Mini-Book Reviews for 2023

Ideally I'd write long and highly detailed reviews of all the books I've read and games I've played, but who's really got time for that sort of thing? Not me unfortunately so instead what we have here are mini reviews - a line or two at most - of the books I've read so far in 2023. I'm not going to give many details of the books themselves, this is really just intended to capture my immediate thoughts, and how I felt after finishing the book. It's probably worth mentioning that even if I didn't particularly like the book, then that's not to say it's bad (Old Man's War aside), it's just that it didn't work for me this time. The first time I read The Centauri Device I wasn't really taken with it, and since then it's become one of my very favourite books.

If you're so inclined I'm also on Goodreads, although I don't usually bother to post reviews there (Old Man's War aside, couldn't help myself with that one):

Link to my profile on Goodreads

Currently reading: The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell by Harry Harrison

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

I don't usually do books in a series, but this is worth making an exception for. I didn't enjoy it as much as Hyperion, but it's still definitely worth reading. I'll probably read the final two books at some point, but this also feels like a good place to stop.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Good grief, it's non-stop action from start to finish. It reads a bit like Michael Bay making a X-Files episode written by Michael Chrichton. Not as good as Recursion but not bad either, just not particularly original.

Time Stop by Philip Jose Farmer

Oh dear. Can't decide if the author was trying to make a point or just be funny. It doesn't matter, just don't read it. I'd expected better from such a well known author.

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

Outstanding from every angle, and another, immediate contender for my book of the year. A near future that scarily is all too believable, and full of fascinating ideas beyond the Octopuses that form the core of the story. Strongly recommended for anyone, no interest in science-fiction required.

The War Against the Rull by A. E. Van Vogt

Oh dear, this wasn't very enjoyable at all. While it rattles along at a reasonable rate, it's all faintly rediculous. Perhaps it's just a product of its time, or perhaps because it's a fixup of some short stories - either way it doesn't leave a good impression. Reading it directly after The Stars My Destination definitely doesn't do it any favours either.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Featuring an amoral anti-hero set on revenge this is another stunning book, particularly when you consider that it was first published in 1956 (as "Tiger! Tiger!"). Absolutely nails the ending in a way that so many books fail to do. Possibly my favourite book of the year so far.

Time Hoppers by Robert Silverberg

Another old book that was far better than the cover might have suggested. Not too long either, and one of the few books that I finished and was tempted to immediately read again. I didn't of course as there are too many other books waiting to be read. Will definitely read this again though.

Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Also brilliant.

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany

Brilliant.

Chocky by John Wyndham

Short, concise, and brilliant.

Chthon by Piers Anthony

Started off well but turned into a bit of a struggle where I didn't really understand what was going on, and by the end I wasn't really enjoying it at all. Having said that, I wonder if it might improve on a re-read, and I will re-read this eventually.

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

Despite really liking Zodiac and Snowcrash, I stopped reading Neal Stephenson after Cryptonomicon, as the books seemed to be getting longer and longer. Termination Shock reminds me why - it felt very long with the occasionally interesting parts swamped by various bits of randomness and over wordage, and by the end I was just rushing through to get it finished. In short I found it to be OK, some of it to be troubling, and a lot of it to be boring filler.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

It's Philip K. Dick again! I find it difficult to compare Philip K. Dick books with those from other writers because his style is so unique. He might not be the best writer, and he often seems to struggle with endings, but it's really the journey that's so different from anything else. He writes in a way that can just turn your brain inside out with a single sentence, then do it again, and again. Overall this is in my opinion one of his best books, even if at the end you'll left wondering what on earth it was about. Required reading.

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

I don't see much point in arguing about genre, but this is a tricky one to label (so why bother?). I've seen it described as SF, Fantasy, and even horror, but I don't think it really fits solely as either of these. Fundamentally it's just an excellent story of two feuding magicians in 19th century England, told in an ingenious way through their individual stories and those of their descendants with twists and turns all along the way. Recommended for anyone, whether a fan of SF or not.

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

Found this to be even more disappointing than "...And All The Stars A Stage". Perhaps I just expected more as it's a very well known book that I've wanted to read for a long time, but again there's a man - just the one this time, all the others are useless - who keeps on saving the day with his astute observations and dogged persistence. There are some women in it too, but they don't do anything important. Again wasn't paying any attention by the end, and couldn't shake the thought that it was all entirely ridiculous.

...And All The Stars A Stage by James Blish

After a promising start with a setup featuring a female dominated society, it just turned out that men are better after all and saved the day. Or something like that, I was bored and wasn't really paying attention by the end Maybe it was too just clever for me, but I don't think so, I think it was just bad.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Given the number of positive reviews I was expecting great things from this, and initially it all goes very well. Lovely writing and intriguing character threads had me deeply invested into how everything was going to link up. Eventually the time travel mechanic is unveiled (I don't that's a spoiler) and it all heads rapidly downhill. I can't put it better than Constance Grady in the Vox review which says that "the loveliness of Mandel’s sentences, though, stands in jarring contrast to the clumsiness of her plotting". Perhaps to someone who hasn't read much science-fiction then this might be a good place to start, but there are just so many better books on the theme of time travel, that it ultimately ends up being quite unsatisfying.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Although showing it's age in some ways - written in 1957 so perhaps that's really not surprising - this is a great alien invasion tale that doesn't hang around, and was a good fun read start to finish. Re-read The Day of the Triffids last year and found it slightly hard going (although that may well just be due to it not being as I'd remembered it), but since then have loved everything else I've read by John Wyndham.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

A rare instance where I couldn't be bothered to finish the book - made it to the halfway point and then gave up as I really wasn't enjoying it, and having consulted with some friends and Wikipedia it seemed clear that my experience wasn't going to improve with the remaining half. I've seen this book recommended many times in the past as so was quite interested at the chance to actually read it. At first I didn't enjoy it all, but then after a while I got quite into it and really wanted to know where it was going. Unfortunately boredom soon set in, and it then there seemed to be nothing left apart a long set of semi-meaningless philosophical musings, and some arguably questionable parenting.

Firefox by Craig Thomas

Somewhat implausible spy related shenanigans and the theft of an implausibly amazing new Russian military aircraft. Loved this as a kid, and while it seems a bit daft and one dimensional now, it was still entertaining. Should probably try and rewatch the film, but I suspect that the special effects may not have aged well.

Molly Zero by Keith Roberts

Excellent future(ish) dystopia that's brim full of ideas and unlike many other recent examples feels all too plausible. Was so invested and keen to get to the end that I stayed up far too late one night and had to re-read the final chapters again the next morning as I'd been too tired and they hadn't made any sense. Strongly suspect that this book will improve even further on a re-read, and it's one that I'll definitely be returning to soon.

Deep Space edited by Robert Silverberg

Eight short stories from A.E. Van Vogt, Damon Knight, Harlan Ellison, and others.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction of the year in 2016, and it's not hard to see why. Overall I think I probably enjoyed Cage of Souls and Dogs of War more, but this is still a stunning piece of work, and ended up in a rather different place than I was expecting. Annoyingly it means that I'll to read others in the series now (even though that's not necessary - I think this book stands perfectly well one its own) and I generally hate it when that happens.

Slant by Greg Bear

Really struggled with this one, and nearly gave up with it a couple of times before finishing. Found it to be a confusing read that was difficult to engage with, and I often felt that I didn't really understand what was going on. It definitely improves towards the last quarter or so, but I was already bored and fed up by then and just wanted to get it finished. It's probably my fault for rushing through it and I may feel differently if re-reading, but I think life's just too short for books where you don't actively enjoy the reading experience.

The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier by Bruce Sterling

I've always enjoyed Bruce Sterling's sci-fi work and this was also excellent, although obviously very different as non-fiction. A fascinating detailing of the history, characters, and events of hacker subculture in the early nineties. It's quite scary how this book is over thirty years old now, yet still feels very relevant today.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Nice quick read, which doesn't hang around. Sets up an interesting time travel mechanic and then runs with it and never really slows down. At times it was hard to track some of the details, but not enough to interfere with the enjoyment of the book. I felt the ending was perhaps a little anti-climatic but then you can't have everything. Now need to read some more Blake Crouch.

The Turing Option by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky

Big Harry Harrison fan, loved the Stainless Steel Rat books as a kid, and they're still not bad even today. This on the other hand was a bit of a struggle - it seemed overly long, dull, and lacks the humour and fun from his other work. The speculation on AI (presumably from Marvin Minsky) is interesting but in the book it all comes across as far to easy. The end of the book picks things up a bit, and there's some interesting commentary on government morality right at the very end, but not enough to make up for the rest of the book. Still love Harry Harrison though.

The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

Hrm, interesting one this. It's simple, straightforward, and not too long which is nice. There's time travel, and it's interesting to see a book from the 1950s considering the futures of 1970 and 2000. Despite the casual sexism - which I assume was not unusual for the time - it is also at times quite forward looking, but it's difficult to get past the point that the main character "adores" his (at the time) best friend's 12 year old daughter, and ultimately arranges to sleep until she's old enough for them to get married. I've no idea if was meant to be deliberately controversial or not, but for me it almost entirely overshadowed the rest of the book. I liked the bits about the cat though.

The Institute by Stephen King

I've always thought that I probably ought to read more Stephen King. I enjoyed the Bachman books even though I only went there for The Running Man, and have read a couple of others (so long ago that I forget which) that I remember enjoying. This however was a real disappointment - it felt like a dumbed down episode of the X-Files that somehow got stretched out way further than was necessary, and with an ending that felt entirely unsatisfactory. Perhaps it's my fault for expecting more from such a big name author, and it's not completely put me off reading more of his work, but I hope it's not as overly long winded and dull as this.

Eversion by Alastair Reynolds

Long time Alastair Reynolds fan, but his recent space pirate material really hadn't worked for me at all. While being quite different from the harder sci-fi Revelation Space novels this was still absolutely great, and kept me hooked right the the end. Reminded me somewhat of the sadly never to be completed 1899 on Netflix.

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Winner of both the Nebula and Hugo awards for best novel, and it's not hard to see why. Really enjoyed this, although I found the middle section dragged a little. Asimov's puerile breast obsession grates in the third section, but that aside it's classic sci-fi and full of great ideas.

The Inverted World by Christopher Priest

Not read any Christopher Priest before and really loved this book. There's a real sense of "what is going on?" all the way through, and it has the common decency to come to a satisfying conclusion rather than requiring you to read through another five books in some endless series. Decided that I need to read more Christopher Priest.

They Walked Like Men by Clifford D. Simak

Proper old-school sci-fi yet still a great read. Interesting to see how relevant the financial impacts on people's lives are today some sixty years after it was first published.

Mickey7 by Edward Ashton

Disappointing - an interesting(ish) premise and raises some deep philosophical issues before veering away from trying to answer or even discuss any of them in any detail. Could have been better, but at least it was a quick and (very) easy read.

Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick

What is there to say, it's Philip K. Dick! It's deeply odd, involves mind altering drugs, and it's never clear what's really going on. Unusually it also comes to what I thought was quite a clean and insightful ending.

Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sequel to Dogs of War, also brilliant, although perhaps it lacks the impact of the first.

Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Brilliant book, read it immediately.

Blood Music by Greg Bear

I've never been particularly taken with Greg Bear for some reason, but the premise of the book was amazing, and the first half of this book was great, and it seemed to be really going somewhere. After that it never seemed to quite go where I expected though, and so I ultimately found it to be a bit of a disappointment. It's a well regarded book so it sounds as though I'm in a minority with this one.

Echogenesis by Gary Gibson

Well it was better than Old Man's War, but perhaps not that much better. Another very easy read that started off really well, but somehow never got to the level that it could have done.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Err yeah, where to start? I don't normally leave reviews on Goodreads, but I really couldn't help myself with this so I'll just include it here:

Don't normally write reviews, but found this to be absolute garbage. Have read children's books with more depth. Doesn't deserve to be mentioned along with Starship Troopers and The Forever War.

Perhaps it's because I was expecting something better, and perhaps it's just not understanding why this is so well liked, but it really didn't work for me.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This is an incredibly highly rated book, and I'd put off reading it for a long time, mostly because it's the first of a series. Annoyingly it's every part as good as everyone says it is, and now I have to read the rest of the series.

Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The first Adrian Tchaikovsky book that I read, and it's just wonderful. Proper writing, proper ideas, loved everything about it. Even the cover art is stunning.

----

Back
envs.net