Driving Blind by Ray Bradbury

Driving Blind.jpgThis is another collection of Ray Bradbury short stories. Bradbury is always readable and interesting but I found that the whole of this collection left something to be desired.

Most of the stories in this book are not in Bradbury’s usual genre of science fiction and fantasy (or horror). They seem to be more in the line of literary fiction. As such I found them less than satisfying. I don’t know if that was because I’d rather be reading science fiction or because the stories themselves were not as good.

Bradbury’s usual style of sparse but meaningful prose is present in every story and many of them end with his signature twist or reveal of things being completely different than originally apparent. The stories are as good as anything that Bradbury ever wrote.

I didn’t find the subject of most of them to be nearly as interesting nor as gripping as most of his other work that I’ve read. I loved his Martian Chronicles and his Illustrated Man. Some of his stories I have read many times because they are beautiful or terrifying or insanely good.

There were no stories from this book that I would like to read again. None that jumped out at me and grabbed my imagination like I know Bradbury is capable of doing.

It was a good book, but it wasn’t great. I expected more from Bradbury.

Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel by Howard Tayler

Massively Parallel.jpgHoward Tayler just keeps getting better. What started out as a goofy comic full of cheesy jokes and bad art has turned into science fiction epic with consistently funny jokes and better art than I can produce.

As the title of this book suggests the mercenaries split up to fill separate missions. As happens in all good books of split parties the separate missions collide and are actually connected in some way.

Tagon and the doctor learn a new form of parkour in a rotating reference frame, Schlock and some of his friends join the circus and LOTA has plans for the rest of the crew that include pan-galactic super-weapons.

So, it’s pretty much operations as usual but Howard Tayler has figured out how to make his characters seem more personable. The side characters introduced in this book are some of the strongest yet and it’s amazing to me that Tayler can keep up the pace without losing track of people.

Given the sheer volume of previous material in the Schlock Mercenary canon it’s a bit surprising that this one might be a good place to start the series if, for some unexplainable reason, you don’t want to go back and start from the beginning.

I am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend.jpg“I Am Legend” is a powerful and amazing story that turns the vampire and zombie horror genres on their heads by flipping tropes that were not even tropes when it was written. The result is that it reads as a fresh take even today — at least the story and idea do. The character and the writing are so much a product of their time that there is no way around that.

The story is full of great atmosphere, and tension and paranoia on every page.

The book itself is somewhat diminished by the inclusion of other of Matheson’s stories. I’ve often felt that story collections are an excuse of authors to publish stuff they couldn’t get out any other way. The title story is usually the best and most popular and the rest range between terrible and okay.

However, the titular story takes up the bulk of the book and it is worth the price of admission to simply ignore the rest of the stories.

Matheson is a master of narrative and horror and does an interesting job of making the traditional vampire lore have a scientific background to it. The twist at the end is brilliant and makes a fascinating turn of events that I wish the movie had been courageous enough to use.

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Cibola Burn.jpgI have been a fan of Daniel Abraham’s novels ever since I first opened the pages of his beautifully written A Shadow in Summer, the start of a series that somehow got better with each volume even though it had a starting point that was very close to perfect.

Daniel Abraham’s strongest skill is in his prose and his characters. They are always people that seem real and believable. They make stupid decisions and brilliant choices and give in to stereotypes and have flaws and fears and joys and obsessions and sometimes they do things that make me want to close my eyes and turn away because I know it’s going to be bad.

Ty Franck, as far as I can tell, loves science fiction, explosions and action scenes and has a brilliant mind for world-building.

When those two minds are melded into the amalgam that is James S. A. Corey something magical emerges. This is a series that is filled with some of the most powerful and memorable characters that I have ever read about and has some of the most painful memories.

Reading these books is like watching a train wreck — in a good way — characters are doing things that I know will lead to terrible, terrible consequences but I can’t look away as it all unfolds.

In Cibola Burn the first colony on the other side of the gate that opened up in the last book is a symbol of new hope for mankind as they set out to colonize beyond our overcrowded star system. Then one of the large companies decides to step in and stake their own claim. There are scientists who are there to try and make sure that the alien ecology isn’t damaged while they colonize and there are security forces there to take over the colony by force — when it should come to that. There are colonists who are trying to keep the company out but don’t realize that their own ignorance is killing them and causing everything to fall apart.

There is also Jim Holden, Naomi Nagata and the rest of the crew of the Rocinante who are called in to act as the UN mediators in what promises to be a true fiasco.

Then it turns out the planet is stranger and more unknown than anybody supposed.

This is another book bearing all the signatures of the James S. A. Corey brand. There is action, and tension and fighting and alien technology that is barely understandable and bullets and space battles and people who just want to do the best thing they can do for their family or to make sure that the wildlife is preserved or that people are taken care of or that healthcare is provided or that the universe will just make sense for a little while.

The tone of these books walks a line between cynical and optimistic. The premise of nearly every plot is that people will find a way to screw it up. Give us wormhole technology so that we can explore the galaxy and settle new and uncharted worlds? We’ll start a fight, activate ancient alien defenses and nearly wipe out the human race while we squabble over user rights. However, in the end we always make it right. There are always good people there too, misguided and occasionally stupid people (as we all are) but they want to do the right thing and so, even though everything falls apart and people die and sometimes they do the absolute worst possible thing… people are people and eventually they come together because that’s what people do.

Jim Holden, who has always seemed like the weak link in the series previously (he’s a little too bland) gained some depth here and has succeeded in becoming an interesting character as well so that there are no weak parts of this book.

I don’t know if I can really review this book any more. It’s the fourth book in the series and at this point you’re either in love with the story that is being told or you haven’t read the books yet.

Judgment at Proteus by Timothy Zahn

Judgment at Proteus.jpgAs the end to a five book series this is a pretty good conclusion. It’s got all the Zahn markers in it with big reveals and intricate schemes and intelligent good guys who are extremely clever.

The previous books in the series were each individual mysteries in the form of science fiction stories with a galaxy spanning railroad system. There was an over-arching plot along the way that developed slowly, in fact it developed at a pace that left me wondering if it was possible to end the story in one book.

Zahn pulled it off, though. He rounded up all the clues and ideas he had been dropping along the way and tied off the tapestry successfully so that the series ends with satisfying and exciting results.

I don’t know that there is much more to say about the book. It is obviously full of spoilers because it is the last book of the series but I’m not sure that any of the surprises will come as surprises to anybody at this point. Zahn has been broadcasting some of these things since the second book.

I like this book. It was a good conclusion to a fair series. If you’ve read the Night Train to Rigel and any of the sequels then it’s worth sticking it through to the conclusion. You won’t be disappointed.

The Third by Abel Keogh

The Third.jpgThis is a dystopian future story that tries really hard to have a deep meaning but really leaves too many loose threads to feel like a complete novel.

One of the conceits of dystopian futures is that you have to agree to stop asking questions. For instance, what events transpired to allow the world in 1984 to exist? It makes no sense. (I know that I’m probably inviting a lot of arguments with this since a lot of people think we are headed there right now. My argument is that those concerns and worries are precisely why this will never actually happen. I could say a lot more about that but this review is about The Third.)

In Abel Keogh’s The Third readers are asked to believe in a future where cities in the United States are, apparently, left up to themselves to be self-sustaining and a great ecological disaster has forced people to make laws for population control. People also, apparently have to live in tiny apartments and have rationed food etc. Don’t ask how this happened. The point of the book is not how the dystopia came to be. It’s how people deal with the oppression of that society.

Ransom is a garbage worker and his wife is a nurse. Their world starts to come apart when they find out they are expecting their third — and illegal — child.

The book spends a lot of time showing Ransom charging around the city looking for ways to solve the dilemma and getting beat on by cruel and efficient bullies. Towards the end a solution is presented but he has to go against the dogma that has been driven into him since he was a boy.

It’s an okay book. The writing is good enough. The story is acceptable. The characters dilemma feels real. Somehow it never quite comes together, though. The world feels like the city exists in a white box with nothing beyond. The world doesn’t seem to be fully fleshed out — and maybe it doesn’t need to be but it feels lacking. The entire book is just… good enough. I find there is little to complain about but little to love either. Several subplots that were introduced in the early chapters are forgotten and abandoned by the end.

My one item of real praise is that the characters in this book behave in character throughout even when it will make things harder for them, and for the author. Sometimes they are so in character they are frustrating.

There are better dystopian fiction books out there but to be honest my lackadaisical response to this book might be because this is a genre that I have never really enjoyed. I have a difficult time seeing how our world could have gotten to this mess and the same is true of most of these kinds of books.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada.jpgI know that Ready Player One was some kind of phenomenal cultural explosion of nostalgia and good times in the community of people who grew up in the 1980’s. I found it over written and trying too hard. The author has obvious obsessions and he created a story that justified all of his obsessions. Since it also seemed to justify a lot of other people’s obsessions it was really popular.

Armada seems to be an attempt to cash in on the same experience. There are some aliens invading. Turns out all our video games, movies, books, etc. of the last fifty years were a secret government program to train the youth of today to fight these aliens. So if you play video games you can fly a drone against the invaders.

Great. So playing video games is kind of your duty, then. I mean you don’t want to be unprepared when the aliens finally attack…

The problem is that the story really makes no sense and has such obvious secrets that it becomes dry and dull almost immediately. The homages played to popular culture artifacts are so heavy handed and thick on the ground that they crunch under foot everywhere you go. It gets to the point where it’s hard to see this as anything other than the author’s Mary Sue adventure in video game culture.

It’s a “look video games are cool because they might save your life one day when the aliens invade” propaganda piece.

The personal relationships in this book are also eerily underdeveloped. Zack’s dad disappeared fifteen years ago, supposedly killed in a factory accident. Zack and his mom have been playing video games together ever since — because she’s just so cool that she plays video games with her son.

Well it turns out that Zack’s dad actually ran away on a secret government mission because he wanted to live on the moon and shoot aliens. So Zack finds him, takes him home and everybody is happy. There are no abandonment issues, there are no arguments or bitter remarks about being left alone for fifteen years.

Zack also finds a girlfriend — who is also a world-class videogamer — that he meets in a mission briefing, talks to twice and then has an enduring relationship with for the rest of the book, because apparently that’s all you need when you both play games you know it’ll work out.

I could complain more but I feel like I would be picking on the book.

It’s not a very good book but it you really just want to read a story that is told almost entirely from science fiction and fantasy movie quotes then this is the book for you.