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The Globe and Mail’s books editor isn’t impressed by Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues. http://t.co/9gHxR1E2s7
Oblivion looks like a cool movie, but the reviews have been so-so. I’d attribute that to Tom Cruise antipathy. http://t.co/JqXMtsFLPP
Upside Down (aka Romeo and Juliet in Space) just opened, but the reviews have not been kind. http://t.co/sIMADK4kGo
It’s quickly becoming obvious that self-publishing does not have the same stigma it did in the pre-internet era. Today, technology makes it possible for anyone with talent to find an audience for their work.
While it’s possible that great work will remain obscure online because it gets lost in the noise, I think that things that are truly great will bubble up to the top and Wool is a good example.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the books are a connected series of post-apocalypse stories about people who are living in an underground silo. They’ve been there so long that no one really knows how long people have been there, why they are there or what is outside.
They cannot leave because the atmosphere outside is a toxic fog that no one can survive for more than a few minutes and only then if they are in a protective suit. The only people who do go outside are those who are exiled from the silo. They don the suits, which quickly corrode, only to die within a short walking distance of the bunker.
The wool of the title refers to the scrubbers that the exiled are given to clean the video cameras that are the eyes out on to the world for the people living inside. Over time they get grubby and the image is degraded, but the cleaning temporarily improves the view. I think the wool has a second meaning as in the the wool that is pulled over our eyes.
I say this because the central mystery of the books is “what is the silo and why are they there?” Over the course of the story, the truth is revealed, layer by tantalizing layer. In some ways, it reminds me of the classic generation ship science fiction story which has a self-contained society that has existed for a long period of time, long enough that the current residents don’t really know their origins
The five wool stories are connected, but not all the characters persist through each book. The story of the silo is told through the eyes of multiple characters and different viewpoints, but they are all linked.
What is especially appealing about these books is that they really focus on the people, their emotions and their conflicts as they try to survive in this claustrophobic environment. There’s very little in the way of technical jargon or details about this future world. It’s all about the people and they are completely sympathetic as we try to imagine our own selves in such a situation.
The first few “books” are quite short, but the third, fourth and fifth more closely resemble novel length. I’d recommend reading the first one to get a taste for it, but I have a feeling you’ll want to read them all so you might as well just go ahead and buy the omnibus edition.
>I’ve read a lot of science fiction, so when I say this is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, then that’s saying something.
Love these movie reviews by Mark Kemode. http://t.co/Xk1UWyot
Let's get one thing straight, Neal Stephenson's newest book Reamde is not a work of science fiction. If that doesn't turn you off and you still want to know more about it then read on.
If you were going to classify the book then it would probably qualify as a techno-thriller with geek appeal. Computer hacking figures prominently in the story, but not as prominently as good, old-fashioned gunplay.
The book gets its title from a typo in a readme file in a computer virus which is the maguffin that sets the entire story into motion. A fictional multiplayer online fantasy game called T'Rain which resembles World of Warcraft is targetted by Chinese hackers who infect players with their Reamde virus. The malware locks the victims' computers and in order to rid themselves of the virus, players must pay ransom to the hackers within the game's economic system. The hackers can later convert the fantasy money to real cash.
Richard Forthrast is the founder of the game and he had recently hired a niece named Zula to work for the company. She is a bit of an oddity in his straight-laced Iowan family in that she's adopted and originally an orphan from Eritrea.
She also has a bit of a douche-bag boyfriend who's a small-time hacker that has stolen some credit card numbers and ends up selling them to a man with links to the Russian mafia. It turns out the guy is also a big-time T'Rain player. That is when the troubles begin.
The guy who has just bought the credit card numbers is infected by the virus and can't extract the data for the impatient Russian mobsters. Zula and her boyfriend are forced by the Russians to help them track down the hackers .
Their adventures take them to China, the Philippines, Taiwan, remote parts of British Columbia and the American Northwest as the layers of the plot start to pile up. Not only do they have to contend with hackers, but Islamic terrorists also become involved, including a charismatic leader who is a killer, but is still a character for which the reader is partially sympathetic partially because he is fairly clever and somewhat compassionate towards Zula.
The cast of characters expands as the story progresses to include a Bulgarian and a Chinese hacker, a Russian former special forces operative, a pair of British spies, more Islamic terrorists, American survivalists and a Chinese woman from some remote tribe. What is surprising is the amount of romantic entaglements that this creates.
The characters combine, split and recombine as their actions carry them around the world until they all ultimately converge in a too-convenient series of coincidences which make sense in the internal logic of the story, but are pretty hard to believe would ever happen in real life. Of course, that's not unusual in most works of fiction, but I occasionally found myself rolling my eyes as my read the story.
If you've read Stephenson's Cryptonomicon then this book is somewhat reminiscent of that work except it doesn't jump back and forth in time and spares a lot of the obsessive detail of the geekier aspects of the story, although he does seem to show off a lot of the research he did on weapons throughout the tale.
In the end, the story is well told, the plotting is imaginative and the characters are diverse and brought to life, but it all seems very conventional compared to the kind of books that Stephenson is famous for. That will probably make him more attractive to the average book buyer and I can see how the story might attract the attention of Hollywood as they look for books to adapt to the big screen, but the hard-core Stephenson fan might feel a bit let-down.
While I enjoyed the book, I felt it was a bit too long which is pretty normal for a Stephenson book, but I felt that given the conventional nature of the book it seemed to only prolong the inevitable outcome of the story.
Despite some criticisms I might have about the story, I think that it is a solid tale and a memorable one so I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys thrillers, geekery or is just a Stephenson completist who needs to consume his entire output.