Reviews by eknapp
Weak science, but big ideas make for a very worthwhile read.
»
We are invaded in the near future by elephant-sized, telepathic starfish-like aliens who can scan every human mind within about 8 miles. Because they know every move human armies are going to make as soon as the intent manifests, the Luyten are virtually unbeatable, and over the course of a couple years they grind humanity's numbers from 8 billion to about 3.

In desperation, mankind engineers an army of Defenders: 17-feet tall, 3-legged, tactically brilliant, unsleeping, hyperaggressive giants with no serotonin in their brains to render them telepathy-proof. (The lack of serotonin also diminishes dramatically the Defenders' emotional range, making them simple in some ways. While humans adores them, the two groups have a hard time relating to one another.) The tide turns immediately, the Luyten surrender, and suddenly we're stuck with millions of giant warriors with no one to fight.

Defenders asks a lot of good questions, explores some really cool territory. What would happen next? The Defenders are as alien and terrifyingly powerful as the Luyten were. What do we owe them? Can we coexist with them? What missteps do we need to watch out for? It's all very Mary Shelley.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The tension ramps up when the Defenders demand Australia for their home, and the millions of Luyten prisoners--whom the world governments had promised safety in exchange for their surrender--for slavery and random butchery. McIntosh isn't afraid to think big.

It's not without its faults. Parts of the plot come across as simplistic. Why is Australia handed over so easily? Millions of people are willing to just uproot and move to North Dakota? Man's guarantee of safety to the Luyten MUST be sincere (they read minds!), so how could people be so easily ready to hand them over to the Defenders for execution etc? How does a third leg work, physiologically? As written it sounds like they're just glued on. If there's only one sex, what makes it "male"?

Overall it's a big win though. The bizarre Defender psychology works particularly well. Great fun.
The same as the last six times Deaver wrote it.
»
It's not that The Skin Collector is bad. It's just that Jeffrey Deaver has written the exact same book for the 7th time. Since I've read the previous six, I solved the primary mystery approximately on page 110, the secondary mystery on page 4, and the supplemental Aha-you-didn't-even-know-there-was-a-TERTIARY-mystery on page 100 or thereabouts. I knew.

Figuring it out so early isn't as satisfying as one might think, it's like seeing The Sixth Sense for the 4th time.

Minor spoilers ahead...

*Unnecessarily gruesome murders--check.
*Killer has a hobby that informs his crimes so that Deaver can show off his research prowess: stage magic/cooking/watchmaking/soldiering/oh how about tattooing!--check.
*Crime scenes almost-but-not-quite devoid of critical trace evidence--check.
*Absurdly, the serial killer targets the crime scene consultants personally--check.
*Brilliant deductions that are explained Scooby-Doo style after the heroes unexpectedly save the day--check.
*Holy shit the bad guy was someone we knew all along--yawn. I mean, check.

125 pages in but my library copy is due and un-renewable. I'm not going to bother finishing it later. Reading it six times is enough.
A solid end to a terrific trilogy.
»
Having been evicted from Fillory, Quentin takes a job teaching at Brakesbills. After blundering into Alice's niffin he gets fired and is recruited by a talking bird to help steal a suitcase full of unknown. He visits his old Brakesbills South instructor in Antarctica and makes it his mission to de-niffin Alice. Meanwhile Fillory is imploding and Eliot et al try to stop Armageddon.

Where the first two volumes basically told the world's most effed up coming of age story, volume three is tying up loose ends, albeit in dramatic fashion (Fillory's death is long and fascinating).

I find it interesting how Grossman tells an epic story about a magical world full of hidden wonders and talking animals, then he carefully strips all the grandeur out of it. The Tolkienesque sense of destiny, of deeper purpose, of something-greater-going-on isn't just missing...it's noted and then ripped out. For example:

>>>SPOILERS AHEAD

--Quentin succeeds in de-niffining Alice, but she despises him for it.
--Fillory's noble ram-gods Ember and Umber are actually selfish and cowardly when you get to know them, decidedly un-Aslan.
--When Quentin kills Ember in order to re-start Fillory, it is not a noble or heroic act, or a fulfillment of prophecy; it's just a dirty, brutal deed that arguably achieves a debatably greater good, maybe.
--When Quentin and his understudy attempt to use an ancient spell to create a new land, it turns out to be a claustrophobic shit-heap.

Nothing goes the way we've been trained to expect. And that's wonderful in its own way
Wonderful.
»
Two enemy soldiers have renounced violence, fallen in love and had a baby and pretty much every power faction in the galaxy is hunting them and their "monster" child. The story is driven by their search for safety. The child narrates from some point in the future.

With the name "Saga", I expected Vaughan's latest to be epic, sprawling, and insufferably stuffy. Over-earnest. Gone with the Wind and Star Wars and Ben Hur and the Iliad.

What I found instead is something that--while still with the potential to be epic--is accessible, sardonically funny, and ENDLESSLY creative. Magic-wielding people with all manner of horns warring against tech-wielding people with all manner of wings. A noble class of human-robot hybrids with old-fashioned tube-TVs for heads. (Vaughan uses the screens to wonderful emotive effect.) People who are just giant heads with legs, a large cat that can tell when people are lying, a sarcastic dead teenager who's a floating torso, and the kinds of orgies that you can only get by inventing stuff like this. And that's the tip of the iceberg.
Terrific, smart and thoughtful.
»
The brightest and best that the Earth have to offer are drafted into the army to wage pan-galactic war against the only known sapient extraterrestrial species. Thanks to relativity and near-light-speed travel troop transports, the helpless conscripts keep bounding forward in time. The Forever War follows one physicist/trooper across centuries of warfare and loss, waste and stupidity.

It's not poetry but it is wonderfully well-written with lots of deliciously hard science. Haldeman uses the time dilation to envision over 1000 years of social evolution from a more or less modern perspective. It's absorbing.

SPOILERS AHEAD

In the early stages of the war, it's mentioned in passing that casual sex among the male and female troops is all but mandatory. Which was jarring until I considered that within the parameters of the story, STDs were not a concern, pregnancy was impossible, and there was no stigma, no slut-shaming. Why WOULDN'T the hormone-filled not-long-for-this-world rank and file get busy at every opportunity?

A few decades later, the Earth government is pushing homosexuality HARD as a means of population control. A third of the planet is gay. Crime is at an all time high but at least straight-gay relations have never been better.

A few more centuries pass and not only is everyone gay (save the unusually long-lived protagonist and a few "uncurables") but childbirth and parenthood have been entirely replaced with laboratory "quickening" and creche government-raising. Those who can't let go of their heterosexuality are institutionalized for life, as are those who exhibit "sociopathy" by refusing to volunteer for combat when asked. The protagonist is referred to as the "old queer" by resentful subordinates and his fellow officers magnanimously allow that it's not his fault he's straight. "Besides" says one, "it's not like you're eating babies." So generous. Shades of White Man's Burden here, addressing social injustice by simply reversing it and waving it around. It's effective.

Forever War is riddled with antiwar and antimilitary sentiment; impressively, Haldeman is able to pull this off without being preachy or reductive. He just tells a smart, thoughtful story and the message shines through. Awesome book.