Possibly My Favorite (Real) Negative Review Ever

It’s for Old Man’s War, off the Amazon UK site:

(one star) Mixes the bland with the objectionable

Marvel at the author’s universe of sockpuppets and strawmen! Rejoice… sort of… at the least interesting nanotechnology ever! Marvel at the author’s ability to select only the least satisfying cliches to assemble his work from; gasp at his inability to explore the few interesting ideas he has, or to construct a plot that doesn’t visibly move on rails; gasp at his profound understanding of philosophy and military history (“No army ever goes to war with more the bare minimum it needs to win.” Hello? Gulf 1? The British campaign against the Mahdi?)

Sort of like a mildly fascistic and extremely cliched soft rock album: you’d actually PREFER to listen to Rammstein or white power ska because as horrible as it is at least it has soul. In a sub-genre with gems like Starship Troopers (zeig Heinlien!), David Drake’s Slammer’s books, Frezza’s Small Colonial War and Fire In A Faraway Place (pity about 911 ending his career, what with his heroes executing an almost identical plan), and the mighty and perfect Forever War, this book is uber-ultra-dispensible.

However: great cover.


And look! Here’s Rammstein!


Books Received, 10/15/07

I’m going to try to get back in the habit of noting new and upcoming books when they come into me, both to reassure publicists they’re not tumbling down a black hole here, and also to alert you folks when work from people you want to read is on the horizon. Here are a set of books I got either just before or while I was on vacation:

1. Nina Bangs, One Bite Stand — From the name of the author to the title of the book, there’s nothing here I don’t like. I’ll have to read it to see if this congenial feeling extends to the actual text. If you can’t guess from the artwork, this is a paranormal romance from Dorchester, who I believe also publishes my pal Marjorie Liu. This one drops in January ’08.

2. Matthew Hughes, The Spiral Labyrinth — I’m a fan of Hughes in part because his book Black Brillion is inextricably linked in my head with Old Man’s War, I think in part because they were released relatively close to each other in time, and both by Tor. So its existence was always pinging around in the back of my head. This is a follow-on to Hughes’ Majestrum, which came out last year; it’s available now (which is why I put that link to Amazon there, don’t you know).

3. Alex Bledsoe, The Sword-Edged Blonde — This book came up in conversation while I was on vacation, but now for the life of me I can’t remember which conversation and with whom. I think it was with Wil Wheaton, whom I finally met in person while I was out and about in California (we bonded, man), but I can’t be sure. Well, whoever it was, they were very enthusiastic about this book, and so is Publishers Weekly, which gave it a starred review and said “Bledsoe’s genre-blending first novel is both stylish and self-assured: Raymond Chandler meets Raymond E. Feist.” Now if only Bledsoe’s name first name was Raymond! This book is out now.

4. Elizabeth Moon, Moon Flights — Krissy is working her way rather enthusiastically through Moon’s “Vatta’s War” series, so I suspect this will serve as an apertif for her while she waits for the upcoming installment (which if I remember correctly hits in February). This is a short story collection which in fact includes a new story set in the Vatta’s War universe, called “Say Cheese.” My press release says it hits in Novembers, but Amazon says it’s out now. Who you going to believe? That’s right, the people who put the book in your hands.

5. Josh Conviser, Empyre — Mmmm.. I like the smell of techno-oppression in the morning. This is a follow-up to Conviser’s debut novel Echelon, which those of you who have read it will recall took your worst “the government is totally listening to your phone call” paranoia and amped it up to 11. Guess what? Here’s more! Have fun with that next phone call. Disclosure: I gave this book a blurb. Also, I’ll be interviewing Conviser when the book officially hits stores later this month (although I suspect you can probably find it now if you look hard enough).

6. Rafael Abalos, Grimpow — This young adult novel was originally published in Spanish and was enough of a success in that language (and, if I remember correctly, other languages as well) that they’ve now ported it into English. Good for Abalos. I meant to take this on vacation with me, but sadly forgot it in all the packing. I may try to catch up with it this weekend. It’s available now in hardcover, or, if you read Spanish, in paperback.

7. Peter F. Hamilton, The Dreaming Void — Just arrived today and is apparently the first in a new trilogy. I’m always amazed that other authors actually plan out trilogies or series. Because, you know. I just make crap up as I go along. Anyway, this is a hell of a beefy book, as Hamilton books seem to be; this one is 626 pages. I thought at that length they were actually required to be fantasy. I’m looking forward to this one, since I’ve not actually read any Hamilton yet; I bought Pandora’s Star when I went to Edinburgh but then I got to the airport in, God, I think New York, and coincidentally met up with fellow SF writer Diane Turnshek, who had neglected to pack a book for the flight. So I gave her Pandora’s Star. She said it was good, so at least I have that. She’s not getting this one, though. For the rest of you, this one comes out in March.

8. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia — Occasionally I’ll get stuff that’s not related to science fiction/fantasy. Here’s an example, and I’m really happy it about it, since I’m an enormous admirer of Sacks, and this book in particular has been on my radar both because I love music (I know, duh, who doesn’t) and also because I’ve been reading lots of commentary about the book in the lead-up to its publication, which is, officially, tomorrow. It’s right on the top of my non-fiction reading list. He’s also about to do a tour, which alas comes nowhere near where I am. Stupid Midwest.

9. Justina Robson, Selling Out — Also just arrived today, but I’m already inclined to think well of it because the first book in the series, Keeping it Real, was such a kick, and it’s clear Robson is having a blast with this SF/Fantasy mashup series, which features both hot cyborgs and rock and roll elf/demons, and how can you not like it when an author is having fun? Especially a good author, like Robson? I knew you would agree. This is scheduled for release on Halloween, which makes perfect sense, but is apparently available now, if you ask Amazon.

That’s what I’ve got for you today.


Lopsided Cat Restablishes Priorities

“Hello, opposable thumb thing person. Where have you been all this last week? California? Reunion? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay, opposable thumb thing person, you can shut up now. I can’t actually speak your monkey tongue language. Also I don’t care. See? This face? It’s me not caring. So cram it. Now. Shut. Up. You and your monkey tongue, I swear.

“Now is the time where you rub my belly. Because you are behind in the belly rubbing. Also in the neck and head scratching. Also back scritching. Scritching is different from scratching. You always forget. Which is why I claw you and make you bleed. You will learn. Even opposable thumb thing persons can learn. Sometimes.

“I cannot believe I am still here waiting for you to indulge me. Clearly this place you say you have been — California? — is a place where you become stupid so you do not understand any longer the purpose in your opposable thumb thing person life is to serve me and also the other cat sometimes but mostly me. I will deal with this California later. After my nap.

“But for now rub my belly. And be quick about it, opposable thumb thing person. I am behind in my rodent disembowling quota today and I cannot let that orange cat get ahead. I have things to do! So get to it, and I may not smother you in fur while you sleep. Today. Maybe.”


On the 20th Reunion of the Webb Class of 87

My high school reunion went swimmingly, thanks for asking, and to be completely honest about it I would have deeply surprised if it had not. Unlike an apparently large number of creative and/or geeky folk, I largely enjoyed my high school experience, and I suspect a lot of that had to do with the school itself. Webb is a small, private boarding school where everyone is literally in everyone else’s business; having cliques was not impossible — trust me, they existed — but it also meant that the cliques were permeable and that everyone was in more than one. If you were to do a Venn diagram of the social circles of Webb, it would have looked like someone stacked several Olympic symbols on top of each other, and then blew them up. It makes for congenial reunions 20 years down the line.

Webb being a private boarding school also meant that the reunion had a dynamic that’s a little different than most high school reunions. Despite the mobile nature of today’s society, most people still stick within throwing distance of their original homes; by contrast, since many Webb students already came from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, my class is fairly widely dispersed across the planet. We had people coming in from Ohio, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Hong Kong, England and Lebanon, among other places, doing any number of interesting and impressive things. It ends up feeling a bit like the reunion of a small college rather than of a high school.

I’ve often said to people that as far as high school reunions go, the 20th is the one that really matters. At earlier reunions people are still finding their way into the adult world, and at the later ones you find out which people have left the world entirely. At the 20th, however, everyone’s pretty much become who they were going to be. You’re irrevocably adults, you have spouses and children and status and you are you. This is one reason I was so keen on coming to this reunion: I wanted to see the people the people I had known as they were growing had become.

And I’m delighted to say that by and large the people they have become are good ones, smart and worldly without being world-weary, and nearly all of them comfortable in their own skin. My classmates are people I would want to spend time with even if I hadn’t spent four developmentally-critical years with them two decades back; I like these folks, and I’m glad to be able to say that. Again, I would have been mildly surprised if this hadn’t had been the case; I liked most of them back then, too. But the nice thing about 20 years is that people come into their own, and any lingering high school psychodrama has long since washed away (or really should have by now), and you get to see them unfiltered by your memory of who they were, or your expectations or fantasies (or nightmares) of who they might have become. You see them for themselves. By and large this is a good thing.

And personally speaking, it was fun for me to have my classmates learn about what I’m up to. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that I am doing what nearly everyone in my class expected me to be doing; pretty much the first thing that people who hadn’t seen me for a while asked me was “So, are you still writing?” Why, yes. Yes I am. Thank you kindly. People seemed genuinely pleased that I had kept up that writing habit of mine, and I was happy to discover some of them were planning books or other writing themselves. We’ll have something to talk about at the 30th.

Going to this reunion was fun but in its way also bittersweet. Not everyone who was in the class was there; I didn’t get to see everyone I’d hoped to have seen. And along with the happiness of seeing those who were there again was the knowledge that even among this particular group, this was likely to be the last time so many of us were in one place at one time. This 20th reunion was, in many of the ways that matter, the capstone of a certain time in our life; a last outpost from which we look back on youth, however you want to define it, and then move forward with debts appreciated and paid. We’re all grown up now. We are who we are.

Now, most of us will still be in contact one way or another with others of our class, of course, and will hear news through the grapevine; our class was too small and too intimate with each other for that not to happen. We will still hear about each other; we’ll still see our close friends and others in our class from time to time. There will be other reunions, large and small, planned and spontaneous. I hope to see them all again, one way or another.

For all that, for me, this is the reunion that I think matters the most. I’m glad I was there, to see old friends and celebrate the lives they have made, to remember the ones who weren’t there and to wish them well in their lives, and most of all to know again, in heart and gut and brain, that I am part of this small tribe of people who share a common bond of time and place and circumstance. Other tribes and other bonds call to me, and I celebrate them equally. But this one is special and irreplaceable. I’m proud of this tribe, of this class, and am honored to be one of them. These are my people, and I’m glad I got to see so many of them again.

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