Thursday, August 22, 2013

And we're back across the Mackinac bridge.

Ah, Libriomancy. Once again, we're with Isaac in the Upper Peninsula dealing with the magick of pulling things out of books based on the amount of belief readers have put into them over time.

As some of you might remember, I reviewed the first book a while back, and became ecstatic when Book 2 came out.

We start Codex Born about a year after the climax of Libriomancer, with Isaac training a new student who's learned to do something thought impossible. Namely Jeneta has figured out how to magically pull items from her e-reader. And no one can figure out HOW she's able to do so.

Jeneta soon falls by the wayside as the plot starts picking up, as Isaac and his Dryad companion Lena get called out to investigate the slaughter of a few Wendigos not far from Isaac's house. What follows is a greater exploration of the magic in Jim C. Hines' world, as we discover the followers of Bi Sheng who fled into books as a way to survive a purge by Gutenberg during the early years of the Porters. They survive in books, with their books being read several times a day by a reader, constantly pouring belief into the text.

We also have several meditations on family and relationships throughout the course of the book. Each chapter opens with part of Lena's story, which is not exactly a pretty one, and one of the main villains is the father of a dead Porter who pretty much abused the hell out of his son growing up.

We also have the nebulous Devourers, who are trying to reach through the magic and invade the Earth. We met them briefly in Book 1, in this one, we get a bit more on them, and by the end, we have a brief glimpse of a face and a name.

While this book had much better pacing than the first volume, he did leave many things unresolved. Which is good, since it gives him places to go in future volumes, but it also tends to make Jeneta seem like an afterthought, as she shows up early on, then more or less vanishes until the epilogue.

Also, one scene around the middle of the book reminded me quite a bit of Jim Butcher's Dead Beat. Also not a bad thing, but I found myself wondering if it was an honest homage (quite common in the series so far) or just a case of serendipity.

Monday, August 12, 2013

It just keeps going and going and going.....

I was mildly disappointed when I opened The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, since the first book in this series, The Long Earth, ended on something of a cliffhanger. Thus, when book 2 opened 20 years after the events of book 1, I was mildly annoyed.

That annoyance didn't last terribly long as the plot got rolling along. Once again, most of the focus is on Joshua, an orphan and natural stepper currently living in Hell-Knows-Where on Earth West 1 million or so. He has a wife and kids now (the wife being the one whose journals narrated part of book 1, talking about how settlement of the Long Earth progressed), and serves as mayor of his town. Then Sally (another natural stepper, but one who can sense the "soft spaces", places where one can get between multiple Earths at a go) re-enters his life, begging him to go back to Datum Earth to do what he can about the mistreatment of the Trolls.

(For those of you who have not read the first book, here's a quick setting synopsis. On step day, plans for steppers popped out on the internet via Sally's father. Made of cardboard and a potato to power it, one could hit the switch and "step" East or West onto a parallel Earth. Or several steps, really. Josh and Lobsang [Lobsang being an AI who thinks he is the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman] took a special airship West across the Long Earth to see what they could find. Along the way, they found races that could also "step", most of which had not ever really been seen on "Datum Earth". One such race was the trolls, who have a group intelligence and communicate in song. Another, Elves, were bloodthirsty hunters.)

Josh's wife, Helen, is fighting with her dad, who lives a few steps away in Valhalla, which is currently involved in a dispute with Datum Earth over the so called Aegis laws. Which basically state anyone living in an alternate Earth in what would be current US political boundaries (Most of the Earths retain similar shape, but there are "jokers" and a few worlds where the Earth no longer exists) must submit to US regulations. Folks in far out Earths like Valhalla feel that they're being taxed without representation. Which leads to the trip of the USS Benjamin Franklin across the worlds to remind settlements that they are still United States citizens. What that crew finds between poles of Datum DC and Valhalla is a mushy middle ground where they have to step in to help solves strange disputes in various colonies. We also have a Chinese expedition going East to Earth East 6 Million, wherein we see another theme of the novel... One of the worlds they pass is habitated by non-human sapient creatures about to be wiped out by a typhoon. That the crew does nothing to help them causes a very reserved girl from Valhalla to finally find her humanity.

We also have trolls vanishing about halfway through, which makes the last half a race between Josh and Sally to figure out who can find the trolls first.

I enjoyed this book, and indeed, I've enjoyed the series so far. And this one was an improvement, since there weren't near as many plot threads in play. There's still quite a bit going on, but the narrative is much more cohesive in book 2.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

No one likes a dictator.

I'm am going to have to preface this post with some boilerplate. I try very hard to avoid expressing personal views on here, as A) this blog is mainly for keeping track of what I've read, and B) this is a very public forum, and I generally don't expose my views en masse. However, due to the nature of the book I'm reviewing, things may slip. You have been warned.

Goodreads suggested I might like Frederic C. Rich's Christian Nation. I reserved a copy at the library and started delving into what is an at times very uneven alternate history/future novel that explores what might have happened had McCain won the presidency in 2008.

We start with our narrator, Greg, announcing that he's sitting at an old typewriter not hooked up to the "Purity Web" at the behest of Adam, his host at a remote lodge in Pennsylvania. Greg tells us bits of things to come, such as the fall of Manhattan and the death of Sanjay before delving into the past before the alternate timeline splits from the real one. We hear of Greg's college days, becoming a lawyer; we hear of his roommate, the gay Indian Sanjay, who teaches Greg Yoga and how their friendship continued after college as Greg starts working for a large firm in New York, while Sanjay starts a Social Network. We meet Greg's girlfriend, Emilie, who works for Credit Suisse. Emilie, who dosn't much like Sanjay, and more or less is the voice of disbelief as Sanjay starts delving deeper and deeper into the relationships of Fundamentalist Christianity and the political world.

As the election closes in 2008, McCain wins. McCain turns the horrid economy over to advisers, preferring to concentrate on foreign relations.  Then, not long into his presidency, McCain has a stroke in Russia while trying to barter with their premier. Palin makes an ass out of herself trying to get the body back from Russia. A few more foibles happen, leading most everyone to encourage her to resign. Then 7/22 happens. (7/22 involves terrorist cells launching SAMs from isolated areas outside of major airports in about 7 major cities.) As such, Palin is able to focus on that as she prepares to run for a second term. Which she wins.

Sanjay sells the social network for a very large profit and forms Theocracy Watch, devoted to exploring the relations between Fundamentalist Christians and politics.

And we witness, as Palin declares Martial Law in the wake of 7//2, doing her best to deport Muslims, as Steve Jordan moves into the White House, as the USA is declared to be a Christian Nation. We watch as Jordan becomes president, and the insidious ways various rights start getting stripped at the Federal level. It's a long process, and filled with worst case scenarios. (Seriously. 2 Supreme Court justices die. One of cancer, one in a car accident. Stuff like that.) And then comes The Blessing. Which is 10 general statements ("Covenants") with 50 specific points groupeld between them. ("Blessings".) (An example: III. The Nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Covenant] 8. The American Constitution is a divine gift and shall be strictly construed. The Constitution shall be interpreted in accordance with the higher law of the Bible. [Blessing].) (pg 181)

This passes through a largely Evangelical congress, only to be challenged by Theocracy Watch. When three specific cases get through and overturn the law, Congress impeaches the judges.

It gets uglier. Gay people become outlawed over time. Many escape into Canada. Anyone not married by 30 is presumed to be gay and then sent to re-education camps. Jewish folks unwilling to convert to Christianity in accordance with a literal interpretation of Revelation are sent to Israel (which is aided by the US for the same reason as wanting the Jewish folks to convert.)

We get into the second American Civil War, with Manhattan being the last place standing. We see the fall of Manhattan, we see the forced conversion of the rebels, and we see the dawn of the Purity Web, which keeps track of what you do online, who you talk to, etc. (Think Big Brother in a cell phone type devices.)

I'm leaving a lot out, mainly because there's much covered in the narrative. And it's filled with real world quotes by real world movers and shakers, only in a different time. (Included is by my town's own Rod Parsley, who's World Harvest Church is not one of my favorite places. This has much to do with being told by an usher that my contribution the offering wasn't enough.) We hear about the folks homeschooling so their kids don't get exposed to secular ideas. We hear about The Family and other organizations that are trying to insert religion into politics. Most of which I was aware of, even if I do tend to think like Emilie, that the American electorate is not so ignorant as to elect folks who want to install a theocracy at the national level. Then I look at folks like Mom's Congressman and shudder.

While I'm sure some folks will assume a huge liberal bias in the writing (and there is to some degree), I'd also point out that he has some very conservative ideas in there, particularly when dealing with Saudi Arabia. (Without the US supporting the Saudis, the Shias pretty much take over the region.)

I'll also say that much of the anti-gay sentiment from the antagonist in this book ring true for me. Hatred cloaked in words of love is still hatred. One of my most unusual stories concerns the Pride event in Missouri I went to, where James River Assembly of God and some other allies stood on one side and a group of Neo-Nazi's stood on the other. Us poor gay folks, rather outnumbered, did our best to enjoy the barbecue at the 3 bars sponsoring the event.

Really, this narrative reads a bit like 1984 by George Orwell or The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. The difference being that rather than being set directly in a totalitarian dystopia, we instead see how one is built. Rich does his best to show us how a minority can destroy a civilization in the name of saving it, much like Hitler or Stalin.

It's a good read, although the people who would most benefit from reading it probably won't.