Thursday, February 14, 2013

Woken Furies

by Richard K. Morgan

I was first introduced to Richard K. Morgan and his character Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon  and then Broken Angels both of which I read for prior years' Sci Fi Experiences.  Woken Furies is the "final" Takeshi Kovacs novel.

It is remarkable how different the three books set in the same fictional universe with the same protaganist, can each be so different.  I enjoyed all three.  In Kovac's reality people have stacks embedded in their spinal column that contain their memories and personalities and as long as your stack is recovered when you die you can either be "re-sleeved" in another body or exist in virtual reality.  This has all sorts of implications considered over the three novels for almost all aspects of life including crime, torture, sex, space travel, warfare and interaction with technology and other digital constructs.

Altered Carbon was set on a future Earth where Kovac's is digitally transmitted and re-sleeved in order to solve the murder of a wealthy gentleman who has been re-sleeved in one of his cloned bodies but cannot seem to recall the events of his actual murder.  This is basically a noir detective story that just happens to be set in the future.

In Broken Angels Kovac's is embroiled in a war on a distant planet, working as a mercenary for a giant corporation trying to lay claim to an ancient Martian artifact, in the middle of a war zone. This is not a noir detective story at all but really a war story.  It gave the author the opportunity to consider what war would be like without "real death" on the table.  What I found most interesting about this one was learning more about the "Martians" who were long gone but who had left behind some amazing technology that humans had been able to utilize to change their lives.

Woken Furies provides a glimpse of Kovac's past and involves religion, politics and the human/digital interface.  Although taking place after Broken Angels, Kovac's is back on his home world where his past is catching up with him. While he is seeking revenge against a group of religious zealots he gets mixed up in a conflict between a bunch of mercenary deComs and the Yakuza.  Its not clear what the conflict is but having saved Sylvie, the deCom head, his lot is cast with hers.  It seems that Sylvie may have the digital personality of former revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer, inside her head with her, or maybe not.  Kovacs must enlist the help of his old friends and revolutionaries to attempt to save Sylvie from the Yakuza, the First Families, the Envoys and a younger duplicate of himself.  I enjoyed this final Kovac's novel and would be interested to read more by Richard K. Morgan.           

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 Tournament of Books

Last year I discovered and really enjoyed The Morning News Tournament of Books.  This year they have announced the contenders early to give people time to read some of the books before the contest in March to better participate in the discussion and enjoy the entire process.     

The 2013 Tournament of Books Finalists are:

    HHhH by Laurent Binet
    The Round House by Louise Erdrich
    Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    Arcadia by Lauren Groff
    How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
    May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
    The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
    Ivyland by Miles Klee
    Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
    The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
    Dear Life by Alice Munro
    Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
    Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
    Building Stories by Chris Ware
    [Winner of the Pre-Tournament Playoff Round, either Fobbit by David Abrams, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain or The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers] Update: the winner was Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Of course I read and loved the Orphan Master's Son which I will be rooting for, but that is the only one I have read.  I have on my wish list however, HHhH, The Round House, Arcadia, Where'd You Go Bernadette and Beautiful Ruins.  And I keep debating whether to join the crowd with Gone Girl or not.  Perhaps I can read a couple more before the Tournament begins sometime in March. 

2012 In Review

Life's been busy so I am just now getting to my 2012 wrap up post.  Of course last year I did it in March so maybe I am actually early.  In 2012 I read 26 books which is an improvement of the 20 in 2011 and I had some really wonderful reads.  My favorite books were:    

Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I didn't get around to writing reviews of any of them except Something Wicked which is a shame.  I picked these four as my favorites because they not only were very entertaining and well written but surprised me in some way.  

Orphan Master's Son was my clear favorite as it just blew me away.  Jun Do barely survives in the crazy world of North Korea by the skin of his teeth and extreme luck.  If I were to list his adventures here it would seem absurd  (from soldier, to spy, to prisoner, a trip to the U.S., consorting with movie stars and even the Dear Leader himself, Kim Jong Il) but in the context of the story they made perfect sense.  While some of the scenes were hard to read, most of it was either fascinating, funny or touching and throughout I found myself really rooting for Jun Do.  I enjoyed the book so much that every night at dinner I would tell my husband what had happened in the story I had read that day and he finally had to say "You have to stop with the blow by blow account, I am convinced, I am going to read it for myself."  This book surprised me because I don't recall being so excited about a book in a very long time.  I could not wait to continue reading.  And who would expect that North Korea could be so entertaining. Absolutely loved it.  Everyone should read it, right now.   

Wool also surprised me.  It is getting a lot of buzz right now but when I read it it was pure accident.  It popped up on one of those amazon "customers who bought this item also bought" section.  And then it was on sale for the kindle, and it sounded interesting and it was cheap so I bought with one click. I don't really read self published stuff but what the heck.  And then I started reading and the world of an underground silo after some sort of event made the outside lethal just sucked me in and I read the omnibus (5 Wool stories) in one gulp.  I loved that it just dumped you into the story with characters that were interesting and you cared about without explaining this world to you. It is such an amazingly well developed world and yet it is truly a character driven story.  It was such a pleasure to gradually piece together how this world worked.  And I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.  And of course I also read First Shift and Second Shift as soon as they were available and am reading Third Shift now.  I confess, I am now a Hugh Howey groupie and check his web site regularly to see how his progress on the next books are going.   

I was also surprised by how much fun I had reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  It had gotten good reviews so I gave it a go, but wasn't expecting much because I am not a gamer.  This book is set in the future where people spend most of their time, including going to school, working and socializing, in a virtual world know as the Oasis.  When the creator of  the Oasis dies, he leaves his entire vast estate to the winner of a complex game he set up all based upon 1980s culture.  The entire story was basically a blow by blow account of Parzival playing this game over many many years.  How fun can it be to read about someone else playing a game?  It turns out in Ernest Cline's hands, surprisingly, incredibly fun. Of course I have very fond memories of the 80's but it was just a blast from the past which was very very well done.   

The other top three books were all new works but Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury was published in 1962.  This was incredibly well written, very atmospheric with amazing characters. (My review is here.)  I was surprised that I had missed such a wonderful classic for all these years.          

In addition I have a few Honorable Mentions, all of which would have made it into the top four in another year with less stellar competition.

Sister's Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Demi-monde: Winter by Rod Rees
I didn't give myself any reading goals for 2012 but as I had said "I will simply be happy if I get to read" I think I did pretty well.  I read some wonderful books and read more (26 books) than last year but posted less (17 posts).  I read one book about Art - Provenance: How a Con Man and A Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury - a nonfiction work that was fascinating, and a book about Food - A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage another nonfiction work which was just ok.  I normally like to try and read something about books or reading which I didn't manage to do.  I have been listening to audio books in my car which I am really enjoying and gives me more "reading" time.  I participated in Carl V's Once Upon a Time and RIP challenges which I enjoyed. 

I don't think I will set any specific goals for 2013 either except that I would like to finish four books that I was enjoying but were abandoned: Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Swamplandia by Karen Russell and Drowned World by J.G. Ballard.  I would also like to try and read books that I actually have instead of buying more.  When we moved, we got rid of almost all of our physical books.  I just have one small shelf of books to be read and two bookcases in my office of favorite books to keep.  Although I almost completely stopped buying physical books, I find that I am still in the habit of acquiring electronic books far far faster than I can read them.  It seems that every time I go into the kindle store to select my next read I end up buying at least four.  My kindle wish list currently has 250 titles in it.  My kindle library has 114 books although of course these include a dictionary and several "complete works of" Poe, Saramago, Oscar Wilde, Henry James etc. which are not meant to be read in one go.  But just looking at the individuals books I have 39 that I have actually read and have 47 unread.  As for challenges, I of course intend to do Carl's Once Upon A Time and RIP.  I also really enjoyed following along with the Tournament of Books last year.  It isn't a challenge but I would like to read some more of the books in the competition and of course I will be heartily rooting for Orphan Master's Son.  And once again, I will simply be happy if I get to read!