Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some book notes

I don't write a lot of book reviews these days, but sometimes it seems worth mentioning what I've been reading. A few notes, and one fairly in-depth review:

I recently finished Erne Lewis's An Act of Self-Defense. If you're into the "freedom fighters get their back up and take on the state ... with guns!" genre (I am), you'll like it. I had a bit of a "suspension of disbelief" problem with these particular activists taking up arms in a cause I can't personally imagine anyone getting that stirred up about (term limits), but it's still a well-told story.

I'm working my way through Hide In Light, by James Mann. I read different books in different ways, and this one seems to call for the "bite off a little bit, chew on it for awhile, come back later" approach, but I'm enjoying it as I go. The premise (without giving too much away, try "what if the next step in human evolution is something we already know about but think of as an ugly and horrifying aberration?") is interesting, and for reasons that will become obvious if you read both stories, the protagonist (Adam Winter) reminds me of Johnny "Dread" Wulgaru in Tad Williams's Otherland tetralogy. Author James Mann blogs at Truth To Power.

On deck, some non-fiction:

The Most Dangerous Superstition, by Larken Rose. Haven't read it yet, but it comes highly recommended and I expect to enjoy it given its central argument:

The belief in "authority," which includes all belief in "government," is irrational and self-contradictory; it is contrary to civilization and morality, and constitutes the most dangerous, destructive superstition that has ever existed.

The Conscience of an Anarchist, by Gary Chartier. It's exactly what it sounds like, and having seen it in early draft, I'm excited to hear that it's available for pre-order.

Finally, a novel that I just finished (through the magic of abject review copy pleading) but that you can't get in the US just yet without some kind of special ordering mojo: Ken MacLeod's The Restoration Game, published last year in the UK and coming to the US this September. Take my word for it: You want to read this book.

MacLeod's work is always good and usually fantastic, but from my point of view this is his most exciting offering since the Fall Revolution cycle (available in two two-book volumes, Fractions and Divisions), which wrapped more than a decade ago. I'm not putting down the stuff that falls between the two points, mind you, but The Restoration Game is a welcome return to form in certain respects.

It's not a return to "left-anarchists versus anarcho-capitalists in space," but it definitely hits a lot of the same lovely riffs as those parts of the Fall Revolution cycle which deal with late 20th/early 21st century geopolitics: Earnest but hardened lefties versus the US and the USSR but, like it or not, caught up in the New Great Game. From nearly every page, Myra Godwin threatens to pop up with a word of advice or a stern tradecraft/realpolitik reminder for protagonist Lucy Stone.

As always, MacLeod's science fiction chops mesh perfectly with those themes. The science fiction aspect thoroughly informs, but never overwhelms, the story. It's obvious from the beginning that he's going to drag us through Bostrom's Simulation Hypothesis, but not necessarily from which side or toward what outcome. That part hangs over the story without dragging it down, and the payoff is worth the journey.

In my opinion, MacLeod has successfully worked two novels into The Restoration Game, skillfully interweaving them so one doesn't damage the other. One novel is a fully realized John LeCarre-type (post-Smiley) political thriller. The other pulls its own weight, and then some, as speculative fiction.

Once again for emphasis: You want to read this book. If you need more detail, bordering on spoiler territory (I've tried to keep it non-specific so as not to intrude on the enjoyment), read Andy Sawyer's review at Strange Horizons. And by all means please visit and bookmark MacLeod's personal blog, The Early Days of a Better Nation.

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