Mini-review: The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

PhilosopherKingsThe Philosopher Kings is the direct sequel to Jo Walton’s excellent novel The Just City. If you haven’t read that first book yet, stop reading this now and instead check out my review.

The new novel is set about twenty years after the end of The Just City. The Masters are growing old, the Children have grown up, and the Children’s children (somewhat clumsily referred to as “Young Ones” to avoid confusion) are the first generation of true philosopher kings, born into the Just City without preconceptions, as envisioned in Plato’s Republic.

In some ways, The Philosopher Kings is very similar to The Just City: a gently flowing story that combines philosophy with science fiction and fantasy, switching back and forth between several points of view. Returning from the first novel are the god Apollo, still disguised in human form, and Maia. The new p.o.v. character is Arete (“Excellence”, appropriately), the daughter of Apollo and Simmea, a teenager growing up in the Just City.

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Mini-review: Protector (Foreigner #14) by C.J. Cherryh

ProtectorProtector is a 3 star book in a 5 star series. I love these books and will continue to read them as long as Cherryh writes them, but this middle book in the fifth (!) trilogy set on the atevi world was purely comfort reading for me: it’s a joy to visit this incredibly detailed world and read about these characters. As someone else said somewhere, I’d be happy just reading about these folks having tea and chatting. The Cajeiri chapters are wonderful, and the bits about Cajeiri’s young human visitors are truly excellent. (Irene is being set up to be something truly special, I think.) Unfortunately, Bren’s sections in this one just drag, with a large amount of lecture-dialogue politics early on and a finale that felt painfully forced.

I’m sure that the next book will get back to this series’ usual excellence, and that the people who have read this far in the series will not stop reading — I most definitely won’t, and already look forward to book 15. Still, being honest: if the first book had been like Protector, I probably wouldn’t have made it this far.

(There’s a lot more to be said about this one, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers and, really, it’s nearly impossible to write about book 14 in a series without spoiling things.)

Note: if you haven’t read any books in this series yet, here’s my review of the first book, Foreigner, and a wonderful guest post by Ann Leckie written in reaction to part of my review.

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The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

TheAffinitiesIn Robert Charles Wilson’s new novel The Affinities, as in many of his other novels, the world as we know it is about to be remade. The difference with many of Wilson’s previous works is that, this time, the change seems relatively mild—or at least, at first it does. There are no aliens. There are no disappearing continents or mysterious artifacts from the future or impermeable spheres surrounding the entire planet.

Instead, the big change arrives gradually, brought on by very human advances in social teleodynamics. New technologies, algorithms and testing methods allow a company known as InterAlia (“Finding Yourself Among Others”) to sort people who pay a modest testing fee into twenty-two Affinities. The members of each affinity are supposed to be hyper-compatible: they are more likely to cooperate with each other in all areas of life, from the personal to the professional.

Adam Fisk is one of the people who takes the InterAlia test and finds himself admitted to the Tau Affinity. Before attending his first Tau meeting, Adam is a bit lost in life: he is studying graphic design in Toronto, funded by his grandmother because he’s estranged from almost everyone else in his more conservative, business-oriented family in upstate New York. When Grammy Fisk passes away, the latent conflicts in his family explode—but luckily, the members of his new Tau group are there to fill the gap. So begins Adam’s new life in Tau, during a turbulent period in which the entire world will be changed by the new social structures known as the Affinities…

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

TheFirstFifteenLivesofHarryAugustWhen I read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North last month, I was completely blown away by what I now consider one of the finest genre novels of the last few years, but because of scheduling issues I had to write my review for the author’s newest novel Touch before getting to Harry August. (You can find this review here.) Unfortunately, by the time I’d written that review, the two novels had sort of merged in my head, to the point where I’d now have to reread Harry August to be able to write a decent review.

There are after all some obvious similarities between Harry August and Touch, most notably the fact that they both deal with immortality, albeit in very different ways. There’s a circular form of immortality in the former: upon “dying”, Harry is immediately born again, under the same circumstances, to the same mother, on the same date. By contrast, in Touch the protagonist’s immortality is linear rather than circular: he can transfer his consciousness to another body by a simple touch.

Both of these novels are brilliant, but The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is without a doubt the better of the two, and one of the best genre novels I’ve read in years. It was also the first novel I listed on my Hugo Ballot this year.

Because of all of this, I feel a bit inadequate about still not having written a proper review, and so I am going to cop out by just linking to Paul Kincaid’s excellent review on Strange Horizons. It says many of the things I’d like to say, but in a much more coherent and thoughtful fashion than I could ever dream of.

So. Go read his review, then go buy The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and read it. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.

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Mind Meld: SFF Series That Hooked Us After the First Book

Mind Meld, by Rick Celis

Mind Meld, by Rick Celis

Today you can find me over at SF Signal, where I was once again mind-melded. (It gets easier after the first time.)  This time, the question posed to the panel was:

What series do you love that didn’t get off to a perfect start, but hit the mark later on? For bonus (imaginary) points, what book in the series leveled it up?

Click on over to SF Signal to find the answers by such SF/F luminaries as Lee Kelly, S.C. Flynn, Luke Brown, Mike Ferrante, Harry Connolly, Courtney Schafer, and, um, me.

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Persona by Genevieve Valentine

PersonaPersona by Genevieve Valentine is an excellent novel. This probably will come as no surprise to those of you who have read the author’s two previous, critically acclaimed novels, Mechanique and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, but as a newcomer to Valentine’s works I was quite blown away. (I should probably add that, based on feedback from friends and on those two books’ blurbs, Persona appears to be very different from her earlier work.)

Persona starts off in near future Paris, where Suyana Sapaki is about to cast a vote in the International Assembly (IA). Suyana is the “Face” representing her country in the IA, which means she has virtually zero decision-making power: she is a figurehead, a glorified spokesperson who says what she is told to say and votes the way she is told to vote.

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Reading Habits

SevenevesNo new reviews this week because I got sucked into work and reading and random life craziness, so instead I decided to indulge in a meme. Remember memes? I know right? This popped up on The Speculative Scotsman and I thought, well, here’s a great excuse to talk about myself and procrastinate. It’s not like I have a ton of work and a Hugo ballot to complete or anything. Anyway. There will be new reviews next week, I promise.

1. What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading?

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. (Which I’m not supposed to review yet, as per the publisher’s request, so I’ll just say: WOW.)

2. What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading and why?

Usually I finish almost everything I start, but American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle really didn’t work for me.

3. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t?

Weird question. Whatever I put here, someone will likely say “what do you mean, most people don’t like this?!” I’ll take it in the spirit of “most people I *know* don’t like it”, and say the Void trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. I completely understand why most of my friends don’t like his stuff, but I enjoy it in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way.

4. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked but most people liked?

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. I admired the concept, but the execution just didn’t work for me. Sorry Kameron, I still think you’re awesome.

5. How long do your single-sitting reading sessions usually last?

This is entirely a function of whether my 7 year old is in the vicinity or not.

6. What are you currently reading?

A Crown For Cold Silver by Alex Marshall.

7. Do you like it so far?

Yeah, although the p.o.v. switches around a bit too much for my taste. It’s also driving me completely nuts that I don’t know who the author really is.

8. How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading (or the last book you read)?

I didn’t buy it — as with most things I read nowadays, the publisher provided me with a review copy. But for the record, the last book I actually bought was an electronic copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

9. What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought?

Physical book. Hmm. I think it was one of C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner novels, which I’m mainly buying because I want the entire set in the same format (mass market paperback) for some odd reason I can’t quite figure out. (This is also why I haven’t read book #15 in the series yet — the paperback is only coming out in April.)

10. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like the most and why?

Space opera. Good, intelligent space opera just makes me happy and tickles that old sensawunda thrill for me. Ann Leckie, Lois McMaster Bujold, and of course the late, great Iain M. Banks. I’ve been known to persist in reading a bad novel just because it features FTL drives and ancient space-faring civilizations. (See also: Peter F. Hamilton.)

11. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why?

Aside from the ones I just don’t read (like most paranormal romance), I’ll probably surprise folks by saying Steampunk. Steampunk has to be really really good to work for me. (Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear is an example of really really good Steampunk, by the way.)

12. What is your favorite electronic reading device?

My Kindle Paperwhite. It’s light and small, I can hold it in one hand, the battery lasts forever, and it works in almost any form of light.

13. What was the last sf/f/h eBook you bought?

Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton. I actually own it in hardcover, but it was so damned BIG and HEAVY that I decided to spring for the Kindle version.

14. Do you read books exclusively in one format (physical/electronic)?

No. I used to read only paper books and resisted the ebook thing for a very long time, but with so many publishers switching over to electronic review copies, I gave in and started reading on my iPad a few years back, then purchased a Kindle when the battery life on the iPad ended up being too short for my usual reading sessions.

15. Do you read ebooks exclusively on a single device, ie. an eBook reader, a smartphone or a tablet?

Mostly on my Kindle, occasionally on my iPad if I forgot to charge up the Kindle, and in dire emergencies on my ancient Android phone.

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