Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Book Review: *Strata* by Terry Pratchett

Book: Strata

Author: Terry Pratchett

Goodreads rating: 3

Strata is interesting for a few reasons: 1) the proto-Discworld and prototypical Pratchett(ian?) themes and humor 2) the moral that systems and worldviews can be taken one level deeper, as the protagonist discovers at the climax of the book. It's a deep philosophical point that's fairly well hidden in a story that otherwise feels like an overlong Discworld prototype, not quite as engaging or well written that series and more direct in it's criticisms of religion and human behavior. I think it would've been better as a shorter work.

Still, even a rough version of the quirky yet identifiable characters Pratchett does so well makes for decent reading, and as a big Discworld fan, I found them to be both familiar and alien in an interesting way. Definitely worthwhile reading if otherwise exhausted Pratchett, it's still a decent book even if you're not familiar with his work, though I'd recommend one of the top Discworld books before this one both from a quality standpoint and from an, er, intertextual standpoint.

7 Books On Being More Than Human

7 books on being more than human, a reply to Zach's "5 Sci Fi Books to Read in 2013" and at his suggestion. I picked a few books that I hadn't previously recommended, distilled a theme and then added a few more. And found that I had 7 books. As Vernor Vinge cannot be denied when it comes to the technological Singularity as a plot element, I've broken my previous rule about only including each author once

Novella and short story collection. The best pieces in the collection are the title novella -- which is more existential horror -- and "All You Zombies", the ultimate time travel story.

Stross attempts the impossible and writes a story across the Singularity. It starts in the near future at a personal level with a strong hard scifi feel and gets somewhat wackier but still plausible as the story progresses and expands across the Singularity.

First book in the Illium/Olympos series. As Wikipedia notes, it 'is a form of "literary science fiction" which relies heavily on intertextuality' where allusions abound and give depth and texture to the story and world. Even without understanding many of the references, I found it to be a great story -- posthumans living as Greek gods re-enacting the Iliad, decadent humans in a quasiparadise on earth, cybernetic intelligences comptemplating Shakespeare and a wily Odysseus on odyssey tying the threads together. I really need to reread this.

Near future world in the grip of the Singularity with AIs, universal augmented reality and a hint of dystopia thrown in. Vinge is the Singularity guy. Check out Marooned in Realtime by Vinge for a different, post Singularity take set in his The Peace War universe.

A murder mystery in a world of powerful and potentially manipulating mind-readers and a perfectly rational computerized justice system.

A different take on telepathy... what constitutes an individual when people can share thoughts?

To me, the epitome of Vinge's work. A godlike, malovent AI has been dug up by humans in the outer reaches of the galaxy, where the speed of light can be exceeded. It can only be defeated by ensconing it the "Slow Zone", where physics behaves as we know it. Most of the action takes place on a medival world inhabited by Tines, pack-intelligences the recall the gestalt from More Than Human.