Saturday, September 24, 2011

Q & A with C.S. Friedman

I have read a number of books by C.S. Friedman over the years. I really enjoyed the Coldfire trilogy as well as her standalone novels. However, somehow I never knew much about the author besides the fact that C.S. Friedman is a woman despite the androgynous name.

So when I stumbled across this video that's been recently shot on her promotional tour of Legacy of Kings, I found it a pretty interesting one in several ways.

On one hand, I found her style of speaking a little offensive. Perhaps it was the irreverence to the writing process and the genre that rubbed me the wrong way. Not even sure why that would rub me the wrong way given that I don't write, nor do I revere the profession as whole, but here it is. The self-congratulation nature of some of her comments grated on me a little bit too.

On the other hand, she does say a lot of interesting things about how she writes, and what's important to her in her writing, and how she gets inspired. And I actually ended up enjoying listening to the Q & A and at the end found that I am probably just as likely to pick up her books as before if not more.

This is an interesting experience for me because on reading a few opinion pieces by Orson Scott Card, I stopped buying his book despite having enjoyed the Ender series. I guess personality differences don't affect me the same way as knowing the author's politics. Hmm.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Title: Blameless
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Alexia Tarrabotti, book 3
Genre: Steampunk
Published: 2010

Recommendation: If you enjoyed the series so far, this one won't disappoint you either.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Alexia is pregnant and all of London knows about it. When her parents kick her out of the house on learning the news, Alexia decides to travel to Italy and find out how it's possible that she and Conall sired a child and what that child is going to be.

Reactions: At the end of last book in this series, I didn't think I would be continuing. However, I bought this book on a whim in a Border's sale and actually ended up enjoying it. Perhaps, it's just the matter of mood, but I found this particular installment more witty and less frustrating than the previous novel in the series.

The most distinctive part of the novel is certainly the jokes, puns, and sarcasm that Carriger strews around liberally. It's the sort of voice where you either enjoy it or it grates on you. This time around I snorted at the jokes and altogether finished the book pretty fast. There were a couple of mildly irritating uses of pet names for Alexia by various cast, but beyond that I found the language amusing.

The plot itself is not particularly surprising in its conclusion, but it's a pretty exciting romp and altogether kept my attention well and didn't strain my incredulity too much. A fun, fluffy type of book to read in the last days of summer.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Player of Games

Title: The Player of Games
Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture, book 2
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1988

Recommendation: A fast, fun science fiction epic.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Gurgeh is a renowned player of games in Culture. He lives a fairly quiet life, playing strategy games and studying them until his peace is upset by an ex-Contact sarcastic robot, Mawhrin-Skel. And then Gurgeh is off to the far away Azad Empire, where he is to play the most complex game of his lifetime.

Reactions: I wrote half of this review and then lost it in a browser refresh, so this version might end up much shorter than I originally intended it to be.

All in all, The Player of Games is so far my favorite book by Iain Banks. Perhaps my passion for German strategy board games made me relate to this book more than the average reader, but overall I really enjoyed following Gurgeh's story and I stayed up late reading the novel until it was finished.

For me, the best part of the story was following Gurgeh's character transformation as he explores the new world and masters the most complex strategy game he has ever encountered. The plot is well-written and well-paced if a little predictable in places. I could see many of the twists coming, but it didn't reduce my enjoyment of the book.

All-in-all, it's a solid story, full of nuanced characters and game play. It strongly reminds me of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card in its spirit. So, I believe you may enjoy this book if you liked Ender's Game. But regardless, I would recommend The Player of Games as solid entertainment as well as a good character study and even a society commentary.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fragile Things

Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2006

Recommendation: A great anthology with a variety of stories - something for everyone.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: This is a collection of short stories and poems written by Neil Gaiman throughout his career.

Reactions: I am not generally a huge reader of anthologies. The ones I've previously tried tend to be of variable quality and interest to me. And since the stories are not tied together, there's a great likelihood of me finishing a story I didn't enjoy and then just not picking up the book again. Surprisingly, this was not the case with Fragile Things. I just kept wanting to come back for more stories, and the overall quality of this collection is amazing. While, I've already enjoyed Gaiman's works before, I think I've gained new respect for him as an author. The breadth and the depth of the stories in this collection is astonishing and I enjoyed pretty much every single one of them.

Nevertheless, there are several stories that really stood out for me in this collection. The first one is also the first story in the collection, titled A Study in Emerald. It's an alternative Sherlock Holmes story in a mystically changed England, which I found very cleverly done and just as much fun to read as the original Conan Doyle stories. Though I suppose, someone who is not familiar with the original material would miss half the fun in the story.

My next favorite story in the collection is Bitter Grounds. It's one of those stories where mysterious things happen and they stay pretty unexplained, but the real focus of the story is the main character. It follows a man who, after having his heart broken, leaves the town and travels across the country until he gets accidentally involved in the life of an anthropology professor traveling to a conference in New Orleans. The whole atmosphere of the town, the mystical things that happen, and the community is very well done and lead to a poignant ending. Certainly a very well-crafted story.

Another story I enjoyed a lot was Goliath, which is a story based on the premise of the movie Matrix. I read the story and enjoyed the references quite a bit without knowing that they were quite intentional and apparently the story appeared in the promotional materials for the movie right before it was released. I am not even sure what it is that attracts me to the story so much since it's probably the least unique of the bunch, but in some ways it's just a lot of fun to mess with time in a story and this is a good example of that.

There are many more stories in the collection and most of them are interesting, evocative and clever. On top of it, there is an introduction to the book which tells about how each of the stories came to be and provides other tidbits about the story. I would read each story and then flip to the introduction to see more information about it, which surprisingly enhances the reading experience and sometime explains why the story is told the way it is.

All in all, this is a top notch collection and one I would recommend without any hesitation. There's a wide variety of stories -- mysteries, horror, personal accounts, fairy tales, stories about relationships, sex, crime, and afterlife. You will be impressed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August Recap

Whooosh -- that's the sound of summer months dancing away. August has not been too productive in terms of reading -- mostly because I have been so busy at work lately. The two books I did finish were
  1. The Last Colony by John Scalzi
  2. The Prestige by Christopher Priest
Both books turned out to be really good, but The Prestige was certainly my favorite. Now I am in the midst of reading Neil Gaiman's anthology Fragile Things and I am enjoying it so far.

In terms of other entertainment, I watched the Death Note anime series. It turned out to be pretty fun. The premise of the story revolves around a notebook, the "Death Note". Any person whose name is written in the notebook dies. The protagonist is a guy who decides to punish criminals using this notebook. The police and a highly mysterious detective L are looking to stop the killer. So it's a detective story with some mystical elements to it. I enjoyed the first 2/3rds of it very much. It goes a bit downhill towards the end, but still it left a pretty good impression on me overall.

So, August was altogether pretty good, but I am looking forward to the return of the fall TV shows in September and hopefully a lot more reading between now and the end of the year. Adieu.