Teaser: Predictably irrational

I think I mentioned a while ago I was reading Dan Ariely’s Predictably irratonal: The hidden forces that shape our decisions,  but it got pushed down the pile a little bit while I gave time to some library and book club reads.   I love these easily readable themed books on psychology (and, often, economics) – for a lot of the same reasons I love science fiction.  “Real” or “unreal”, a fascinating concept is… well, fascinating, no matter where it’s categorized.  There are interesting insights about the human mind in both camps.   (And the other things I’m currently reading are a Norwegian nonfiction book, not terribly teasable, an anthology of dark fantasy/horror, also not terribly teasable, and just started on the classic Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, but, oh, Ariely is still the most share-able thing…)

(I may also be sacrificing reading time to build houses in the Sims 4. Might. Maybe.)

Predictably irrational:

“Ownership is not limited to material things. It can also apply to points of view. Once we take ownership of an idea — whether it’s about politics or sports — what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss. What are we left with then? An ideology — rigid and unyielding.”


Yesterday’s kin, by Nancy Kress

Yesterday's kin Book Cover Yesterday's kin
Nancy Kress
Science fiction
Tachyon publications
September 9th, 2014

Why are you here?

To make contact with humanity. A peace mission.

They're here.  Aliens! And they want to have a chat with some world leaders and, oh, a biologist who just made a small, but not terribly unusual or unexpected, discovery. She's as baffled as everyone else is.  Their presence looms over New York in a near-future isolationist US, rudely keeping everyone aware of how very alien the "them" opposite to "us" can be.

Nancy Kress is one of those ubiquitous names in science fiction. Despite that, I've only read one of her earlier novels; Steal across the sky. That, too, was a story about first encounters and inscrutable aliens, carefully dispensing knowledge to the Terran population.  The other thing the two books have in common is that despite the high concept plot with aliens and spaceships and things! in it,  it's all about the characters. The people who live in and through these future events, their quirks, their lost sons, their estranged daughters, their anxieties and observations.  So from a sample of just two short novels, I already feel like I have an idea about Nancy Kress' distinct voice as an author - and am not discouraged from reading more of hers to confirm or correct this impression.

However, while a lot of people claim "story IS the characters" - and it often looks true - vivid characters aren't always quite enough for me.   I don't take well to meandering.  If I stop and ask "Wait, why was this character even in here?"  or "Did this conflict have any consequences at all?",  then, no,  it's not enough.  I'll be annoyed at threads not connecting to anything,  and maybe feel a bit cheated, because as a well-trained reader I expect answers when a novel sets up questions.  I like closure. (Not spoon-feeding;  not the same thing.)

Yesterday's kin was  a pleasant (and conveniently fast) read, though - and it made me add another Kress title to my to-read list.  (After the fall, before the fall, during the fall - other reviews made it sound very tasty!)

I would recommend this book (and more by the same author) to genre-comfortable individuals looking for, say, an airplane read, or just a bite-sized piece of entertainment for when the brain needs some easy hooks to attach to.   (That might be a gorier thing to say than I had intended. I'll trust you to know what I mean, anyway.)

My real children, by Jo Walton

My real children Book Cover My real children
Jo Walton
Science fiction, alternate history, historical fiction
Tor Books
May 20th 2014

Jo Walton is good at making me excited about things, which I learned from the first book of hers I read;  Among others.  It's a lovely quality in a fiction writer, especially combined with vast amounts of detail and trivia about the subject.  In My real children,  it's the second world war, and Florence, and the renaissance, and social justice.

It doesn't read like science fiction, no more than any of, for example, Connie Willis' time travel novels. That genre tag is more of a background prop than a protagonist, here.  This might put off some genre readers, because, well, where did the genre go?  But it was the same in Among others, so if you read that - and I got the impression everyone read that - you'll have a good idea of what you're in for.

An old woman struggles with her disappearing memory. It's all that much harder to remember anything now, because -  the things she does remember don't fit together.  Did she marry Mark, or spend her life with Bee? Were there three or four children?  Is there a research station on the moon, or does it hold nuclear weapons?  Did the Kiev bomb and all the thyroid cancer really happen?  And what name did her friends and family call her by? Surely it wasn't the one the nurses use now.

We get to follow this woman from childhood, through a Sliding doors kind of setup;  Did she say yes or no, and how did that affect everything?  And if she could choose, at the end, holding both of the possible worlds in her head - would she choose for her own happiness? Should she?

Walton's prose is lovely, with an easy flow, though it carries heavy content.  Few authors could have described these families in a way I wouldn't feel awkward and alienated by. (That might be just me - I'm just genuinely impressed I could read through that many conceptions and births without it ever turning into a common motherhoodmiracleextravaganza!...)

I'm really looking forward to her next novel, The just city - and hoping I get around to reading some of her earlier stuff, too!

Lock in, by John Scalzi

Lock in Book Cover Lock in
John Scalzi
Science fiction
August 28th 2014

I think you should take the time to read the novella Unlocked: An oral history of Haden's syndrome before you get started - you can read it for free!  It's attached at the end of the audio version, which probably also works, but I appreciated having read it before reading the novel.  Also, regarding the audio; Considering trying a Scalzi novel without Wil Wheaton's narration? Go for it, Amber Benson does a great job.

In the near future, a highly contagious new virus with a long incubation time comes down on people all over the globe, sudden and shocking.  Most who get ill get away with a bad case of the flu, some unfortunate ones develop meningitis.  They get better. The tragedy is the percentage of patients who do not - the ones who are fully aware and conscious, but unable to move their body or have their body respond to physical stimulus.  They're locked in. (And there's a good chance you've seen at least one worst case-episode of some medical drama on TV dealing with this trapped-in-body thing. It's a common nightmare, for obvious reasons.)

Terrible virus. I'm sold! I would have been excited to read this even if I didn't have a bunch of Scalzi reading behind me already. I'm happy to say I like this novel a lot better than I liked Hugo-winning Redshirts.  The pace is good; there wasn't a wasted paragraph in there.   In this near-future scenario, the president's wife suffers lock in, and thus provides a name for the illness: Haden's syndrome.   The president responds to the sudden health crisis by funding extensive research, resulting in... a working treatment?  No - but a very interesting work-around.  New technology - new society?

This is the setting for the thriller storyline - which unfolds with humour and camaraderie, as with most Scalzi stories.  (I like the utter absence of romance between a male and female FBI agent, despite them being partners and all. It gets old so fast, even when it's Mulder and Scully.)

I'm not sure how "hard" the science is in this particular work of science fiction, but that's irrelevant - the point is how humans utilize and cope with new abilities, possibilities, technologies.  If we can do this thing, do we do it? If you could hack a thing, how long before you'd do it?  If someone else is able to abuse this thing, what do we have to invent or legislate to protect ourselves from it?

Solid entertainment read, would recommend as attention-gripper for long train rides or just any other time you're looking for something good that doesn't make your brain do a lot of heavy lifting.

Waiting on: The Peripheral

Almost five years ago (swooosh, time flies by) I was reading Wiliam Gibson’s Neuromancer. I only remember the time because it was what I was reading when I found CompanionBot, who conveniently provided for me the following novels.  Sappy? Sappy!

I enjoyed the books, but I haven’t been a dedicated Gibson reader. Still, his upcoming novel The Peripheral looks delicious.

Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force.

Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do—a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect.

It might be a game, but it might also be murder.

I’m pretty sure this is going to get a high Cool! Shiny!-rating from me.   The Peripheral is released on October 28th.  (In my region, anyway. I see there’s a November date listed too, but I don’t feel compelled to investigate where/how the different dates apply.)

Teaser: Horns

I decided I needed to read Joe Hill’s Horns before the movie is out – so that’s how I’ve started September.  As one might guess by the title, this is supernatural/horror a la Christian mythology.  Some will therefore inevitably find it unpalatable, but I’m all for it. (I also enjoy Supernatural, so there’s that.)   Joe Hill’s storytelling gifts are eerily like those of his dad, sometimes – there is a distinct difference, absolutely, but also a great similarity in how I feel reading the extremely readable prose, speckled with a Morgan Freeman-narrated sort of wisdom. (You know what I mean.)   Anyway,  a sample:

He paused, twisting his goatee, considering the law in Deuteronomy that forbade clothes with mixed fibers. A problematic bit of Scripture. A matter that required thought. “Only the devil wants man to have a wide range of lightweight and comfortable styles to choose from,” he murmured at last, trying out a new proverb. “Although there may be no forgiveness for polyester. On this one matter, Satan and the Lord are in agreement.”

You should watch the movie trailer too, I think it looks great!

Now I need my library to obtain the sixth volume of Lock and Key, and my Joe Hill Appreciation Seance will be more or less complete.  (I’d buy all six volumes if I was richer or hadn’t been robbed by a hairdresser today. I know, hairy robot. Design flaw.)