Books August 2020

Man, damned with faint praise

Here are some recent books reads. Maybe you will find them interesting, or maybe you’d like to recommend something you’ve enjoyed.

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells (Murderbot #3): I am a fan of the Murderbot series and this one delivered the usual murderbot goodness even if it wasn’t my favorite of the series. One thing was Murderbot didn’t seem to have any new shows to watch and obsess over so that quark in their voice wasn’t present as much as it had been in the first two books. And another confession is that I’m less into the conspiracy thread that links all these stories together and only have vague memories of who people are from the earlier books. All that said, if you like Murderbot, then this is good Murderbot. And if you haven’t read Murderbot then this is a recommendation that you should start. It’s a fine series about a security bot that has gained autonomy and found itself the protector of some humans in a very corporate nightmare interstellar science fiction setting. Each book delivers a good few hours of smart action entertainment.

The Sunken Lands Begin to Rise Again by M. John Harrison: This is a book where the bit that moves the plot has been intentionally left out, so you’re left reading about damaged people on the edge of a mystery that they can’t quite discern or even confirm exists at all. I can understand how anyone might hate that, but in the hands of a stylist like Harrison you get something else that looks closer to our lives as we live them within systems too large for us to comprehend. Nostalgia, conspiracy theories, grand paradigm shifts – it’s all here, while also being about a relationship between a man recovering from a breakdown and a woman mourning the death of her mother.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock: This book’s what the old folks call “a trip”. The setting’s England in the late 40s and Steven Huxley has come back home from the war to find his father dead and his brother growing ever more obsessed with the nearby woods. From there it’s a psycho-symbolic Jungian quest story as Steven and his brother uncover the mysteries of Ryhope Woods. The Woods serve as something like a mythic resonator and draw archetypes from those near to it. When I say this is a trip, I mean it. Before long the brothers are in the infinite wood, questing for the center while locked in a struggle that hearkens back millenia to the end of the Ice Age.

Vast by Linda Nagata: Far future hard SF about a band of explorers onboard a spacecraft that’s seeking the origin of a threat to their civilization. It’s also a rather long extended chase scene as the explorer’s spacecraft is being pursued by an enemy spacecraft. While this does have some of the cringe of 1990s SF, it’s also undeniably a book that inspired a lot of books that came after it. It’s hard not to read Alastair Reynolds and not see the debt he owes Nagata’s work. (And he admits this, so that’s no slight on Reynolds.) There’s also a weird Cthulhu mythos vibe here that I find fascinating, and which I might write more about at some point in its own post. I’ll just say that vast is an apt title for this book, and Nagata makes you feel how life might be lived across such vast gulfs of space and time.

Silver by Linda Nagata: I read Vast so I could read Silver, which is a sequel to Edges which was a sequel to Vast, but Silver is also a sequel to Nagata’s novel Memory which had a completely different setting, so we’re in that territory where an author is trying to merge the streams, and it… works. One thing I loved is that all the characters inhabit technologically advanced civilizations, but interact with the technology in different ways, so at first both sides look down on each other before recognizing their similarities. I’ll also say I think Nagata has become more accessible since the 1990s, and this feels less like the Vast setting and more like her Memory setting.

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4 responses to “Books August 2020”

  1. Asakiyume says :

    I’m enjoying the Murderbot books a lot! I’m up to the third one but haven’t read it yet–saving it for mid September (gotta parcel these things out). I hear you about not remembering who everyone is and the overarching conspiracy. After finishing each of the first two I had to sort of re-work out for myself exactly what the various moves of the antagonists had been and what the (apparent) motivations were, because mainly what I’d been enjoying was the interactions between Murderbot and everyone else, and I’d just handwaved the rest. But after finishing, I’d want to work out exactly how it held together.

    • Justin says :

      I feel like Murderbot is like the old Fugitive TV show where the hero is nominally following the one-armed man… without my caring about whether the one-armed is ever caught.

  2. Ian Creasey says :

    It’s a long time since I read “Mythago Wood” but I remember liking it a lot, not least because it felt so different to the rest of the fantasy field at the time (all those secondary-world epic fantasies).

    There are several sequels. My recollection is that “Lavondyss” is good and worth reading, but I felt the other books suffered from diminishing returns, suffering from the common tendency whereby an author goes back to their most successful thing and tries to squeeze ever more juice out of it.

    • Justin says :

      I’ve heard good things about “Lavondyss” and will likely read it, but your take about the rest of the series seems to gel with what others have said to me.

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