You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Steampunk is a collection of short stories in the steampunk subgenre of science fiction. Steampunk mixes Victorian elements with technology from the era that is extrapolated to futuristic powers.

An excellent example of the genre is the story "The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: a Dime Novel" by Joe R. Lansdale. It features four men piloting a giant metal man into the wilderness to destroy a powerful vampire like creature called the Dark Rider. The Dark Rider is the traveler from H. G. Wells' story The Time Machine. The story is just a little dark and a little humorous, and full of gritty action.

In a different style, Ted Chiang's "Seventy-Two Letters" is about an alternate reality where instead of DNA biology works through homunculi, miniature representations of beings. The main character is trained in the science or art of creating Hebrew letters to animate golems. He learns that a secret society has learned how to adapt the numerology to living tissue. The story mixes two fantastic elements to create a fascinating world. The story deals with interesting ethical dilemmas due to the technological possibilities.

Paul Di Filippo's story "Victoria" presents an amusing juxtaposition: the virgin queen supplanted by her namesake as a sex-crazed human created from a newt. As the story unfolds, the characters visit the seediest parts of England. It's a story about morality and society as much as technology, and it is a fun story to read.

Other fun and playful stories include "Minutes of the Last Meeting" by Stepan Chapman, which describes an attack on the czar Nicholas and his AI intelligence service. Also there is Jay Lake's "The God-Clown is Near" about the creation of a golem with a moral intelligence. The book includes an overview of the genre and descriptions of noteworthy stories, movies, and comic books. It is a fun read. A-

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Ship of Destiny

Final installments of a series can be tricky. The author has to wrap up the storyline for multiple books and also provide a story enjoyable in its own right. Ship of Destiny is the third book in the Liveship Traders trilogy. Robin Hobb does a great job with this final book. The threads of the previous two books come together in delightfully unexpected ways.

At the start of the book, there are several new circumstances that have an enormous impact on the rest of the trading world. The dragon Tintaglia has hatched and discovered she is the last of her kind. The sea serpents have gathered together to look for She Who Remembers, who is the only serpent who can lead them to their hatching grounds where they can cocoon themselves and turn into dragons. Wintrow has been scarred by She Who Remembers and is in a coma, while the pirate Captain Kennit has discovered that he has a power over the serpents.

Meanwhile, Althea and Brashen are taking the liveship Paragon to look for Captain Kennit and rescue Vivacia and any crew aboard her. After a short stint in Divvytown where they try to bluff their way as pirates, they sail around near the port waiting for Kennit. Kennit, already warned, is ready for them. With a little help from the serpents, he handily defeats Paragon, then sets the ship afire with the crew inside. Althea manages to survive and get picked up by Vivacia. But Althea is unhappy to be on her ship. It is no longer the Vivacia that she remembered and had such a close connection to. The memories of the dragon, who had been cocooned in the wizardwood before it was cut up to make the ship, have awakened in her, and Vivacia has rejected her incarnation as a ship.

Althea's niece Malta starts the story floating down the poisonous Rain Wild River in a boat with the Satrap, the ruler of the land. When they are picked up by a Chalcedean boat, she accepts that she must serve the spoiled boy in order to survive. Like the first two books, there is character growth throughout this novel. In the first novel, Althea realizes how childish she has been toward her family. In the second book, Malta gets her comeuppance and starts to discover her inner strength. In the third book, Malta continues to grow and realize her skills as a negotiator while she maneuvers the Satrap and the pirates who capture them. The Satrap himself finally begins to emerge from his self-centered personality just a little, and realizes how he as been manipulated and how much Malta is doing for him.

The threads of the story come together in a final climactic battle. The Satrap is a powerful man but he becomes a pawn in the hands of the pirates as the tide of battle sways back and forth. The relationships shift as Wintrow and Kennit become closer, making Kennit's woman Etta jealous; Vivacia is a wild card, shifting between her dragon identity and her Vestrit memories. Kennit doesn't so much grow as reveal his true self. Wintrow becomes disillusioned with the man he has come to idolize. But the true reveal is the relationship between Captain Kennit and the mad ship Paragon. This secret history proves to be a central driver of the whole series.

My only displeasure with the book is the way characters get lost in thought only to be suddenly brought back by another character's words. Aside from that, the characters do explore their innermost thoughts and feelings. The struggles they feel are personal and social, reaching across their society. The book has the distinction of dealing with existing story lines while introducing fun surprises along the way. None of the surprises seem forced but are integral to the whole story arc. As a whole, the series is one of the best I've read. A

Labels: , ,