Eh, it's been a while. Let's drop a book post.
Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber — Superior Foes of Spider Man, vol. 1
Jan 3, 2015
Okay, I was ready for this to be one of those comedy "villain" stories with a highly telegraphed heel-face turn so that everyone's misdeeds are pre-tinted with a sepia oh-but-they're-really-just-lovable-scamps filter. Which could have been fine, because there're right and wrong ways to do that, and it all ends up depending on tone.
But no! The protagonist is truly a total shitbird, and once I caught on to that (sure, it said so at the beginning or something but I didn't buy it) I enjoyed the book even more. Fred's saccharine folksy narration starts out aggravating, but once it becomes clear how sociopathic and incompetent it is, it's actually kind of great.
The writing is solid, and the art is fabulous, and they work very well together, with a fine eye for visual comedy. And a predilection for word balloons containing inappropriate non-word objects, which in my opinion never gets old.
William Gibson - Pattern Recognition (re-read)
I hadn't read this for a good long while, so I picked it back up during Second Christmas.
I'd forgotten how physically uncomfortable the part about catfishing Taki was! And I'd forgotten how his subplot actually got a satisfying ending when I thought it was going to just stay gross and bummersville, yaaay. I'd also forgotten that Cayce gets together with someone at the end of the book?!
All told, I actually think this is my least favorite of that trilogy, although it seems to be the most popular. But "least favorite of the Bigend trilogy" still makes for a great book.
William Gibson - Spook Country (re-read)
...and then since I had my momentum up I went ahead and re-read Spook Country. I don't think I need to add anything about this, I reviewed it really recently anyway. In some ways this is my fave in the series, and in other ways Zero History is. ZH suffers from lack of Tito. It was cool and refreshing to jettison the techno-psychojustifications and just have him be an actual mystic, a post-communist warrior monk.
Jessica Reisman - The Z Radiant (re-read)
I reviewed this pretty recently, and don't have much to add. It's still really good, yo!!!
Andrea K. Höst — Touchstone trilogy: Stray, Lab Rat One, and Caszandra
Jan 31, Feb 2, Feb 3
(First book is free, both on Smashwords (all formats) and on Kindle.)
This was the shit! Junk-food reading almost perfectly tailored to my tastes. I read it compulsively.
The setup is that a random Australian teen walks through a random dimensional gate and ends up on an alien planet... in the middle of shitty nowhere. In the woods. But then after (barely) surviving for a few weeks, she gets rescued by some humans from a third planet, and the plot starts in earnest.
There's a lot to love in here! Well-written characters, ancient civilizations, semi-alien cultures, archaeology, planet-wrecking calamities, psychic powers, secret militaries, freaky-ass monsters, teen drama, reality TV, and Mysterious Shit that actually culminates in a pretty impressive payoff. Special bonus points for the depiction of that third planet, Tare: it's not a dystopia, but it definitely sucks in a lot of ways, and Höst did a good job keeping it mysterious and cool while showing what a mixed bag it is.
(Although, the way the Setari are organized seems like a repurposed concept for a video game. But I give Höst a pass for it, because A: everything is really well integrated into the world, and B: that game would have been badass.)
Bonus Level: Transistor
Feb 8 (video game)
That ending is pretty much bullshit. And while the final battle was an awesome setpiece, I think it was incompletely set up.
But right up until then, I loved this, and I think I'd still recommend it (with those caveats). The environments were beautiful and awesome, the gameplay was fun, the narration was well done. And I liked the main character a lot. Design-wise, I consider her a good example of a female lead who's beautiful but really not sexualized. And although she's a silent protagonist, we see a lot of personality in her movements, the way she ignores suggestions and refuses to turn back, the stuff she types into the terminals.
The plot was really interesting, too: higher-level application constructs in a virtual universe accidentally gaining access to lower-level functionality and getting overwhelmed by it? And hence the omnipotence of the "Transistor," at the lowest of levels? That is a cool approach to a my-virtual-universe-is-crumbling type of story, and weirdly it felt a lot more... rigorous? than various other attempts I've seen?
The gameplay was knuckle-biting once in a while, with optional limiters to make it tougher if you start to get ahead of the curve. (And some formal challenges that sort of teach you how to break the game. When my most convenient functions got overloaded during a perf test, I had to fall back on help() and learned that I’d missed its potential by not enhancing it — turns out a properly kitted-out Super Friend can do ~750 backstab damage in a turn, or have a blast radius, etc.)
Isaac's theory was that the characters have forgotten they're in an MMO, and getting killed by the Transistor boots you back out of that MMO, with the farm in the ending being the real world. I disagree; I think the farm is a sentimental depiction of a dubious afterlife, cf. the numerous references to being "sent to the country" in the unlockable flavor text and its resemblance therein to the traditional "we sent Marfy to live on a farm in the country" dodge when the family dog gets put to sleep.
My theory of the game is that we never even get a glimpse of the "real" world. Royce and his cadre got access to a lower level of reality, and it was so unlike normal application-space that they experienced the beings down there as, like, eldritch horrors. But it's still a construct, and I don't think they ever breached down into an uncomputed universe. And I don't think the sentient beings in application space originate outside the computed universe, or at least they don't each directly correspond to a person in the real world. What's outside the simulation is a mystery.