Monday, June 18, 2012

Book review roundup

1. Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds: The last three science fiction novels I read were all good, and all examples of very different types of stories. Doctor Who: Shada was a humorous adventure with science fiction trappings. Leviathan Wakes was a serious detective novel in a science fiction universe, but the universe felt like it was imagined in 1970. Blue Remembered Earth is for readers who like a lot of science in their science fiction - - genetic modification, virtual reality, and computer implants. The novel is about a solar system-spanning treasure hunt triggered by the death of a fabulously wealthy and eccentric relative. The plot itself is forgettable, but the characters are vivid and likable, and the technological developments described are well-imagined. Highly recommended and currently $17 at Amazon.

2. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi: About 30 years ago, a serial killer targeted couples having sex in their cars in the Italian countryside, killing the men and women, and also mutilating the women in a manner that inspired The Silence of the Lambs. At least according to this book, over the ensuing years, the Italian police investigated the murders in a transparently corrupt and incompetent manner, destroying evidence and relying on obvious liars and ludicrous theories to convict multiple unlikely suspects in order to gain promotions. Preston, an American writer, describes how he moved to Italy to write a thriller, interviewed retired reporter Spezi for background, and then became so intrigued by Spezi's description of The Monster that he decided to forget the thriller, and write about the real life investigation instead.

Sounds interesting, but the book is deeply flawed for two reasons. First, the writing is weak. None of the individual characters are brought to life, and so the cast of dozens in this book all blend together. Second, and more importantly, the authors don't come across as remotely reliable. The thesis of the book is that the Italian investigators were grossly corrupt, ready and able to convict anyone if it would further their careers. Preston and Spezi present themselves as heroic, clever, and tireless in working to find the true killer. But they just come off as bumbling overage Hardy Boys eager for adventure, pursuing dubious leads that eventually result in imprisonment for Spezi, and expulsion for Preston. The book is currently $6 at Amazon, but you're better off just exploring Wikipedia and Youtube if the topic interests you.

3. Debris by Jo Anderton: In Debris, a sorceress specializing in architecture suffers a mysterious accident that severs her connection to magic, undergoes a forcible medical procedure that essentially gives her Wolverine's metal skeleton and claws, and becomes a sort of super-powered garbage collector, collecting magical, possibly sentient, and very dangerous waste. She and her fellow garbage collectors then investigate the dangerous conspiracy that threatens them and the entire city. Not particularly original, but it's a competently told fantasy thriller with heavy romance elements and worth a $5 download at Amazon.