Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Review: Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories by Hugh Howey

A new collection of stories, including some that have never before been seen, from the New York Times best-selling author of the Silo trilogy.

Hugh Howey is known for crafting riveting and immersive page-turners of boundless imagination, spawning millions of fans worldwide, first with his best-selling novel Wool, and then with other enthralling works such as Sand and Beacon 23. Now comes Machine Learning, an impressive collection of Howey’s science fiction and fantasy short fiction, including three stories set in the world of Wool, two never-before-published tales written exclusively for this volume, and fifteen additional stories collected here for the first time. These stories explore everything from artificial intelligence to parallel universes to video games, and each story is accompanied by an author’s note exploring the background and genesis of each story. Howey’s incisive mind makes Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories a compulsively readable and thought-provoking selection of short works—from a modern master at the top of his game.

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I have thoroughly enjoyed a number of Hugh Howey's novels, in particular the Silo series so I was really pleased to see that this collection of short stories revisited the world and the characters of that series. The three Silo stories - In the Air, In the Mountain, and In the Woods all seem to continue on from each other almost forming their own novella in and of themselves. It was good to see some familiar characters as well as some new ones (unless they weren't new and I've just forgotten about them which is possible as it's been a while since I finished the Silo series). These three stories are for those who have already read the Silo series as they contain spoilers.

This collection of stories was broken down in to sections. In addition to the Silo Stories section, we had sections (and stories) on Aliens and Alien Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, Fantasy, Algorithms of Love and Hate, Virtual Worlds and Lost and Found.

I do not generally have a good track record when it comes to short stories. Usually I approach them by reading a story here and there whilst also reading another book but on this occasion I actually read this book cover to cover. More often than not, I tend to only enjoy a few stories in collections and a lot of the time find myself left wanting when a story ends. However with this collection, I enjoyed every one of the stories. Bar one. One of the fantasy stories (Hell from the East) I actually skipped. But that's pretty good going I would say. I found myself engrossed in all the other stories and enjoyed the characters and the worlds. My favourites were Second Suicide, Glitch, The Plagiarist, Peace in Amber as well as all of the Silo stories.

Peace in Amber is set in the same world as Kurt Vonnegurt's Slaughterhouse Five. Now I'm not a fan of that book so I was a little apprehensive about the short story. I thought I'd end up skipping it. But I really liked it. It was well written. I could see similarities and the nods to the book but Howey's writing style and his ability to create worlds and interesting characters came through giving me a better experience of that world.

My favourite thing about this whole book is that Howey adds commentary on each of the stories at the end of each one. Not only does it provide some insight in to Howey's writing process, his inspirations for stories and why he writes about the subjects he does but also it gives us some idea of who is as a person and what makes him tick. As a fellow boat dweller, I love the fact he lives on a boat and is sailing around the world (at least he was when this book was being written). I found his commentary helped me understand the story better, something that on occasions I struggle with with shorter fiction. I actually enjoyed the commentary as much as the stories. I feel that more authors should commentate their short stories in this way.

I will definitely read more of his short fiction and novels in the future.

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