Goldfish Stew

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Goldfish Stew

Goldfish Stew’s book reviews

Reality TV meets the space race in this story about a TV producer with a dream to make television sexy again in a not-too distant world where online experience is the new preferred entertainment.

Which puts the story on the back foot a little to begin with - the storyline is a bit laboured without a stronger reason for being. It's relatively enjoyable to read, although manages to test your endurance and interest at times.
Kind of a Philip K. Dick Lite experience - except that Dick would have taken the basic story to quite different places.

Certainly worth a look for anyone interested in modern science fiction. While lacking a bit of thought at times there are some interesting ideas in there.
This book has aged relatively well - apart from the derring do and sexual politics of the 60s looking more than a little dated. The story itself - of a misled people following a suicidal terrorist elite - fits today's environment as well as it fit the Cold War environment it was written for.
A colourful "What the?!?" experience

This is a book for those of us who think our family is weird and that our upbringing has made it hard for us to fit in. For anyone who feels disconnected and lacking in identity - meet Alan. Or is it Andrew, Adam or what? His family is not what you would call functional.

The story drifts in and out of two timelines (at one point 3) - there's the story of the present, where Alan arrives in town and tries to settle in, but is confronted by his past. Then we learn (piece by piece) of his past and his bizarre family. What Alan's kind is is never explained, but they are not human - instead a mythic-like species (with a plethora of quirks) desperately wanting to be normal.

Unfortunately it does seem to lose its way a little with the "free speech by WiFi" subplot (which was worthy of its own story - both plots lost out somewhat by being unnaturally married.) I guess this is kind of part of Doctorow's hobby horse - and given that his hobby horse allows me to download and read his books I can't exactly complain.

Doctorow is a great author. This may not be the most accessible of his novels for the Doctorow-virgin to pluck the cherry with (try Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) but it is a worthy read for anyone prepared to enjoy a bizarre fantasy where angels live in abusive relationships and a mountain can father children.
Slow start, but overall a worthy read

Star Dragon tells the tale of a mission to discover an extraordinary life form, caught momentarily on film. The idea of a colossal "Star Dragon" has the crew seeking to discover more about an improbable creature in an inhospitable environment. And that part of the story is done rather well.

What is done less well is the futuristic vision of a world where genetic engineering is done as routinely as having your haircut, and where even basic furnishings are genetically modified creatures allowing personalised environment. It added an unnecessarily grotesqueness that detracted from the rest of the story. One could suspend disbelief in the case of the existence of Star Dragons, but I couldn't stretch it to near instantaneous genetic modification and sympathetic sofas.

It took me a while to get into this book. I think the whole "genetic modification at will for fashionable purposes" had something to do with it. But I'm glad I persevered.
Unimpressive Drivel

This story of 4 space travellers with telekinetic abilities is underwhelming. Probably partly due to being a very dated look at the future, it hasn't aged as well as some contemporaries managed.

The 4 travellers - Clee, Belle, James and Lola are sent spaceward in an experimental spaceship that seemly materialises randomly at a destination. They bounce from destination to destination meeting humans at just about every stop, but also meeting guardians of the human race whose role it is to ensure breeding compatibility.

Eventually they realise they can control the space craft (telekinetically) and return to their home galaxy, where they decide that as psychically advanced beings they should give something back to the galaxy.

The characters are abominably two dimensional, and the plot simply wretched. The psychic abilities essentially give them a get out of jail free card at every juncture, thus removing any potential for tension.

It ends up like a handful of possibly reasonable plotlines tossed together and brewed in the worst possible way.
Imagine a world where government and society as we know it has gone. A place where money no longer exists - instead people trade in kudos, the amount of kudos someone has determining their status and influence. Imagine the dreams of open source communities and community driven projects (such as Mozilla or Wikipedia) stretching across society - where even businesses like Disney are taken over by adhoc communities running the park for the love of it (and the whuffie.) Where death is curable by simple backup.

Cory Doctorow invites the reader to explore such a world. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is such a story. And as surreal as it may sound, he draws you in. Murder, revenge, underhanded deeds and tiredness with the world dominate this story.

It is at the same time lighthearted and a somewhat dark reflection on life and the human condition. Take the chance and read it, you might be surprised.

Having read the earlier stories*, and watched their general demise I decided to give this installment the benefit of the doubt and read it.

The result was underwhelming. With the help of a "time field" the heroes now have unlimited potential and their infallible ability to come up with far-fetched solutions and inventions, moving from theoretical mathematics to extraordinary space ship in a matter of hours.

The result is totally unsatisfying. One generally expects that the good guys will prevail, but typically hopes that they will do so without the aid of a perpetual literary get out of jail free card. Under attack from an advanced race of aliens? Simple, switch on the time field allowing yourself a week to invent a newer better space ship to fight back. It is little more than an assault on the intellect of the reader.

I don't know if there's a fourth book in the series. I don't much care either.

* For those of you playing at home, the series begins with The Black Star Passes, continues in The Islands of Space and it would appear concludes with this tale.


I nearly gave up on this one on the first page after some truly shaky prose. I'm glad I didn't.

Space Prison is a story of exile. A race of humans inadequate to be kept as slaves are left by their captors to perish on an barren and harsh planet. As they die from fever, animal attacks, starvation and sheer stress all that is left to keep the remnant going is the desire for an impossible revenge.

The characterisation isn't strong, but given that the tale spans several generations it doesn't need to be. If this story was written today it would probably be 3 or 4 books, each telling the tale of a generation in extra detail. But it loses very little as an epic story packed into a shortish book.

A great scifi story.
This story is a continuation from "The Black Star Passes" - but is even weaker than the first installments. It is reduced to a tale of 3 shallow heros (of the 1930's vintage) galavanting through space.