Version Control by Dexter Palmer

Version Control by Dexter PalmerI was well more than half way into Version Control, the second novel by Dexter Palmer, when I realized that very little had happened in the novel. But I also realized that I didn’t really mind either:

Sure, there’s something like a time machine (or rather, a causality violation device – the physicist inventor would very much prefer you not call it a time machine) and some barely near-future technology like self-driving cars. But these speculative elements take a back seat to story that is both deeply intelligent and deeply human, a vehicle that Palmer uses to voice all manner of witty observations on everything from social media, to race relations, to religious faith.

This isn’t a book that I can really do justice to in a brief review, so go check out the more competent reviews on NPR or Mashable, or better yet, just go read the novel itself. Easily one of the cleverest, most affecting books I’ve read in recent memory.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping GiantsThis debut novel by Québécois author Sylvain Neuvel centers around a top-secret project to unearth an ancient humanoid machine, the parts of which were scattered across the earth and buried in a time before human recollection. A sort of mecha, presumably extra-terrestrial in origin and seemingly impervious to human weapons, the relic promises political and military dominance for whoever succeeds in mastering it.

The novel is told in an ambitious documentary style, eschewing conventional narrative and telling its story instead through a collection of transcripts, articles, and reports. The style works well here, giving the book the raw, unfiltered immediacy of watching breaking news, and the result is a fun page-turner and a promising start to a new series.

I did find some serious flaws, though, that I hope can still be at least partly remedied in subsequent books in the series: The geopolitical implications of this seemingly unbeatable weapon are hinted at from the start of the novel, but they really only unfold toward the very end of the book in a way that I found rushed and unconvincing. Also, I was disappointed to see the machine’s backstory given away in one long info dump rather than teased out more subtly over the span of the series.

Still, it was an entertaining book and a solid debut, and I am very much interested in seeing where the story goes in book two of The Themis Files.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley.

Reviews: Leviathan Wakes, The Lifecycle of Software Objects, The Vespertine

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, was recently nominated for the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and it’s appearance there was a bit of an outlier: Jo Walton’s Among Others and China Miéville’s Embassy Town both received earlier nominations for this year’s Nebula Award, and George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragon’s wasn’t much of a surprise. But Corey’s is the only first novel—first, at least, for the collaboration of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who publish under the Corey pen name—to appear on the list, but the nomination is, I think, well deserved.

The novel is written from the alternating perspectives of two different characters, each narrative overlapping somewhat in its description of events while also retaining something of its own character: Holden is the XO of an ice mining vessel, fiercely independent but with a heart of gold; Miller is a hard-bitten detective for a private security agency, cynical and a bit past his prime. The former’s story reads as swashbuckling space adventure, the latter a noir-inflected police mystery, and both quickly intersect with elements of alien encounter, zombie horror, and epic space battles. Continue reading Reviews: Leviathan Wakes, The Lifecycle of Software Objects, The Vespertine

Reviews: Windup Girl, Habibi, Hunger Games

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, published in 2009, won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, as well as numerous other accolades, including having been listed as the ninth best book of 2009 by TIME magazine.

The Windup Girl has been, rightfully I think, compared to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, particularly for their shared vision of a near-future of powerful multinational corporations and reckless privatization. But whereas Gibson focused largely on information technology, Bacigalupi focuses on the future role of genetic engineering and biotechnology, imagining a world in which genetic materials become commodities worth killing for. Moreover, The Windup Girl, set in Thailand, also provides an interesting example of a future in which the West’s cultural and economic hegemony has been eclipsed by the uncomfortable bedfellows of multinational corporations and emerging markets. Continue reading Reviews: Windup Girl, Habibi, Hunger Games

Reviews: Troika, Elmer, God’s War

I’ve got a small heap of books I keep meaning to review, but the stack (and soon, the overdue fines) seems to be growing faster than my motivation to write about them in depth. So here are three quick reviews of what I’ve read recently:Troika

Troika by Alastair Reynolds is a quick but satisfying hard-sf novella, weighing in at well under 200 pages. It’s a typical Big Dumb Object story, but with several clever twists that still make it compelling. The narrative alternates between the story of three Russian cosmonauts exploring the Matryoshka , a massive, alien object that mysteriously appeared in our own solar system; and the later story of one of those cosmonauts, driven half insane by his experience aboard the Matryoshka, trying desperately to reveal what he found there. Clever, cinematic storytelling rendered in smart prose. Good stuff. Continue reading Reviews: Troika, Elmer, God’s War