Review: Grimspace

Grimspace (Sirantha Jax, #1)Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Imagine Anita Blake, but in space, written into a terrible Firefly fanfiction. That’s what Grimspace read like. The first 1/3 of the book was entertaining in the way that exploring a new world and new characters is, but I soon realized that each character was just a cardboard cutout.

Sirantha Jax, the main character is mouthy, selfish, and thinks she’s hot stuff, but there’s no actual evidence of why she’s like that. Oh, other than she was born with some special J-gene that lets her jump spaceships into some dimension called Grimspace that allows faster-than-light travel. It’s not a skill she learned through heard-earned experience, so I have no respect for her and her attitude.

Then there’s March, the love interest who’s very alpha-male, tortured soul, with a heart of gold. Boring. Their chemistry is hardly believable beyond the cliched “You just understand me like no one else does.”

The only good thing I can say is that it was a short book.

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Review: The Lifecycle of Software Objects

The Lifecycle of Software ObjectsThe Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been wanting to read something by Chiang for a while and as soon as I saw the art on the front of this book, I knew i had to read it. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver all that I wanted.

The title is both very apt and misleading. The short novel is about the life cycle of software objects, but more specifically, it’s about a set of virtual pets, called digiums, which develop artificial intelligence. Most of the book covers how people react to the newly introduced digiums and how they get used to them and eventually find them obsolete.

What bothered me about this book was that I could only read it on an intellectual level. There are human characters such as the animator and trainer of the digiums, but they didn’t feel very personal and even though each digium seemed to have their own personality, I didn’t feel emotionally attached to what happened to them. Part of it could be the way the story is told, in a third person, present tense that reads more like an impartial journal article more than a novel, but I think part of it is also a lot that was left unsaid.

The Life Cycle of Software Objects brings up a lot of philosophical questions such as at what point do you call computer intelligence artificial intelligence, and at what point do you treat AI as a human entity including giving it rights over itself. Unfortunately, those points aren’t really talked about much and there didn’t seem to be many consequences if you went one way or the other in those arguments.

The biggest thing that bothered me was how it just assumed that AI was developed through nurture, and not nature, which seems like a very big assumption to make without many claims. One could say that the whole story is an example of nurture breeding AI, but that’s like making a mathematical proof by contradiction and I’m not a big fan of that.

The ending of the book did bring up a question that will bug me for a long time, though. If we’re not just walking, massive databases — if what makes us human is the ability to learn through experience, if we produce AI that can do the same, would we give it the same rights we have?

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Review: Shards of Honour

Shards of Honour (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading through lots of recommendations, I chose Shards of Honour to introduce me to the Space Opera genre. Now that I’m done with the book, I feel confident to say that I’m a fan of the genre.

Shards of Honour has a lot of political drama, which I would normally find boring, but because the characters are so entwined and affected by the politics, I can deal with it.

Although the whole Vorkosigan saga takes place on distant planets and involves space ships and wormholes, it doesn’t feel like hard science fiction. I think part of it is because the author doesn’t get caught up with the technical details of space travel unless it’s integral to the plot.

The best thing about this novel, and this is what makes me want to read the rest of the series, is that the two main characters care about each other, but they’re not hormone-driven teenagers who make decisions through their genitals. Neither of them sacrifices their duty in the name of being together, which makes them both honorable in my eyes. The book has a fitting title.

Unfortunately, I have to knock this book down a star because of how it deals with rape. Sure, rape is inevitable in an all-out war when there are prisoners on both sides, but the author takes such a flippant attitude to it that I can’t help thinking the book is condoning it just because it’s something hard to prevent in a war. While it’s great to read a book with a strong female lead who doesn’t let her emotions towards some man get in the way of her job, the book took a huge step back in how little consequences there are regarding rape.

Overall, an enjoyable, quick read and I can tell there’s a lot of depth in the world-building and a lot of the politics side of the story is just set up for what’s to come. Writing was a bit clumsy in some parts, but I hear she gets better.

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