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Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolfe

Having realized that the book I bought was the second book in a series, I finished A Borrowed Man and started back up with Interlibrary Loan.

Hundreds of years in the future our civilization is shrunk down but we go on. There is advanced technology, there are robots.

And there are clones.

E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person, his personality an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human.

As such, Smithe can be loaned to other branches. Which he is. Along with two fellow reclones, a cookbook and romance writer, they are shipped to Polly’s Cove, where Smithe meets a little girl who wants to save her mother, a father who is dead but perhaps not.

And another E.A. Smithe… who definitely is.

My quick take: Interesting and thought provoking in ways but felt disjointed and confusing at the end. BTW, I also realized that don’t really enjoy mysteries where you are supposed to figure out the clues as you go or novels with layers of meaning you are supposed to peel back with multiple readings if you don’t catch them at first.

Book Review: A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe

As perhaps is appropriate, I came to read A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolf in a very roundabout way.  I decided to buy Interlibrary Loan after seeing it in the bargain area at Barnes and Noble.  I was in a bit of reading funk as far as fiction so was looking for something different to shake things up. I then found out that it was the second book in a series.  So checked out A Borrowed Man from the library.

It is perhaps a hundred years in the future, our civilization is gone, and another is in place in North America, but it retains many familiar things and structures. Although the population is now small, there is advanced technology, there are robots, and there are clones.

E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person. He is a clone who lives on a third-tier shelf in a public library, and his personality is an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human.

A wealthy patron, Colette Coldbrook, takes him from the library because he is the surviving personality of the author of Murder on Mars. A physical copy of that book was in the possession of her murdered father, and it contains an important secret, the key to immense family wealth. It is lost, and Colette is afraid of the police. She borrows Smithe to help her find the book and to find out what the secret is. And then the plot gets complicated.

I found it to be an odd book. I don’t have an history of reading Wolfe, however, so have nothing to judge it against or to give the style some context.

At some level it is just a mystery but there is the fact that the narrator is a re-clone of a murder mystery author from 100 years ago who can be checked out from the library. It has been a while since a mystery, let alone one with such a unique plot device. I think the main character’s style/voice threw me off. Perhaps I missed some symbolism and depth, but even though I felt like I found a rhythm in the second half of the story, it just didn’t really click for me.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

I’m not sure how I stumbled on The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu. I saw it on Goodreads but it also came up on an email list serve, I believe. Somehow multiple mentions pinged my brain and I decided to pick it up to see what all the fuss was about. I was able to get a copy from the library and set out to read what I hoped was the first in a promising series.

The Three-Body Problem Book Cover
The Three-Body Problem Remembrance of Earth’s Past Science Fiction Tor Books Hardback 400 pages Library

A secret military group sends signals into space in hopes of establishing contact with aliens―and succeeds.

Picking up their signal is an alien civilization on the brink of destruction who now readies to invade Earth.

News of the coming invasion divides humanity like never before. Some want to help the superior beings take over a world they see as corrupt. Others prepare to fight the invasion at all cost.

The Three Body Problem begins a ground-breaking saga of enormous scope and vision.

Quick Verdict: Alas, I was not as wowed by this as others. Perhaps because I don’t read a lot of science fiction or find complex science hurts my head.

I was mostly interested in the connection to the Cultural Revolution in China and it was this part that kept me going for most of the book. It starts right off with the brutal reality of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960’s. I wanted to see how the characters impacted by these events were involved in the story forty years later. And I enjoyed this thread.

I liked the characters, despite some awkwardness from translation and cultural differences, and the set-up of the game as connection to an alien species, but it moved a little slow in parts. Whenever it delved into the physics and science aspects, I started to tune out. I’m not what you would call a math and science guy… :-) But I did enjoy trying to figure out how it all connected to some degree.

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Now that I have an extended commute I am always on the lookout for good audiobooks. Fuzzy Nation came up on Audible at a steep discount and so I grabbed it.

In John Scalzi’s re-imagining of H. Beam Piper’s 1962 sci-fi classic Little Fuzzy, written with the full cooperation of the Piper Estate, Jack Holloway works alone for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. On the distant planet Zarathustra, Jack is content as an independent contractor for ZaraCorp, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species. Then a small furry biped – trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute – shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family.

As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the fuzzys before their existence becomes more widely known.

It turned out to be an entertaining listen. It took me a while to get used to a protagonist who is a first class jerk. But the futuristic set-up, supporting characters, and numerous plot twists kept me listening and held my interest.

I know nothing of the book this is based on and/or an update to but this is the third audiobook from Scalzi that I have enjoyed. Will Wheaton does a nice job with the narration which may or may not add to the fun depending on your opinions and/or interests.

The politics seems to me a little too easy in some ways, giant greedy corporation that doesn’t care about the environment or anyone who gets in the way of profits, lawyers as soulless tools of that corporation, wealthy jerk about to become head of said corporation, etc.

But that doesn’t really get in the way of enjoying the story. As I say, he sets up the futuristic scenario in a believable and entertaining way and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. The lead character may be a serious jerk but he is an interesting one.

Scalzi may bring me back to science fiction.

Artemis by Andy Weir

I stumbled on Artemis when searching for reading material for my Kindle.  As is so often the case, I had purchased and borrowed a number of non-fiction books but found that my appetite did not match my ability to read “serious” books; particularly when busy and stressed.

I was able to grab Artemis for three bucks and decided to dive in.  I had heard of the movie, The Martian, but not read the book. Oh, well.

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

What I liked:

  • The world building and conceptualization of life on the moon; the politics, the economics, the culture, etc.  It was entertaining to think about how this might all work.
  • And the characters were interesting as well.  Jazz and her father, her friends, coworkers, and various Artemis leaders were plausible and brought something to what is essentially a heist plot. 

Not so much:

  • Weir had a tendency to get into the technical details of things like welding and engineering a bit much; slowed the plot down at times.
  • Jazz and other character’s snarky attitude and general immaturity seemed a bit over-the-top after a while.  The one liners and sophomoric humor starts out OK but just gets old at some point.  Could be this is just not my style.

Bottom line:

All in all, it served its purpose in that it kept me entertained while not requiring much deep thought on my part.  But I have to say it didn’t make me want to run out and buy The Martian.

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