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Stand on Zanzibar: ** (out of 4)

How did I miss this until now?

I suppose that I had at least heard of the Stand on Zanzibar in the past; after all, it won the Hugo in 1969, so I had seen it on that list a few times. But for whatever reason, I had never read it, or even considered it. Perhaps it was the relatively obscure title, or the fact that I hadn't really read anything about or by John Brunner either. I picked up a copy at the monthly Palo Alto Library book sale a while back, on the strength of that Hugo Award. And I suppose that it was a bit of a tip-off that 3-4 people spotted it on a shelf or sitting around and made a point to say "...that's a really good book."

Still, I had no idea what I was in for, and as a result I got ambushed by it.

Zanzibar is nominally a story about overpopulation that takes place circa 2010, 40 years after it was written - ie, now. The biggest pressure on the world is overpopulation, which has led to a variety of societal changes meant to relieve the pressure. Technology has run rampant, corporations are as powerful as nations, the people are ever more powerless and have begun to fight back in destructive but ineffective ways. The rise of eugenics and artificial intelligence continue to push the world in new and scary ways. And there is no sign that the world will get better before it gets far, far worse.

It took me nearly 500 pages to recognize this for what it is: cyberpunk. In 1969.

I emphasize this for one simple reason: it was probably the only one of the shocks that I can write about that doesn't spoil any of the other shocks.
There were perhaps a half dozen times during the book when I sat back and asked "how the hell did he guess that?". I'd rather not ruin these moments for others like me.

(There were another half dozen times when I was struck by connections that I had never had the opportunity to understand before; it wasn't that nobody had read the book, just that I hadn't.)

It may be that I am a bit over-enamored with this book, and that the shock will wear off. But for now, I can recommend this book to anybody that likes older science fiction for the sake of older science fiction, and probably a whole lot of others besides.


Posted Tue 24 Feb 2009 07:30:00 PM CST

Mechwarrior: Dark Ages #30 - To Ride The Chimera: ** 3/4 (out of 4)

In To Ride the Chimera completes the four-novel story of the re-creation of the Free Worlds League. This has been an interesting storyline, if for no other reason than the fact that the Battletech Universe has left the FWL comparatively alone since he beginning; and more surprisingly, I found myself actually caring by the end of it. Given that the FWL is probably the state most like the USA in the BT world, I find it interesting that it took so long to really delve into it.

It's not a perfect book; the politics are interesting and somewhat compelling (to a regular reader), but their execution seems somewhat flat and peremptory compared to the last major political chapter in the series (Pandora's Gambit). But the 'Mech battles are well-executed and novel, and the characters human, for the most part.

As a side bonus, the actions in Surrender Your Dreams are referred to again in this book. But I suppose I need to make room in every review for that one...

** 3/4

Posted Sat 08 Mar 2008 05:06:00 PM CST

Mechwarrior: Dark Ages #29 - The Last Charge: ** 1/2 (out of 4)

(I'm going to start posting reviews of the various Mechwarrior: Dark Ages novels, as I read them; I've been posting them on Amazon for a while, but that

The Last Charge is the most focussed of the MW:DA novels for a while. readily summed up in two paragraphs or so. This makes the book somewhat difficult to review without spoilers, so I'll leave it to one sentence of background:

The Marik-Stewart Commonwealth stands at the brink of destruction, as 
three overwhelming military forces (two Lyran, one Wolf) continue to 
press their already-overwhelming invasion into the former Free Worlds 

The players are fairly one-dimensional, perhaps worrisomely so, especially in light of previous novels where they were much more rounded and interesting. Anson Marik is a bully of a leader; Vedet Brewster is an overbearing, incompetent military leader; Alaric Wolf is overwhelmingly militarily competent; and so forth. And the story is one dimensional as well, telling the simple story of the fall of a few planets and some hit- and-run tactics. But they play against each other fairly well; and out of that, there is a story worth reading, at least for the Battletech fan.

** 1/2

Posted Fri 14 Dec 2007 09:03:00 PM CST

Mechwarrior: Dark Ages #28 - Fire At Will: ** 1/2 (out of 4)

(I'm going to start posting reviews of the various Mechwarrior: Dark Ages novels, as I read them; I've been posting them on Amazon for a while, but that seems less helpful than posting them to Usenet. It's going to take a while to figure out how to balance the various audiences, but I'll do my best.)

Fire At Will continues the focus of the MW:DA series on the actions surrounding the borders between the Lyran Commonwealth, the (formers) Free Worlds League, and (to a lesser extent) the Republic of the Sphere. This is a marked departure from the start of the series, which focused on the Republic alone; but this also has made for more interesting books, with more politics and wider-scale action, more along the lines of the Battletech novels published just before the MW:DA time jump.

In this case, the novel focuses on the Lyran invasion of the FWL. As we learned in Pandora's Gambit, the League is finally beginning to re-merge into a single political force once again, after decades of internal fighting; but the associated saber-rattling has offered a much-desired excuse for the Lyran government to pre-emptively invade their neighbours.

I was somewhat surprised at how well this novel fit in with its predecessor; we don't often get both sides of the same general war in such quick succession. Both the Lyrans and the various Marik factions came across as sympathetic and thoughful; only the main villains' plans (Duke Brewster) really came across as ludicrous.

I still wish it was as good as Surrender Your Dreams, Pardoe's best work to date. But this was pretty good. I didn't feel like I wasted my time...

** 1/2

Posted Mon 22 Oct 2007 09:56:00 AM CDT