The Grand Dark’s main draw is its steampunk-inspired world-building, which is excellent. Most of the action takes place in the city of Lower Proszawa, which has just won the Great War. The population celebrates with drugs and nonstop parties as fascism strangles the populace. There are semi-intelligent automata and genetically engineered pets and power plants that spew massive clouds of coal dust.
Dragon’s Egg is a fun, clever look at life evolving on the surface of a neutron star, where one hour of human time is the equivalent of hundreds of years on the alien star.
While the extreme physics of the story may be accurate, Dragon’s Egg contains some of the most stilted dialogue I’ve come across in a long time, especially in the beginning. I found myself thinking that author Robert L. Forward must have talked to a human woman at some point in his life, but if so, that knowledge did not find its way to his book.
However, this is not a story you read for its character development. Dragon’s Egg is all about examining an alien race evolving on a sphere with a gravity of 67 billion Gs, and living at a million times the speed of humans. The story is most believable when it’s dealing with aliens, and it’s still a fun ride.
Recommendation: Get it at the library. Power through the first chapter and you’ll be fine.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is brilliant, fast-paced, and will give you sore wrists because it’s a thick, heavy book, but you will not want to put it down.
An expert in ancient languages is hired by a mysterious government agency to translate some documents that suggest that magic actually once existed in the world. But the advance of science caused magic to disappear in 1851. However, the existence of a two-hundred-year-old witch and some fancy technology allow a limited amount of magic to occur in this world, and soon the language expert and others are being sent back in time to repair history. And, if they’re lucky, bring magic back to the world. Continue reading
The alternate history Never Let Me Go follows the lives of several children who grew up in a strange, special school. It’s very well written (the author is the guy who wrote The Remains of the Day and won the Nobel Prize for Literature), but the real focus of the book is not really about the characters, but about the slow reveal of why the school and the children were special. Continue reading
My kid is learning to play the piano, and part of that is using dynamics: playing some parts of the song quiet, and some parts loud. Dynamics add contrast and make a song more interesting. Unfortunately, Jonathan Lethem’s book Girl in Landscape, while being extremely well-written, lacks dynamics. It’s heavy, and stays heavy throughout.
Fantasy author Terry Pratchett is famous for his Discworld series, comprised of over forty books taking place on a round, flat world perched on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of a enormous space-faring sea turtle.
But before fantasy-trope-skewering Discworld, Pratchett wrote Strata, a science fiction book that explored the idea of how a flat, round world would actually work. Many of the ideas in Strata appear in the Discworld books.
The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman is a wild, inventive ride. It takes place in a seriously alternate version of our world in the late 1800s, where technology and mind-altering demons go hand in hand. Fortunately, this crazy land is peopled with deep, well-developed characters, a rare occurrence amidst so much intricate world-building.
The famous Philip K. Dick wrote some amazing books, but in his later years, penned a few stinkers. Fortunately, Ubik is one of the good ones. It starts out dystopian (the door to one’s apartment requires coins to open and close every single time) and quickly gets very weird, as characters become unsure of what time they’re in, or even how alive they are. It’s bizarre fun.