Trouble Is My Business

Monday, August 26, 2019

Trouble Is My Business
Raymond Chandler, 1950 (stories originally published 1934-39)

Premise: Four long short stories (not quite novellas) by the master of hard-boiled detective fiction.

Chandler and his creation Philip Marlowe are always a delight as far as I'm concerned. These stories may not be the best of the best, but they are each satisfying in turn. Marlowe gets tangled up with wealthy families with gambling debts, mysterious women, corrupt politicians, corrupt cops, and aging ex-cons.

I especially enjoyed "Goldfish," about the search for a string of valuable pearls stolen years earlier, because it was quite different in setting and characters than the others. The best one is probably the last, "Red Wind," which starts with weather and murder and spirals quickly out of control from there.

It's the tone and the style that carry you effortlessly through Chandler's work, and that talent is developing here before it comes to full flower in his brilliant novels.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

To Say Nothing of the Dog

Monday, August 19, 2019

To Say Nothing of the Dog
Connie Willis, 1998

Hugo Winner - 1999

Premise: Takes place in the same world as Doomsday Book. Time-traveling researchers are struggling to determine the historical state of a cathedral that is being reconstructed when an accidental animal rescue might risk the stability of history.

I was hopeful about this book. I liked, but didn’t love, Doomsday Book, and I had heard that this one was more fun. And it is lighter. In fact, it’s nearly insubstantial.

I understand that part of the point of the plot is that the time paradoxes make it so that the characters, in the end, have no real effect on what happens. This could still be a compelling story if the characters were worth it, but they aren’t.

The main character is boring and bland: the worst example of a stereotypically British person with no character traits other than “affable.” The love interest suffers from some unpleasantly gendered tropes, and her main character trait is that she’s obsessed with old mystery novels, to the point that she relates everything in her life to them. It makes her seem even dumber than she would seem otherwise. I couldn’t stand either character.

Despite all the talk about time paradox and historical incongruities, the plot had no weight, and I found little of it interesting. I spotted nearly all the "twists" miles away, and the ones I didn't see coming were boring.

1 Star - Didn’t Like It

A Closed and Common Orbit

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Closed and Common Orbit
Becky Chambers, 2016

Premise: An AI with an illegal amount of self-determination sets out to start a new life with the help of a technician with her own dark origin story. Sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

It’s been a while since I read the first book in this series, but this story manages to be the kind of sequel that doesn’t require you to remember much of what happened the first time around. Because of the events at the end of the previous book, these characters are more or less starting a new story and forging a new path.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, despite the fact that the plot is fairly small and subtle. The narrative jumps back and forth between two times. In the present, the AI “Sidra” is learning to live in a body and relate to organic life forms with the help of technician Pepper. In the past, we learn about Pepper’s childhood as a cloned slave and how she escaped that life.

We know from the beginning that Pepper made it through okay, and although the stakes in the present are high for Sidra, most of the conflict is emotional and often internal. Happily, that emotional conflict is well-handled and compelling. Both plotlines explore questions of identity and what constitutes a sense of self.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book