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Phil's Rambling Rants

March 11th, 2009

March 11th, 2009
11:18 am

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Book review: The Atrocity Archives
I have a stack of backed up book reviews.  First on the pile is The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross.

This book comprises a slightly short novel, "The Atrocity Archive", and a novella, "The Concrete Jungle", both previously published.  The two episodes connect reasonably well.  There is another volume of these stories and I'm not sure how they all fit together, but this volume stands alone well enough.

Stross is a very good world builder, and this book is no exception.  The major assumption the world is built on is a very weird one.  It posits that the structure of reality is such that simply performing certain kinds of mathematical calculation can actually have meaningful effects which would otherwise be described as magic.  Odd as it is, I'd almost be ready to call this science fiction, except that he also includes some other, more traditional magic that doesn't come from the same source and isn't well justified.  The mathematical basis of the important magic provides the excuse for enough references to obscure higher mathematics to warm any math geek's heart.  The magic is very dark, Lovecraftian stuff; this book could be shelved as horror as well as fantasy.  This is juxtaposed against a satirical depiction of bureaucracy run amok; the horror of extradimensional brain eaters is mixed with the horror of accounting for paper clips, so that we're not quite sure if the latter is just comic relief, or if the analogy between the two is really the main point of the book.  Against this background, we have plenty of breathless action and things blowing up.

Too far into horror to really be to my taste, but well done for what it is.  7 out of 10.

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12:21 pm

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Book review: By Schism Rent Asunder
The next book review on my pile is By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber.

This is the direct sequel to Off Armageddon Reef, which you should definitely read first.  This volume advances the overall story arc and ends at an only slightly frustrating place.

I could find a lot of reasons to say this is a poor book.  The whole world is very contrived to create the setting Weber wanted to play in and call it science fiction, and in this book some new details about the history are revealed that border on deus ex machina.  The level of gratuitous detail about the workings of sailing ships, cannon, naval battles, and such is down from the first book but still pretty high.  Several major plot points, while emotionally satisfying, are just too pat; things shouldn't work out quite so perfectly except at the end of a fairy tale.  It is the measure of Weber's writing that, in spite of being aware of all this, I just couldn't put this book down.

While most of the wider story (beyond the interactions of the individual characters) is pretty whimsical, this book reaches for the profound in its examination of religion.  In explaining why the bad guy's version of the world religion is evil, but the good guys really are good guys and really are motivated by genuine faith, it comes pretty close to articulating how I feel about organized religion.

A lot of people will probably argue that this book doesn't deserve to be called great.  It does have real weaknesses.  But it grabbed me so hard that I can't give it less than a 9 out of 10.

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