Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review: Lock-In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi
Published: Tor, 2014
Series: Book 1 of the Lock In Series
Awards Nominated: Campbell Award & Locus SF Awards

The Book:

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves "locked in"--fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. One percent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people "locked in"... including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, "The Agora," in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not.

The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can "ride" these people and use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....”

I read this one while traveling for job-hunting, and it was the perfect choice for that slice of my life--interesting, entertaining, and not emotionally distressing.  I have a signed copy of Head On, the sequel to Lock In, and I’m planning to read it sometime soon.

My Review: 3.5/5

The central science fiction element of the story is the new virus that causes the “locked in” crisis, and it was interesting to see how society might adapt to handle this kind of a problem. On the accommodations side, the Agora makes sense and it was cute that the robotic proxies were named after C-3PO. The ability to control another human, which is an issue at the heart of this murder mystery, clearly carries the potential for abuse. I enjoyed seeing how the illness and related accommodations had become mundane, everyday reality, and how the new technology was used to make daily tasks simpler.  At the point of the story, being locked in is no longer a nightmare, but just ordinary reality for a group of people with distinct social and political needs.

The new technology also adds complications to figuring out the murder mystery.  It’s clear whose bodies were at the scene of the crime, but who was inhabiting them at the time and for what purpose?  I didn’t figure out the answer in advance, so it was fun to see how everything fit together. This is primarily a procedural case story, though, so it is also a rather light book.  The mystery was more engaging than the characters (though I liked them just fine), and the world-building was important inasmuch as it was important to the case. Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of story you want, though, and I am looking forward to reading about Agent Chris and Leslie’s next case.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: Baen, 1994
Series: Book 9 of the Vorkosigan Saga (chronologically)
Awards Won: Hugo and Locus SF Awards

The Book:

“Miles met his clone--a young man raised by rebels to murder and replace him--in Brothers in Arms. Miles insisted that the clone was legally his younger brother, and thus entitled to the name ‘Mark Vorkogian’, but the abused and indoctrinated young man ultimately fled him in distrust.

Some time later, Mark is struggling to come to terms with his past in the cloning creches of Jackson’s Whole.  While his upbringing was a nightmare, it was less horrible than the fate that met all of his childhood friends.  They were raised as bodies to grant immortality to the rich, and their brains were simply discarded at maturity. This is still happening, day after day, and it is a horror that no one is taking any action to stop.  

Mark can do nothing alone, but he knows his well-connected “brother” Miles has a mercenary fleet.  He still believes Miles can’t be trusted... but he was raised to impersonate him. Mark may not have Miles’s strategic ability or experience, but he’s determined to succeed or die trying.” ~Allie  

This is the next book I read via audiobook with my husband.  I think it was pretty accessible, even though my husband had not read any of the other books in the series.  I’d recommend reading Brothers in Arms, first, though, so that you would already know Mark the clone and the details of Miles’s own double identity.

My Review: 3/5

I’m glad that this book forced Miles and his company to do something about Jackson’s Whole, because the whole cloning-immortality setup there was awful.  I get that the hero can’t fix everything about the universe, but I could really sympathize with Mark’s desire to try to address at least this one thing. It was also interesting to read a story featuring Mark and Miles as side-by-side protagonists. They both had such unique voices and personalities, despite the similarities they share.  I’m also glad Mark had a chance to develop his own identity, separate from the idea of being a copy of Miles.

My main reservations about recommending this novel are that it has uneven pacing and potentially disturbing content. The story has a slow start, becomes very intense during the rescue operations on Jackson’s Whole, slows down dramatically as the action moves to Barrayar, and then picks up again later.  The segment on Barrayar was nice as an interlude to show continuing readers what all the minor characters have been up to, but it felt unnecessarily long when considering this novel in isolation. The disturbing content includes torture and sexual assault, and portrayals of intersexual characters and overweight characters that may not be as well received now as they probably were back when it was originally published.
Altogether, I am still enjoying reading the continuing adventures of Miles Vorkosigan and, this time, his brother Mark.  At its high points, the story was exciting, nerve-wracking and occasionally pretty funny. At its low points, the story slows down tremendously to reintroduce minor characters from other Vorkosigan novels. This is not my favorite of the series, but I’m still excited to continue reading about Miles’s adventures!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
Published: Orbit (2017)
Series: Book 7 of the Expanse
Awards Nominated: Locus SF Award

The Book:

In the thousand-sun network of humanity's expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity -- and of the Rocinante -- unexpectedly and forever…”

This is the latest book of the Expanse series, and I read it in a community read-along, from which you can read our spoiler-filled discussions here, here, here, and here.  The 8th book, Tiamat’s Wrath, will be coming out this December.

In other Expanse news, the TV show was picked up by Amazon Prime (after being cancelled by Syfy).  Three cheers for having at least one more season of this fun space opera series!

My Thoughts:

This is the first book to come after a really significant time jump, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.  Persepolis Rising takes place 30 years after the events of Babylon’s Ashes. It makes sense that the threats humanity faces now are slow in coming to fruition, but at the same time this means that we’ve missed 30 years of our heroes’ lives.  The Rocinante crew is still together and tight-knit, but they are now an aging family.  By the time the adventure kicks off, there have been discussions of retirement and end-of-life preferences.  They’re still the same people, still great characters to follow, but there is some existential pain in seeing fictional characters approach the end of life.  This novel does make clear, though, that they aren’t quite yet removing themselves from the center of action, and that there are still miles to go before they sleep.  

Instead of traveling around in the Rocinante righting wrongs, the crew is deprived of their ship and trapped in Medina station.  This story is not one of open conflict, but of resistance against a superior occupying force.  Here we see the crew reaching out to the more extreme OPA factions, and working underground to find anyway they can to undermine the enemy. Persepolis Rising is also the first novel of the final arc of the series, as the threat foreshadowed by the hints of alien civilization-killers in previous novels are now starting to come to the foreground.  I’m excited to see how this will be addressed in the rest of the series, and to see what we might learn about the alien civilization who created the protomolecule.

The non-Rocinante viewpoint characters were not as compelling this time around.  On the Sol System side, we follow Drummer, who is now the head of the Transport Union.  The highlight of her storyline, for me, was the revelation that Chrisjen Avasarala is still alive and relatively healthy.  She’s an amazing character, and I was deeply saddened that she might have died off-page when I saw the large time jump. Other than that, Drummer was attempting to conduct war against an enemy with vastly superior technology, so the story was predictably depressing. Our other point-of-view character, the head of the Laconian occupation, is a terrible person.  I initially thought that he might be included to show the human side of the Laconian group, but he’s just an incompetent and morally bankrupt leader, lacking in any redeeming qualities. I supposed he underlines the fact that the Laconians are short-sighted, cruel, and deserving of whatever karmic justice is coming to them in the rest of the series.

My Rating: 3.5 /5

Persepolis Rising makes a massive time jump, and it was somewhat uncomfortable facing the mortality of the characters I have come to love.  Holden, Naomi and the rest still have adventures ahead, though, and it was exciting to see that the story is finally moving into addressing the implications of the alien technology and the ruins it has left behind.  The Rocinante crew’s story is more claustrophobic than usual, following their resistance efforts in an occupied space station. I enjoyed the change of pace, even though I was less interested in the arcs of the two new viewpoint characters.  I am looking forward to seeing how this series will come to a close!