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Phil's Rambling Rants

August 28th, 2008

August 28th, 2008
12:28 pm

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Book review: Rolling Thunder
I'm starting to pile up a stack of books again.  First for today is Red Thunder by John Varley.

This is the third in the series that started with Red Thunder and continued with Red Lightning.  The main character is new, but the world carries over from the earlier books and may not be very clear.  From the way this one ended, it looks like the end, but he might either follow a hook that he hinted at and then left lying, or else follow along after major transitions.

There are cosmic events in this book, but most of the pages are devoted to the trials and tribulations of being a touring celebrity and pop star -- as far as I'm concerned a whole lot of pages with very little content.  Aside from that, we have another disaster, where we spend some time dwelling on how much disasters suck, though not as much as we did in Red Lightning, and it leads up to an ending that's pretty depressing.  There's also a consistency error with the series MacGuffin that made me feel like the writer is cheating and just doing whatever he feels like with his magic technology.

Page by page it's readable, but overall pretty disappointing.  Not recommended unless you really liked the earlier books in the series.  5 out of 10.

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02:13 pm

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Book review: The Sky People
Second review for today is The Sky People by S. M. Stirling.

This introduces a new world.  The immediate story is moderately well wrapped up but there is plenty of room in the world for more stories and some hint at the end that there might be more.  OK, I'm (sort of) connected to the Internet, I got off my ass and looked it up; there is a second book in the series, In the Court of the Crimson Kings, 2008, which I don't think I've even seen.

This is an alternate universe which diverges from our own as we start to actually learn stuff about Mars and Venus.  The early days of the space race were already different, but the world really changed when the Soviets landed a probe on Venus in 1962 and got video of what appeared to be humans until these Venusians smashed the camera.  The story actually takes place in 1988 on a Venus shared by dinosaurs, Pleistocene megafauna, and stone-age humans.  The major premise is a little hard to swallow, but the world extrapolated from it makes sense, and the accommodations the humans make to establish an Earth presence on Venus without miracle technology (so it's possible to get there but extremely hard and expensive) are fairly clever.  Next to that, my standard complaint with alternate history (that once the alternate world has diverged, it should have quickly become much more different; even though things have changed a lot, they haven't changed enough), and some minor quibbles about the biology (if he's going to stress that the lower gravity and higher oxygen content allow bigger insects than earth, the insects should actually BE bigger than earth's -- but his dragonflies are only slightly bigger than what we have today, and a lot smaller than the ones we had back in the Carboniferous) are very minor.  And, given how it touches me personally, I'm compelled to mention that adopting a baby predator from the wild only works that well in fiction, so please don't try it at home.

Every child of the 1970s wants to go play in a Land of the Lost that's not quite so hokey.  International intrigue, heroic derring-do with dinosaurs and smilodons, a touch of romance -- it would be great for a movie, except that Hollywood would probably have to add Sleestak.  We do get into some kinda-weird bigger picture stuff, but mostly this is just a big fun adventure.  Not one for the ages, but a solid, fun read.  8 out of 10.

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03:22 pm

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Cremation vs. Burial
So ericcoleman asks "Cremation or Burial", and I figure I'll post my reply here as well as just leaving it as a comment.

The only thing really appealing about cremation is the possibility of having bits of my ashes spread in multiple places that matter to me.

There is, however, nothing whatsoever the least bit appealing about being buried in a sealed casket and burial vault. Return me to the world, even if you must reduce me pretty much to atoms first.

Feed me to tigers. Leave my carcass on a mountaintop for the vultures. Make Soylent Green and have a party. Cremate me as a last resort. But don't bury me unless you really need to show how much you hate me -- and if the feeling is mutual I'll come back to haunt you.

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10:18 pm

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Book review: Way of the Wolf
One more review for today, Way of the Wolf by E. E. Knight.

This is the first book in the Vampire Earth series.  It introduces the world convincingly and goes to a reasonable end-of-episode (no awful cliffhanger).

Readers tired of today's sensitive new age vamps can hardly complain that this modern sfnal take on the legendary bloodsucker makes them too nice.  In fact, the only thing more evil and nightmare-inspiring than the alien vampires in this world is the human quislings who collaborate with them -- which, at least as a general theme, goes a long way back in the vampire canon.  The bad guys show up in about 2022, and we, the human race that is, lost the war, worldwide, in about a year, mostly thanks to a plague that makes humans into something as close to zombies as the aliens are to vampires.  But of course there are a few stubborn rebels who don't accept that, and we follow one of them through his training and the beginning of a promising career.  Nonstop action, pretty gory but not beyond my limits, a world that seems to be internally consistent and is well enough justified that I could suspend my disbelief for the ride, and a storyline whose predictability didn't keep me from turning pages.

A good book, if you're in the mood for this sort of a book, and I guess I was.  8 out of 10.

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