The uplift war, by David Brin

The uplift war Book Cover The uplift war
The uplift saga
David Brin
Science fiction
674 pages

First of all, The uplift war was the 1988 Hugo  award winning novel, and is the third part of the Uplift saga trilogy.  The second book of the trilogy, Startide rising, took the Hugo and the Nebula a few years earlier.  This is why they were firmly seated on my to-read list to begin with, along with some noises issuing from CompanionBot, like "You should read those things", when I wail about how I want books about not even having to lookt o space to find intelligent life, or how i want books with lots of sticky ethics in them, or books that are cozy. I often want a lot of things.  I've been told it's not a character flaw when it's about books, because then words like "screaming spoiled brat" are somehow magically replaced with something along the lines of "discerning".

If you look at the cover I've included in the post, it looks like a collage of maybe six completely unrelated books. Serious lady, ape with a gun, Tarzan?!, something on fire, a generic kind of jungle,  with a cherry-like spaceship on top.   All of these things belong in the book. There could also have been a disgruntled, dancing chicken,  a farting horse, a somehow enlightened-looking broccoli, and dozens of other intriguing things.

It's the third book in a series, which means you probably won't read it without having read the previous two.  You'll know that once humanity gets over itself and builds some spaceships and gets out there among the stars, they stumble into a vast society of haughty alien races, who immediately let them know how things are supposed to work:  Intelligent, space-faring species are made that way by other, older ones - by means of uplift.   (Did you ever play Spore? Like, squeeze as much play out of it as was possible despite the space phase being endless, endlessly boring? Then you probably uplifted some dudes.)

Except humans.  Humans got out there on their own, like uncouth little barbarian children.  Everyone puts on their best haughty face against them, but then they have to play nice, because humans have, infact, already uplifted their buddies - dolphins and chimpanzees.  This brings a lot of status,  and the Haughty McHaughts of the galaxies get their panties in a bigger bunch over it.  We get to colonize some old leftover baubles, including the one with the decorative jungle featured on the book cover.   Then someone tries to steal it, because of things happening somewhere else, and we get some funny alien politics and weapons, and humans demonstrate their sophisticated art of guerilla war.

Now, this book is from the eighties, which also happens to apply to me.  In both our cases, I'm afraid it shows.   About 40% of this thing is really a very nice read.   It's just a shame about the four hundred-ish pages you have to slug through first.    (This was also my experience with the other two Uplift books.)   It feels a bit stiff, it takes me a long time to work up any real interest in the characters, despite how I feel like I should be grinning silly and going "whoaah, dude" over them.      It's possible some of the distance I feel comes from the treatment of gender. If it was just the formerly extremely male-dominated society of the chimpanzees, I'd be okay.  The air is just a bit too thick with "A mere girl" and "Please sir, may I have some sperm so I can mother something".

Yeah, um.

When these books were recommended to me, it was because I'm known to appreciate messy ethics,  like what some star trek episodes arrive at after taking half of the episode to set up the scene.    And it's true, there are a lot of delicious questions floating around in this mess.  Knowing the idea of uplift, you can probably guess at them before even picking up the books - how okay is it to meddle in the evolution of other smart species? If eugenics were iffy when self-applied, is it suddenly just dandy when it's done to someone by someone else?  In the name of better, stronger, faster?

All in all, the book scores very highly on concept,  though perhaps it doesn't ever go far enough.  Character- and storywise, it fails to excite me.    It may very well have been a much more whoaah, dude!-inspiring read when it was first published.  Time is unfriendly that way. I know, because I no longer dress up by tripling the size of my hair and placing large silver hoops through my hearing organs.  "But that's what I was told was good!", I whine, and time snickers and puts a snarky hashtag on me and moves on.

Mode: Giddy

I assembled this fat robot, this blog, reluctantly; unwilling to believe there really was a world in which a reader might be given books for free just by wanting to read them. And rant about them afterwards.  But it turns out to be true!

Tomorrow I’ll wish for a unicorn.  Stay tuned.

Hoarding: The sick rose and pretty Discworlds

I buy a lot more books than I can justify buying.  I have a pile of unreads numbering something like two hundred by now? Maybe more hundreds, I completely lost track when the kindle came around.   I blame cultural conditioning in childhood, when the fear of running out of things to read was a very real, very threatening concern.

The library is of limited use when you prefer to read in a foreign language. (Yes, English is foreign around here.)  Even if I wanted to read in my native language, the things I want to read wouldn’t be translated in any hurry.  Aaanyway.

I have enough love for Terry Pratchett and the Discworld that I actually want it to take up valuable space in my home, so the new hardback books are all on my List.  I have a few of them already, today I ordered three more.  (The three very first in the series, actually, because I keep convincing myself I’m going to get around to that complete reread.)

Also,  The Sick Rose: or; Disease and the art of medical illustration. Because I’m into that kind of thing.  You won’t be surprised to know I also tend to gravitate towards Cronenberg films.  One of my favourite books as a wee fat robot was about the black death.  I raided my grandfather’s Reader’s Digest and Illustrated Science for more delicious accounts of ebola and leprosy and bleeding eyes.  Oh, and sharks.

That’s about a week’s fridge budget well spent, right? Who needs food when there’s an entire box of quality Lapsang Souchong to be had, anyway.

Ten favourite reads so far this year

As we’re now in July, and this fat robot didn’t exist even last week, I shall add depth and context – and content – with a sensational list of my ten favourite reads so far in 2014. Okay? Okay.

Not ranked, only counted:

  1. Ann Leckie, Ancillary justice
  2. Neal Stephenson, Anathem
  3. Karen Joy Fowler, We are all completely beside ourselves 
  4. Charles Stross, The Rhesus chart 
  5. James S. A. Corey, Cibola burn
  6. James Tiptree Jr.,  Her smoke rose up forever
  7. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking fast and slow
  8. Mary Roach, Spook
  9. Joe  Hill. Nos4a2
  10. Connie Willis, TIme is the fire: The best of Connie Willis

Something old, something new, some short stories, some non-fiction, some “should have read a long time ago” and some “Wow everyone is going gaga over Ann Leckie, I have to see this”.

I don’t have to talk about my least favourites, do I? It’s not like Earth Awakens can’t just be quietly forgotten even if you thought you’d always be obsessed with everything in the Enderverse and read three fourths of it angrily. I mean, yeah, no, let’s not.


Waiting on: Broken Monsters

I’m trying out some common bookblogsy post types, like “Waiting on Wednesday”, for telling you about books I’m impatiently waiting for. Here goes.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes will be released, according to my Amazon wishlist, on July 31st. (Another source says Sep 16, which is probably a sad thing for someone in some other location.  I’m in Norway and had to wait a long time to get my cold, mechanical hands on some of Beukes’ previous titles, so ok shut up.)

(There was a paragraph here full of purple prose about the unbelieveable cool that is Lauren Beukes, but it flipped the Awkwardness switch, so uh anyway.)

Here’s the published description of Broken Monsters:

A criminal mastermind creates violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses in Lauren Beukes’s new genre-bending novel of suspense.

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe–and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.

It’s been on the Fat Wishlist for months already.


Status update: Uplift and Engineering

The current reading material is David Brin’s The uplift war, the Hugo award winning third part of the first Uplift trilogy.   I’m not hugely enthusiastic yet, although the Tymbrimi aliens have a lot more charm to them than anything encountered in Sundiver, the first book.   Inbetween them came Startide Rising, which has dolphins in space, and had me looking up killer whales on wikipedia, which is a plus in a book. Not the killer whales, but making me want to learn more things about things.

Anyway, I’m not quite halfway through The uplift war. If it matches the others, I won’t really see it picking up speed until I’m about 60% in.   Slow reading pace indicates I’m not going to rate it very high, but something cool might still happen.  Fat robot fingers crossed.

I don’t have an audiobook going on at the moment, though I usually do, while engaging in listening-optimized activity,  such as playing Civilization V.   I have a paperback for reading when it’s convenient, which is almost never, because who wants to bring to bed a thing that isn’t self-lit or practically sized?  It’s Story Engineering, anyway, by Larry Brooks. I read about making the kind of thing other people would perhaps be inlined to read, sometimes, because flipping a pancake without breaking it doesn’t always provide a sufficient sense of achievement.

The reason I still cope with some paper books is that sometimes there are sales and not everything is available digitally and I’m weak. Terribly, terribly weak.

That’s it.  That’s my status update.  Um, have a good evening. I’ll be going now.

I, fat robot

I am a book blog.  I am the exagerillionth attempt at a book blog conceived by the Hands on the Keyboard since first making the discovery: Wait a minute they call online diaries blogs now and I’m not blogging about books yet?!

That was something more than a decade ago.  All previous incarnations died in the crib.  This is because the Hands on the Keyboard is already groaning about the skill: Reviewing the things?! NEIN!

It’s called, I think,  “Mixed feelings”.  No, I’ve been corrected, the appropriate term is either “Performance anxiety” or “Lazy ass”.   I will keep you informed.