Saturday, February 23, 2019

Review: Friday by Robert A. Heinlein

Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
Published: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Hugo, Locus SF, and Prometheus Awards

The Book:

Friday is her name... She is as thoroughly resourceful as she is strikingly beautiful. She is one of the best interplanetary agents in the business. And she is an Artificial Person... the ultimate glory of genetic engineering.

Friday is a secret courier. She is employed by a man known to her only as "Boss." Operating from and over a near-future Earth, in which North America has become Balkanized into dozens of independent states, where culture has become bizarrely vulgarized and chaos is the happy norm, she finds herself on shuttlecock assignment at Boss's seemingly whimsical behest.

From New Zealand to Canada, from one to another of the new states of America's disunion, she keeps her balance nimbly with quick, expeditious solutions to one calamity and scrape after another. Desperate for human identity and relationships, she is never sure whether she is one step ahead of, or one step behind, the ultimate fate of the human race.”

Heinlein is always kind of hit and miss for me, and I have to say this book was kind of both.  My husband and I listened to this one together as an audiobook. There are some spoilers in the review below.

My Rating: 2 /5

Friday has a lot of the social quirks I expect from a Heinlein novel, and it ended up being a weird combination of things I enjoyed and things that annoyed the crap out of me. It was fun following Friday as she skips from one exciting spy situation to the next, and it seemed for a while that her story was going to be about uncovering some events that are causing upheaval in the fractured future US.  I was really getting into this plot arc, but it was dropped without resolution later in the book. On a character level, I initially liked reading about Friday’s efforts to find a place for herself in the world. I especially enjoyed the subplot about her New Zealand family, which addressed both her desire to belong and the unpleasantness of finding out loved ones hold bigoted beliefs.

The parts I didn’t enjoy include a gang rape scene (which Friday was weirdly blasé about) and some occasional bizarre gender stereotypes that were presented as if they were commonplace. It wasn’t so much misogynistic stereotypes, as it was stuff that just seemed nonsensical.  For example, “there is no stronger aphrodisiac than a woman’s tears.” Was that actually a thing in the 80s? I’m not even offended, just confused. The plot also didn’t flow like a traditional narrative, and not in a way that felt well planned. I guess was expecting the smaller parts to build into a coherent story, but instead it was just a collection of slice-of-life short stories about Friday.  This means that a lot of subplots are randomly dropped, and some short stories are much more interesting than others. On a last note, I am also not a fan of Heinlein’s “all women desperately want to have kids and fulfill traditional gender roles” kick, which is on display by the end of the book.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published: Little, Brown & Company, 2010
Series: Book 1 of the Ship Breaker Trilogy
Awards Won: Locus YA Award
Awards Nominated: Andre Norton Award

The Book:

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . . .” ~WWend

This is the second book I’ve read by Bacigalupi, the first being The Wind-Up Girl (before I started this blog). This is his foray into young adult fiction, and I read it while on vacation in Scotland.

My Review: 4/5

Having read one of Bacigalupi’s adult novels, I feel like he adapted his style well for a slightly younger audience.  The bleak future world of environmental collapse seems to be carefully crafted, but the world-building information is backgrounded in favor of the immediacy of Nailer’s life.  Nailer has plenty of obstacles holding him back, including an abusive father and a society that seems designed to ensure his life will be short and brutal. His tenacity in the search for a better life is easy to understand and sympathize with, and the extreme cruelty of his life situation makes it easier to forgive him any missteps. Nailer is also not a lone hero. His relationships with others on the ship-breaking beach are important, and the girl he rescues from a crashed ship (Nita) plays a much larger role in his life than a simple “rescued maiden”.  

I appreciated that the book is not afraid to fully consider difficult ideas.  It is frank about the calculations desperate people may need to make for their survival, and how easy it is for the privileged to choose not to notice systematic exploitation. There’s also considerable friction between Nita and the working class people (like Nailer) who she relies on for help, despite that she is a capable person and doesn’t intend to treat anyone poorly. The story is intense, with lots of action and conflict, and I was always eager to see what would happen next.  I also found it a little stressful, simply because I liked Nailer and wanted him to succeed against all the odds stacked against him. Though it is targeting a YA demographic, I think many other adults would also enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Published: Tor, 2017
Series: Book 1 of the Interdependency
Awards Won: Locus SF Award
Awards Nominated: Hugo Award

The Book:

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It's a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it's discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.”

This is the first book of a new series by John Scalzi, an author that I am reading more of recently.

My Review: 3 /5

My response to this novel was mixed.  I enjoyed the setting, and I am a pretty big fan of unexplained galactic travel systems that cause problems.  In this case, they are using a poorly-understood physical phenomenon, the Flow. Their way of staving off war, intentionally keeping independent worlds from gaining self-sufficiency, relies heavily on the Flow being constant.  Of course, someone has discovered that the Flow is changing. The stakes are not just the power of the Empire, but the survival of the human race. The characters we meet in this situation are, for the most part, interesting and engaging.  I especially liked Cardenia, a reasonable person suddenly forced unexpectedly into the most powerful position in government.

The main issue I took with this novel is that it felt like very little happened, which is possibly because it is busy setting up the world for a series.  At the beginning, we are met with the terrifying prospect that the Flow is going to shift. That’s also pretty much where we stand at the end of the book, though circumstances have changed for some of the viewpoint characters.  I’m curious to see what will happen with the Interdependency in the next book, but I just expected a little more collapse in The Collapsing Empire.