Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mars Colonization Done Right

Ian McDonald

Pyr SF
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: It all began thirty years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black's Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational 'Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. Its inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantando, the town's founder and resident genius, to the Babooshka, a barren grandmother who just wants her own child-grown in a fruit jar; from Rajendra Das, mechanical hobo who has a mystical way with machines to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with-and married-the same woman.

My Review: Earth can't sustain its current population in the style to which all 7 billion of us wish to become accustomed, and no one is predicting a sudden outbreak of common sense and birth prevention to bring the numbers down. What are we to do?

Move, of course. Where? More than one place. There's the Metropolis, the geosynchronous city in space reached by fixed space elevators; but that's filling up too; wherever shall we go?

Well, Mars, for one. The Remote Orbital Terraforming and Environmental Control Headquarters (ROTECH for short) consortium is created on the Motherworld, sent into a moonbelt orbit around Mars, and given a thousand years of development, has finally produced a planetary ecosystem that can sustain unsuited humans in the open.

ROTECH governs Mars as lightly as any frontier is governed. People, let loose from cities and rules, pretty much do what comes naturally. They have babies, they make farms, they organize themselves into Us and Them, and they do it all at breakneck speed without worrying too hard about consequences. When Consequences rain down from the Heavens, well, adapt or die.

Ian McDonald does in 363 pages what others do in 1000. He makes Mars come alive, he peoples it with fabulous characters (human and cyborg and robotic), he creates a logical thought can humanity survive its inevitable wearing out of the Motherworld?...and uses it to tell us about ourselves, about what we are *actually* made of, and about what triumphs and tragedies flow naturally and inevitably from that.

I adore this book.


No, really, that's it. I adore this book. You should read it, especially if you point your booger-holder at the sky when science fiction is mentioned. I don't read THAT people should read this. If you don't, then you should be ashamed of your inflexibility.

I even re-read Jane Austen recently. And liked it. So. What's that “I don't like THAT” stuff again?

The messy, beautiful India of 2047

Ian McDonald

Pyr SF
$26.00 hardcover, $17.00 trade paper, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 5* of five

The Publisher Says: As Mother India approaches her centenary, nine people are going about their business—a gangster, a cop, his wife, a politician, a stand-up comic, a set designer, a journalist, a scientist, and a dropout. And so is—the waif, the mind reader, the prophet—when she one day finds a man who wants to stay hidden.
In the next few weeks, they will all be swept together to decide the fate of the nation.
River of Gods teems with the life of a country choked with peoples and cultures—one and a half billion people, twelve semi-independent nations, nine million gods. Ian McDonald has written the great Indian novel of the new millennium, in which a war is fought, a love betrayed, a message from a different world decoded, as the great river Ganges flows on.

My Review: Ian McDonald. This is a name to conjure with, boys and girls. This is one fearless Irishman. This is a major major talent doing major major things. How dare he, how dare I, warble his praises when he, a white guy from the colonial oppressor state, has the temerity to write a science fiction novel about INDIA?!? There are scads of Indian writers and it's their country! Let *them* write their stories!


Read the book. Then come and tell me it should have remained unwritten because of some nonsensical national pride hoo-hah.

It's got every damn thing a reader could want: A new gender, the nutes, pronoun “yt;” a wholly new form of energy harvested from other universes; a political scandal-ridden politician who falls for our main nute character, despite his long marriage, and pursues yt desperately; a civil war a-brewin' over water rights in the now fragmented subcontinental political world; aeais (artificial intelligences) that are forbidden by law to exceed the Turing Test that establishes whether an entity is human or human-passable; and, as with any law, the lawbreakers who inevitably arise are hunted by a new breed of law enforcement officers, here called “Krishna cops.” Krishna being the Original God, Supreme Being, One Source in many parts of India, there is some justice to that, one supposes.

Recapitulating the plot is pointless. This is a sprawling story, one that takes nine (!) main characters to tell. I felt there were two too many, and would entirely prune Lisa, the American physicist, and Ajmer, the spooky girl who sees the future, because those story lines were pretty much just muddying the waters for me. I thought the physicist on a quest, who then makes a giant discovery, which leads her back to the inventor of the aeais, could easily have been a novel all on its own, one that would fit in this universe that McDonald has summoned into being. I simply didn't care for or about Ajmer.

The aeais' parent, Thomas Lull, is hidden away from the world in a dinky South Indian village. Yeah, right! Like the gummints of the world would let that happen! I know why McDonald did this, plot-wise, but it's just not credible to me. He could be demoted from player to bit part and simplify the vastness of the reader's task thereby.

So why am I giving this book a perfect score? Because. If you need explanations:

--The stories here are marvelously written.
“And you make me a target as well,” Bernard hisses. “You don't think. You run in and shout and expect everyone to cheer because you're the hero.”
“Bernard, I've always known the only ass you're ultimately interested in is your own, but that is a new low.” But the barb hits and hooks. She loves the action. She loves the dangerous seduction that it all looks like drama, like action movies. Delusion. Life is not drama. The climaxes and plot transitions are coincidence, or conspiracy. The hero can take a fall. The good guys can all die in the final reel. None of us can survive a life of screen drama. “I don't know where else to go,” she confesses weakly. He goes out shortly afterwards. The closing door sends a gust of hot air, stale with sweat and incense, through the rooms. The hanging nets and gauzes billow around the figure curled into a tight foetus. Najia chews at scaly skin on her thumb, wondering if she can do anything right. -- p388

Krishan barely feels the rain. More than anything he wants to take Parvati away from this dying garden, out the doors down on to the street and never look back. But he cannot accept what he is being given. He is a small suburban gardener working from a room in his parents' house with a little three-wheeler van and a box of tools, who one day took a call from a beautiful woman who lived in a tower to build her a garden in the sky. -- p477

Some of my favorite passages I can't put here, because they contain some of the many, many words and concepts that one needs—and I do mean needs—the glossary in the back of the book to fully appreciate.

--The concept of the book is breathtaking. Westerners don't usually see India as anything other than The Exotic Backdrop. McDonald sees the ethnic and religious tensions that India contains, barely, as we look at her half-century of independence ten years on (review written 2007) and contemplate the results of the Partition. He also sees the astounding and increasing vigor of the Indian economy, its complete willingness to embrace and employ any and all new ideas and techniques and leverage the staggeringly immense pool of talent the country possesses.

--McDonald also extrapolates the rather quiet but very real and strong trend towards India as a medical tourism destination: First-world trained doctors offering third-world priced medical care. This is the genesis of the nutes, people who voluntarily have all external gender indicators and all forms of gender identification surgically removed, their neural pathways rewired, and their social identities completely reinvented.

Think about that for a minute.

If your jaw isn't on the floor, if your imagination isn't completely boggled, then this book isn't for you and you should not even pick it up in the library to read the flap copy. If you're utterly astonished that an Irish dude from Belfast could winkle this kind of shit up from his depths, if you're so intrigued that you think it will cause you actual physical pain not to dive right in to this amazing book, you're my kind of people.

Welcome, soul sibling, India 2047 awaits. May our journey never end.


Mad Hatters, White Rabbits, and Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow

Return to Wonderland:  Grimm Fairytales Wonderland #1

Written by Raven Gregory

Illustrated by Daniel Leister and Nei Ruffino

Published by Zenescope

Reviewed by Amanda
1 Out of 5 Stars

If you've ever read Alice in Wonderland and thought, "You know what this story really needs? More tits. And viscera. Tits and viscera for everyone!" then a) you are probably a 12 year old boy who butchers his neighbor's pets in his spare time and b) this collection is for you.

This is some dark stuff and, folks, I certainly don't mind dark stuff, but this is gratuitous with no cohesive storyline and a complete and utter lack of imagination (I say this because to take Alice in Wonderland and sex it up doesn't require any great creative power--just an unhealthy preoccupation with people's "naughty bits"). Basically, Alice's teenage daughter, Calie goes to Wonderland. Calie encounters exactly all of the same experiences her mother did, only they're all portrayed with a blatant lasciviousness: Calie's built like an inflatable doll and every scene is sexually charged by playing to as many fetishes as possible. And, as if that wasn't enough, it's as though the author is trying to cram as much shockfest violence, gore, and sexuality into the pages as possible. The narrative is so busy trying to shock us that the vignettes with the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts don't serve a real purpose--they simply provide the next platform from which to blow our minds with how daring and edgy the story is. Yeah, well, we've got another name for being sexually daring and edgy without context and storyline: porn. Because that's really what this is, in a subdued form. Whether we're talking about the violence or the sex, it's playing to a certain type of unhealthy libido in a manner meant to arouse.

Back in the real world, Alice has attempted suicide multiple times and lives in a catatonic state. In the meantime, her husband is having an affair and not just any old affair. Oh, no. We wouldn't want to miss out on an opportunity to bring out the whips and chains, would we? So he's having an affair steeped in sadomasochism. And then there's Calie's brother who is exhibiting all the classic signs of a blossoming young serial killer. It's dysfunctional with a capital D, which seems a little overboard when coupled with the level of macabre that is present in Wonderland, too. For either Calie's reality or her Wonderland experience to be dark and twisted would be fine, but the two together is too much.

A Brotherhood Born of Blood and Violence

The Sisters Brothers

by Patrick DeWitt

Published by Ecco

Reviewed by Amanda
4 Out of 5 Stars

I like reading about bad people in fiction.  And, lest we jump to conclusions, it's not because I'm a bad person myself (at least not in the torture or kill people kind of way; no, the sins in which I dabble are much more pedestrian than that), but it's because I like peering into those dark little corners of their brains.  The most frightening and fascinating realization I come to in such novels is that, really, they're much more like me than I care to admit. 

Take Pulp Fiction, for example, which may be my favorite movie of all time.  Sure, you've got some of the old ultraviolence, but what's really chilling is to see how it's part of the average work day for Jules and Vincent.  Their days are filled with conversations both philosophical and mundane, punctuated by acts of violence that they accept as part of how their world works.  When we think of men who can kill, we think of monsters, depraved beings who have no moral compass, an inability to reason.  While that is certainly sometimes the case, sometimes we find that--behind the monster--there is just a man, one who knows that what he is doing is wrong, but does it anyway: for money, for love, for power.  And what worked for Pulp Fiction is what works for The Sisters Brothers.

Charlie and Eli Sisters are two of the most feared assassins in the West, working for a shadowy figure known only as "The Commodore."  Charlie, the older brother, is ruthless and power hungry, while his brother, Eli, is a sensitive sort who is prone to violence when he becomes enraged--a tool often used by Charlie to his advantage.  Even in adulthood, Eli is relegated to the archetypal role of the younger brother, haplessly following and obeying his older brother, while occasionally challenging Charlie just to see how far he can be pushed. 

The brothers are sent by The Commodore on an errand to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, a prospector who has crossed The Commodore in ways unknown to the brothers.  Not that it matters as their job is to kill and not ask questions.  The journey there provides the brothers with adequate time to be attacked by a bear, run into a backwoods witch, visit a brothel, and encounter characters curious and strange.  As the men travel, we see them banter back and forth, every bit true siblings, alternately needling each other's quirks and weaknesses and then engaging in profound conversations about their beliefs and shared history. 

The dialogue between the brothers is the real treat of the novel--witty and peculiarly formal (think Charles Portis's characters as portrayed in the Coen version of True Grit).  As he longs for love, worries about his weight, discovers the joys of dental hygiene, and wrestles with his disdain and admiration for his one-eyed, cantankerous horse, Tub, Eli Sisters is the more relatable of the two brothers.  However, before one can become too attached to either character, a scene of needless and wanton violence reminds us that both of these men are killers and, for all the contemplation of human nature the two engage in, it proves as difficult to put down a gun as it is to pick one up.