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text 2018-08-13 22:42
"The Last Condo Board Of The Apocalypse" By Nina Post - reluctantly abandoned at 30% point
The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse - Nina Post

"The Last Condo Board Of The Apocalypse" reminded me of a Groucho Marx quote:

"It's nice work if you can get it... but I don't get it."


This novel is stuffed with creative ideas, comic juxtapositions, Single Purpose Angels that seem like loner-Minions with a snack obsession, Angels of Destruction wearing business suits and grimly determined smiles and through all of it runs our I'm-good-with-disguises-perhaps-because-I-have-no-idea-who-I-am heroine.


The plot seems to be onion-paper thin. It doesn't drive the action so much as give a group of potentially comic personalities a place to bump into one another and produce random flashes of humour.


This kind of thing either works for you and carries you away or leaves you feeling like the only sober, celibate, vegetarian at a drunken orgy in a steakhouse.


Add to this the irritation of low production standards: missing words, typos and weird fonts in the ebook and my but-it-may-get-better hopefulness was replaced by: "I used to be an optimist, but I knew it wouldn't last." I'm moving on. 

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review 2018-08-11 22:53
The Dispatcher (audiobook) by John Scalzi, narrated by Zachary Quinto
The Dispatcher - John Scalzi,Zachary Quinto

In the world of this story, something happened 8+ years ago that changed how death works. When someone is killed (or murdered?) by another person, instead of staying dead they pop out of existence and reappear, naked and alive, in their own home, wherever in the world that happens to be. Well, most of the time. There's a one in a thousand chance that they'll stay dead.

No one knows how this change came to be, or why, but it has resulted in the creation of a new job, Dispatcher. Dispatchers are people trained and licensed to kill people who are about to die, so that they can come back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher substituting for another Dispatcher at a hospital. It seems like a normal enough assignment until he's roped into an investigation into the disappearance of the Dispatcher he was substituting for.

This was okay. The setup was really interesting, but I had trouble getting a handle on the conditions under which someone would come back to life. I initially thought that their death required the direct and immediate involvement of another human being. However, that would have meant that there was nothing for anybody to worry about in the part where a woman was hit by a truck. Another human being was driving the truck that hit her, so she should have died and then reappeared in her own home.

Near the end of the story, other details were provided that seemed to indicate that intention played a role. Since the driver hadn't intended to kill the woman, she would simply have died. I assume this means that if someone had intentionally poisoned someone, their victim would have come back to life, but if they had accidentally poisoned the person, their victim would simply have died. I'm not sure even that quite fits, however. Wouldn't it mean that Dispatchers' victims would almost never come back to life? Valdez didn't consider what he did to be murder. He was providing a service that was almost guaranteed to save people's lives. Since he didn't kill people with the intention of them staying dead, shouldn't they all have, well, stayed dead? Unless he was lying when he was describing how he viewed his work - quite possible, considering how many other things he lied about or failed to immediately mention.

I have a feeling I'm probably overthinking this, but I couldn't help trying to tease apart the details of how all of this worked, since the details turned out to be very important at several points in the story. One of those instances in particular made it difficult to believe that 1) Valdez had been doing this job for 8 years and 2) that he'd had a great deal of experience with the shadier aspects of Dispatcher work. It shouldn't have taken him as long as it did to figure out how a couple hired thugs were going to make use of one aspect of the whole "killing you, but not really" thing.

The resolution to the mystery of the missing Dispatcher was very emotional, but something about the way the story was written resulted in it having less impact that it should have. Maybe the problem was that so much of the story involved Valdez (and occasionally the cop) visiting people and asking questions. The emotional resolution was mostly pieced together second- or third-hand by Valdez - none of it happened on-page. Heck, even the missing Dispatcher never had an on-page appearance.

All in all, this wasn't bad but could have been better. On the plus side, Zachary Quinto's narration was excellent. I've listened to The Dispatcher twice now, and Quinto was a large part of the reason why.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-08-08 21:20
"Rogue Protocol - Murderbot Diaries #3" by Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol - Martha Wells

I had this on pre-order and then scarfed it down on the day it arrived.


As always, it was fun. I loved Murderbot's interaction with Miki, the "pet" robot that sees humans as its friends. Murderbot moves from disbelief, through disdain, on to mild jealousy followed finally by muted grief when they part.


Miki is everything that Murderbot is not: naive. optimistic, emotionally attached to humans and open to making new friends. In the same way that ART in book two showed us that Murderbot is too human to be a real AI, Miki shows us that Murderbot is too much an AI ever entirely to trust humans.


In this third part of what is now clearly one great novel being sold to us in (expensive) instalments, Murderbot continues to pursue proof of the wrong-doings of the GreyCris corporation but this is really the frame for his journeying and not the focus of the novel. The focus is on how each of Murderbot's journeys takes him on a path from I-hacked-my-governor-module-so-I-could-watch-more-space-operas to I-have-things-and-maybe-even-people-and-bots-who-matter-to-me.


In this instalment, Murderbot is aware of becoming more humanlike in his behaviour (although humans should never be allowed to do Security: they're unable to keep pace with fast-changing situations, their egos get in the way and they're allowed to give up). Murderbot is dismayed to discover there are now things s/he cares about:

"I hate caring about stuff. But apparently, once you start, you can't just stop."

The novella has a leisurely start but once the action begins the pace is fast and the tension is relentless.


I finished the novella with a sense of satisfaction that could only have been improved if I'd been able to continue on to part four instead of having to wait for the publishers to feed it to me later.


My only gripe about Murderbot is the pricing strategy: split a novel in four and charge the price of a full novel for each part. This is not the way to treat the fans. I moved from reading Murderbot as an ebook to listening to the audiobook, purely because the audiobook cost one credit (which translates to £3.66 or $4.71 as opposed to $9.10 for the Kindle version.


Actually, the audiobook was very well done. The voices for Murderbot and Mikki were perfect. I'm glad my miserliness financial prudence brought me to such a skilled narrator.


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review 2018-08-08 00:42
"The Water Cure" by Sophie Mackintosh - abandoned after 25% - too worthy for me. I don't want my reading to be a chore.
The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

I picked "The Water Cure" as one of four books to read from the 2018 Man Booker Longlist.  I liked the speculative fiction premise of young women, raised in isolation in a post-apocalyptic world, encountering men for the first time and having to reconsider what they think they know. 

"The Water Cure" got off to a slow and difficult start but was intriguing enough to keep me interested. I liked the rapid succession of short chapters, written from the point of view of each of the three sisters. This worked well in the audiobook version I read, where each sister get's her own narrator.
The we-only-know-this-island innocence of the sisters means that they take their exotic situation for granted and do little to explain it to the reader. 
It soon became clear that this was not going to be your typical post-apocalyptic dystopian novel. I was reminded more of  "The Tempest" if Miranda had had two sisters.
After the ten per cent mark, I started to get bored and a little angry. I got bored because, although many short chapters shot by, NOTHING HAPPENED in any of them except the young women sharing the details of the strange rituals (called therapies) that dominate their lives. I became angered by the abuse these young women had suffered.

I get the need to pace the book so that I can  FEEL the stifling effects on the sisters of isolation and ignorance combined with forced ritual intimacy, but enough already.

I began to feel as if I were  trapped in the middle of a front row at "Waiting For Godot" and I'm so embarrassed by what other people will think of me that I stay in my seat long after my boredom threatens to be terminal and I suspect Beckett of being a sadist with a wicked sense of humour.


I made it as far as the twenty-five percent mark because the voices of the sisters were  strong and distinct and because I could no more look away from the spectacle of the Bennet sisters transported to an island where they are subjected to abuse that they've educated to understand as sympathetic magic, than I could look away from a building about to be demolished by well-placed charges.


I'd hoped that the arrival of the men would change the pace but it didn't and I finally admitted to myself that I was reading this book because it was "worthy" rather than because I was getting anything out of it. I'd promised myself I wouldn't do that anymore so I abandoned "The Water Cure" at twenty-five per cent mark.


It may win the Mann  Booker prize but it didn't make a place for itself in my imagination.

Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of the book.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/447441624" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]





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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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