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Darwin’s Radio

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Darwin's Radio is the novel most firmly-based on modern science that I've ever read which puts forth a theory on how evolution to man may have occurred. Greg Bear's acknowledgements in the back credit conversations with numerous scientists. I was in molecular biology in grad school, and I was amazed at the advanced level of knowledge shown in this book. How can an author gain such an informed knowledge of such a difficult subject without becoming a molecular biologist himself? But Greg Bear did it, to write this book.The theory Greg Bear puts forth is not supported as "the truth" by the scientists he talked to, he says; but it is a fascinating supposition, and the scientific details are valid and the theory consistent with knowledge at the time of publication.Besides having my mind opened to a remarkable interpretation of biological science to explain how evolution may occur in leaps and bounds rather than in one tiny incremental change in some one individual at a time, I was amazed at the skill with which the author wove the science into the text so as to allow the characters who live the story to live and breath as very real and sympathetic people. There is no subverting of characterization in the interest of scientific or technological exposition, which is something that commonly turns me off in science fiction. A good book has to be about people under stress with serious problems to solve, and Darwin's Radio is certainly this! I found most of the characters to be written with great imagination and understanding of human nature.This SF novel is unique in my reading experience in its treatment of current progress in biotechnology as the means to understand the evolution of mankind rather than a poorly understood excuse for all sorts of imagined future physical enhancements. If the book has a drawback - which I have to admit it does - it is that the science is so truly a part of the book that people without any college courses in biology or genetics would probably find it difficult. My brother, an engineer but without the biology background, did. The author added a glossary to the back of the book, but it's probably not enough to make it easy to read. But there's nothing wrong in learning some actual facts while you lose yourself in this fascinating book!The novel was awarded the Nebula Award for Best Novel after it came out. I found it mind-blowing, and in my opinion this book should be recognized as one of the best ten works of science fiction of all time.
Poltergeist: Greywalker, Bk 2

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The story was too slow - not enough action. But then, I remember that some of Agatha Christie's books struck me that way, too, and they're pretty classic. This book comes across as a normal mystery, except for the visibility of the Grey. The protagonist doesn't seem to have much empathy for people, and for me, that makes her a lot less likeable. The author kept bringing mentions of a friends' child, as a diversion. But the child seems fairly obnoxious, and the protagonist doesn't react to the child in a positive way. I thought it was an undesirable distraction from the plot. This is the second book in the Greywalker series. I didn't read the first one, and I felt this book would have probably been better read only after reading the first of the series.
The Kindly Ones

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"The Kindly Ones" has its good points, but in general I found it disappointing. The author creates a world ruled by a strict moral code which is for the most part difficult for us to discern the sense of, but which has been deemed vital to survival by the world upon which it is practiced. All relations are through a system that resembles clans. Any significant violation of the code results in total ostracism, to the point the individual is considered dead and any normal communication or even recognition of existence results in the person acknowledging the "ghost" being considered dead as well. There are many such ghosts. They live amongst themselves, but their earlier life is gone. If someone is unwilling to abide by the code due to its restrictions, they can voluntarily sever their links with the clan and become para'an, which is freeing and still allows communication with all, but privileges of clan membership are terminated and one assumes a second-class status.The establishment of this sort of system doesn't seem to make sense to me, and its continuance in the context of the world described in the story doesn't make sense. In practice it would bear a heavy cost to society. Violation of the code in certain ways is the basis of the plot, but the rules that are violated seem ridiculous, especially as something to make a big deal about. The author apparently wanted to create this scenario for the plot, but didn't do a very good job of making it believable.There are three main characters in the story: a medium who is able to talk to both the ghosts and normal citizens, a space pilot from outside the system, and another pilot who is para'an. Chapters told from the viewpoint of the medium are written in the first person, and chapters from the viewpoints of either of the other two are in third person. However, I felt the characters are not sufficiently differentiated from each other for it to be easy to be clear about from whose viewpoint the story was being told, and I kept having to remind myself. The medium and the off-world space pilot were the two most important characters, and they seemed to think very much alike.The characters are shallow; one knows almost nothing of their past. They are also uniformly unemotional. They will take actions one would attribute to emotions, but the writing is so plain that one rarely feels anything in sympathy.The prose is very detailed, of the sort which describes every action the characters take in detail in an effort to place the characters in a real place. The detail is overdone, however, and I finally needed to skip paragraphs for pages at a time to find the next place the plot moves forward in order not to become too bored with the book to finish it. As one example of many, a space trip requires three pages preparing for the launch with nothing in particular happening, and then spends several more pages in the journey from planet to moon with nothing much going on. There is a little supposed suspense there avoiding space rocks, but there was obviously nothing going to happen to all the main characters so there was no real suspense.For me, the book picks up about two-thirds through in a meeting of the heads of the clans. The meeting goes poorly, and the main characters hatch a plot and put it in motion. This part is suspenseful. Then the interest drops off again. There is simply too little tension in the plot, and too much feels contrived. I don't recommend this book - spend your time elsewhere.
The Living Blood

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Part of this book were slow, and I had a hard time relating to the main character at times. On the other hand, the characters were well-drawn and the plot was unpredictable and pretty interesting outside the occasional slow parts. There was enough here to keep my interest, but I didn't think it quite "gelled." Part of the problem may have been that the prime foundation of the plot is the supposition that there is a society of immortals who live in a certain location on earth and have mostly isolated themselves from the rest of humanity for centuries (millenia?). I think the world is far too populated for any such group of immortals to remain isolated, and that makes the book seem too unbelievable to me. It quite prevented me from becoming involved and limited my enjoyment of the book. If that wouldn't bother you, then I'd encourage you to give it a try. It does have a lot else going for it.
The Light Ages

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I love the writing, i.e. use of language, in 'The Light Ages', but the plot didn't seem to go anywhere. I regret to say I got half-way through and decided it wasn't interesting enough to finish.The book puts forth an interesting idea - that if mankind has too much given to them, there is no push for discovery and so scientific development remains entirely stagnant. In this book, all things we would think of as "engineered" run from aether, a form of substance imbued with a property man can utilize to make any contraption run far better than it should. It is treated in the book as a natural resource, mined from the ground, refined, and sold at tremendous price. But because it is available, there is no effort put into science and engineering. Man has not even learned to use electricity for light! The author spends time developing the idea that magic would shackle scientific endeavors, and that portion of the story is quite interesting; but then he goes on to tell about the protagonist at an older age, and the plot becomes vague and drags on far too long without the protagonist having any goal to achieve. There is a muddy romantic side to the plot, but it is more like a young lad being rebuffed repeatedly than something that might lead to a satisfying conclusion. There is simply too little movement in the plot through the middle of the book, and so as fine as the use of language is, I ultimately don't recommend it. A good book has to be much more than polished use of English. If The Light Ages is the only book you have to read it's probably good enough to go through, but I found it better to move on to something more interesting.
Mortal Coils

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The book takes quite a while to get going. It's definitely a kids' book - around age 14-17 I'd guess - but reading as an adult, the plot is fascinating, and the characters are absolutely wonderful.
All That Lives Must Die: Book Two of the Mortal Coils Series

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This is a tremendous book! The intrigues are fascinating. The characters are so appealing! The book is written for teens, but as an adult I thoroughly enjoy it, much more than the Harry Potter books. It's going to drive me crazy waiting for the next one to come out. I probably don't finish half the books I read due to lack of interest, but this series sure keeps me coming back, for every single chapter.
Muse and Reverie

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I enjoyed Muse and Reverie, but definitely some stories more than others.My favorite story was "A Crow Girls' Christmas." The Crow Girls appear in a few of de Lint's other novels. They have been alive from the beginning of the world, but have ephemeral, almost juvenile personalities. The story gave me such a good laugh!"Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion" captivated me. About a petty rough but decent character who is especially attracted to a woman because she treats him with respect, and who then helps her rescue her greatest treasure from a 'brujo' or witch doctor. An unusual ending makes me wish there were more to the story, but it is a good resolution."Riding Shotgun" is about second chances. There are some pretty interesting twists, but somehow the story doesn't seem to have enough depth to really get through to me."That Was Radio Clash" is one more story about second chances. Not nearly as engaging as "Riding Shotgun"."The Butter Spirit's Tithe" was a darned good story. About how a guy gets in trouble with a recalcitrant creature from Celtic mythology and the lengths he has to go to in order to get his life back again. Thoroughly enjoyable."Da Slockit Light" is a Newford story that definitely holds one's interest. You don't usually think of goblins living beneath your city. This story raises the possibility."The Hour Before Dawn" is an interesting story about the dead saving the living. It seemed to lack something, though, and wound up not having much effect. But it was nice enough."Newford Spook Squad" is a detective story takeoff on Hellboy. I thought it was silly and would rather have skipped it."In Sight' - did I actually read this? I think maybe I accidentally skipped it."The World in a Box" is about a magic box. I found it slightly disappointing. Nice ending, but just not quite satisfying.Some of these stories are pretty memorable, but because of the unevenness I'm only giving it 3.5 stars. But most collections are uneven. I think it's well worth taking the time to read "A Crow Girls' Christmas", "Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion", "The Butter Spirit's Tithe", and "Da Slockit Light".
In War Times

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I should have liked this book, because I love music and science fiction. The two of them together should be like heaven. But I found that the author tries to explain music in words that don't do a good job of conjuring up the experience, and seems to try to draw parallels between jazz and other aspects of life that just don't make sense and couldn't bring in a suspension of belief. She writes explicitly in her afterward that "the physicists, chemists, and biologists of the nineteenth and twentieth centures birthed modernity and its reflection and interpretation in literature, art, and music. Our art and our science are inextricably linked." That idea is the basis of a good part of the text, but I simply don't buy it. Jazz has definite roots, and they aren't in physics or chemistry or biology. The people involved with jazz knew little or nothing of those disciplines. There is a relationship in that both areas developed contemporaneously and both probably resulted from aspects of society. Yet, creativity in music and creativity in science are fundamentally different. For one thing, musicians strive endlessly to invent something brand-new, and it need not be founded on the past. Scientists strive endlessly to learn something new, and it is always based on what's been discovered in the past. The author has an interesting idea, but it just doesn't make sense to me though the author believes it.There is a lot in the book about the development of radar which in my opinion makes good history of science but not a very interesting plot for a book of fiction. I do give the author credit for a good try, though! The author writes that her own father was involved in the development of radar, and portions of his actual written memories from the war are incorporated into the book verbatim. This had to be a great challenge to write, and was surely a work of love. Yet I think this self-imposed restriction on the content of the book hurts the narrative.I wasn't able to get into this book from either of my supposed "lightning rods" and was disappointed. Someone else who relates to music differently or who would enjoy reading the history of some real technical developments interspersed with some far-future timetravel device will have different mileage. Not my cup of tea. Perhaps the next book she writes will appeal to me more.
A Lion Among Men: Volume Three in The Wicked Years

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This is the fourth adult novel by Maguire I've read. It's the first I didn't especially like. The primary characters are Yackle and Brrr the Cowardly Lion. The two of them banter endlessly in an antagonistic fashion and that grew a little tiresome. There are many details about the life of Brrr which serve to illustrate his character. By the end of the book I began to feel I understood how his actions were consistent with his character, and that made the ending really quite perfect - he began to understand himself well enough to finally do something not fitting to his character, and so begin anew. And that is the meaningful message - none of us ever reaches a point where we can no longer bring ourselves a better future. The ending really was wonderful, but I didn't think the long road there was worth it. I nevertheless eagerly await the author's next book, having totally loved other novels he's written.
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