SF Book Review, Part 13

I've fallen a bit behind in chronicling my science fiction reading of late, though a few individual reviews have slipped through. Still reading lots of books, though, so it'll be a while before I'm fully caught up. So let's get this party started:
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick - I'm not all that familiar with Dick's work, but he's famous for stories involving drugs and paranoia... things that don't particularly excite me. And yet this book, which squarely hits both targets, was really enjoyable. Perhaps because it also has some semblance of a plot, which I gather isn't always the case with Dick. The story is about a group of anti-psychics who get ambushed on the job. Some manage to escape, but find themselves embroiled in some sort of weird phenomena, with their boss appearing in weird ways (such as the face on a coin) or time moving backwards. A mysterious product/drug called Ubik seems to hold the key to solving it all. It's a little more coherent than I'm making it out to be, but still plenty of mind-fuckery to keep a Dick fan engaged. I really enjoyed this.
  • Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold - Slowly but surely exhausting the supply of Bujold books that I have not read, this one is actually a far-flung prequel to the Vorkosigan series focusing on the Quaddies - genetically engineered humans with an additional pair of arms where their legs would be. They were created specifically for work in free fall, but when someone figures out how to create artificial gravity, they become obsolete overnight. The story is mostly told from a regular human engineer named Leo Graf, who sees how the corporation is going to exploit the quaddies and helps them escape their fate. As per usual, Bujold's storytelling is fantastic and her characters warm and engaging. Some clever ideas here too, and a nice sorta heist climax that works really well. Perhaps not her finest work, but a worthwhile read for sure!
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester - A retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo... in space! The story follows Gulliver Foyle, who is marooned in space and manages to survive on his own in the wreckage. When an apparent rescue ship ignores his signals, Foyle is enraged and embarks on a maniacal quest for revenge. He's not very bright and half mad from the isolation, but he picks up many skills, escapes from jail, foils corporations, and generally acts like a jerk. It's a very interesting book, and you can see it's influence, particularly in Cyberpunk (big corporations, cybernetic body enhancement, etc...) If I'd read this earlier in life, I think it would have been more formative, but I enjoyed myself well enough reading it now...
  • Permutation City by Greg Egan - Egan is famous for very hard SF, complete with equations and lengthy discussions of complicated physics, mathematics, and biology. This book is no exception, though it is perhaps a little more accessible than other Egan books that I've read. The story covers a transition period where humans have learned how to copy themselves into a digital environment. It's not perfect, and there's lots of nagging issues with the process. The devil is in the details, and Egan has enough knowledge to flesh those details out while still making the book entertaining and fun. Along the way, you get existential theories (is a digital copy of you still you?), a lot of science, some capitalism and politics (What are the rights of digital people? If you're a digital person, how do you prevent people from destroying your hardware?) The main plot element concerns a man who thinks he can embed a whole universe into, well, I'm not really sure. He's basically embedding a digital universe in the physical world. Like, not in a computer, but just in the general world around us. It's an intriguing concept and I'm doing a really poor job describing it. Within this universe is a digital environment as well as a sorta simulation of space, complete with alien life forms that digital people can go out an meet. It's a really weird book, but intensely interesting, with tons of great ideas. Egan's characters can come off a little cold though, and the digital characters even moreso. He manages to paint a convincing picture of what digital life would be like, but it's not an entirely pretty picture. I'm betting we'll see something like this in our lifetimes... let's just hope it's a little more fun than Egan portrays it! It's a good book and a must read for any hard SF fan.
And that's all for now. I should probably review each book separately, as writing about them months later can be difficult at times. I suppose there's only one way to find out...