Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Embassytown by China Miéville

Embassytown by China Mieville
Published: Del Rey/ Macmillan UK, 2011
Awards Nominated: Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, John W. Campbell, and British Science Fiction Association Awards
Awards Won: Locus SF Award

The Book:

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties-to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.” ~from

It looks like Embassytown is going to end up being this year’s most nominated book, in terms of speculative fiction awards.  I’ve only ever read one Miéville book before, The City & The City, which I liked fairly well, and I have a copy of Perdido Street Station waiting to be read on my bookshelf.  Of the two I’ve read, I would say Embassytown is my favorite Miéville novel. 

My Thoughts:

The science fictional universe of Embassytown was intriguing, though most of it was pretty standard science fiction fare.  In Miéville’s universe, faster-than-light travel revolves around a state known as ‘immer’, and ‘lighthouses’ that were left behind by some older, vanished space-faring species guide their space routes.  The “Embassytown” is the point of contact between humans and an alien species, known locally as “Hosts”, on the planet Arieka.  While the state of the wider universe does play a role in the story, most of the action takes place on Arieka, in Embassytown.  The plot is driven by conflict arising from the fundamental differences between the Hosts’ and the humans’ way of perceiving the world.  Perhaps because many of these building blocks (vanished superior alien races, space politics, FTL travel, alien contact) are so familiar, they aren’t explored very thoroughly here.  Instead, the novel focuses on the eventual source of conflict between the Hosts and the humans, their differences in language.

Like the details of the wider universe, most of the characters also didn’t seem to be explored very thoroughly.  The most developed character is the narrator, Avice Benner Cho.  As a woman who left her rural home to have a career and travel, and who returned to find her hometown the same and yet somehow different than she left it, I think that Avice’s basic state of mind is one that many people would find it easy to understand. However, the way the story was told instilled a feeling of distance from all of the characters, Avice included.  Relationships were generally not developed ‘on-screen’, but the reader was instead told how various people felt about one another.  For instance, we’re shown very little of how Avice and Scile’s marriage collapsed, we are just told that it happened in the usual way.  I think I would have preferred to see the characters develop in a more organic fashion, rather than simply being told about their current opinions.

While details of the physical environment, technology, and characters sometimes feel a bit hazy, much thought has clearly gone into the Hosts’ Language and it’s implications.  Even the mechanics of speaking Language is a complication between Hosts and humans.  Hosts have two voices that speak in unison, and they only understand a speaker whose words are produced in a similar fashion (i.e. one person with two mouths).  This has resulted in the production of the social class of Ambassadors, twins who attempt to emulate being a single person.  There are also conceptual differences between the languages.  For the Hosts, Language is synonymous with reality, so attempting to lie is something of an extreme sport.  More than scene or character, the story follows and explores the results of these and the other ways humans and Hosts perceive or mis-perceive each other.  The end result is a story that is intelligent and creative, and one that requires a fair amount of thought on the part of the reader to appreciate.

My Rating: 4/5

Embassytown is a creative, intelligent novel about the clash of two very different ways of thought, that of the Hosts on Arieka and the humans of the outpost.  I loved reading about the Hosts’ Language, and seeing how complicated the implications of their way of thought could eventually become.  While the story was very engrossing, I could never shake a feeling of detachment from the characters.  I think most of this came from the manner in which the reader was directly told about the characters’ relationships or attitudes, rather than seeing these things revealed about them in a more natural fashion.  I wonder if Miéville is planning on returning to this universe in future novels.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Read-Along: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, Part 5

This is the fifth and final post for my participation in a read-along of Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful ReviewsLynn’s Book Blog and the Little Red Reviewer.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion of Red Seas Under Red Skies and are therefore full of spoilers!  This is also a sequel of The Lies of Locke Lamora, so this post may be filled with spoilers from that book as well!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

This week’s questions include through the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.  I’m surprised that everything came together so well in the end.  I was wondering how Lynch was going to be able to wrap everything up in so little time.  We even got closure on the Salon Corbeau situation!

1.       Oh my god, such a lot going on I thought the showdown between the Poison Orchid and the Sovereign was brilliantly written and they were holding their own until Utgar and his nasty device turned up.  Well a lot of you had kind of predicted it, and I suppose we’d been let off too easy so far in terms of deaths of well-liked characters  – but come on,  did you expect something like that?  And how on earth will Jean ever recover?

 Well, as was said quite a lot in the past few weeks, Ezri was Lynch’s prime choice for a dramatic death in this novel.  After the device was activated and Ezri charged after it, I felt like it was pretty clear she was going to sacrifice herself for the ship.  I would have been much more surprised (and delighted) if something like that had not happened.  This always happens when one has a romance with a main character in an adventure story… it’s the kiss of death…

2.       The deceit, the betrayal, first Rodanov and then Colvard.  Even now I’m not entirely sure I understand Colvard – Rodanov was never keen on the oath but Colvard seemed okay with it all and yet in this final deceit she was more devious than Rodanov – what do you think was her motive?

I guess the pirates aren’t really Jean and Locke’s ‘people’.  They don’t follow either of the strictures of the Crooked Warden.  They stab each other in the back and make sure not to bother the rich folks too much.  I suppose Cpt. Drakasha was different!

3.       Merrain – such a puzzle, no real answer, the mysterious tattoo, the determination to kill everyone to keep her identity and that of her master a secret.  Does anybody have any ideas where she’s from and what she’s up to exactly and who the hell is she working for??

The only idea I’ve got so far is the Bondsmagi.  I don’t know any other organization that would be involved.  Honestly, I’m expecting it to be some secret society that just hasn’t been mentioned yet.  I’m sure we’ll find out when book 3 comes out.

4.       Finally we get to the point of the GB’s latest scheme, all that elaborate planning for two years, fancy chairs, gambling, dust covered cards, abseiling lessons – all for one gigantic bluff. I loved the diversionary tactic here but having finally reached the end of the story and, more to the point, the end result – do you think the GB’s are as clever as they think they are?

I still think they’re pretty clever.  They made one mistake, where there would have been room for so many more.  It just happened to be a mistake that cut their payoff by about 90%.

5.       I must admit that I liked Requin and Selendri – particularly at the end – I don’t think Requin will go after Locke and Jean, he was even sort of cool and composed about it all, in fact he came across as a bit pleased with himself because he had the last laugh.  Plenty of good characters this time which did you enjoy reading most about this time?

Locke and Jean?  Okay, I guess you probably meant besides the two of them.  I suppose I would pick Captain Drakasha.  She was a very interesting pirate.

6.       Finally, a triple barrel question, I know I shouldn’t ask this BUT, on reflection do you have a favourite between LoLL or RSURS??  And why?  Are you going to pick up Republic of Thieves?  And, where do you think Lynch will take us to next??

At this point, I think I have a slight preference for LoLL.  I enjoyed both of them, but LoLL felt more like a self-contained story.  I was also more interested in reading about Camorr than I was about the Poison Orchid.  Maybe I’m just not a strongly nautically inclined person.  Anyhow, I will definitely pick up Republic of Thieves.  My predictions are that Lynch will take us to a faraway land where we will a) finally meet Sabetha, b) learn who’s behind Merrain, c) see Locke and Jean find a cure for the poison, and d) possibly get some more insight into the magical system of Lynch’s world. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Read-Along: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, 4

This is the fourth post for my participation in a read-along of Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful ReviewsLynn’s Book Blog and the Little Red Reviewer.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion of Red Seas Under Red Skies and are therefore full of spoilers!  This is also a sequel of The Lies of Locke Lamora, so this post may be filled with spoilers from that book as well!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

This week’s questions include through Chapter 13 of Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. The cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 13 was painful!  It took quite a bit of willpower to set the novel aside for reading after this week’s discussion.  There are so many secret agendas and betrayals, I can hardly keep them all straight!

1) I was much relieved when Jean and Locke made up, which started with Locke's gesture of a cup full of honesty with Cpt. Drakasha. Do you think that was hard for Locke? Or was he using this bit of honesty like any other weapon in his arsenal to get what he wants in the end? 

I didn’t think it seemed too terribly hard for Locke.  After all, he only told the truth up to a point, so he is still using the withholding and providing of information as a tool.  However, he could have just let Cpt. Drakasha make up his motivations for him.  I think Locke would have been more comfortable lying to the pirates, but he deferred to Jean’s judgment.  I think that was a very decent thing to do for his friend.

2) The Parlor Passage: We still don't know Locke's true name, but whatever was in that mist does. What do you think it is?

It appears to be some other form of magic in Lynch’s world!  I’m wondering if the voices have anything to do with the Eldren.  Or perhaps they could be spirits?

3) There was an interesting section of the book that started about where Locke assisted Drakasha in selling the
 Red Messenger; he put on the persona of Leocanto Kosta and used the alias Tavras Callas and then Drakasha was still thinking of him as Ravelle..... Did using all those various aliases in such a short amount of time have your mind spinning a little? Do you think Lynch did this on purpose to give the reader a sense of Locke's mind? 

I thought it was really cool that Jean and Locke had established various characters that they could slip into at need.  Maybe Lynch is hinting towards a future identity crisis on Locke’s part.  It puts another spin on why he might not have told Cpt. Drakasha the name ‘Locke Lamora’.  After all, it’s just another alias—one of a young thief in Camorr who grew up to be a master con artist J.  We don’t even know Locke’s real name, though he’s worn ‘Locke Lamora’ for most of his life.

4) That was a sweet little kiss between Cpt. Zamira and Cpt. Jaffrim at the end of the Captains' Council. Do you think they have some history, or is it just innocent flirting that's been going on for some time?

Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t read that as flirting.  Somehow, I got the impression that he was much older than the other captains (maybe in his 60s?), so I saw it more as affectionate teasing.  It seems like they’ve been friends for a long time, but I didn’t feel any sparks of romantic chemistry between them. 

5) Jean and Ezri. Cue dove-cooing and little winged hearts with sparkles. Do you think Jean will stay with the
 Poison Orchid or that Ezri will leave her ship to pal around with Jean and Locke? 

I’m guessing the series is following Locke, so I would hate for Jean to stay with Ezri.  We would never see them again!  I think Ezri could be quite a decent Gentleman Bastard if she set her mind to it.

6) What is Utgar up to? What are his motivations?

I hadn’t paid any attention to him at all, until that scene with Cpt. Rodanov.  From what I can gather, he’s been in Rodanov’s employ for a while.  It seems like Rodanov was very unhappy with the pirate’s actions that led to their thrashing by the navy of Tal Verrar.  I assumed that he had spies on each ship to make sure such a thing didn’t happen again. 

With Cpt. Drakasha backing Locke and Jean’s plan, Rodanov must be caught between his affection for her and his desire to protect the Ghostwinds.  I’m guessing Utgar is tasked with making sure Cpt. Drakasha doesn’t start a war, and with killing Locke and Jean if they seem to be taking too many risks.

As for Utgar’s motivations?  Probably money.

7) So last week we hashed over that Merrain killed some of Stragos's guards on Windward Rock. But when Jean and Locke visit him, he doesn't mention it. What is up with that?

No idea.  I don’t feel like I have enough information to make any realistic predictions about this subplot.  Maybe Merrain killed the guards and had them replace with Bondsmagi doppelgangers, so the archon hadn’t noticed that they were dead?  Maybe she’s planning a coup d’etat with her mages embedded invisibly in the hierarchy of Tal Verrar?  I really don’t know. 

8) This week's section left us where the book began - Jean pointing a crossbow at Locke's throat. Do you think Jean knows who sent these crossbowers? Is he on their side? Is it a clever ploy to get him and Locke out of this predicament? Did you find it
 excruciatingly hard to stop here?

Considering Jean and Locke’s conversations just previous, and the fact that Jean killed one of their pursuers, I think it's a clever ploy.  However, I don’t know if it’s a trick or not!  It was very, very hard to stop reading here.  I can’t even decide who I think the crossbowers might represent.  The list of people screwing with Locke and Jean is so long! 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Published: Galaxy Science Fiction, 1963

Awards Won: Hugo Award

The Book:

“After the Civil War, the soldier Enoch Wallace returned to his family farm and rural hometown.  After his parents’ death, he maintained a solitary lifestyle in that home, enduring for over a century with no apparent physical change.  He lives peaceably, causing no trouble and existing only as a mild curiosity to his fellow townsfolk.

The secret of his eternal youth is technology, not magic.  The truth is, Enoch has been recruited by an alien he named ‘Ulysses’ to run Earth’s first galactic way station.  Unable to reveal his secrets to the world at large, he carefully records all the knowledge and wisdom he can gain from the many aliens with which he is able to converse. Now, however, people are starting to notice his unusual longevity, and it seems that he may not be able to keep the secrets of his strange life from being finally revealed.” ~Allie

I first encountered Clifford D. Simak in middle school, through a tattered copy of City that I miraculously discovered a tiny classroom library.  I hadn’t read any of his work since then, but WWend’s Grand Master’s Reading Challenge gave me the necessary push to finally read his Hugo winning novel! 

My Thoughts:

Simak’s writing style in Way Station is very simple and clear, and it reminds me a bit of Asimov’s style.  I think the simplicity of the writing might annoy some readers, but I felt like it fit well with the tone of the novel.  It is a slow-paced novel featuring a lonely near-immortal in a rural area. Despite the comings and goings of aliens, Enoch was a fairly unsophisticated man who had been leading an uncomplicated, if unusual, life.  I found the character of Enoch very refreshing. He spent a lot of time carefully thinking through questions of morality and loyalty, as he slowly made peace with his own life.  There were not all that many other developed characters in the novel, but it was very easy to empathize with Enoch’s thoughtful loneliness.

Most of the other characters, such as the coffee-drinking alien Ulysses, the well-meaning government agent, and the negative-stereotype-redneck Fisher family, were not deeply characterized beyond their initial impressions.  The most developed secondary character, Lucy Fisher, seemed to be a little potentially problematic. Lucy is a young deaf girl that cannot speak, who is portrayed as having a kind of spiritual and magical purity and goodness born of her detachment from the modern world.  Besides being a bit unlikely, Lucy’s portrayal did not bother me too much, but I imagine that it could be insurmountably irritating to people who have more personal experience with hearing disabilities.

Simak’s aliens and technology have a much more mystic and magical cast than most science fiction I’ve read.  For instance, instead of having the aliens abolish religion, Enoch learns that all the aliens believe in a spiritual force.  Many of the trinkets Enoch is gifted with, and the technology of the way station itself, are never completely explained.  While some are clearly advanced technology, others appear to actually be mystical in nature.  Since we see everything through Enoch’s point of view, we can only read what he is able to understand.  I thought this was effective in communicating the idea of the massive wealth of knowledge of the universe, only a small fraction of which Enoch can ever truly grasp.  

The story of Way Station moved rather slowly, and tended to go off on digressions and subplots that had only a tenuous connection to the main plot.  Some of these subplots were actually quite interesting in their own right, but they did start to make the book feel a little unfocused.  One in particular, concerning ‘shadow people’ that Enoch created from his own thoughts, seemed almost to be a criticism of traditional pulp characters.  The conclusion of the subplot seemed to state that neither a wish-fulfillment version of oneself, nor a woman created solely to fill one’s romantic needs constitutes a believable person.  Another tangential plot was the imminent threat of nuclear war, which dated the novel a bit.  Many different subplots appeared to be coming together for the ending, but the conclusion ending up to be a disappointing one of the deus ex machina variety.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Way Station is the simply written account of a rural man, Enoch Wallace, who is tasked with running Earth’s only traveling station for aliens from all over the galaxy.  It is a rather slow, contemplative novel, filled with Enoch’s thoughts and observations.  I enjoyed seeing the various aliens and the alien artifacts through Enoch’s viewpoint, and I liked that the reader was almost never presented with a complete explanation for any of them.  I found it interesting that Simak’s galactic empire still had room for mysticism and spirituality. One flaw of the novel was its occasional lack of cohesion, as the story sometimes wandered down side paths that were not particularly relevant to the central story.  Other problems concern the frustratingly simple ending and a problematic portrayal of a young girl with a hearing disability.  Way Station is a novel that shows its age, but I think it is definitely still worth reading.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Read-Along: Red Seas Under Red Skies, Part 3

This is the third post for my participation in a read-along of Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful ReviewsLynn’s Book Blog and the Little Red Reviewer.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion of Red Seas Under Red Skies and are therefore full of spoilers!  This is also a sequel of The Lies of Locke Lamora, so this post may be filled with spoilers from that book as well!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

This week’s questions include through Chapter 10 of Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. I commented on someone’s blog last week that I kind of hoped Locke and Jean screwed up their pirate captain impersonation.  I feel a little guilty now, because they failed dramatically. It was actually kind of painful to read, but I respect Lynch for allowing his characters to fail so believably and thoroughly.

          1. Locke and Jean's ability to find themselves at the center of a serious mess
          seems unparalleled. At this point, do you think that Stragos will get the return   
          he expects on his investment in them?

I might have still believed in Locke’s ability to pull something off, if Jean had not been against it.  At this point, I don’t think Locke can complete any part of Stragos scheme without Jean’s support.  I have no idea what they’re going to do about the alleged poison.

2. Merrain's activities after our boys leave Windward Rock are interesting. What do you think her plans are?

Merrain is still a question mark to me.  I am wondering if she’s somehow connected to the Bondsmagi.

3. Does anyone know why having cats aboard the ship is so important?

Last week, Genkinahito linked me a Wikipedia page on the topic ('s_cat).  It seems that they are typically important for catching rats and mice and for companionship.  In Lynch’s world, though, they also seem to have a symbolic religious purpose.  Either they haven’t said yet, or I just don’t remember, but I’m guessing women and cats are tied to Iono worship in some way.

4. The word "mutiny" creates a lot of mental pictures. Were you surprised? Why or why not?

I was not surprised at all.  Even Caldris saw the mutiny coming before he died.  With Caldris help, Locke was not that great of a captain.  Without Caldris, he was a disaster.  After those men died, and Locke couldn’t even give them a proper seafarer’s funeral, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the sailors turned on him.  I’m impressed Locke was able to keep them from killing him outright.

5. Ah, the Poison Orchid. So many surprises there, not the least of which were the captain's children. Did you find the young children a natural part of the story?

Captain Drakasha had a good point—Where else would she put her children?  All the crew seem to live on that ship, and they only ever disembark briefly at Port Prodigal.  I’m actually a little surprised that her children are the only ones on board.  I do wonder what happened to their father, though.

6. Jean is developing more and more as a character as we get further in to the book. Ezri makes the comment to him that "Out here, the past is a currency, Jerome. Sometimes it's the only one we have." I think several interesting possibilities are coming into play regarding Jean and Ezri. What about you?

I was just wondering last week why Jean had never been interested in anyone romantically.  I think Jean and Ezri’s budding relationship is going to be a wedge between Jean and Locke, though I don’t think any of them intend for that to happen.  I like Ezri, and I think she and Jean have a great dynamic together.  I hope she doesn’t get killed off in the next 100 pages!

7. As we close down this week's reading, the Thorn of Camorr is back! I love it, even with all the conflict.  Several things from their Camorri background have come back up. Do you think we will see more Camorri characters?

I hope we see more Camorri characters.  I think it would be hilarious if there were Camorri sailors who find out about Locke’s past.  Imagine their surprise when they learn that this failure of a fraud pirate captain is actually the Thorn of Camorr!  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Published: HarperCollins/Fourth Estate, 2007

Awards Won: Hugo, Nebula, and Locus SF Awards

Awards Nominated: John W. Campbell Memorial Award, British Science Fiction Association Award

The Book:

For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.

But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. 

Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage, and with the unfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.”

I heard of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union through the recognition it gained in science fiction award circles. I was attracted by its striking cover art (I know, don’t judge a book by its cover…) and frustrated by my inability to find it in e-book format (I only ever found it in Spanish, oddly enough). I eventually got my very own physical copy of the book, and now I’ve finally read it!
My Thoughts:

One main speculative element in The Yiddish Policeman’s Union was its alternate history setting, which seemed to be very well thought out.  The Jewish settlement at Sitka had distinctive social customs, culture, traditions, local quirks, and even slang (which was helpfully decoded in a glossary).  In short, Chabon’s Sitka felt like a real, physical place with a believable history.  (I should point out that Sitka is, in fact, a real place, though Chabon’s Sitka is fictional.) With all the descriptions of the buildings, various social groups, and even specific kinds of local food, I thought that the community of Sitka felt as complex and organic as any small community. I think I might have been even more appreciative of the construction of this imaginary settlement if I were more familiar with actual Jewish culture.  I was never exactly sure which aspects of their society were based on existing traditions, language and attitudes, and which were specific to fictional Sitka.   

The story itself seems like a pretty traditional detective tale.  For various reasons, Meyer Landsman pursues a murder that ends up to be both more and less than it appears.  Landsman is also a fairly ordinary detective character—he was once a respected cop, but now he suffers from some emotional trauma and substance abuse (alcoholism).  Even if it does fit the common detective story mold, though, I enjoyed how everything unfolded.  As the story progressed, each layer of the mysterious murder was slowly peeled back, and the story grew more and more complex.  However, at the end, everything collapsed back together in a satisfying way. 

In my opinion, the attention to characters and atmosphere of the story also set it apart from an ordinary murder mystery. Though most of the characters have serious emotional problems, I thought that they were very well-drawn. Landsman may have once been a great homicide detective, but his flaws are not romanticized.  His alcoholism is a serious detriment to his social life and career, and his partner, Berko Shemets, seems to be the only thing keeping him from professional (and possibly physical) suicide. Berko, Berko’s father, and Bina Gelbfish were also particularly interesting and complex characters.  The murder victim is also surprisingly well developed, through the information Landsman slowly uncovers about him.  By the end of the story, I felt like I knew him almost as well as those characters who were still living.

Though it was not without humor, much of the story seemed shaped by feelings of despair and powerlessness. From personal grief and guilt to the elimination of their way of life, Landsman and the other Sitka residents faced a lot of problems that they could do little about.  Landsman’s decision to pursue the murder case seemed like an attempt to reject the increasing pointlessness of his career and life. His boss was ready to classify the case as unsolvable without even trying, for no reason except that they’d been asked to wrap things up before Reversion.  The story isn’t all slow and melancholy—there are some very exciting scenes—but I felt like the novel never lost its undercurrent of sadness.  I know this might not be to everyone’s taste, but I can’t help but respect an author who can bring me near to tears simply by describing someone waking up.  Though it was, in some ways, a pretty depressing story, I felt like it ended with some hope for the future.

My Rating: 4/5

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union has few speculative elements, but those that exist are very well explored. I loved Chabon’s thorough depiction of Sitka as the fictional temporary Jewish homeland, and his extrapolation of what that society might be like. I enjoyed the slow reveal of the central murder case, but I also enjoyed the exploration of the characters of Landsman, the murder victim, and others.  The entire story has a very melancholy atmosphere, but the conclusion is not entirely devoid of hope.  I felt like I might have missed some subtleties due to my lack of familiarity with Jewish culture, but I still found this to be a rewarding reading experience.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Read-Along: Red Seas Under Red Skies, Part 2

This is the second post for my participation in a read-along of Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful ReviewsLynn’s Book Blog and the Little Red Reviewer.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion of Red Seas Under Red Skies and are therefore full of spoilers!  This is also a sequel of The Lies of Locke Lamora, and will be filled with spoilers from that book as well!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

This week’s questions include through Chapter 6 of Red Seas Under Red Skies.  Things are definitely getting more complicated, and I can’t help wondering how Locke and Jean are going to make it out alive!  I am impressed thus far with how they’ve managed to keep their original scheme alive while they run off to become pirates, of all things.

Now that we know a little more about Selendri and Requin, what do you think of them? I worry Locke is suddenly realizing this con might be a bit tougher than he expected.
I’m getting the impression that the Sinspire was once a much less violent place.  I would really like to get a more solid history for Selendri.  Thus far we mostly know only rumors and hints.  I think Locke is right to attempt to win her over, but I think he’s going to have a very hard time of it. 

Isn’t the Artificers’ Crescent just amazing?  If you could purchase anything there, what would it be?

Yeah, it’s amazing.  I can’t really think of anything I would buy, though.  I am quite happy with my gadgets.

What did you think of  Salon Corbeau and the goings on that occur there? A bit crueler than a Camorri crime boss, no? 

Well, I wouldn't say it’s crueler.  Capa Barsavi ordered so many people tortured to death just out of his own paranoia.  Remember that guy who had glass shards kneaded into his face until he died?  At least the ‘aspirants’ are not deliberately killed.  I think the difference is in intention.  When Capa Barsavi tortured men to death, it was generally because he wanted something.  I’m not saying that excuses anything, but it was a means to an end.  In Salon Corbeau, the Amusement War was the means and the end. 
I think the main thing that made the Amusement War disturbing to me was the dehumanization aspect.  The nobles who attended the War had absolutely no regard for the ‘aspirants’ as human beings.  They were toys to be played with and eventually broken.  Some of their justifications (“We’re giving them charity—they may as well earn it!” or “They’re only here for quick cash, if they weren’t so lazy they’d have a job!”) sounded disturbingly like things one might hear people say about the homeless in our world.  There are many varieties of cruelty in the world, but I think some of the most brutal arise when one group chooses to strip another of their personhood.

The Archon might be a megalomaniacal military dictator, but he thinks he’s doing right by Tal Verrar: his ultimate goal seems to be to protect them.  What do you think he’s so afraid of? 

It seems like there’s a lot of bad blood between the Priori and the military in Val Terrar, a lot of which stems from the Thousand Day War.  I think the Archon just genuinely believes that, as a ruler, he would do better by Val Terrar than the Priori.  What is he afraid of?  In general, I guess I would say the decline of his country and/or his own personal power. 

And who the heck is trying to kill Locke and Jean every few days?  they just almost got poisoned (again!)!

I am really not sure.  They’ve brought up the possibility of one of the Priori.  With what information we have available, that seems the most likely situation.  Maybe the Bondmagi have let others in on Locke’s doings, and some of the Priori are very unhappy about Locke’s employment by the Archon.

Do you really think it’s possibly for a city rat like Locke to fake his way onto a Pirate ship?
Locke is one hell of a liar and a fraud.  I think he has a shot.  However, his habits of refusing to study and drinking himself silly will certainly not help.  On the pirate topic, I thought it was really funny that they insist on having at least one woman and one cat on board a ship, for luck.  I’m pretty sure our world’s superstition runs the other way!