Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Read-Along: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey, Part 3

Welcome to the my third post in the read-along of Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey.  It’s the seventh book in the Expanse series, so beware of tons of spoilers in these posts.  This week’s questions cover chapters 27-41, and questions are provided by Imyril of X+1.  My extremely busy work period ends with this week, so I’m hoping I can finish the book somewhere close to the conclusion of the read-along!

We Need To Talk About Amos
Well that was explosive. Thoughts?

I did not expect that at all, though good on Bobbie for beating him.  I think Amos would probably have killed her if the fight had gone the other way. Not because he actually wanted to, but he was out of control and I don’t know if he would have been able to stop.  It was interesting to see a bit inside his thoughts, and why he behaves the way he does.  Also, a bit heartbreaking that the only thing he’s ever truly wanted in his life is for Clarissa to get to die at home on the Rocinante, surrounded by her family.  I hope she survives for quite some time yet, and I hope that they do make it back home.

Under Pressure
Singh grapples with his authoritarian impulses as his anxieties increase. Which instincts do you think will win out?

I have been a little easier on Singh than the rest of you in previous weeks, but I think that has to end now.  I feel like I’ve gotten a clearer look at what kind of person he is this week, and it is an ugly, amoral, authoritarian mess.  His biggest concern with committing genocide (his words) is that his wife would be upset to realize he’s the kind of person who’s okay with committing genocide.  Like, his big reaction to realizing he’s a potential genocidal murderer was self-pity. Before, I had seen him as acting violently out of shock from being a victim of an assassination attempt, but now I accept that he is just truly a horrible shell of a person.  I no longer believe he has any moral compass whatsoever, and am not convinced he is capable of empathy.

So in short, I don’t think it’s a matter of instincts.  I think he’ll do whatever Duarte or his other superiors tell him to do, and the only qualm he’ll have is whether or not Nat will find out about it later.  In the absence of orders, I expect he’ll eventually try to vent all of the inhabitants of Medina Station to space.

Inside Man
So we have a traitor in the heart of the underground. What do you think will happen?

He’s not exactly at the heart of the underground, so that might save them.  The compartmentalism of their tasks is designed to help with just this situation.  Unfortunately, it sounds like Naomi’s plan really needs a lot of things to go perfectly to work, and I don’t think that’s going to happen with a traitor in their midst.  I also don’t know how well Singh is going to keep his traitor.  I think if Jordau (sorry if I misspelled, audiobook) finds out what the Underground is up to, he’ll probably make sure to get his sister out and betray Singh.  He has to know that Singh will use the threat of killing his sister to control him indefinitely, otherwise.

At Last (The Shadow of the Past)
The mysterious antagonists are back! ...or their (automated?) tech is. Where do you think Trejo picked up his passenger? What do you think is going on?

I was wondering when this was going to come up again!  The past few book have been very firmly focusing on human conflicts. I had also wondered if dealing with the protomolecule might come back to bite the Laconians.  They’ve studied it, sure, but they definitely don’t understand it fully.  And this new thing? Not even the aliens that made the protomolecule were able to stop it, so I don’t think the Laconians have a chance.

I don’t have any really great theories about where it came from, but it seems to be triggered in some way by protomolecule-based technology.  Maybe it’s a strange new alien species, but maybe it’s also just a side effect of the technology (like the ships being eaten by the gates).  Maybe something about the protomolecule technology is violent to space-time itself, and this is a manifestation of that damage.  Whatever it is, I am really worried that it’s going to destroy Sol system.

Any other thoughts?

Naomi is going to be so sad when she learns where Holden’s gone.

Filip has to come up again at some point, right?  I kind of expected him to pop up before now, but maybe he’ll be in one of the next two books.

I feel like we’ve gotten all the setup right now, and this section stopped right before all the execution.  The underground’s plan is ready to go, the new ship is arriving, Drummer’s war is commencing, and the civilization-killer is on the move. I’m planning to start reading the final section immediately after reading this week’s responses, because I can’t handle this suspense!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Read-Along: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey, Part 2

It’s well past time for part two of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Persepolis Rising! This section is on chapters 13-27, and the questions are provided by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow.  On a side note, please forgive that my mind is a little more scattered than usual.  I’ll be back to a usual posting schedule after this coming week. And a final note, beware of spoilers in the questions and answers below!

1. We see more of Governor Singh in these chapters, and ... Well. He certainly takes 'doing it by the book' rather more literally than most. How do you feel about the man after this closer character exploration, and his response(s) to attempts at resistance on Medina?

I’m kind of conflicted about him.  He is trying to do his job well, and his inexperience with this kind of situation in reality is causing a lot of problems.  His firing of Tanaka was a huge misstep.  I kept wanting to yell at him that just because he was aware he was in shock from the attack, it did not mean that it wasn’t affecting his judgment. I was rather impressed when he genuinely apologized to Tanaka.

Of course, he’s not doing a very good job of creating a sense of common community at Medina.  As Tanaka predicted, his harsh actions after the assassination attempt made him look frantic, and prompted the development of an actual organized underground resistance.  His response to the bombers is in the same vein.  He does not seem to have absorbed the lessons his superiors were trying to teach him.  At this point, I’m not sure if the Laconian leaders are hoping he’ll rise to the occasion, or they’re planning to use him as a scapegoat later.  Maybe they have plans for both, depending on how things shake out.

2. Captain Draper's having a difficult time of it, elsewhere - though at least she's not lashing out in her efforts to deal with that. What did you make of her conversation with Holden regarding the underground movement?

That must be frustrating.  I can see her problem, and see that she recognizes that it’s her issue to deal with.  Holden can’t not help, when his help is valuable. At least she seems to turning into a major force in the underground.  I’m hoping she gets a hero scenario, where she gets to be famous.  I also really hope she survives it, and goes on to captain the Roci as planned.

3. SHE'S ALIVE! Avasarala comes to Drummer's (political) aid, though it seems Madam President is less than thrilled with the idea. What's your take on their interaction, and in particular that last conversation between them?

I was so happy to see her!  Like other commenters, I had assumed a thirty year time jump meant our favorite elderly stateswoman had passed away in the interim.  I love that she’s profiling dangerous opposition leaders as a retirement hobby, and I love how people still defer to her.

I think Drummer is going to appreciate her more as time goes on, because Avasarala really may be the best advisor she could possibly have in this situation.  It was clearly the right decision not to assault Medina.  They would have just been roasted by gamma rays on approach. If Drummer thinks about what Avasarala says in that last conversation, it may help her accept that the woman does have humanity’s best interests at heart (and not just Earth’s).  As for the rest, I think that’s really the only silver lining they had in that battle, more information.

4. Any other thoughts/feelings/speculations etc. on this week's chapters? Let's have 'em!

I’m worried about Amos and Clarissa.  There’s clearly something going wrong with Amos, and he doesn’t seem to have any desire to deal with it.  Clarissa, I assume, is having a hard time without access to the medbay.  Her health was already deteriorating seriously, before all this stuff started happening.    

I was shocked when the Laconians took out the void city.  It did end the battle, but they just slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people.  That action seems to put the lie to their desire for non-violence.  They could absolutely have limited the human cost of that battle, and they chose not to.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Read-Along: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey, Part 1

It’s time for a read-along of the latest novel in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.  Persepolis Rising came out last month, and this January’s read-along is organized in our Goodreads group.  Our discussions will be full of spoilers, so please only read these posts if you don’t mind. The schedule is:

Week 1: Prologue - Ch. 12, Sunday 14th Jan, hosted by @imyril at x+1
Week 2: Ch. 13 - Ch. 27, 28th Jan, hosted by Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow
Week 3: Ch. 28 - Ch. 41, 4th Feb, hosted by Sarah at The Illustrated Page
Week 4: Ch. 42 - End, 11th Feb, hosted by Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow

I won’t be hosting this month, but I am hoping I’ll be able to make enough time to keep up and participate in discussions.  It’s going to be hard to wait for the next in the series, after we’ve finished this one.  Now, to this week’s questions...

1. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
How do you feel about jumping forward 30 years? ...and about where/how we find the Solar system and the Rocinante's crew?

Part of me wants the crew of the Rocinante to stay young and idealistic forever.  I really like this crew, and it’s hard to see them suddenly 30 years older and ready to retire.  I can see it was necessary to jump forward to see the Laconia story, because their technological development would certainly not happen overnight.

2. ...and what are your first impressions of Laconia?

My first impression was that they were megalomaniacal monsters.  I didn’t actually hate Singh, though.  I think he’s too young to have been involved at all in the attack on Earth, and I’m not sure how much he really knows about what his government does.  I might grow to dislike him more as time goes on.  We’ll see.

I appreciate that they appear to be relatively non-violent conquerors.  They do seem to want to bring peace to humanity, and even want to keep the current governments in place.  At the same time, though, the act of conquering requires both violence and an overdeveloped ego, and the foundation of their society is non-consensual experimentation on human subjects.  I don’t think their society is going to be as utopian as they imagine it will.

3. Did you see Holden's actions coming? Do you think he'll stick with his decision now the circumstances have changed?

Are we talking about the retirement, or about arresting Houston instead of blocking off the colony?  I’m assuming retirement, since I guess the scandal about arresting Houston is kind of irrelevant in the face of the invading army.  I didn’t see it coming, but I think it’s a good idea.  Jim and Naomi have fought the good fight for years, and it’s time for them to pass the torch.  They deserve to have some peaceful years together.  I really hope they’re still able to do that, after this has been settled one way or another.

4. How do you think Drummer will react to the Laconian ultimatum? What about the Earth/Martian Alliance and the colony planets?

Well, they can’t really fight them, can they?  Laconia has ships and weapons that can’t be stopped.  They’re way beyond the rest of human society, technologically.  I am thinking that the way to fight back might have to be within the system.  Duarte is making this all about himself as an immortal “philosopher king”, so maybe if he is removed the system will shake apart to chaos.  Or maybe they haven’t quite tamed the protomolecule as well as they believe.  I just can’t see Drummer and the others launching a military campaign against Laconia right now, not with their current level of weaponry.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Short Fiction: September 2017

For my list of favorite short fiction from September of 2017, there’s an even split of science fiction and fantasy. This is the first time I’ve featured most of these authors on my blog, except for Marissa Lingen, who wrote a story I enjoyed back in February. As usual, I’ve provided links to where each story is available to read online. I’ve now run out of 2017 time-wise, but I’m still going to try to review the last three months of the year before too long!

The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Novelette, Clarkesworld): An old, decommissioned spaceship has been called back into service at the desperate end of an interspecies war. That spaceship carries a wide complement of many different kinds of robots, which are carefully assigned to keep the ship functioning. Bot 9, an unreliable old model with a penchant for improvisation and exceeding its mandate, is assigned the task of getting rid of one troublesome rat-bug-thing. The underlying story was pretty sad, but the bots perspectives were engaging, clever, and also really funny. I was completely on board to see where Bot 9’s improvisation protocols would take it!

Party Discipline by Cory Doctorow (Novelette, In a dystopian near-future, two teen girls dream of throwing a “Communist party”. Basically, when a company goes strategically bankrupt (leaving the workers out of luck), the workers illegally use the remaining resources to build goods given freely to all. It’s a socially cool thing to do, but also a very serious crime that will put them in contact with dangerous people. I believe this is set in an existing universe of Doctorow’s, but the story stands alone. It was a really grim look at a capitalist future, where extreme inequality intentionally and blatantly traps people into lives that lead nowhere. At the same time, the girls and their story were full of energy and humor, and I felt that the end carried some hope for the future.

A Pound of Darkness, A Quarter of Dreams by Tony Ballantyne (Short Story, Lightspeed): A shopkeeper must deal with a demon to protect her autonomy and integrity. It was an interesting combination of two kinds of stories: trying to outsmart a demon, and trying to maintain freedom from corporate control. The main character was a good person, and I was very tense waiting to see whether or not she would succeed. This one was a well-crafted story that was a lot of fun to read.

Across Pack Ice, A Fire by Marissa Lingen (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): In this one, a sorceress in a neutral nation is grieving her husband, who died to a magical disease cruelly planted in refugee children. The sorceress and her adopted refugee daughter are determined to find a vengeance that will honor his memory. It was an emotional story, and it did not lead quite where I expected. The story also has a fair amount to say on topics that are very relevant to current events (e.g. the refugee crisis, moral obligations of people and governments).