Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #13-14: The Net Delusion and To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov

The Net DelusionTarget: Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Darkside of Internet Freedom and To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism

Profile: Non-Fiction, Technology, International Studies, Cultural Studies

This is going to be a very atypical review.  In reading The Net Delusion and Click Here, I was attempting to develop a cohesive personal position on the problems of internet advocacy.  There is a lot of literature and scholarly articles on the benefits of using the internet in the cause of advocacy, either as a method of raising awareness or as a means to a fundraising end, but there is very little in the way of criticism outside of the shallow critique of ‘Slacktivism.’  Morozov’s books offered a more cutting look at my subject area, but failed, by and large, to dig deeper or offer a cohesive alternative.  This is broadly true of both books, but is more apparent in Click Here.

To Save Everything Click HereBecause both books failed to meet my personal metric for usefulness, it is difficult for me to recommend them.  Even ignoring that, both books left me with a bad taste in my mouth, not because Morozov’s ideas are wrong or uninteresting, but because he is such a hostile author.  That hostility, directed against politicians, pundits, academics, and above all else the Techno-Literati of Silicon Valley, is an enormous barrier-to-entry for readers who haven’t already bought into Morozov’s aggressive architecture.  Again, Click Here is the worst offender, withThe Net Delusion appearing relatively calm and reasoned.  But let’s go ahead and get into the books.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #12: Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Blue Remembered EarthTarget: Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

I’ve mentioned this before, but Alastair Reynolds’ novels leave me a little bewildered.  The scope of his settings are daunting and even Blue Remembered Earth, a book that starts and finishes within our own solar system and a scant 150 years in the future, promises to have gotten just as big by the time we get to the end of the Poseidon’s Children series.  Reynolds packs a lot of interesting ideas into this opening novel, but the plot seems to get pushed aside to make room for it all.

Not that Blue Remembered Earth is bad.  It feels like its setting up for something really interesting and, like a lot of setup stories, it doesn’t quite stand on its own.  Reynolds’ attention to detail draws a compelling map to the stars and the future of humanity, but the reason we keep turning pages has nothing to do with Geoffrey Akinya or his sister, Sunday.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #11: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the UnseenTarget: G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Religious Fiction

Alif the Unseen is honestly one of the best novels I’ve read in recent memory.  It practically sparkles with fresh ideas and invigorating prose.  Like Throne of the Crescent Moon, I picked up Alif on the recommendation of io9.com’s best speculative fiction of 2012 list, and out of a desire to read more non-Eurocentric fantasy.  But the two books shouldn’t even be compared.  Alif is on a completely different level of fiction, the same level occupied by giants like China Miéville’s Kraken and Neil Gaimen’s American Gods, or perhaps more saliently, his Anansi Boys.

The novel is also a triumph of multiculturalism.  The author, G. Willow Wilson, an American journalist who converted to Islam and moved to Cairo where she wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers, has written a magnificent window into contemporary Middle Eastern culture, and one that stand surprisingly accessible to readers who might not know anything about the history or culture of this incredibly interesting and diverse region.  Where Saladin Ahmed utterly failed to connect with the richness of Arabian and Islamic mythology in his Crescent Moon, Wilson has succeeded in stunning fashion.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #10: The Dechronization of Sam Magruder by George Gaylord Simpson

The Dechronization of Sam MagruderTarget: George Gaylord Simpson’s The Dechronization of Sam Magruder

Profile: Science Fiction, Time Travel

The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is a strange little novella that is equal parts time travel story, homage to H.G. Wells and paleontological argument.  The author, George Gaylord Simpson, was one of the most influential and prolific evolutionists and paleontologists of the 20th century, if not all time.  More curiously, he wasn’t a fiction writer.  Of the 15 books he wrote or contributed to, only the posthumously published Dechronization approached the genre of science fiction and even then from the perspective of an academic.

Before I get into the review itself, I would like to mention that I would be much less conversant on the matter of 1940s paleontology were it not for the substantial introduction by Arthur C. Clarke included in my slim paperback edition.  Clarke discusses the sometimes unpopular opinions of Simpson that were eventually borne out by new discoveries, but also reminds the reader that this book was being written in the mid-1900s and some of what we knew then has since been proven wrong.  Most importantly, he emphasizes the science fiction nature of the novella, drawing the attention back to the setting which makes some unusual assumptions about the shape of the future that might not be so far off reality.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #9: Jam by ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw

JamTarget: ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw’s Jam

Profile: Parody, Post-Apocalyptic

This one falls clearly under the category of book candy.  I enjoyed Ben Croshaw’s first novel, Mogworld, mostly because it parodied a subject close to my heart, MMOs, and did so with a level of clever understanding that a lot of satirists don’t manage. It was no Hitchhiker’s Guide or Guards Guards! but it scratched that itch at the time.  In contrast, I read Jambecause I enjoyed Mogworld and was disappointed because I definitely wasn’t the target audience.

Jam is an offhanded response to the glut of zombie apocalypses in popular culture today, the premise being that we are really unprepared for the potential variety of apocalypses that are waiting out there.  What would the survivalists of the world do in response to an ocean of carnivorous jam?  Unfortunately, the parody doesn’t quite connect because it never manages to shed the tropes of the genre.  While there are great moments of humor peppered about, the majority of the satire is lost because, on a very basic level, zombies and carnivorous jam are very much the same.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's SoulTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Short Story

Okay, I lied.  There was one more Sanderson book.  Sorry.  The Emperor’s Soul is a short novella set in the same world as Elantris but removed from the events of that book by significant distance and an unspecified amount of time.  It is a very different sort of work than Sanderson’s typical epic fantasy fare.  As dictated by its size, it is a very focused story with only one protagonist and one storyline.  But there is some surprising depth contained in this small package.  At its heart, The Emperor’s Soul is about understanding people, and in a roundabout way, about the process of writing characters; creating people.

The central figure of The Emperor’s Soul is Wan ShaiLu, called Shai.  With two minor exceptions, the entirety of the novella is told from her perspective.  Betrayed by her partner in crime, a man known only as The Fool, Shai is coerced into undertaking the daunting task of magically recreating the personality of a brain dead emperor.  Under the threat of death, and a rapidly approaching deadline, she must accomplish two impossible tasks: understanding another human being utterly and completely, and escaping the powerful forces that will kill her whether she succeeds or not.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #7: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

ElantrisTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Aside from having a pithy back cover; Elantris has a lot going for it.  While it is far from the perfect fantasy novel, it does feature Sanderson’s typical strong world building, and a cast of characters that is interesting, if not actually realistic.  At the same time, Sanderson’s refusal to rely exclusively on the fallback tropes of his genre keeps the book feeling fresh.  Elantrisisn’t as polished as some of Sanderson’s other stories, with the core mystery feeling a little underutilized, and the story dragging on just a touch too long.  But at the same time, these little flaws give the story a more honest feeling than, for example, the highly polished The Hero of Ages.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #6: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

WarbreakerTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker

Profile: Epic Fantasy

I was incredibly excited to get started on this month’s book sequence; namely, a speedy run through the remainder of Brandon Sanderson’s bibliography.  I can’t really talk about why because of spoilers.  Suffice it to say my re-read of The Way of Kings revealed something that I missed because it was the first Sanderson book I had ever read.  While I may still dislike the man for his abysmal treatment of The Hero of Ages, I have to say that the greater body of his work is quite good, and the more you read of it, the better it gets.

Warbreaker was originally a free web publication that was serialized on Sanderson’s website.  Older draft copies of some of the chapters are still available there, but I ended up reading the finished novel in paperback form.  While it shares a number of traits with Sanderson’s other epic fantasies, Warbreaker feels like a very different kind of novel.  In the same vein of the Mistborn sequence, it plays with the extremes of power, wealth and status and transposes a more modern society into a fantasy setting.  Sanderson’s strong emphases on religions and cohesive magic systems are also present, but the sum of these parts ends up being very different because, at its heart, Warbreaker is a story about averting a crisis, rather than confronting one.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #5: Batwoman Volume 1 by J.H. Williams, III and W. Haden Blackman

Batwoman 1Target: J.H. Williams, III and W. Haden Blackman’sBatwoman: Hydrology.  Collecting issues 0-5 of Batwoman (N52)

Profile: Comics, Mystery

If I had to point to a single comic that drew me to start exploring the DC universe, it would probably be Green Lantern: Rebirth.  There’s just something about power rings and anyone who grew up watching Captain Planet.  But Batwoman: Elegy is what got me really hooked.  I picked up the collected Elegy back in 2010 and when DC announced that Batwoman would be returning in the New 52, I started getting excited about the relaunch event and DC in general.  Hydrology doesn’t disappoint, picking up where Elegy left off and expanding on the personal experiences of this exceptional heroine.

Before I get any further, I need to put my cards on the table.  There is a phenomenal amount that I do not know or understand about DC’s continuity.  I’ve done a bit of due diligence this year to write these New 52 reviews, but, as I am perhaps overly fond of saying, I know just enough to get me in real trouble.  To make things worse, the New 52 universe reboot was only partial, so as many things have changed as not.  It’s a bit of a mess.  This is all by way of saying if I make a significant error in summarizing the books or their background material, I apologize.

Batwoman was one of the series that was not reset, so the events of Elegy are still canonical, and really are essential to understanding the unfolding plot of Hydrology.  I cannot recommend enough picking up Elegy if you get the chance, but to keep things simple and self-contained, I’ll do a quick summary here.  Spoilers to follow:

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #4: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent MoonTarget: Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon(Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1)

Profile: Fantasy

I don’t understand io9.com’s criterion for good fantasy.  Between their three-year-long campaign for the mediocre novels of N. K. Jemisin and their unceasing steampunk fetish, it’s gotten hard to take their recommendations seriously.  Yes, they still put up the odd Alistair Reynolds or Ken MacLeod, but I suspect that’s just to keep us coming back.  And then they put Throne of the Crescent Moon on their ‘Best of 2012’ list.  Now, any long-time readers will know that I am pretty skeptical of any recommendation, so why would this one be noteworthy?  I don’t have a good answer, but it really bugs me that a list that includes the phenomenal The Long Earth and the well-received Red Shirts could also include this slug of a novel.

When I say slug, I’m referring to pacing.  Throne of the Crescent Moon has everything needed to be a standout fantasy book, but the story is so bogged down with descriptive text that the action feels like molasses.  Don’t even ask about the exposition.  It is actually quite sad, as the setting has a lot going for it.  The characters are pretty interesting, if oddly gifted with near-perfect empathy, and the plot isn’t the completely boring re-tread it easily could have been.

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