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review 2018-08-07 17:18
Last Call / Tim Powers
Last Call - Tim Powers

Set in Las Vegas, Last Call concerns the fate of Scott Crane, former professional gambler, recent widower, blind in one eye--and also the lost natural son of the man who is determined to kill him. In this novel, Crane is forced to resume the high-stakes game of a lifetime--and wager it all.

 

I wanted to like this book much more than I did—there was much in it that appealed to me, but as with Powers’ The Anubis Gates, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed. Much of this reaction will be due to my lack of familiarity with both tarot and (especially) poker. I fooled around with tarot cards in my late 20s, but never really committed myself to learning the art. And I think the kids at the back of the school bus tried to teach me poker during my high school years, but that was many decades ago and my memories are hazy at best.

There is a lot going on in this book and it speaks to Tim Powers’ skill as a writer that he managed to successfully weave it together into a cohesive story. Here are some of the elements he incorporates: archetypes & Jungian psychology, mythology of Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Arthur Legend and the Fisher King, T.S. Eliot, Bugsy Siegel, Las Vegas and Lake Mead.

As in The Anubis Gates, there is a body-snatching element to deal with as well. These are the only two books of Powers’ repertoire that I’ve read, so I found it interesting that they both had this esoteric characteristic in common. Come to think of it, poetry featured prominently in TAG as well, so it is obviously a great interest to this author.

Book number 292 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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text 2018-08-02 17:50
Reading progress update: I've read 104 out of 535 pages.
Last Call - Tim Powers

 

This is a really weird mix of poker and tarot cards, with the cards causing threatening things to happen.

 

I'm a hundred pages in and I still don't have any idea what exactly is happening (but that's parr for the course with Powers' writing & me).

 

But it certainly isn't boring!

 

 

 

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text 2018-07-27 16:54
The Fall of Hyperion / Dan Simmons
The Fall of Hyperion - Dan Simmons

In the stunning continuation of the epic adventure begun in Hyperion, Simmons returns us to a far future resplendent with drama and invention. On the world of Hyperion, the mysterious Time Tombs are opening. And the secrets they contain mean that nothing--nothing anywhere in the universe--will ever be the same.

 

This was by no means a bad book, but it just didn’t grab me the way the first one did. I really enjoyed the first book’s “Canturbury Tales” structure and the way Simmons wove the tales tightly together. The second book is a more traditional novel complete with war, a topic which doesn’t thrill me. It is in some ways tied together by the John Keats cybrid, who narrates his vision of what is happening, but the amount of POV hopping was challenging for me.

I did appreciate the wide field of interests that Simmons must have—of course, Keats’ poetry is referenced a lot. In fact it is his epic poem, Hyperion, which provides much of the structure for these two of Simmons books. Stephen Hawking is honoured by the Hawking drive used in the space ships. John Muir’s environmental philosophy is acknowledged in the Templars, on their planet God’s Grove.

Echoing the Canturbury Tales, there is a priest’s tale and the involvement of the Catholic Church. I am always surprised at the inclusion of religion (and often Catholicism) in science fiction set in the far future, as I don’t feel the Church is all that relevant even today, let alone hundreds of years from now. The emphasis on the presence of gods, either evolved from human consciousness or constructed by powerful artificial intelligences, didn’t interest me all that much, despite its pivotal role in the novel.

There is another connection to the Wizard of Oz movie, when the Consul at the book’s end plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and teaches the words to some of his fellow pilgrims. (In the first book, they sang “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” if I recall correctly).

My absolute favourite reference, however, was when one of the Artificial Intelligences makes a speech in the Hegemony in which he says, “It pains the Core to take any human life…or through inaction, allow any human life to come to harm.” What a great tribute to Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, from which the Core AIs have obviously been liberated during their evolution! And of course, the Core represents human creation run amok, a frequent theme in science fiction.


What I found truly impressive was Simmons’ writing in 1990 about a World Web, to which citizens were connected at all times using comlink devices! Remember, this was before our World Wide Web was really much of a thing and well before smart phones which could keep people connected almost all the time. Simmons seems rather prescient about our current reliance on these devices, to the extent that some people in the novel are made anxious and/or mentally unstable when their access to the Web is cut off.

There is so much more going on in this novel—exploration of time travel and its paradoxes, the nature of the Shrike, the choices faced by the Hegemony (shades of Card’s Ender’s Game), the nature of the Ousters. It must have been difficult for the author to keep all of those balls in the air!

Book number 291 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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review 2018-07-13 18:35
Tripoint / C.J. Cherryh
Tripoint - C.J. Cherryh

Merchanter Cargo Chief Marie Hawkins has never forgiven the crime, nor sought justice. Only vengeance. And, for 23 years, the Hawkins's clan ship, Sprite, has lived with her vendetta - and with her son, Tom, the boy sired in the violent assault.

Marie's attacker, Austin Bowe, is captain of the Corinthian. When both ships dock at Mariner Station, Marie vanishes and Tom searches for his mother...only to find himself trapped on Austin's ship with a half-brother he never knew he had and a crew fanatically loyal to Bowe. Now as the Corinthian flees the pursuing Sprite and a raider guns after both, the lives on board the two Merchanter ships are in the hands of Tom Hawkins. To save them all, Tom must trust his sworn enemy...His father.

 

 

Normally, I enjoy Cherryh’s work a lot—but this novel I struggled with. It’s that whole “story based entirely on a rape” scenario that I have a hard time with. I’m having exactly the same difficulty with Stephen R. Donaldson’s Gap series, which I still plan to continue on with and it’s the reason that I stopped reading Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series after two books.

I had hoped that Cherryh would make Marie Hawkins a more understandable character, a woman who had a son as a result of a long-ago rape and dealt with it. Instead, it seemed to me that Marie was pretty unstable and had made her son Tom’s mental state questionable too. Is it a good thing when the son is better off as a prisoner/crew member with his pirate father than with his mother on a family ship? I guess this is Cherryh’s exploration of some of those problems that we can’t seem to get rid of, rape and child abuse. I don’t know about you, but I really want to believe that we can conquer those problems before we make it into space. Perhaps I watched too much Star Trek as a child.

The ending made me happier with the book, so if you find yourself floundering during the first chapters like I did, I would encourage you to read on. I’m not saying the end justifies the means, but I was quite satisfied with the end result.

Book number 290 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2018-06-19 16:12
Wizard's First Rule / Terry Goodkind
Wizard's First Rule - Terry Goodkind

In the aftermath of the brutal murder of his father, a mysterious woman, Kahlan Amnell, appears in Richard Cypher's forest sanctuary seeking help . . . and more.

His world, his very beliefs, are shattered when ancient debts come due with thundering violence. In a dark age it takes courage to live, and more than mere courage to challenge those who hold dominion, Richard and Kahlan must take up that challenge or become the next victims. Beyond awaits a bewitching land where even the best of their hearts could betray them. Yet, Richard fears nothing so much as what secrets his sword might reveal about his own soul. Falling in love would destroy them--for reasons Richard can't imagine and Kahlan dare not say.

In their darkest hour, hunted relentlessly, tormented by treachery and loss, Kahlan calls upon Richard to reach beyond his sword--to invoke within himself something more noble. Neither knows that the rules of battle have just changed . . . or that their time has run out.

 

I’ve read quite a number of “high fantasy” epics as part of my SFF reading project and the Sword of Truth series is yet another one. Maybe I’ve read a few too many of these series over the past couple of years, as I was quite weary by the end of the first 100 pages. Goodkind believes in getting right to it—by 100 pages we are introduced to Richard Cypher (our chosen one for this series), Kahlan Amnell (his love interest & travel companion), and Zedd (the obligatory wizard). Not only that, Richard’s brother is set up as the corrupt politician who is going to cause trouble later. I guess it’s a toss-up between those who don’t want too much exposition or description and those who would like a gentler introduction to this new fantasy world. I cut my high fantasy teeth on Tolkien, so I tend to favour more introductory material before plunging into the adventure.

Warnings to those who are sensitive souls: both torture and pedophilia are aspects of this story. If you choose your TBR based on avoiding these issues, strike this book from your reading agenda. The torture section, where Richard is in the power of a Mord-Sith, Denna, is rather long and dwells lingeringly on her brutal treatment of Richard. We learn about what Mord-Sith are right along with Richard. Needless to say, they are on the Evil side of the equation in this story.

Richard’s talents appear to be a questioning nature, insisting on getting to the truth of things, and an ability to see things from another’s perspective and appreciate them despite their behaviour. This is how he manages to find an affection for Mistress Denna and sweet talk a dragon, among other diplomatic coups. The fact that he is portrayed as a highly unusual man because of these capabilities (to empathize with others) I leave to your judgement.

Richard and Kahlan have a whole Romeo-and-Juliet plot line going through most of the book, probably one of the oldest plot devices going. If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings you will also see echoes of Wormtongue when you consider Richard’s brother Michael and hints of Gollum when you read about the former Seeker who has been distorted by magic. Not to mention Zedd’s tendencies to give incomplete advice and to disappear when he is most needed, rather like Gandalf.

I think that perhaps my adoration of modern urban fantasy is a reaction to the plethora of rather medieval settings and simplistic good-vs-evil plots of much of high fantasy. There’s a place for both and I enjoy them both—they use many of the same tropes, after all—but we all need variety in both our physical and reading diets.

Book number 289 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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