62. Vinge, Vernor. A Fire Upon the Deep (613 p.)
63. Nourse, Alan E. The Fourth Horseman (362 p.)
November total: 975 pages
2014 YTD total: 17,107 pages
Aww, I didn't quite break 1,000 pages this month. (Actually, I did, but I'm only up to about half-way through the other book I've been reading on & off for the last six months or so, so it doesn't count towards my totals yet.) I've also started moving on from sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, & thriller books to "classic" literature and nonfiction, which take me much longer to read. (It's not that I don't like the former anymore--because I still vastly prefer those--but because I'm trying to read (almost) every book in the house at least once, and I've run out of the former and have shelves & shelves of the latter.)
A Fire Upon the Deep is the last of my recent "I'm in a bookstore with some money in my pocket" acquisitions. Friends have told me for years that I need to read Vinge in general or this one in particular, and they weren't wrong. The aliens in this story were mostly very unlike those in most science fiction stories, most notably single-mind wolfpacks (though they're actually more complex than that), intelligent plants (who reminded me of Lord Thezmothete from Phil Foglio's Buck Godot stories), and godlike A.I.s. I wasn't particularly enamored of the nature of the denoument--it felt like a deus ex machina that both covered for what basically amounted to the failure of the protagonists in one of their two quests and also pretty much screwed them over in the process of basically destroying the most universally dangerous of the primary antagonists. But other than that, I was impressed by the sheer creativity and the twists, and would still recommend it.
The Fourth Horseman is one of the scariest books I've read, despite not being at all in the horror genre, and is one of a very few books that I've borrowed multiple times from a public library. Hearing so much about ebola in the news made me want to re-read this. It's a medical/techno thriller, about a sudden epidemic of pneumonic plague in the U.S. (so, think The Andromeda Strain by way of Robin Cook, or The Stand with nearly no mysticism and half the length); the source of its scariness is that its basic setup is much less far-fetched than most people think--the plague really is present among wildlife in the western U.S., the pneumonic form of plague really can be spread human-to-human without going through fleas first, it really can kill fairly quickly if untreated, and when untreated the mortality rate is nearly 100%. (Also, most people probably don't realize that the most recent world-wide pandemic of plague--including a strain that was primarily pneumonic--lasted until 1959.) So the book's assumption of a mutated form of the bacterium that is resistant to the current antibiotics, progresses in half the time, and is more easily spread human-to-human than the normal form, while exceedingly unlikely, really is plausible. The main drawbacks of this book are the digressions into infodumps; the side stories that, while interesting, never link up to the main action in any way nor get much actual resolution of their own; and the uneven pacing that keeps lurching forward and back, trying to reach full steam ahead--and then hits it about half-way through only to lurch back to slow burn for most of the rest of the book. One element that isn't as much of a drawback as it so often is for older thrillers is the time setting--it was published in 1983, so there's no internet and no cell phones, but I think there's very little here that suffers from the inability of the protagonists to pull a phone out of their pocket and make a call or start Googling. I think the story could have used either some tightening or some expansion (or both) to spread out the infodumps, improve the build and fall of the pace, and either do more with the side stories (my preference, as I found them interesting) or get rid of them to focus on the main action. As is, I recommend it, but acknowledge that there's a reason it isn't a perennial bestseller.
Feudalism: Serf & Turf