Monday, February 18, 2008

The Bookshelf

Happy Washington's Birthday, everyone.

Every once in a while (OK, once before) I like to give mini-reviews of the books sitting beside my bed. This time it's all science fiction:

  • Radio Freefall, by Matthew Jarpe: A first novel. It's got sex (a bit). Drugs (a bit more). Rock and Roll (lots). It's also somewhat cyberpunky, since everyone and everything is connected to the web. And, finally, it pays tribute to Heinlein, what with a moon colony that's revolting.

    Despite all that, the novel most reminds me of George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag, what with a mysterious old rocker called Aqualung raising and obscure band to world-wide fame, with potential world-wide catastrophe looming.

    As a first novel it's not bad, though it does require the Evil Villain to be Phenomenally Stupid at just the right moment. Worth looking at, and looking for the next Jarpe novel.

  • Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. You think of Vinge as a hard SF writer, but he does often does something that resembles cyberpunk. This one takes place around 2030, and it's pretty much believable that we'll be as connected as he says here. It's also pretty much believable that the geezers at that time (meaning us) will be pretty much out of it. Great plotting. A little confusing at the end, and I never did figure out who Rabbit was. But worthy of the Hugo it won.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Another first novel, and another Hugo winner. Set in the Napoleonic era, it's the story of the magician Mr. Norrell and his partner/apprentice/rival Jonathan Strange. It's definitely not cyberpunk. To me it reads like Vanity Fair, but it's probably technically Georgian, it's just that I'm lot more familiar with the Victorian era. The paperback copy is over 1,000 pages long, and I'm only half finished, but it's worth looking at.

  • Cyril Kornbluth is probably best known for the short story The Marching Morons and his collaborations with Frederik Pohl. His Share of Glory has all of the short fiction written solely by Kornbluth, either under his own name or a pseudonym.

    I want to like this book. I really do. But the stories are dated, sexist, racist (see The Education of Tigress McCardle, which manages to be both), and just not fun. It would have been nice to see if Kornbluth could have grown in the 1960s, as Asimov, Pohl, Anderson and Heinlein at least tried to do (though they started from a far higher level), or if his output would have just slowly wound down into total hackdom. Unfortunately he died young, so we'll never find out. Recommended only if you really like 40s and 50s SF, and then you'll want to take it in small doses.