Archive for August, 2016

Review: Mexican American Baseball in the San Fernando Valley

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

While there are many things I love about e-books, there are things to learn as well,  I was surprised to find that this was primarily an annotated book of photographs of Mexican american teams and players.  I was hoping for more of a history of the area’s game, a la Fastptich.Once I understood what I had, I was quite pleased with it.  It’s a very well-curated set of images.

Review: Totem Poles

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

This is a short story by Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling, but Google Play sold it to me for a buck, so it gets a review.

Totem Poles is an exercise in magical realism dressed in SF tropes.  The protagonists are all globe trotters fighting unorthodox invaders from another world, but at the end of the story, it’s all magic and literature. Which I suppose it always is, but this didn’t knock me over.

Probably worth the buck, but probably wouldn’t be my favorite in most short story collections.

Review: Fastpitch

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

There’s a lot I didn’t know about womens’ fastpitch softball.  I’d seen a few games that my niece played in and saw a few snippets when I passed a TV tuned to a game, but I really had no idea about the history or traditions of the game.  Erica Westly has helped me out by writing a lively history of the game and some of the folks who pioneered it.  While softball has been around long enough that its origins are no longer the stuff of the first person interview, the game has burst into the national consciousness recently enough that there are some movers and shakers around to talk with.  Not for long, though, so Westly’s work is timely and interesting.

One of the many things I was surprised to learn was that my current stomping grounds – SoCal – figures prominently in the sport’s history.  Champion teams of the past have come from here, both as the result of cultural traditions and careful team construction and as a result of lightning spontaneously jumping into a bottle.

I’m charmed and amazed that the Whittier Golden Sox were US champions in living memory and none of my sweetie’s family of lifelong Whittier residents seem to know or care.  Where I’m from, those people would have a sign.  And honestly, I think they do.  I’ll plan to look next time I’m in the area.

I remain a great lover of the history of such diversions, and Westly does a great job of whetting the reader’s appetite for both more history and to see the game continue to grow.  A sport this storied deserves to thrive more.  She does a great job with the personal and institutional history. Her analysis of the game’s merits makes them evident and believable.  Probably the only place I’d say the book falters is in making the game sing.  Given that my interest is piqued enough to seek a game out now, that’s a minor shortcoming.


Review: Normal

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Warren Ellis has a nice touch with turning an idea into a narrative, transforming it from a polished distant monument into a gritty habitation.  In Normal he takes the idea that thinking to hard about the future will make you crazy.  Literally.

None of the characters from Normal are immortal – they are largely ideas or themes mounted on lively tropes – but the combination makes for a spicy mix.  One gets the feeling that Ellis has laid them down with enough telling detail to make them stand out, but enough room for an actor or comic artist to form them into memorable characters.  As a reader, you can fill in those details, but it’s almost more interesting to see where the gaps are.

Normal was also distributed in an unusual manner. Well for 2016, 1916 still saw some serialized novels. Normal came out in 4 installments spaced a week apart – a serialized novella. It worked well for me. I enjoy many of Ellis’s novellas, and I think he can use the length well.  The weekly reminders to have a look at what he’s done were welcome, and each section had a payoff.  I would absolutely do it again with Ellis, and I’d be curious to see someone else try the mechanism.

Overall, I found Normal  to be snappy and thought-provoking.  Recommended.

Review: The Corporation Wars: Dissidence

Monday, August 8th, 2016

I really enjoyed Ken MacLeod’s Corporation Wars: Dissidence. MacLeod is a talented writer with interesting ideas and enough technical depth to clear the hurdles to suspension of disbelief.  That’s a real accomplishment when the world he’s creating includes multi-timescale simulation of AI’s that are at war with robots on the edge of self-awareness.  This is a book set in a world that literally has no humans embodied in flesh and blood in it.  It’s well done.

Beyond the ideas, the plot is sprightly, twisty, and engaging. One never loses track of who’s doing what to whom, whether at the timescales of diplomatic deception and betrayal or tactical battlefield action.  Beyond that, MacLeod turns many a fine phrase.

I both enjoyed reading Dissidence and admired the  significant craft and creativity that went into it.  Among other things, I’m surprised just how much computer science background an SF author can pretty blithely assume their audience has or can acquire.

That said, I think it never reaches the escape velocity to break out from good to great.  That’s no sin in my book.  This is genuinely a pleasure to read and the ideas are worth chewing on. But I feel like I’ll have forgotten it in a few years.  I’ll check in on his other work, though.  It seems like great is a matter of time and chemistry for him.


Review: Central Station

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station provides an excuse to date myself without making use of Carbon-14. Reading it reminded me of Robert Lynn Asprin’s Thieves’ World. Thieves’ World began a series of fantasy short story collections from science fiction and fantasy authors. The conceit was that the authors agreed to share the world in which they created a loosely collaborative story. The result was something between an incredibly well written telling of a role playing campaign and fan fiction. Characters and focus came and went as did themes; the quality varied – or probably my appreciation of the writing did so.

I’m not addressing this in a scholarly way. It was the first time I saw that kind of experiment, and I found it engaging.

Central Station has something of the feel of creating a shared world. Tidhar introduces cast of interesting characters who inhabit a rich melieu and have an interesting and open-ended adventure. The book feels not so much that it’s ripe for a sequel, but that the table has been set and we’re waiting for guests to arrive. I even have the same enthusiasm that I felt when reading Thieves’ World. Writers could tell more great stories with these characters in this place.

That may sound like faint praise. Let me heap some more distinct praise on it.

Tidhar builds a world and creates characters that embody the feeling of community that forms in successful melting pots. He creates a rich polyglot community informed by technology, but not based on it. Often writers focus on how technology changes human interaction, but Tidhar’s characters have seamlessly absorbed technology. That’s the way people really adopt it and it’s refreshing to see.

Central Station is also filled with small nods and Easter eggs to the SF community. It’s nothing like the density of Ready Player One, but rich enough to draw the connection between the fictional community and the real-world SF community as melting pots. It’s a nice way to make the point with a wink. The tonal connection to Thieves’ World may even be intentional – an Easter egg for me.

Central Station builds a fictional world in a way that rings true with some of the best of our world. Strongly Recommended.