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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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review 2018-07-31 19:46
Jade City / Fonda Lee
Jade City - Fonda Lee

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

 

Recommended for people who love both The Godfather and kung fu movies.

I found I really had to be in the right mood to get started with this book (and it took me longer than usual to read it). I started it 3 or 4 times before I finally made it beyond the first few pages and discovered what a marvelous world Fonda Lee has created here. So it wasn’t the book at fault, it was my mood.

This is a fantasy world, where jade mined from the country of Kekon has magical qualities and some of the people of the realm have a special sensitivity to the stone. They get extra-special powers when they wear the stones, turning a regular person into someone with extra-strength, super-perception, etc. (they are known in Kekon as Green Bones). It’s real Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuff.

But this is very, very much a book about the two clans who uneasily share the city of Janloon, the No Peak clan and the Mountain clan. And let me tell you, they could give the Mafia a run for their money! It’s all about honour, family, & clan. May the gods help you if you disrespect any of these or if you try to trade loyalties!

The reader comes to know the main members of the No Peak clan intimately. There’s Lan, the Pillar (like the CEO) of the clan; Hilo, the Horn (the enforcer); and Shae, the sister who is trying to forge her own way in the world and separate herself from the gang lifestyle that she grew up with.

This is an extremely well-written, well-realized fantasy world. To my caucasian, North American eyes, this was exotic stuff, but I always knew what Lee was writing about, what she was trying to do. I loved her complex system of magic and the rules that governed it. If you’re sensitive about violence, I would say, “Set this book down and walk away. Jade City is not for you.” That’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to read the book—I could only take so much death & destruction per day.

This author will be at the conference that I’m attending in mid-August and I will definitely be fan-girling.

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text 2018-07-27 18:13
Reading progress update: I've read 344 out of 498 pages.
Jade City - Fonda Lee

Hilo draped his arms over Shae's shoulders and hugged her, then spoke into her ear, "I could still kill him for you."

 

"Screw you, Hilo," she snapped.  "I can kill my ex-boyfriends myself."

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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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