May 22nd, 2004


Changing planes

I got up at 0530, and it's now 1000; but of course it's 1000 in Prague, and 1300 in Tbilisi where I actually spent last night, so I've been awake for hours (though managed to nod off a bit on the first plane).

Well, the trip seems to have been a success; I will have to buy myself another copy of Ali and Nino since I gave the one I had to my boss. I may write up more details on what we were actually doing other than sightseeing, but it will be in a locked post if I ever get around to it; suffice to say that we met all three presidents, all three foreign ministers, two out of three prime ministers, and numerous other officials, activists, and diplomats, and came away understanding a lot more than I had before. Also I am now the owner of a fine carpet from the village of Shahnazarli, some Caspian Sea caviar, and a bottle of Georgian red wine and another of the lethal chacha. And, all being well, I'll be home in four hours.

And my next planned trip, to the Balkans, has been postponed from mid-June to early July, which is a relief.

May books 6) Blind Lake

6) Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson

I managed to finish three books on my recent trip and will probably finish a fourth on the last of my six flights at lunchtime today, so will be posting a few more book updates over the weekend. Blind Lake is the penultimate of the Hugo nominees that I have read - and that now includes all the short fiction, which I managed to print out and take with me. I'll do a page for my website with reviews of them all once I can bring myself to finish Humans.

I liked almost all of Blind Lake. It's about a community of research scientists in the very near future who have been able (for reasons they don't fully understand) to observe remotely a community of aliens on a planet far far away. Their research facility is suddenly isolated from the outside world, with no communication possible, and the human relationships between the researchers churn out of control. I thought it was much more successful in this regard than Chronoliths, by the same author, nominated last year. However, as with Chronoliths, I felt the ending was a bit weak and left too little explained. Kubrick barely gets away with it in 2001: A Space Odyssey and I've never read a book that managed the trick of leaving you with the sensawunda without explaining What Was really Going On.

May Books 7) Light

7) Light, by M John Harrison

I bought this some time back because it was very well reviewed by a number of people whose opinions I respect; it was on the shortlist for last year's BSFA and Clarke awards, which to me is usually a good sign, and won the James Tiptree Jr award for "gender-bending" science fiction. I didn't like it. I thought the sex was sordid, the characters unpleasant, and the plot barely comprehensible. Maybe I was just too tired from my travels, but if this is Harrison's best work I don't think I need to try again.

May Books 8) Irresistible Forces

8) Irresistible Forces, edited by Catherine Asaro

I bought this because it contains the latest installment of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga, the short story "Winterfair Gifts", about Miles Vorkosigan's wedding, so set a few months before the most recent novel of the series, Diplomatic Immunity. The book is worth it for this story alone; I've seen several reviews along the lines of "I haven't read anything else by Bujold but this was very good". Even if you have read everything else by Bujold, as I have, the story is very good.

It's just as well, because most of the other stories are crap. This is an attempt at a cross-genre anthology linking sf and romance, and I think I'll stay off the romance for now. "Skin Deep", by Deb Stover, was so dire, and the plot resolution signalled so very very far in advance, that I couldn't finish it. The only other one I felt was worthwhile was "The Trouble with Heroes" by Jo Beverly; perhaps not coincidentally, the story with the least "romance" in it. I'll look out for Beverly's work in future.