Sleepers (The Swarm Trilogy, Vol 1)

SleepersSleepers
by Megg Jensen

One of the things I like best about my iPad is reading books on it. And with the proliferation of ebooks there are so many more available to read. I check a lot of books out of the library using Overdrive, but I also like to check out authors I’m not familiar with, especially if they offer inexpensive or free copies of their books.

Sleepers was on my list of recommendations from Amazon, and it has the wonderful price of free — hard to beat that. So, I downloaded it, and read it. And honestly, I wish I could get that time back.

I realized when I was around 81% through the book that the only reason I was continuing to read it was because I was so close to the end, I wanted to get it finished. Ironically, at that point I decided to go to Amazon.com and write a review of it there. I figured, with only 19-20% of the book left, how much could I be missing?

Famous last words.
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The 12 SciFi and Fantasy Books Currently on My Kindle

I have fallen in love with my iPad primarily because of the Kindle and iBook apps. I love that I can keep dozens (if not hundreds) of books available for me to read whenever the mood strikes me. I love that I can make comments and notes right inside the book, and not ruin the book itself. I love that I can download samples to see if I really would want to purchase the book. And I love that when a new book comes out that I’ve pre-ordered, it shows up on my desktop right away — no trip to the store required.

Because of this, I always have a bunch of books available to read on my iPad. Here are the SciFi and Fantasy books I am currently or soon going to read:

What’s in your Kindle or Kindle app right now?

What SciFi or Fantasy are You Reading?

Sometimes it can be difficult to decide what to read, so here I’m posting a list of the NPR Science Fiction and Fantasy Vote for 2011. Which of these books have you read?

1632, by Eric Flint
1984, by George Orwell
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
Armor, by John Steakley

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Gridlinked

Gridlinked
by Neal Asher

This book took me a few more pages than normal to get into. There are a lot of concepts in the book that are left up to the imagination of the reader. This includes things like the reason the main character is “Gridlinked” and who he is and what type of military he is. I felt like I’d missed the first book in the series. But because this is Asher’s first book, I’m not sure how that is.

But I didn’t give up on the book, and eventually I got into it. Once I stopped worrying about the aspects of the story that I didn’t understand, it was a lot more fun. The main character, Ian Cormac, is a tough character – a lot like James Bond. Humans have given over most government to AIs and the AIs take better care of the universe than humans ever did. They control a network of “runcibles” that allow for instantaneous transport across the universe.

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The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2)The Tombs of Atuan

After reading A Wizard of Earthsea I, of course, picked up The Tombs of Atuan, the second book in the series. Just like the first book, this book did not disappoint me. It has all of the excellent writing and storytelling that I expect of Ursula K. Le Guin.

One of the best aspects of this book is the point-of-view. It’s not told from Ged’s viewpoint. In fact, he doesn’t show up in the book until the middle. It’s the point-of-view of Tenar or Arha (The Eaten One) and her job as the Priestess for the Nameless Ones. As the reader, we’ve already been given hints that Ged is going to show up in the Tombs at some point because he is destined to do something with the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, at least we’re told that in A Wizard of Earthsea, but he’s not the focal point.

What makes this especially intriguing for me is that in typical fantasy, his would be the obvious focal point. After all, he’s the hero, he’s the one who saves the world, he’s the person with the super powers, and, worst of all, he’s the man. Instead, Le Guin takes us into the mind of Tenar who is, in some senses on the side of the enemy. She’s been raised from age 5 to be the Priestess of the Nameless Ones, the ones who are holding half of the ring. And yet we care about her. In fact, it wasn’t all that clear to me that the Nameless Ones were as horrible as Ged portrays them to her.

That is the weakness of the story. The dreaded evil Nameless Ones aren’t really as evil as the other priestesses that Tenar lives with. They were creepy and scary in a way that the lightless tunnels and the labyrinth were not. In fact, one of Tenar’s friends wants to run away from those priestesses. So when Ged shows up and talks her into foresaking her gods and leaving with him, I don’t completely buy it.

But it’s okay. The book is very interesting and fun and a new take on the Ged Sparrowhawk character after he’s found his adulthood but before he’s come into all of his powers. If you read A Wizard of Earthsea you should read The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore just for completeness sake. And again, you won’t be disappointed. I liked Tombs, I just wish that the character rationalizations were a bit stronger.

A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1) A Wizard of Earthsea

I last read this book when I was around 10 years old, and I know I enjoyed it then. But when A Legend of Earthsea came out on the SciFi Channel, I decided I needed to read it again. I wasn’t disappointed.

Ursula K. LeGuin is not a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame because she writes bad books, and A Wizard of Earthsea is just what you would expect from a Hall-of-Famer. In fact, I would say that anyone who wants to know the Fantasy genre should read this entire series, but especially A Wizard of Earthsea.

Some things you should note:

  1. Books were shorter then. This book is only around 200 pages long, unlike the epics that are coming out as trilogies, 600 pages per book (aka 1800 pages for the trilogy). This makes it a quick read, and fun. Not something that ends up seeming like a chore to complete.
  2. Fantasy doesn’t have to be a Lord of the Rings clone, and this isn’t. I actually stopped reading fantasy for a long time because it seemed like every book that comes out was about a group (usually called a Fellowship) on a quest to stop some great doom from befalling their land. And the hero was always someone you least expected. Plus elves and wizards. UGH!

This is the story of Ged Sparrowhawk and how he comes of age as a wizard in his land. He is a typical teenager in many ways, not too sure of himself, but knowing what he wants and going after it without thinking of the consequences. Because of this, he ends up unleashing something that he shouldn’t have. And so spends the rest of the book figuring out what to do about it.

What I like best about this fantasy is that it was easy for me as a 10-year-0ld to appreciate and it’s still easy for me to appreciate. Ged is an engaging character who is interesting, and while he has character flaws (pride primarily) he does work to redeem himself. The hardest thing for me about the book was the hammering on about his pride. She must have mentioned it five or six times, and it is what gets him in trouble.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about fantasy or wanting to see how a true master of the genre writes. You won’t be disappointed. And if you read it back when it came out (1968) or in the 70s when you were 10, then I recommend you read it again. It stands the test of time, and remains a great book.

Crucible

Crucible Crucible by Nancy Kress

When I first picked up this book and read the inside cover, I thought “I haven’t ever read the first book in this series, so I don’t want to read this one yet.” But something made me pick it up anyway, probably that it was by Nancy Kress who’s Beggars in Spain impressed me deeply in the 90s. It turns out that I had read the first book in the series (Crossfire), but the blurb was so different from my memory of the story that it confused me.

Crucible was a disturbing story for me, especially in the aftermath of the United States 2004 Presidential election. It is the story of a planet of farmers. They came to their new world in a colony ship with four approximately equal groups: Chinese, Arabs, Quakers, and whites. I’m not going to describe their colonization, that’s the subject of a different book and review, but suffice it to say that they lived in veritable peace and harmony for a long time. There was some relative wealth and relative poverty, but in general the society was fair and egalitarian and it seemed to work.

Then the spaceship, The Crucible, arrived from earth. It was carrying, ostensibly, a group of scientists and military who wanted to study the first non-human intelligence that had ever been found and that shared the planet with the colonists. But it turned out to contain a lot more than that.

What was disturbing to me was the similarities I saw between the leader of that ship and the elected leaders of the United States. One in particular fell in love with the planet Greentrees, and so did all in his power to protect her. This amounted to declaring martial law, because there was a possibility that the aliens could come back to the planet and destroy all the humans. Of course, this hadn’t happened in decades, but he was able, by increments to convince the populace that what he was proposing was not only necessary, but right and desirable. And the population went along with him and, in general, loved him for it.

I’m not going to spoil the end for you, but let me just say that the parallels between the U.S. right now and this book were scary to me. And I hope that the parallels stop short of how Kress ended her story.

This is a very strong scifi story with lots of twists and turns. There are aliens and space battles, and even sentient plants. But in the end it is really a story with a commentary about life as we live it today.

And as a hint, don’t read the inside cover blurb. While it is essentially accurate, it is very misleading about the true tone of this book.

Forty Signs of Rain

Forty Signs of Rain Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

I don’t generally like books that don’t have clear cut endings. Bad guy is caught, white hats save the day, etc. Forty Signs of Rain isn’t like that. In a way, the white hats fail and the bad guy is mother nature taking back what she gave. It’s not really a story of hope. But then again, it could be.

In this election year, I find myself thinking a lot about politics and how we govern ourselves. Clearly, Mr. Robinson had that in mind with this book. He very blatantly discusses the politics of Washington D.C. and the NSF and is not terribly impressed. And as we vote ourselves more bread and circuses, I have to say I don’t particularly blame him.

But this isn’t a political novel, not really. It’s set just a few years in the future (“Phone, call Roy” is the most technological advance you see – and that’s around now) and global warming has taken a turn for the worse. The arctic ice pack has broken up and the gulf stream may have stalled causing, possibly, rapid climactic change.

This was a fascinating look at the way that politics and science collide. And while it is a disaster novel, it also has suggestions for what we can do about it. I found the references to game theory and “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” interesting, but Frank, the character who brought them up spent 3/4ths of the story a flat, boring character who was only interested in analyzing life rather than living it. Luckily, Frank was not the only character.

Charlie, the work-at-home dad who was the environmental adviser for a member of Congress, was by-far, my favorite character. His discussions with his toddler son Joe were humorous and he had very strong beliefs that he was happy to expound upon. His wife, Anna, works at the NSF and is just a little less flat than her co-worker Frank. Then there’s Leo back in California, who seemed to be introduced mostly as a foil to all the rain in Washington, D.C.

But we don’t read SciFi for characterizations either. The science is interesting and inventive, the moral is not too heavy-handed, and the destruction is ultimately quite satisfying. This book is not Robinson’s best, but it’s a fun read with some interesting twists and turns throughout. If you find yourself feeling preached at, that’s probably a common feeling, but Robinson didn’t let the preaching get in the way of showcasing how science and government collide.