What's New Archive from 2011


Dec. 3, 2011:Link to review of The Sense of An Ending

Today, I’m posting a review of a The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barns that recently won the Booker Prize for best novel.  There seems to have been a small amount of controversy about the award because this novel is so short.  Indeed, it is surprisingly short and easy to read.  Regardless of the length, this is a powerful novel that provides a fascinating look at relationships, memories, and emotional trauma in addition to a number of head scratching mysteries.  The short length of this novel simply means that no one has an excuse to not read it.  However, if you do read it, I guarantee that you’ll need to spend some extra time thinking about the differences between what really occurred and what the first person narrator reported since the first person narrator was a highly biased participant in the events and he suffered from having serious interpersonal communication issues.  In any case, if you enjoy challenging mysteries and psychological drama, you can’t afford to miss The Sense of an Ending.  For my full review, go here.

Nov. 11, 2011:Link to Dead Girls Book Review Link to When Gravity Fails Book Review Link to A Fire Upon The Deep Book Review

One of the more anticipated new science fiction releases this fall is The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge.  Since I’ve somehow missed the works of Vinge to date, I decided I better start with the prequel to Vinge’s new novel, A Fire Upon the Deep which won the 1993 Hugo Award for best novel.  This highly praised novel more than met my expectations with a great combination of space opera and medieval alien contact adventure.  See the full review here.

I also read a couple of off the beaten path older cyberpunk novels.  When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger, provides a noir mystery that takes place in a futuristic Middle Eastern red light district.  The setting is captivating but the mystery doesn’t quite reach its full potential.  The other cyberpunk novel I read was Dead Girls by Richard Calder.  This novel mixes in a good bit of violence and horror as it contains futuristic cyber vampires which were created as the result of a bio war.  Dead Girls is not currently being published as a standalone novel but is available in a one volume trilogy.

With the Christmas season fast approaching, check out the new Alien Decals page for an inexpensive gift for your friends and family that are either partial to aliens or are want to be prepared for the coming invasion.  Does the year 2012 make you nervous?

Oct. 16, 2011:Alien Invasion Response Team

I added an Alien Decals web page where you can purchase high quality vinyl decals.  Zombie decals have been rapidly spreading, especially the "Zombie Outbreak Response Team" decals.  I think its time that people also started preparations to defend against alien invasions.  It's always nice to know who's on your team!


Sept. 21, 2011:Link to review of Black Swan GreenLink to review of Rule 34

I spent the last 2 weeks on a business trip to a small town near Dresden Germany.  With no direct flights to my destination, I found myself taking 3 flights and a rental car.  Total travel time on the way over was 23 hours while the return trip was not quite as bad at 18 hours.  With so much time on planes and in airport terminals, I was able to get a lot of reading in.  I read one complete novel on the trip over.  This was a near future science fiction novel by one of my favorite writers, Charles Stross.  The novel, Rule 34 is a fast paced police novel with engaging characters.  Rule 34 is highly entertaining and highlights some of the future criminal activities that will be spawned by the cyber world.

Next, I read one of the best coming of age novels I’ve ever read.  With Black Swan Green, David Mitchel has vaulted himself up among the top writers.  This is a heartfelt novel told by Jason Taylor, a young 13 year old boy going through the many trials and tribulations of adolescence.  To make matters even more difficult, Jason has a problem with stammering.  This places him square in the crosshairs of one of the worst bullies in school.  As Jason learns about the cruelties of life, he learns even more about himself.  Black Swan Green is a masterpiece that no one should miss.

Aug. 14, 2011:Full book review of Saturn's ChildrenFull book review of Slant

I just returned from a 2 week vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  I didn’t have any access to e-mail and only spotty cell phone coverage.  Breaking the electronic leash was nice, especially since I normally have to carry a work cell phone with me 24 hours a day.  Getting away from everything and being out in wilderness areas was wonderful!

Just in time for the last portion of summer, I have reviews of two terrific science fiction novels that I highly recommend.  Saturn’s Children is a novel from one of my favorite authors, Charles Stross, for which I didn’t have high expectations based on the description and cheesy cover art. However, this novel turned out to be the most fun novel I’ve read this summer.

Slant by Greg Bear is a bit older novel as it was published in 1997.  This is a sequel to one of my favorite novel from Bear, Queen of Angels.  With Slant, Bear created a sequel that does what most sequels don’t; it was as good as the first novel.  I think this success is due to the way the sequel goes different directions than the first novel.  It’s a new story all by itself and doesn’t rely on previous knowledge from the first novel.  For full reviews, click on the book covers.     

July 13, 2011:Link to Embassytow Book ReviewLink to Who Shot the Water Buffalo Book Review

This week I have two new reviews from recently published novels.  One is a science fiction novel that did not achieve the high rating I expected.  As I slogged my way through it, I kept thinking there was going to be a nice payoff at some point but the payoff never happened.  The other novel is an engaging first person account from the 60's Vietnam conflict which received a qualified recommendation.

Embassytown is a science fiction novel from China Miévelle who has become well known and has garnered many awards for “weird” fantasy novels.  My expectations were probably unreasonably high for Embassytown but, even so, this novel was more than just a little disappointing.  While this is a very intelligent novel with some original ideas and a lot of imagination, I can’t recommend it at all.  If you want to read a novel from China Miévelle, I would recommend sticking to his fantasy novels.

Who Shot the Water Buffalo? is a first person fictional account of a Marine helicopter pilot in the early years of the Vietnam conflict.  This is a first novel from Ken Babbs, a guy who was one of the original members of the “Merry Pranksters” with his best friend Ken Kesey.  It plunges the reader square into the absurd.  It has some terrific humor against a background of chaos and the more sobering aspects of war.  While the later parts of the novel and the ending weren’t able to sustain the initial momentum, those who are interested in novels about modern wars or military aviation will find this novel worthwhile. 

LInk to The Lathe of HeavenLink to Review of Hull Zero ThreeLink to Review of Surface Detail

June 1, 2011:

Summer is almost here and today I’m publishing reviews of three science fiction novels that will make for some good summer reading.  Two are short fast paced novels, perfectly suited for a quick summer read and one is a long novel that doesn’t seem long due to being packed full of serious action within a variety of highly immersive worlds.

First up is a recent epic action adventure novel set in the far future of the “Culture” universe created by Iain M. Banks.  “Surface Detail” clocks in at 627 pages but you don’t have to worry about this novel getting bogged down with slow sections.  Banks maintains a high pace throughout as he has included a generous amount of action scenes with some really intense violence.  In addition, Banks explores some timely ideas about Heaven and Hell in view of the approaching predictions for the end of the world as we know it.  Now that the Rapture didn’t happen on May 21 and we’ve been told that we have a 5 month respite, you’ll be happy to know that you have plenty of time to read this recommended novel.

The next novel I reviewed is Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear.  This is a lightweight science fiction novel from Bear who usually produces books with a bit more weight.  In this case, much of the novel reads more like a fantasy nightmare set in deep space.  It’s a quick high paced read with enough suspense to keep you turning the pages as fast as you can.

Lastly, I reviewed a classic science fiction novel from Ursula K.Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven.  This is a novel that was written over 40 years ago but is still as relevant today as when it was written.  It’s based on an intriguing premise, where a man finds his dreams have the power to change reality.  Within this shorter novel, Le Guin manages to pack an extraordinary amount of ideas about the possible futures of our world.  It’s a fun, thought provoking read.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and put this on the top of your list this summer.

Footfall Review on Ratracerefuge.comThe Idiot Review on Ratracerefuge.comBlindsight Review on Ratracerefuge.comApril 20, 2011:

OK, I admit it.  It’s been more than a long time since my last update.  Working a new job as part of a team starting up a new factory has taken one heck of a lot of long hours.  There hasn’t been much time left for family, much less time for pleasure reading.  However, after one year on the job and 8 months into our production ramp, things are beginning to settle down. 

Today I’m publishing 3 new reviews of the 3 novels I’ve read over the last 4 months.  I hope to increase my free time for reading quite a bit more going forward but I’m sure I won’t have as much time as I would like.

The novels I’m reviewing today cover a wide range from a fairly recent really “hard” science fiction novel to a classic Russian novel.  Interestingly enough, the main characters in these two novels had their personalities strongly shaped by the same childhood ailment, Epilepsy. 

Blindsight by Peter Watts is the best “hard” science fiction novel I’ve read in a long time and I don’t just mean in the last year when I haven’t been reading very many novels.  This is a novel with some deep ideas along with detailed science to back them up. The main character has strong symptoms of autism due to a procedure that was used to cure his Epilepsy.  He joins an elite space crew to make first contact with an alien intelligence that seems to be a complete enigma.  The crew from Earth is exceedingly diverse as exemplified by the captain who is a vampire.  I hesitate to even mention this as vampires have become so over used these days that when I hear “vampire”, the first thing that jumps to mind is “literary crapola”.  However, in this case the vampire is surprisingly original and his origin is scientifically documented.  If you enjoy science fiction with an emphasis on science and don’t mind extreme violence Blindsight is a must read.

Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is a fun romp of an epic alien invasion novel.   The aliens are great in this novel and the authors do a great job of keeping the surprises coming all the way through to the end.  The novel has a nice mixture of high drama, suspense, comedy, and plenty of action.  Footfall is highly recommended for your upcoming summer reading list.

Lastly, if you are looking for a more serious and substantial read, you should consider the classic Russian novel, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  This is a novel with a main character that is so nice and naïve that his much more worldly fellow Russian aristocrats often deride him for being an “idiot”.  It’s written in a mostly suspenseful thriller format although there are some lengthy interludes.   Dostoevsky uses this novel to explore the darker sides of high society, morals, and psychology.  The Idiot is a novel that everyone should make the effort to read.