Dec. 10, 2020

review dump II

Revelation Space | Alastair Reynolds | 4.5 stars

Intricate, well-plotted sci-fi with great worldbuilding. Follows three main characters:

  • Sylveste, an archaeologist, who is obsessed with studying the Amarantin (a long-extinct alien race) and the mysterious Event that wiped them all out. Sylveste's quest is the main driving force behind the plot. Unfortunately I thought his perspective was by far the weakest of the three. Normally I like driven/obsessive characters, but Sylveste was just a boring smug asshole. Thankfully the other two were much better!
  • Khouri, an ex-military assassin, who gets hired to perform a very high-stakes assassination. I loved Khouri. Despite her profession, she manages to be both the voice of reason and the moral compass of the group, and I enjoyed how down-to-earth she was even when things got crazy.
  • Volyova, ship's officer of the Nostalgia for Infinity, who is searching for someone to cure the ship's mortally ill captain, and also dealing with a lot of nasty shipboard politics. Volyova is heavily morally gray yet I couldn't help rooting for her. She's in a bad situation that she often compounds with bad decisions, but she is Trying Her Best (tm) and her crewmates are worse than she is.

I do wish we learned a bit more about her and her ship's background. Like, why are only seven people aboard a ship designed to house hundreds of thousands? What do they do normally when they're not on a mission to save their captain? At one point they claim to be traders, but that seems to be just a cover story. Regardless of reasons, though, seven people aboard an otherwise-abandoned and decaying ship is fantastic for desolate/haunted atmosphere.

The plot takes a little while to cohere; at the start, there are frequent timeskips backwards and forwards in time, and I found it helpful to jot down a brief timeline of events. But events come together very nicely and the reveals are wild (not just the big endgame reveal but lots of reveals throughout). Highly recommended if you're into hard sci-fi with great female characters.

p.s. don't read the blurb for book 2, it spoils book 1 lol

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The Twenty Days of Turin | Giorgio De Maria | 3 stars

Low 3. I loved the concept, but the execution didn't entirely work for me.

In the 1960s, the town of Turin creates "the Library," a pre-Internet public journal/blogging project intended to foster a spirit of community among the populace. Instead, it spirals downhill into a "phenomenon of collective psychosis" culminating in mass slaughter. Ten years later, the main character is trying to uncover the truth about the Library and the murders; but, of course, there are forces that want the past to stay buried.

Just writing this is making me want to bump up my rating, and, in fact, there's a lot of amazing creepy/weird stuff going on: The audio recordings. The truth behind the murders. The pen pal. [The ENDING omg]

But, unless I missed it, there's no explanation as to what the Library has to do with any of this, merely that it does. Which bothers me. [In the absence of a greater explanation, the implication is that journaling/blogging is inherently soul-draining, which...no it's not?? The foreword suggests that the whole thing is a metaphor for neo-fascism, which I can vaguely see in principle - social media radicalizes people, leading to acts of terrorism. But if that was the author's intent, the metaphor is too lightly drawn, since the journal entries we see consist mostly of sex ads.]

Also the main character occupies too much space in the story for how dull/bland of a person he is. There are a lot of moments where he needs to get out of the way and let the story tell itself a little more, especially in regards to the events of 10 years ago.

Still, not a bad choice if you're looking for a unique and intensely creepy horror novella.

Plus, here's a mood:

It happens at times that men can outlive themselves and persevere, like wraiths, by carrying out the actions they have always carried out; their souls are mute but not their voices, and their hands and feet do not stop moving.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle | Shirley Jackson | 4 stars

I loved this book, but I keep seeing it billed as horror, which is a recipe for disappointed readers. Horror is great! This book isn't it!

Instead, it's a heavily character-driven contemporary about Merricat, a smart but very isolated teen who lives mostly in her own world of imagination and personal superstitions. She has a complicated relationship with her sister Constance, of whom she's very protective. As a character sketch, it excels; I adored Merricat's narrative voice, her rituals, and her way of viewing the world. She's unapologetically herself, which I found really charming.

So if you want a well-written character study, this is the book for you. If you're in the mood for a spooky read, look elsewhere.

Written by Achaius

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