Friday, August 25, 2017

Sci-fi wanderings

The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin
I'd never read it before this summer. The first two-thirds are a well-crafted gender-bending political fable. The remainder is a well-crafted gender-bending buddy adventure story. The gender-bending must have been revolutionary when it was published... less so now, but the story-telling and character development hold up just fine.

Too Like the Lightning
Ada Palmer
I read this before I read The Left Hand of Darkness, and I now see that it is a longer, convoluted homage to Le Guin's classic. The excellent Crooked Timber blog devoted an entire "seminar" to this book and its sequel. It is high-high-sci-fi. I admired the author's ability to drop the reader into a recognizably human but quite odd social milieu. There are lots of characters involved in a complex web of political and sexual alliances. But the story-telling is not up to Le Guin's standard... and I'm not sure I have the attention span for this sort of thing.

Critter corner...

The Children of the Sky
Vernor Vinge
A Fire Upon the Deep introduced readers to the Tines, the most interesting aliens in any book I've read. Doglike creatures, "individual" Tines actually consist of small packs, which communicate using a kind of sonic mindspeak. Vinge explored the complications and limitations of this mode of existence in fascinating detail, embedding it in a sprawling space opera featuring, as so many such books do, the arrival of human refugees on the Tines' distant planet. This sequel, actually published after a prequel, is not nearly as eye-opening as the original, but the politics and even economics of the novel will keep your attention. Along with those complicated, fascinating, not-human Tines.

Children of Time
Adrian Tchaikovsky
What happens when spiders get bigger and a whole lot smarter? The writing is merely functional, and the humans who occupy half the chapters are not terribly interesting. But the spiders are pretty cool, from their matriarchal, atavistically man-eating social structure to their deployment of ant colonies as computing machines. And the book may inspire you to learn a little more about the genus Portia of jumping spiders, whose descendants are the heroes of the book. If you are like me, you are very fond of jumping spiders, with their funny eight-eyed faces and extraordinary leaping ability. But you may not want to be around when they make that evolutionary jump.

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