Jul

07

Posted by : atcampbell | On : July 7, 1998

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton

We had eight participants in the discussion of The Reality Dysfunction. This novel is the first in an epic space opera trilogy that features pioneers settling a wild planet, big mysteries from a dead civilization, dashing space captains, a princess, and ghosts. At 1200 pages spread over two volumes, it’s easily the longest book we’ve ever discussed (surpassing Stephen King’s The Stand).

Despite the book’s length, none of us had any trouble reading it. The characters, story and situations were compelling enough to keep us going. We liked the book’s many characters and plot threads — one person said “this is what space opera should be!” The characters are all distinctive and well-handled, although none are as morally pure as fans of Golden Age space opera might expect. In the

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Jun

16

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 16, 1998

How Like a God by Brenda W. Clough

We had five attendees at the discussion of How Like a God. Two regular Reading Group members had also read the book but weren’t able to attend. This book is a contemporary fantasy novel about a thirtiesh yuppie software engineer named Rob who suddenly discovers that he has the ability to read and influence the minds of others. As his powers get stronger and harder to control, he fears for his family’s safety and wanders off to search for an understanding of his powers. He makes friends with Edwin, a medical researcher who helps him explore his condition. Discovering a connection between Rob and the ancient Gilgamesh epic, Edwin and Rob travel to Asia to uncover the truth.

We all found the prose style readable and had no trouble finishing the book. It was a quick reading experience for all. The book differs from most recent fantasy books: its length is under 400 pages, there is no map, and the story concludes

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Jun

02

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 2, 1998

Endymion by Dan Simmons

Five people attended the discussion of Endymion, the third book in the “Hyperion” series. This novel, which takes places hundreds of years after events in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, follows several new characters as they explore the situations introduced in the earlier volumes. The plot is an action-packed race across the galaxy to discover deep truths about the universe, fight mythological monsters, and save a twelve year old girl from the immensely powerful Catholic Church that seeks to destroy her.

Everyone at the meeting (with the exception of one who hadn’t had time to start the novel) had found the prose readable and the story to be quite a page-turner. All who’d started the book had finished it. One regular Reading Group member who wasn’t able to attend the meeting had read the book twice. We felt that the

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May

19

Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 19, 1998

Distress by Greg Egan

Six people attended this discussion. Two other Reading Group members had read the book but weren’t able to attend the meeting, so they relayed their comments via e-mail and word-of-mouth. The subject of this month’s discussion, Distress, is a hard SF novel that follows a journalist covering a physics convention where top scientists are presenting their “Theories of Everything”.

We all liked this book quite a bit. The near-future Earth in which the story takes place was well realized, with a believable amount of “progress” from today’s world. The book is full of expository lumps as the scientists explain their theories, but Egan writes so well that it isn’t hard to digest the material. The realistic portrayal of a scientific conference is a nice change from the stereotypical “lone

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May

05

Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 5, 1998

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Six people attended the discussion of Men at Arms, a fairly recent entry in Pratchett’s long-running Discworld series. This humorous fantasy novel is a follow-up to Guards! Guards!, which we discussed last year. To confound those who like to pigeonhole books into single genres, I should mention that despite the presence of wizards and dragons, this book’s plot has strong mystery elements.

Our reactions to this book ranged from “one of my favorite all time books” to “really good — I read it twice” to “enjoyed it, but not a great thrill” to “completely boring — I couldn’t get past page 60”. Those who liked it most had read prior Discworld novels, so we surmised that some of the background gleaned

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Apr

21

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 21, 1998

Excession by Iain M. Banks

We had nine participants in the discussion of Excession, the latest “Culture” novel from Iain M. Banks. This hard-to-summarize novel includes elements of romance, political intrigue, and reader misdirection while handling such standard SF tropes as Big Dumb Objects and Artificial Intelligence.

Opinions on this book were mixed. Five of us finished the novel, and the other four didn’t find the book interesting enough to finish. All of us who’d gotten to the end had read Banks before, so we concluded that this book was a poor choice for a reader’s first Banks novel. While Excession‘s plot did not depend on plot elements from other books, familiarity with the book’s setting (“The Culture”)

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Apr

07

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 7, 1998

City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams

Ten people attended the discussion of Walter Jon Williams’s “hard fantasy” novel City on Fire, the sequel to Metropolitan. City on Fire tells the story of establishing a new government in a city-state after a political overthrow. We see these events through the eyes of Aiah, a young woman who becomes a vital part of this new government. The fantasy component of the book is setting these events in a world where a magical substance called “plasm” is treated much like any other natural resource (electricity, gas, water, etc.)

We found the book to be a compelling “page turner”, despite the prose being written in “present tense” (which led to a discussion of grammatical terms like “future perfect” and “past pluperfect”). The characterization of several characters was well done, and we particularly enjoyed the growth of Aiah from a

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Mar

17

Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 17, 1998

Expendable by James Alan Gardner

Seven folks showed up to discuss Expendable, which we found to be a real page-turner. This futuristic space adventure follows a group of planetary Explorers, who were selected for their dangerous jobs by having “unpopular” traits (bad breath, baldness, birthmarks, etc.), which would make them less missed if they were killed in the line of duty. Gardner explored the situation fully, creating a compelling story full of surprises. The characters were distinctive and well-written, and the women in our group found the female protagonist believable. The author worked wonders with misdirection, managing to keep both his main character and the readers in the dark for most of the book. We’re eagerly looking forward to his next book.

— A. T. Campbell, III

Mar

03

Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 3, 1998

The Wood Wife by Terri Windling

We had a group of eight, including three newcomers to the group, for our discussion of The Wood Wife. This novel is about a writer who moves to Arizona to research a biography of a recently-deceased poet. After meeting the poet’s eccentric circle of acquantances, she discovers that some of the poet’s inspirations were supernatural . The subject matter and tone of the book reminded many of us of the work of Charles de Lint. The eclectic cast of characters and the vivid setting made the book. Some of us found the plot predictable and that the story left several questions unanswered. Overall we felt that this book had sufficient qualities to recommend it to connoisseurs of literate modern fantasy.

— A. T. Campbell, III

Feb

17

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 17, 1998

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank Robinson

Attendees: A. T. Campbell III, Shirley Crossland, Fred Duarte., Jeff Rupley, Willie Siros, Lori Wolf

We had a good turnout for the discussion of Frank Robinson’s The Dark Beyond the Stars, the Lambda Award-winning generation ship novel. The novel’s protagonist starts the book with amnesia, and we learn with him as he slowly peels away layers of truth about the environment in which he finds himself. We thought the amnesia worked well as a narrative device, and each level of revelation turned out to be more interesting and mind-blowing than the last. This novel is a rare book that provides intellectual thrills. The ending ties together all the plot threads in a very satisfying manner. The imagery of the book is often quite striking, and the author is clever in how he re-uses images for dramatic effect. One person commented that the book was an amazingly good take on such a hoary concept, and that he’d nominated for the Hugo the year it was eligible. We all thought this book was worthy of many awards, and are disappointed that the author doesn’t have any other books in print.

— A. T. Campbell, III