Monday, July 27, 2015

Read-Along: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone, Part 2

Welcome to part two of the read-along of Max Gladstone’s Full Fathom Five!  This week’s host is Lynn of Little Lion Lynnet's, and her questions cover chapters 14-32.  Keep in mind that spoilers up through chapter 32 are fair game in the comments below! As always, feel free to join in on our goodreads group.

1) So Margot too is hoping that Izza can lead him to the Blue Lady. What do you make of his vision? Especially in relation to the nightmares that Kai is having. Do you think they're related?

I’m pretty convinced at this point that all of this is connected to the idols in the pool.  I’m a little unclear on whether Seven Alpha and the Blue Lady are the same entity, or whether Seven Alpha was created from the remains of the Blue Lady.  If the first case is true, then does that mean Izza and the other children were also benefits of her grace, and the Blue Lady died for them when Seven Alpha died?  Either way, it seems like the idol is not completely gone.  I’m wondering if this is a case where a deity is barely saved by the faith of just a few followers (Izza, Margot, Kai?).

2) Teo! Did anyone expect to see Teo? What role do you think she'll play in the rest of the story?

I was not expecting Teo!  She’s shown up twice now, so I can’t imagine it’s just a cameo.  She must have some role to play.  I’m wondering if her pilgrim status is actually just a cover, and there’s something else she’s trying to investigate in Kavekana.  She seemed very keen to see the idols, after all.

3) Kai is worried that Mara has set her up. Do you think it likely?

My guess is that Mara is in a tough spot, and she saw Kai as a potential help.  She probably wanted to get that evidence out of the mountain, and when Kai showed up she realized she had a convenient way to do just that.  It also could have been a way to get Kai to investigate without explicitly asking her (for deniability).  I don’t think she’s setting Kai up, but I do think she’s trying to use Kai while protecting herself.

4) It seems everyone is having discussions of faith with one another. That's not particularly surprising given the tenor of the books, I know, but still. How does what we've learned from Cat and Margot in these chapters affect your feelings on the idea of gods, Craft or Idols that Allie asked?

I don’t think it has really changed my preference, but idols are beginning to seem more and more like enslaved gods.  I mean, they do the same things gods do, but with no choice.  Even if the idol chose to help Margot and Izza, people will see it as Margot and Izza stealing grace.  

5) We're getting a better idea of what Penitence means for the people of Kavekana. What do you think of their idea of punishment now that you have a better idea of how it works?
Cruel and unusual? That’s my first thought.  It sounds like they are basically put through physical and mental torture until they’re at the point where they would believe anything if it would make it stop.  There has got to be a better way to rehabilitate criminals, especially since I get the impression from Izza that teenagers get tossed into those things just for petty theft or hanging with the wrong crowd.

6) Kai has built up an idea of what's going on, but what do you think happened? Did Margot really steal soul without realising it or is there something else going on?

I think Kai is mostly right, except that I suspect Seven Alpha has a conscious mind.  It seems to me like Margot did not steal soul, Seven Alpha gave him her grace.  I think Kai is missing this because she does not believe the idols have any agency of their own.

Other Things:

--Even if Margot is in trouble, I think getting her ex-boyfriend to incarcerate him with no charges is not the way to go…

--Also, it seems like things are not quite over between Kai and Claude. It seems like he’s a mistake she just can’t stop making :(.

--Kai was right, she’s a pretty dreadful salesperson. That’s another reason I’m sure Teo has an ulterior motive.

--Wouldn’t that just be awful if Makawe actually did return from the wars, but the people of Kavekana enslaved him into an idol?

--That’s pretty cool that the priests go to work on a volcano by cable car.  Kai talks about it as if it’s completely mundane, but it’s really neat when you stop to think about it.

Also check out the answers of the other participants!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)
English Publication: Tor, 2014
Series: Book 1 of the Three-Body Trilogy
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Campbell, Hugo, Locus SF and Prometheus Awards

The Book:

“Ye Wenjie lived through China’s Cultural Revolution, and the acts she witnessed have destroyed her faith in humanity.  She found political safety in a secret military project, but it was also there that she committed her ultimate act of betrayal.

Years later, the world is involved in a secret war, and some of the first casualties are scientists who have taken their own lives.  Nanomaterials engineer Wang Miao is pulled into the command center, but is initially provided with very little information about their enemies or even their methods of attack.  The truth may be found through a strange game, known as Three Body, which immerses the player in a world where the usual patterns of day and night are seemingly unpredictable and deadly.” ~Allie  

The Three Body Problem is the first book I’ve read by Cixin Liu, and I believe it is his first work translated into English.  I don’t seem to be capable of talking about The Three Body Problem without including lots of spoilers, so the review below will be full of them. If you don’t want spoilers, skip to the summary paragraph.

My Thoughts:

The Three Body Problem is an interesting take on a classic science fiction story, that of first contact with an alien civilization.  The build-up to revealing the first contact, though, makes up a large portion of the book.  Instead of focusing on the aliens themselves, the novel examines more closely the effect their existence would have on humanity.  For instance, Ye Wenjie no longer has faith in humanity, so she chooses to have faith instead in an unknown alien race.  She is not the only one who does so. While the aliens are not present, the characters are able to gain some understanding of them through the enigmatic Three Body game, which presents how life and civilization might develop in a chaotic (tri-solar) system. I enjoyed all of the scientific and philosophical discussions that arose from these ideas, and I was also intrigued by the apparent breakdown of fundamental physics that made up the central mystery of the novel.

As you might guess, the story is more idea-driven than character- or plot-driven.  There were long stretches, especially within the game, which primarily exist for the introduction and explanation of various ideas about society and physics. Even when the resolution of the novel arrives, the information is given to the characters through documents, discussion, and lecture.  The information could sometimes be a little dry, and the sense of distance I felt from the characters did not help.  The main protagonist, Wang Miao, is mostly a passive observer, existing to witness events and contemplate them.  Ye Wenjie was much more complicated, and I was shocked by some of her actions.  Even with Wenjie, though, I felt like I was watching the characters from the outside.  Still, I was sufficiently interested in the ideas presented that I was always eager to return to reading.

When the secret behind the central mystery was revealed, it was a bit of a letdown for me. While a few of the scientific ideas are pretty farfetched, I enjoyed that most of the novel seemed to have a pretty reasonable idea of the process of science. The early hints in the story led me to believe that the problem leading scientists to suicide was going to be one of fundamental science.  Instead, the story moves into a fever dream of particle physics, and the final conclusion is basically “near-omniscient, near-omnipotent beings did it”.  I was expecting an answer a little more grounded in science, and instead it felt like everything was laid at the feet of an essentially supernatural external influence. Despite this, I am curious to see where the story will go from here.

My Rating: 3.5/5

The Three Body Problem takes an interesting perspective on a familiar science fiction story, with an interesting focus on science and philosophy.  The involvement with China’s Cultural Revolution brought to life a period of Chinese history with which I am only passing familiar, and I was fascinated by the look into such a different social and political landscape. I also enjoyed the focus on physics, particularly on the attempts to solve the three body problem itself, and the way the implications of that problem were wound through the novel. Though I thought that the main characters seemed a little distant and the conclusion was somewhat disappointing, I am curious to see where the trilogy will go next.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Read-Along: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone, Part 1

I have joined a read-along of Max Gladstone’s Full Fathom Five, which starts today!  I apologize for not posting an announcement in advance, but time has gotten the better of me this week.  Anyhow, an excellent group of bloggers have been reading the Craft sequence together, the first two of which (Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise) I have reviewed here on Tethyan Books.  I’m excited to join them for the third book!  If you’d like to also join in, we have a group on goodreads, here. Since this is the kick-off post, here is the premise of the novel from goodreads:

“On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World.

When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.”

The schedule for Full Fathom Five is as follows:

Week 1: July 20 Ch 1-13 (pg 102) - Allie (Me!)
Week 2: July 27 Ch 14-32 (pg 204) - Lynn at Lynn’s Books
Week 3: August 3 Ch 33-50 (pg 302) - Heather at The Bastard Title
Week 4: August 10 Ch 50-62 (pg 382) - Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow

As you can see, I’m the host this week, and I’ve put together some questions on the first 13 chapters.  Bear in mind that spoilers up to chapter 13 are fair game in the questions and answers below.  In a couple of places, there may also be mild spoilers of Three Parts Dead, and I will try to label those for convenience. In related news, the latest Craft novel, Last First Snow, just came out on July 14th, and it is entirely possible that it will be the target of another read-along sometime soon. Now, on to the discussion!

1) Kai kicks off the story by risking her life in an attempt to save the idol Seven Alpha. Why do you think she chose to try? Do you think idols are truly non-sentient?

I feel like this is going to be an important point as we move forward in the story, but I don’t completely understand the motivation for her actions right now.  I had first thought she was worried for her friend, Mara, but it seemed like the idol’s death was going to be more of a setback than a career-ender for her. Then, I thought that maybe Kai suspected the idol of being sentient, but she was really surprised when she heard it speak.  I considered that maybe she was just confident that she would succeed, but she didn’t seem fazed by the fact that she almost died in the attempt.  Now, I’m wondering if Jace might be right, and she is engaging in risky behavior due to the pain of her breakup with Claude. It seems like it must be more than that, though.

I believe that the idols are sentient, mostly because that would make their whole industry morally questionable in a way that would be interesting for the story.  Also, I believe in Kai’s conviction that Seven Alpha did speak!

2) I think this is the first time we've seen idols, and they have their similarities and differences to gods and craftsmen. Do you think they serve a useful purpose? If you were in this world, would you prefer faith, Craft, or idols?

Of course these are connected in some ways, since Craftspeople use idols as tools. [SPOILER TPD] The idols remind me uncomfortably of Justice from Three Parts Dead, and the damaging effect that Justice had on her followers. [/SPOILER]  I can see how the idols might be necessary, since so much of their world involves contracts with deific power, and many of the deities were killed in the war.

For myself, I like the idea of Craft, but I’m not sure I would want to become a skeleton Craftswoman.  I also think the idols are vaguely creepy at this point, and I’m not sure about the ethics of making them (this depends on whether they are really sentient or not).  I am a Christian person, so I would like to think, in this fantasy world, that I would be off in some peaceful corner untouched by the Wars, keeping my faith.  

3) I found it interesting that priests/priestesses are able to change or reform their bodies in the pool, during their initiation. If it were possible, would you want to make use of this power or not?

Yes, absolutely!  I like myself in general, but there are specific flaws I have often fantasized about magically correcting (Perhaps this is a common thing for women to think about?).  For instance, as a not-so-private example, I would love to correct my nearsightedness/astigmatism.  I know there’s a surgery for that now, but it is obviously not as safe and permanent as magic would be :D.
4) A few familiar faces show up from Three Parts Dead, Cat and Ms. Kevarian! Is this how you would have expected them to be living, after the events of that novel? [SPOILERS FOR TPD ALL THROUGH ANSWER]

It was nice to see Ms. Kevarian again, though she seemed very cold.  I guess that’s more or less the norm for her, but I’m a little surprised she’s an antagonist here.  As for Cat, I am full of sadness.  I was hoping she would be able to turn her life around and master her addictions.  Instead, it looks like her new goddess was too demanding, and it was destroying her.  I hope she can get back on her feet, finally, by the end of this book.  

5) Izza is in a difficult situation; she wants to take care of the other street children, but she also wants to protect herself. What do you think of how she is attempting to meet both goals? Do you think she was right to stop leading the stories and rituals for the other children?

I think she is extremely young to have to balance her own needs and the needs of her ‘children’ like this, and I’m pretty sad about the crappy hand life has dealt her so far.  I agree with her that she needs to get off the island-- the penitents sound awful! I also think she has to realize that all her pickpocketing will not help the children for the long term. I think her heart is in the right place, at least, and I respect that she feels obligated to try to care for the people she has to leave behind.

I got the feeling that she stopped the stories because she felt that the hope they gave the younger kids was false.  She just didn’t have the strength to be their source of hope anymore.  I don’t know if I can say whether it was a good decision or not, at this point.  There’s not much the kids can do to improve their situation right now, so I think they needed the stories for comfort.

6) There is a lot that is hinted near the end of this section, with the line "Howl, Bound World" and the poet Edmond Margot. What do you think it is that ties together Seven Alpha, Kai, Izza, and Margot?

I do not know yet, but speculation is fun!  Izza and the other children followed a goddess that they said was dead, the Blue Lady.  Is it possible that this deity is somehow mostly powerless, but is not actually dead?  Then she is watching over Izza and the others, even if she can do little to help.  

When Izza is captured, something contacts Margot and begs him to help her.  That same something apparently inspires his poetry, and is responsible for the “Howl, Bound World” line.  Maybe the Blue Lady is in some way connected to the idols in the pool (who are maybe the bound souls of mostly-dead gods or something?), and she is only able to communicate with Margot for some reason.  Also, the penitents must be involved somehow, but I haven’t worked that detail out.  Anyway, this is all wild speculation, and I’m excited to get new clues in the next section!

Other Things:

--I still don’t understand what exactly happened in Glebland (politically), but it’s horrible that Izza has already suffered so much.

--Wow, Claude.  How could he think going into his ex-girlfriend’s house uninvited and waiting for her to arrive home from the hospital was a good idea?  He needs to back way off, and she needs to take his key.  On the other hand, I think he really did want to help, and just somehow didn’t realize how inappropriate that was.

--I’m not completely clear about what penitents do to their occupants, but I’m guessing it’s constant torture of some kind.  I don’t really want to find out, so I hope Margot saves Izza before anything horrible happens!

--Jace seems pretty cool.  I know Kai does not appreciate it right now, but I think that was a really good solution for what to do about her.  I especially liked his comment that a personality profile was a guideline for growth, not a list of limitations.

Other Participants: