the kids have to interact with other alien life forms, Bear has obviously gone through a lot of trouble to think out how a completely alien life form would appear and interact. However, it seems like a sci fi exercise more than a coherent story that someone else would want to read. As a sequel it just barely gives a nod to the previous book and shares none of its compelling parts.
Greg Bear is my favorite SCIENCE fiction writer. I started reading him with his book Darwin’s Radio and with the exception of the sequel to Forge of God, I’ve enjoyed all of his books. This one is about nanotechnology. A rougue scientist discovers a way to make tony living machines. A dust-up at his lab results in him having to flee with the biologicals inside his body. Chaos ensues. It’s a bit tough to follow because there are long dense passages about cellular regeneration that were a little over my head, I think. I say I think because I didn’t understand them and I perfectly followed the entire rest of the novel. Bear’s integration of the science + story isn’t as tight in this book as it is in others, but it’s still a lively bio-apocalyptic story with some good characters and a lot of the odd scenarios that confronting this sort of disaster brings out.
Greg Bear takes science fiction to an entirely new level of depth and understanding. He’s a great writer and the characters he creates can really hold their own against some pretty spectacular science and technology. This book is about the colonization of Mars, a few generations after the initial contact. The Earth, Moon and Mars are part of a loose organization called The Triple. Earth folks are proceeding in all the science-y ways, getting biological enhancements, experiencing simlated realities and prolonging life while Martians are a more serious bunch, concerned with the more immediate issues of survival and resourcefulness. One Martian woman works her way up through the political process [visting Earth along the way] at the same time as things between the Earth and Mars starts to sour. Add to this mix some technology that is not fully understood and could have devastating impacts and the political finesse required to work things out is a challenge to our heroine.
Oddly, this is a book about politics, it is also about science. Like other Bear books I have read, most notably the Darwin series, he infuses books with a hearty dosage of both. So, while we learn about the atmosphere on Mars and the differences in a society where years are longer and days are shorter, we also learn about the many forms of governance that Mars has, has had, and will have. This is not a short book and some of this information is detailed in a way that only a real fan would truly love, but it all coheres into a whole story that’s fascinating from start to finish.
It took me a hundred pages of this book for me to be certain I hadn’t read it before. It has the same transform policewoman that another of Bear’s books has and another crime that has to do, loosely, with therapied vs. untherapied people in a future where that sort of thing matters. I’m glad I stuck with it, even though the beginning is sort of a slog. It covers several stories at once including one sub-theme that has to do with the role of a thinker -- a computer brain type character -- whose text is all written as if it were appearing on a dumb terminal in front of you. A little tough to read early on, but the stories all come together in a really neat way and Bear’s imagination and ideas about future scenarios are excellently evident in this novel.
It will be pretty hard to review or even talk about this book without giving out some spoilers. Then again, the same could be said for other reviews I read of it which said things like “The best end of the world novel ever!” In any case, there is a lot to like about this book besides just the dramatic end of the world scene at the, um, end of the book.
Bear knows his science which is one of the things that makes most of his books entertaining in a cerebral as well as an escapist way. This book concerns one or possibly two alien life forms that come to earth with the intent to destroy and/or save it. It’s confusing and murky and you follow a lot of different people through the policy and personal issues that this new development raises.
People tell me that I’m lucky, that I managed to hit all of Bear’s good intellectually stimulating books without running into any of the dogs. I don’t know what the dogs look like, but this book was a great thriller. The basic outline could have come out of the mind of PK Dick. The narrator -- a high level biologist and scientist working on life extension projects -- learns that his brother has been murdered and gets sucked into a bizarre world of intrigue. He lears that there has been a horrific project in the works that has as its eventual goal the mind controllability of the entire planet. At this point it sounds hokey but Bear is masterful with plot, and the amount he lets you know from point to point and the story evolves somewhat naturally, if something like this could be called natural.
The narrator meets a bunch of shady characters and works to try to figure out exactly what is going on before the bad guys get the best of him. Of course in true paranoid fashion it’s nearly impossible to tell who is a bad guy and who is a bad guy so our protagonist is constantly running around not knowing who to trust. The locations for this novel are widely disparate and weird. You could sort of see author Bear trying to figure out how to take a tax write off on a submarine ride or a trip aboard the world’s largest cruise ship. In any case the book does not disappoint and fans of Dick will be pleased to add this psychological thriller to their booklist.
This was a book I grabbed off my sister’s shelf because I left home for a few days and FORGOT TO BRING A BOOK. Bear is reliable and this was a book of his I hadn’t read, even though it’s over a decade old. It was a near-future bioterror thriller that was pretty interesting and lively with a lot of moving parts. I always appreciate Bear’s writing and I’ll pick up the sequel to this.
A sequel of sorts to Quantico. I both liked it a little more as a story but also grew tired of Bear including every possible near-future technology that he knows about. And yet, pretty interesting future predictions from a book over 10 yrs old. A page turner.
This book is a sequel to Darwin’s Radio the semi-dystopian novel that imagines a future in which evolution isn’t gradual, it’s sudden and a new species of human is born that are sort of human, but not quite. The US government, predictably, freaks out and these new children become outcasts and their parents become criminals. In this book, it’s ten years later, there are camps for the children set up all over the US and the remaining ones are being hunted by bounty hunters. The US is in a state of emergency because no one quite understands what is causing these children to be born or whether they are in some way harmful or dangerous. Of course, they also have new “features” such as communicating via scent and patterns of colored freckles on their faces.
Bear is a capable enough storyteller so this doesn’t just turn into a bad government versus the good families tale. It’s also now a brave new world where people all get along utopian piece either. All the characters, save a few, have nuances of personality that make them not all good and not all bad. While this book is readable without reading the first one, it’s a quick enough read that it’s worth the extra context you get from reading the first one first.
With the recent death of Stephen Jay Gould I have been casting about to make sure I get enough science reading in my diet. This book -- while nominally science fiction -- fits the bill. It’s fascinating. The general premise, summed up as ‘what if evolution didn’t happen gradually over time, but all of the sudden, and you could prove it?’ makes a gripping story. The story is told from the several perspectives of main characters who are involved in differing ways as the tale unfolds. They are believable and yet flawed, and make decisions the reader can understand.
The book also does not skimp on the science. While the ultimate premise is not currently correct, many of the smaller sub-premises concerning retroviruses and the study of contagious diseases and virii are spot on. I have never read another one of Bear’s novels, but if his other books are anything like this one, I will be sure to pick up anything he has done.
My sister could not remember which Greg Iles book this was when I was talking to her about it until I said “You know, the one where the lead character is getting raped and she bit the guy’s throat out and killed him, that one?” and she said “Oh yeah!” Not for the faint of heart, this is another great whodunit by Iles which has a lot of disturbing sexual abuse in it. That is usually a total put-the-book-down dealbreaker for me, but for some reason Iles seems to have enough sympathy with his female characters that I don’t see his writing as rape porn and enjoy figuring out what happens at the end. That said, if this sort of thing turns your stomach, you will not like this book.
Read this and a few other Benjamin Bear books that we just got into the library. Fun! Simple graphic novels for kids but with little bits that make you (or a young kid) think about the bigger picture. Really delightful, each short strip has some little bit that will make you smile.
Suggested to me by a friend, this dystopian book is a bit like Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear. Suddenly for no particular reason people are being born smarter... a lot smarter. And what happens? The government implements a crackdown to keep these people under control. Which, as you might guess, backfires somewhat. A really good social type of thriller.
A likeable but sort of weird book about what it feels like to encounter near death experienecs, and sometimes die. It’s hard to explain. The author took a lot of scenarios [bear attack, shark bite] and write this book up as small chapters, in the second person, as if the event were happening to you. I found this to be a weird choice, personally, and it made the book a lot less awesome than I thought it would be. Sometimes the person ["you"] dies and sometimes not. Often the chapter ends with some sort of lulzy joke which I thought was a little stupid and not really in fitting with the “Hey I just died here!” setting. There’s a lot of good information and a decent bibliography otherwise, but I was left feeling like I wish someone else had written the same book.
I like Crichton fine, even though I dislike his politics. I skipped Jurassic Park and Disclosure because I had already seen them ruined by Hollywood, but in general he’s a capable storyteller and a smart man. This was one of those stories where something secret is going on at a remote lab in the middle of the desert that has the potential to ruin life as we know it. It reminded me a lot of Greg Bear’s Blood Music except without the truly terrible outcome. Lots of nanotechnology that you know Crichton did some background research on, and a lot of twists and turns on the way to figuring out what the heck is really happening. This book held my interest without keeping me up at night.
I definitely judged this book by its cover, a weird technicolor rabbit, even though the book has basically nothing to do with rabbits. This is the book Ready Player Two (or One) wanted to be. A weird technothriller where improbable things always bear further scrutiny. I was left w/ a lot of questions, but unlike w/ most books, I didn’t mind. Seattleites of a certain age will especially love this because it goes all the places you probably went and it was nice to see those places alive again.
This was the next in the series after Ancestral Night but has almost none of the same characters which was a bit of a disappointment. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much mainly because I was managing a toothache and the lead character was also someone who grappled with chronic pain. Which is good as a plot device--seemed realistic, gave the character depth etc--but may not have been right for me at the time. Still a compelling multi-species space opera story, this one set in more of a space hospital.
This is a great kids' book that I had when I was a kid and didn’t even know that it was older than me. I picked it up again at the library to show to some young friends who were visiting. It’s great. It is a story of a kid who gets a microscope and has a good time learning things and experimenting with his family (mom and dad) and there are a lot of neat drawings of what things look like under a microscope glass.
Such a poignant look at post war Appalachia and the people who live there and have to make do the best way they can. Some have jobs in the mills. Some run moonshine. Some make moonshine, some are cops. Some are robbers. It’s a great look at one family and the way they deal with what the future has to bear as well as some demons from the past. I loved this book and am going to go read all of Brown’s other ones.
My fave genre, the female-captained cargo spacer with a bunch of different species interacting as they delve into a great mystery on the outskirts of the universe. Psychologically interesting without being entirely trauma-centered. This is the first of a series and definitely worth continuing.
I almost did not pick this book up. It looked like one of those typical torture stories where a criminal sociopath decides to make a family’s life a living hell, most likely by torturing and/or nearly raping all their female characters. This did not come to pass. The book is more interesting than that, though Isles is still a little tawdry for my tastes. This family fights back. So when the daughter is kidnapped at the same time as the husband -- away on a business trip -- is held hostage until the kidnapers get their money, the family fights back. It’s not super predictable but it’s not a bunch of new twists and turns either. Isles has set up an interesting scenario with some predictable Iles flavor (the little diabetic girl. we cringe as she eats Captain Crunch and wonder if she’ll get her life saving insulin in time... does Iles do this just to get a tax write-off for medications?) and a decent resolution.
Iles always walks the line between stuff that is a bit too icky for me to read and stuff that is compelling and intriguing. This book straddles that line. It’s a story about a murdered girl who had been having a relationship with her doctor. Apparently she has also been having various types of relationships with other people as well. Since the dead girl was seventeen, this has a lot of repercussions, legally and socially, for those around her as the criminal investigation proceeds.
I’m not averse to reading about the weird world of teenage sex, but Iles saves a super graphic and disturbing rape scene for the very very end of this book, the last few pages really, tacked on to what was otherwise a sexy but not violently sexy (mostly) story. I found this hard to stomach and it made me much less likely to pick up another one of his books until I can get it vetted for sexual sadism. This is just my own personal preference as fasr as reading thriller/mysteries goes, but unlike some of his other stories which I felt were more cerebral, this one achieves a lot of its impact through beingtruly shocking, which was of less inteerst to me.
I got this book out of the library the same day I got the other Iles book which I hated. This book was better. It’s a thriller about a man who appears to be being stalked from beyond the grave by the soul of his ex-first-love who inhabits a lot of different bodies. It’s a good but not great story and the presence of a lawyer-turned-best-selling-author character [Iles is pals with John Grisham] as a minor character is a little too precious for me. There is a lot of good scene-setting in Natchez Missisippi and some interesting relationship dynamics and a LOT of sex. At the end of it all, I wasn’t sad that I’d read it, but it was no Footprints of God.
Warning: this review reveals plot points in this book.
I enjoyed the last book of Iles' that I read and was happy to find this one in my local library. My sister had told me that all his books are pretty different so liking one was no assurance of liking the others. When I was reading it someone asked me how I liked it and I said “If it doesn’t go all freaky towards the end, then it’s great” Alas, it went all freaky. This doesn’t totally negate the book down to sorry-I-read-it status, but does make me strongly not recommend it to people who maybe enjoyed reading Footprints of God. Long story short the main character is a woman who is a photojournalist. Many of the people around her have died horrible deaths or disappeared. This is treated as just one of those things [father dies in the war, fiancee dies covering the war, first love drowns himself, twin sister is abducted and probably dead] and as baggage she carries around with her. A series of paintings depicting women asleep or dead start to surface and become cult objeects. One of them looks like her, or her sister.
She gets obsessed and starts trying to track down the origin of these paintings. Up to this point, it’s fascinating, moves quickly and I have to say that Iles does a reasonable job of writing a first person female perspective. Then the story gets lame. One of the possible angles, brought up by our protagonist, is “hey maybe the killer has multiple personality disorder and that’s why we can’t identify the painting style....” Someone else goes so far as to say “Nah, that only happens in movies” and then it happens in this book. The painter/killer is some sort of psychosexual MPD sufferer who abducts women and keeps them alive by maintaining them on IVs of alternating painkillers and insulin before finally killing them. The whole last scene is just a macabre “here is the story of my horrific abuse” tale recounted while our hero is locked in the torture chamber waiting for death. I have to admit that I would have put down the book at this point except that I was wondering whether the missing sister and/or Dad were alive or dead. The whole book is so tight, and non-derivative and then the last chapter or two read like a Dean Koontz novel with the main chacter frantically eating twinkies to keep her blood sugar out of coma-range. An undignified schlocky ending -- you can see how maybe it looked great on paper -- to an otherwise great book.
My sister pushed this into my hand and said “You have a long bus ride, you’ll like this” and I did. It’s another in what has been a long series of quasi-religious fiction thrillers. This one is both the most serious about religion and also takes it the most lightly in some ways. The general idea is: scientists are building a computer that may or may not be able to attain consciousness. Some people are trying to stop it from happening. Good guy battles incredibly powerful people who may or may not be evil and may or may not have consciences.
The religious stuff isn’t really central, or it didn’t seem that way to me who did skim some of the religous parts. However, the questions that are raised about consciousness and supreme power do have religious overtones, probably more if you go in for that sort of thing. The thriller part of the story -- people trying to avoid detection by other people who seem to have every detection device available -- is a fun enough romp as it is. I’ve rarely read thrillers lately that don’t make me feel sort of cheap and used at the end of it when I learn the resolution. This book does have a bit of a pat ending, but the reading to get there is still worthwhile.
Greg and I read this book out loud to each other in the evenings over a period of several months. Bryson is a bit hard to read out loud. He’s a great writer, very smart with words and wordy with sentences. However, much like this trip he takes, in fact, he tends to ramble all over the place making you read ahead three words for every word you read out loud. We both loved this book. Bryson starts down South determined to get to Mount Katahdin in Maine by the end of the season. He both does and does not accomplish this. Along the way he spends time with an old friend, learns way too much AT history and even gets himself in a bit of shape.
This book isn’t quite, as the back cover blurbs call it, “hilarious.” There are some pretty funny parts, definitely worth chuckling over, but just when you think you’re in for a rip-roaring good time, Bryson will tell you the stories of what happened to the American Chestnut tree, or discuss hikers who have been murdered, or how development is encroaching on the rest of Americas wilderness, and you sober right up. This was a perfect read for when we had to sit inside and look out at the freezing Vermont landscape and just try to remember what a tree smelled like, or a long walk felt like. Bryson’s practically a neighbor and I was suprised how much his perception of much of this area is not unlike my own. Definitely one of the best books of this year so far.
After finishing this chock-full-of-word-trivia book by Bryson who wrote one of my favorite books of last year In A Sunburned Country I’ve decided that I like Bryson talking about Bryson even more than I like him talking about anything else. So, to say that this book was a disappointment would be wrong, but it wasn’t laugh out loud funny and the things that I found so delightful about Bryson as a writer were less evident in this book. On the other hand, that’s the absolute worst of it, and that’s not too bad.
Word fans will die when they see what Bryson has in store for them. He traces the history of the peculiar language we call English and other people call AMERICAN English from the very beginning settlements on the continent up until the weird PC era of the 90’s. He discusses where a lot of slang comes from, dispells common myths about word origins and has weird factoids you are pretty much guaranteed not to know on every page. I read this book at about the same time greg was reading about the Gettysburg Address in one book and while we watched the PBS documentary about the history of New York City and both segued uncannily into what I was reading. Bryson’s humor, though not as always-apparent as it was in his other book, is still present and keeps some of these chapters from turning into dull recitations of history. I’ve learned more from this book than possibly any other book in the past few months, now if I can only remember all of it...
John Dunning is a reporter turned bookstore owner/author who has written a series of myseries about Cliff Janeway, a cop turned bookstore owner. Like many other retired-cop novels, the protagonist gets dragged back into the game again when his knowledge of books and bookstores and publishing comes to bear. I have loved this entire series which also includes The Bookman’s Wake and Booked to Die. The book titles are cheesy but the books are not. Each mystery is about some aspect of rare book collecting and Dunning is as informative as he is interesting. This latest novel concerns a lost notebook of Richard Burton’s and a larger mystery concerning what happened to an old collection of rare books. Janeway travels from his native Denver to the East Coast in order to track down the answer.
Found this little 29 page gem when I was waiting at Yale in the library for Greg to be done with his conference. It’s a private printing of a short essay written by Jessamyn West on the subject of readers and their writers, or the reverse. It was sent to friends for New Year’s and I’d never heard of it before
Like many private printings, this one is quite attractive, though not too precious. In it, West recounts a talk she went to in which the speaker [identified by her, forgotten by me] extolls the virtues of flowerly, even purple, prose and castigates those who simply write in plain language. West disagrees with this approach and writes the remainder of this short essay explaining why. She posits three rhetorical questions to her audience
- Is an unread book a book?
- Can a writer exist without a reader?
- What is the influence of the reader on the writer?
As part of her answering of these questions, she examines letters from some of her readers, explaining and reading into their letters what they had expected to find in her books and in her writing. The book, or long pamphlet really, is completely delightful and really shows some of West’s amusing and thoughtful critical style of writing in addition to her skill with the English language.
The flying baby on the cover grabbed my attention but the writing inside the book kept me going. Peggy Vincent is a Midwestern woman who, through a series of plans and accidents, finds herself as a midwife in Berkeley California in the Sixties. She aspires towards the hippie-crunchy lifestyle she sees there and finds herself among a good group of teachers and clients and moves from working in an obstetrics ward to running her own practice, until a bad situation with a client causes her license to be revoked and she goes back to hospital obstetrics.
Vincent is chatty and conversational and you get the feeling she would be a fun person to have a cup of coffee with. Her Midwesterner-in-California personality makes a lot of the things she says when advocating midwifery seem to have more balance than if she were just a homegrown hippie gal who had known nothing else. The book is split into chapters which loosely take us through Vincent’s schooling at the rate of about one birth a chapter. Since most non-fiction birth stories usually are from the point of view of the birther, we rarely see giving birth in such a wide range of types, styles and opinions. Vincent is good at telling it how she sees it, offering advice but generally being supportive of most of the women and their individual choices in how to bear their babies. Since she is a midwife, she obviously leans towards this avenue as a preferred means of having control over ones own birthing situation, but does not get polemical or strident. She lets the stories speak for themselves, and she’s good at telling them.
I think of reading the Harry Potter books the way many people look at watching television -- I don’t seem to really enjoy it much lately but I do it so that I’ll have reference points to talk to my friends and colleagues.
I’ll have to side with AS Byatt when I wonder why adults don’t seem to be more attracted to stories about people their own age, or why this amount of violence [and dead children and adults] is in some way conscionable for books aimed towards young children. People familiar with my politics will know that I’m not one of those types who bemoans violence and thinks we are breeding a nation of killers, weaned on horrific sensationalist media. Yet, just as I think that Wal-Mart’s discriminatory practices bear special scrutiny since they are the largest employer in the US, so I think we should pay special attention to the almost hysterical popularity of these books with their two-dimensional portrayals of good and evil and a really huge amount of deceit, violence and wanton bad behavior.
It’s easy to arge that Rowling is actually a superb cultural satirist and that the way she describes the totalitarian regimes that take over Hogwarts and threaten the very tenets of the magical world are in fact parodying our own craven governments and media. However, I live that life every day and I read young adult fiction specifically to find something new, refreshing and maybe even positive not to see my own life of conflicts, petty squabbles, and hurts writ large in 800 pages of a story I used to enjoy but now just trudge through searching for a set of characters and stories I used to really enjoy.
Mention the term Eugenics nowadays and most people think of the horros of Nazi Germany and their creepy master race ideas. People don’t remember, or choose to forget, that Eugenics was in many ways the predecessor to much of biological and evolutionary science education at the turn of the century. This book traces the Eugenics movement in Vermont, particularly the work of Harry Perkins who got into the field of Eugenics early and left it a bit late. Vermont hung on to many ideas about Eugenics even after it was thought ot be passe or tacky or just errant in the rest of the country. Sterilization laws -- allegedly voluntary -- were passed as late as 1931 in Vermont. The combination of pseudosientific declarations of “unfitness to breed” and the possible threat of sterilization caused the Abenaki nationals -- Vermont’s only Native Americans -- to go underground for the next few decades
Gallagher tries to undo some of the simplistic “eugenicists were Nazis” argument on favor of a more fleshed out history explaining the motives and ideals of this group of people. Though not an apologist by any means, she tries to instill some humanity and sense of purpose into the people who were basically trying to set up a system in which they would decide who should and should not be able to bear and raise offspring, supposedly all in their best interests. Through it all, the problems faced by the borderline “unfit” seem to be more those of poverty than any sort of genetic traits of insanity or other bad inborn habits. Gallagher paints a lot of the genetic battlefield as more of a class war, the rich trying to monitor and control the poor, immigrants and asocial people of Vermont.