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2020 50 Book Challenge

FlyingMonkey

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97. Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis

I'm not sure why I picked this up other than I seemed to remember people talking about it as one of the SF novels of the year. If it is, then it really was a poor year for SF. I had no idea who the author is other than that this is a debut novel. From what I've since read she's a Transformers fan vlogger, and some people have called this Transformers fanfic but, while there are transformer-like elements to the aliens, that seems to be an accusation that comes from pre-existing animus towards the author rather than actually reading the book.

However, from the clunky title onwards, this is a weak novel without being overtly terrible. It's set in the mid-2000s, with our heroine, Cora Sabino, a drop-out from a college linguistics degree program, doing a crappy job that her mother has got for her. Her father, Nils Ortega, has left for Germany, where he is a Julian Assange-esque whistleblower and political refugee, running a Wikileaks-a-like site, 'The Broken Seal'. While he was initially provoked by the invasion of Iraq now, after a mysterious asteroid strike in California, her father now claims to have discovered evidence that the government is in contact with extraterrestrials, which seems to make Cora a magnet for her father's disciples as well as strange man in aviators driving black cars. And what's more, this all seems to involved her sister, Luciana.

Of course it turns out that Nils is right, and of course Cora turns out to be the one whom the aliens, or at least one of them code-named Ampersand, can communicate with, via some technologically enabled telepathy. The author has clearly watched Arrival (or read Ted Chiang's original 'Story of Your Life') a lot. Mysterious hand-waving advanced technology that allows improbable things to happen all the time in this book, and this is merely the first instance. The aliens themselves are biotechnological beings, reminiscent in some ways of Gwyneth Jones's far more genuinely alien Aleutians in her Universe of Things stories, and can use their bodies in some very non-biological ways (hence the Transformers fanfic accusations, I suppose). And finally the other obvious influence is Cixin Liu's Three-Body Problem sequence, from which Ellis appears to have borrowed the entire central dilemma of first contact, but without improving on it at all. Eventually, the book devolves into the usual running, chasing and fighting in the second half, which is only leavened by the frankly ridiculous YA-style 'relationship' between Cora and Ampersand, which is clearly intended to be the weighty emotional heart, if not the entire point, of the book.

I really got the feeling there were a lot of personal issues being worked out in this book, which can make for the best kind of fiction, but here it just seemed to be a lot of extraneous stuff that served to pad what is in the end a weak, derivative and unoriginal first contact story, which rather than simply being set more than a decade ago, feels dated.
 

FlyingMonkey

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A final catch-up - during November, I also read (as I said I would), the next four northern Sweden-set Rebecka Martinsson detective novels from Asa Larsson. The second one, The Blood Spilt, is really a 'take two' or reset of the first novel, with another crime involving the death of a priest with secrets, and a closed religious community, but this one is done much better, with Martinsson's character now fleshed out, although the author is still remarkably cruel to her protagonist. I've seen an interview with her in which she says she enjoys this: I don't. Martinsson's writing gets better with each of the following novels, although some of the stories are unlikely and there's very much a surplus amount of blood, and too many dogs (Larsson loves them - I'm not a dog person!).

98. The Blood Spilt
99. The Black Path

100. The Second Deadly Sin; and
101. Until Thy Wrath Be Past.

That's it for this year!
 

Journeyman

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96. The Tale of the Heike (translated by Royall Tyler).
Small world - Tyler lives in New South Wales and used to teach at the Australian National University (ANU). After he translated Genji Monogatari in the early 2000s, he came up to the University of Queensland for a visit and gave a talk to my wife's class about the translation. She said that it was a great talk and she thought his translation of Genji was very good, too.
 

Fueco

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73. Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Defecit Disorder, by Richard Louv

An absolutely necessary book for me to read right now as my kids are just starting to get old enough to enjoy more of the outdoors than just a campsite or picnic site.

This book explores the importance of outdoor play and environmental education. It also reinforced in my mind what I valued most as a child and what I value now.

I finished this one with 20 minutes to spare in 2020. I started it while camping back in July, and came back to it a couple of weeks ago.
 
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