great SF books

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Re: great SF books

Post by mudd »

snowcrash over neuromancer? not in a million years.

neuromancer is a first novel, and that shows here and there, but it's seminal science fiction of its era and an excellent book.

snow crash is fine and all, a little too much boyhood fantasy and the ending is a fizzle.

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Re: great SF books

Post by schiksalgemeinschaft »

mudd wrote:snowcrash over neuromancer? not in a million years.

neuromancer is a first novel, and that shows here and there, but it's seminal science fiction of its era and an excellent book.

snow crash is fine and all, a little too much boyhood fantasy and the ending is a fizzle.

m
I agree that's it's seminal, I just thought the story was boring and the prose was unnecessarily obtuse.

Snow Crash wasn't boring, in part because it appealed to the boy in me, yes. The ending could have been better, true.

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Re: great SF books

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Read a bunch since my last post:


DIAMOND DOGS, TURQUOISE DAYS - Alastair Reynolds (2003)

This book contains 2 novellas, loosely connected.

Diamond Dogs (130 pages) is the most "gothic" story I've read of Reynolds so far. It is about a sort of cross between the Shrike (of Hyperion-fame) and the Cube (of movie-fame), visited by steampunkish Frankensteinian humans. It feels a bit like an exercise to write a Cube-like story (intriguing mysterious structure filled with traps) and amounts mainly to the protagonists going from chamber to chamber. It's okay, but nothing compared to Reynolds' longer fiction. (3/5)

Turquoise Days (100 pages) is a lot better than the first story. It's about a colony doing research on the Pattern Jugglers, massive databases made of alien biomass floating in oceans on distant planets. Their peacefull existence is disturbed by the impending arrival of an Ultra ship. (3.5/5)

This collection is okay: fun and quickly read, but definitely not a good place to start your exploration of Alastair Reynolds' amazing other work. My advice: start with Revelation Space, and if that clicks, you'll end up reading this anyway.


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BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED - Joe Abercrombie (2008) (fantasy, not SF)

As you can guess from my review of The Blade Itself, I thought the first book of the trilogy was okay. Just okay. I was eager to read the second installment though, since the story held some promise. Sadly, the series took a turn for the worse... This book only fully fueled my smoldering impression of the fact that Abercrombie is a bad writer.

Before The Are Hanged is filled with unnecessary repetition. Really, it's filled to the brim with things repeating: characters discussing stuff that is already clear to the reader because it was shown in the narrative 2 pages before that, characters repeating each other's words in lifeless dialogue, descriptions with 3 times more or less the same adjectives, et cetera, etc., and so forth.

It's also filled with clichés. One might call them tropes, sure, sounds fancy, but there's not enough meat on the bone to say Abercrombie does something interesting with them. On top of that, the language is bland, unimaginative and clichéd as well... E.g. "Never in his life had West seen such an evil-looking man" after which follows a typical description of some brute. I never felt this utter evilness as a reader though. Or how about this: "The cell beyond was tiny, windowless, the ceiling almost to low to stand. The heat was crushing, the stench appalling."? Sure, prison cells are probably unavoidable in fantasy, but the part from which these sentences was lifted didn't convey claustrophobia or fear at all. Just a yawn. Just like this did: "Everywhere there were abandoned houses, empty doorways and windows gazing sadly out into the rutted squares." Sadly? What is this, an attempt a lyrical prose by a teenager?

The only mildly interesting character of the first book, the torturer Glokta, sadly doesn't deliver anymore in this volume. The rendering of his ironical thoughts in a cursive typefont just becomes a tiresome gimmick. It's never much more than irony 101. Creepy? Unusual? Morally complicated? Nah. Just a cripple turned cynic with nothing left to loose.

The best thing in this book is the quote by Heinrich Heine in the title pages. ("We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged."). I didn't come across any sentence or part of the storyline that lives up to the atmosphere this sets.

I finished about 300 of the 580 pages and I quit. I don't have time for cheapness. Too much else to read. I won't be reading Last Argument of Kings, nor any other book of Abercrombie. I'm going to read volume two of The Long Price Quartet instead, and be truly uplifted.


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THE TIME MACHINE - H.G. Wells (1895)

This novella (95 pages in a pocket edition) deals with a future world the outline of which is mainly based on flaky ideas about evolution. It must have been highly, highly original in its time, but over a century later there is not very much to amuse a 21st century reader.

The prose is still readable, albeit a bit wooden, but the story is rather thin and the evolution of mankind that is being sketched is totally unbelievable to the eyes of any contemporary sociology or biology scholar. Also, it is based on a GIANT plothole: if the Eloi became complacent and dumb because of a lack of danger & strife, what's up with the danger of the Morlocks hunting them?

One minor sidenote: also the physics don't add up: the time machine supposedly doesn't move in the 3 dimensions of space, only in the time dimension, but that disregards the fact that Earth rotates, and that our solar systems moves around in space. By that logic, the machine should've ended up somewhere in or near our solar system's vacuum.

Of course, those interested in the history of SF should definitely read it. Others, not so much.


----


A BETRAYAL IN WINTER - Daniel Abraham (2007)

For once this is a book of which the raving back cover blurbs are all true.

"There is much to love in the Long Price Quartet. It's epic in scope, but character-centered. The setting is unique yet utterly believable. The storytelling is smooth, careful, and - best of all - unpredictable." (Patrick Rothfuss)


"To call Daniel Abraham an exciting new author is to wildly understate the case. His entire Long Price Quartet is utterly original and incredibly seductive". (Connie Willis)

"A Betrayal in Winter is exactly the kind of book I love: dynamic characters, sharp plotting, and an original, thoughtfull take on magic. Abraham knows what he's doing." (Brandon Sanderso)


...all that, and the fact this book is highly emotional too, at times. And that it's actually a much, much better story about gender than Ancillary Justice or The Left Hand of Darkness, set against a Shakespearian tale of intrigue, love, family and power. And, as in the first book, that this one also comes to an elegant finish of it's own.

If you haven't, read A Shadow In Summer first. I'm pretty sure you'll feel compelled to read the entire Long Price Quartet. Absolutely mandatory.

5/5
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Re: great SF books

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FAHRENHEIT 451 - Ray Bradbury (1953)

Not a story, but a sermon

There are many quibbles to be had with this book, but - aside from the ludicrous, unbelievable backstory - its most important problem is that it tries too hard to convey a MESSAGE, and as such undermines the message it tries to sell: that imagination and independent thinking are important. Bradbury, however, doesn't leave things to imagination and force-feeds his warnings about the importance of literature and beauty, and the dangers of mindless consumerism to the reader. In trying to warn against a thought police, he tries to police my mind a bit too much.

Books about books are usually boring, gloating even, as is most meta-art. Explicitly political books are usually boring too, as is most openly political art, since in most art like that, the art serves the message, and not the other way around. Sadly, Fahrenheit 451 falls in both categories, it's meta and explicitly political, and doesn't escape the pitfalls of either category. The only real merit this book has is Bradbury's prose, which is often beautiful, and kept me reading the 150-ish pages.

The book is extremely elitist in its projections about mass culture and humanity in general. Consider this telling sentence from an English professor, a character that serves as a mentor to the protagonist: "The things you're looking for [truth, beauty, etc.], Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book." An average chap??

It's understandable this has become a classic: it's easy, and a fast read, yet it conveys a seemingly 'deep' truth about how books and their readers are special, and as such makes the uncritical reader feel special.

2/5


------


RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA - Arthur C. Clarke (1973)

As some other review pointed out, this is a bit of a mystery story. But, as a reader you can't really participate in unraveling the mystery, you just have to follow Clarke's lead. It's an interesting world at first, with a real sense of wonder, but after about 150 pages it begins to drag, just because there's no real story here, no character development, etc., just one short chapter after another of exploring the big mysterious cilinder. So after a while, the book's narrative shallowness starts to hinder the pleasure of exploring. The stale writing doesn't help either. It does pick up pace a bit for the final 5th of the novel, but ultimatly doesn't deliver, with a disappointing ending. Clarke is not a straight out horrible writer though: Rama is filled with some original, well thought out things, and the meetings of a council on Earth, monitoring the discovery, is a clever narrative device, that helps further the story with exposition that doesn't feel forced at all.

Rendezvous is only 250 pages in a pocket edition, and since it's a linear story without any complexity, it's a quick read. As this is apparently one of the prime examples of a book about a Big Dumb Object, it's a pretty interesting, non-demanding read for those interested in the history of SF. It's also a better book than that other classic BDO-story, Ringworld, and a lot more hard SF too. Still, I have to recommend Bank's Excession for a hell of a lot more exciting BDO-book, with real characters, a thrilling story, grit, humor, and vivid writing. It just goes to show how relative winning 5 awards is.

3/5


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HOUSE OF SUNS - Alastair Reynolds (2008)

This might be one of my favorite stand alone SF books I've ever read. I was already a big fan of Reynolds' Revelation Space trilogy, and this book proves all the more what a fantastic author he is, also when he limits himself to just 500 pages.

It's set in a different universe than the RS-books, and broadly deals with 6 million year old human characters defending their line of explorers against extinction. The book has everything: a good mystery, a love story, a great chase sequence, good action, a possible mole, a whodunnit, a sense of wonder, and even a snippet of well done fantasy in a virtual reality sub-plotline. It also has some of the greatest robot characters I've come across.

What this book does very well is tell a great story, without focussing too much on the science or technology. A lot of it is implied, without it being as hard SF as Revelation Space was. That's what you get when you tell a story with 6-million year characters: they've seen it all, and the science & technology is just like breathing air for them: for them, everything is normal as can be, dealing with all purpose nano-machines in a tube, or state of the art neural uplinks to ships with full on AI, and the book succeeds really well in translating that feeling of naturalness, without all the exposition it needs in lets say a Banks' Culture novel, or even Reynolds' own RS trilogy.

Another plus is the prose: Reynolds really writes elegantly here, with some gripping, beautiful metaphors from time to time. The construction of the story is that of a writer at the height of his powers too: well done, without being being a construction for the sake of itself. There are no real lose ends, and everything ties together neatly.

House of Suns starts of a bit slow, but about 60-70 pages the book turns into a genuine page turner. It's a good place to start if you haven't read any Reynolds, and has the benefit of being a relatively short stand alone book: you don't need to invest reading 1500 pages to get to the thrilling, moving conclusion. I'm not sure if I like this more than the entire RS-trilogy, but it sure is one of my favorite SF books none the less.

Some argue Reynolds touches on a lot in this book, but doesn't work out everything. But there's no need for that, in this story. It's partly what I like about it: the book is painted on very broad canvas in a way, but still just features one, comprensive, well-done scene. I definitely hope he'll someday write another book set in the same universe: there's enough intersting hints at other stuff in the story's universe that would merit other novels of their own, or even a sequel to this story.

How this didn't get nominated for more awards than it did is beyond me.

5/5
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Re: great SF books

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ANNIHILATION - Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

This book doesn't really deliver. The premise is interesting, but it's hardly used to develop something other than mood, the only thing we get is verdant breadcrumbs. There isn't much of story, hardly any character development, and surely no characters I cared for, because of very shallow characterization.

It's a book filled with gimmicks and seemingly neat ideas for the sake of neat ideas (e.g. the expedition is filled with only women, but nothing of that fact is explored, the characters easily could have been men).

Some have written VanderMeer writes lyrical prose. I can see where they are coming from, and the prose is not bad, but adjectives like bloated, ponderous or vague spring to mind just as easily as 'lyrical'.

Annihilation is only 190 pages in a pocketish edition. It doesn't amount to much. I have the feeling volume 2 and 3 won't add a lot, and some surfing on the web indeed confirmed they don't really answer any questions at all.

So, it's mainly an atmosphere novel, brooding for the sake of brooding, mysterious for the sake of mystery. Lots of nature descriptions, strange sticky slime, hallucinations & hypnosis, bioluminescent fungi, a lot of insinuations and internal monologue, gothic writing in moss, maybe a military experiment caused an ecological disaster, feral boars, etc. Not a lot of originality. Dreamlike stuff, it has been done a thousand times, and a lot better too. On a surface level, this book is about the weird and the odd. Sadly, there aren't any other levels.

Some have argued the trilogy is about that what can't be known (and the inherently mysterious nature of reality), and there sure are explicit hints of that near the end of this first book, yet I didn't have the feeling I was lyrically elevated to new epistemological spheres, nor did I gain intuitive insights on meta-truths about knowledge. Conclusion: style over substance.

Beats me why this is classified as SF, btw. Oh yes, right, Area X might have been caused by something alien. Or not. Who cares?


------


THE MARTIAN - Andy Weir (2014)

This is a thrilling book indeed, and it basically delivers what all the praise it's been getting promises: real SF, plausible, funny at times, an outright page-turner. If that appeals to you - and why wouldn't it? - do not hesitate: read this book. It's good stuff.

After about a page or 50, I started to fear that The Martian would be nothing but journal entries that follow a fixed pattern: astronaut encounters problem on Mars, thinks about problem, solves problem, encounters new problem, repeat ad nauseam. Weir luckily is a smart enough author, and in order to keep the reader interested, inserts enough variety in the way he tells this story (which basically is indeed not much more than said succesion of problem solving).

2 other minor problems didn't get a real fix, imo. Weir doesn't really succeed in transferring feelings of loneliness or despair to the reader. While this book seems very, very plausible science wise, I'm not sure if any person (not even selected and highly trained astronauts) would remain as sane as Mark Watney does. So, don't start reading this expecting a very wrought out psychological story. That doesn't mean Mark Watney isn't a great, lovable character. He is, and he's a big part of the appeal of The Martian.

The other thing that doesn't work is the portrayal of time. Obviously Watney is stuck on Mars for quite some time, but to me, as a reader, it just felt like a month or 2.

On both accounts, Weir chose entertainment over true realism. Nothing wrong with that, but it keeps The Martian from being a Real True Masterwork of Art about the Bleakness of Space and the Ultimateness of Reality.

Still, my two quibbles shouldn't keep you from reading this book. It's recommended indeed, and I had real trouble putting it away before it was finished. I hope it wasn't a one shot affair, and look forward to read more of Andy Weir in the future.

4/5


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AN AUTUMN WAR - Daniel Abraham (2008)

One of the better books I've ever read, and probably the best of the series so far. Surprising, emotional, compassionate, deep, character driven, moving, and highly, utterly original. As the title suggests, this time the focus is on war, and as such it is again a totally different book than the previous two, again with a story that concludes itself nicely in this volume itself.

And again, Abraham's prose is gorgeous: so clear and seemingly easy, yet gems of beautiful images and razor sharp observations are spread throughout.

Don't dwell on it, go read it. Of course, start with book one of the quartet, nowadays only available in print in Shadow and Betrayal, a single volume combining the first two books of the Long Price.

5/5

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Re: great SF books

Post by mudd »

i'm glad you're doing these reviews. kind of a funny thing, though, i disagree with your assessments of almost all the books i've read. to an uncanny degree.

looking forward to more.

m

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Re: great SF books

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mudd wrote:i'm glad you're doing these reviews. kind of a funny thing, though, i disagree with your assessments of almost all the books i've read. to an uncanny degree.

looking forward to more.

m
thanks! aside from regular differences in taste between people, maybe we read SF for a different reason? for me good old fashioned escapism (of the boyish kind indeed) plays a big part in my enjoyment.

I've started reading SF only a couple of years ago, maybe that plays a role too. I can imagine being older and reading Neuromancer nearer to its publication date makes a big difference. Between my 20-30 I didn't read any fiction whatsoever (those 10 years I only read non-fiction and some poetry), and it was Stephenson's Anathem that turned me into a fiction reader again. After that Banks and the Dune and Foundation-sagas. Now I'm working myself through some classics and newer stuff I think I'll like, and a bit of fantasy too.


Here are some older reviews of books that didn't click with me. I'm guessing you haven't read them, but that you wouldn't like them either...


THE REALITY DISFUNCTION - Peter Hamilton (1996)

I really wanted to like this, since I like Space Opera on a grand scale and a vast canvas (e.g. Banks & Reynolds). This however, felt bad for 2 reasons.

First, Hamilton is no stylist: the book suffers from a terrible use of language. Hard to read, wrought sentences, tons of exposition, cheapo images ("if the ship would have had lungs, it would have sighed"), tedious descriptions of things that don't matter, etc. (This is not a standalone novel, so there's 3000 pages of that in the entire series?)

A bad writing style would have been something that I could have overcome, but then the content has to be good. As you might have guessed, this wasn't the case either, and that's the second problem of 'The Reality Dysfunction'. While the first chapter still held some promise, the second chapter is a description of the evolution of life on a moon surrouding some planet, but on top of the bad writing, it features factual mistakes (it boldly claims that all first life everywhere in the universe are algae - and this is classifies as hard SF?) and yet pretends to be knowledgeable by heaps and heaps of pseudo-scientific English.

Also, to make things even worse, said life on this moon evolves to be sentient slugs that store their memories "chemically" into seeds eaten by their offspring (that become instantly sentient because of that eating). Then, due to very extreme weather (energy storms, the works) every 9 years (because of 4-moon-allignment) the slugs, by the energy lightning, are transformed into transcendent, immaterial life forms, floating into space without a body, on a path to further colonize the entire universe. What? The book is full of very elaborate, highly artifcial ideas like this, that might seem original at first, but fall flat when you look through the pseudo-scientific prose and think about it for 2 seconds.

Furthermore, to illustrate the level of the 'depth' of social analysis that Hamilton displays, here's a conversation between a ship mind and a organic newborn:

"But you said there are lots of different religions; how can there be many gods? There can't be more than one Creator, surely? That's a contradicton.

A good point. Several of the largest wars Earth has known have been fought over this issue. All religions claim theirs is the true faith. In actuality, any religion is dependent solely on the strength of conviction in its followers."


Really? 1996, and we're not past stuff like that? Okay, this ship is talking to a child, but do we as readers have to be bored with this? Or is Hamilton writing for teenagers?

To be honest, I didn't finish it. One might argue I shouldn't rate it since I didn't read it fully. Then again: if a writer can't hook me after about 100 pages, and even manages to irritate me about every other page of those first 100 pages, I believe I have the right to say I think it's bad. I've cut my losses, since I rather spend my time with a book that doesn't feel forced. Avoid.


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THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS - Patrick Rothfuss (2014)

I am a huge fan of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear, yet I was disappointed by this 150-page novella. I knew it wasn't a regular book of the series, and from Patrick's blog I gathered that this was going to be a poetic novella that doesn't have action or a clear story, but, I did hope the book would deliver something more than it actually does. People new to Rothfuss definitely shouldn't start with The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

First things first, this book is beautifully written. Rothfuss' mastery of language and imagery really shines through, and actually is the only thing that kept me reading, since otherwise, the book is boring. Atmospheric, dreamlike, a bit mysterious, yes, but still boring. I struggled to finish it, and if it would have been longer, I wouldn't have.

One could say due to the nature of Auri's character that it's more of a children's story, but children too would struggle, since the vocabulary is often too difficult for a kid, and the story lacks a clear focus. The illustrations, the abundance of very short sentences and the use of repetition nevertheless all enhance the feeling that this is a childern's book (that isn't a children's book).

The thing is: Auri is a bit of a OCD-nutjob, understandably, living secluded in the Underthing. Like an interior decorator, she thinks objects and rooms have a kind of personality and that there is "a way of things". That might very well be the case, but after about 40 pages of that, you get it. Nothing much is added, it are 150-pages dabbling in that same theme. There's no character development. Nothing emotional happens. No interesting psychological insights. Not even new insights in the fictional world Kvothe inhabits (except its name).

Approach this as a dreamlike prose-poem, an exercise in poetic form from an otherwise great storytelling author, and it might give you some merit, but don't expect too much from that direction too, since, well, it's not really a poem either.

It's different and special, yes, but not different and special enough for my likings. It sits somewhere in between, and, well, that's not the right place for things...

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Re: great SF books

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currently watching Fargo and not reading much, here are some older reviews:


ABSOLUTION GAP - Alastair Reynolds (2005)

Absolution Gap, the third and final book of the Revelation Space-trilogy, is a stunning conclusion to a stunning series. This is SF at its best: big ideas, highly imaginative, exciting, and even poetic at times. It's filled with interesting characters. And the book is a page turner as well. It might have been a bit shorter, but not much. Most of its 695 pages are worth every word printed on them, and the attention to detail pays off.

While the first book focused on Ultras (augmented humans living on trade ships, lonely between the stars), and the second book on Conjoiners (hyperevolved humans living a hive-like society, not lonely at all), this book has a bit of everything, including a surprising role for the Pattern Jugglers (an alien race that looks like sea weed) and a pig bred for its organs. The connections I formed with some of the recurring cast also made this the most emotional part of the series. Star of this book is the Nostalgia for Infinity, the ship that also played a role in the previous books, and in a way turns out to be the main character of the entire series.

As a testimony to Reynolds' abilities, the 3 books are very different, in a way: they are not just one long novel split in 3 parts, but they tell 3 distinct stories, that succeed eachother logically and chronologically. While the end of the first book felt a bit rushed at times, the ending to the series is breathtaking, action packed and thrilling, yet it remains focussed on the characters themselves - the Big Conclusion to the battle with the Inhibitors takes second place, as an afterthought. I applaud that decision.

What Reynolds manages to do exceptionally well is build a believable story of us humans being among the stars in a few centuries, very realistic yet totally weird and fantastic at the same time, with science that checks out, but weird and fantastic too.

On top of all that, Reynolds' language is often beautiful in this book, using well chosen, original metaphors.

Fans of Banks, Herbert and Stephenson should not hesitate, and start to read 'Revelation Space', the first book. As a series, this is the best SF I have read in a long time. As a book, this probably is the best of the trilogy. I can't wait to start reading Reynolds' other books set in the same universe, and beyond.

4.5/5


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THE FALL OF HYPERION - Dan Simmons


While the first book, Hyperion, can be considered as a thrilling collection of short stories, this book feels contrived and boring, written without much attention to style. And while the worldbuilding in the first book was definitely interesting, nothing much is added here.

Almost none of the characters are interesting or have real development. In the first book, this wasn't really a problem, since it were just short stories in a larger frame, but in this book, things get an even more shallow & caricatural vibe. Yet a drunken poet or a tormented priest (a Jesuit, of course!) that ponders the decline of his religion aren't that interesting for plotbuilding. (On a sidenote, Dune had the Orange Chatlolic Bible and Zensufism, Hyperion has Zen Catholicism. That's just theft imo, not hommage.)

What's worse than lacking character development, is that things are repeated & explained ad nauseam. Even after more than 100 pages in the book, stuff from the first book is repeated unnecessarily, adding nothing. A sentence like "Gladstone thought about Sol Weintraub and his wife Sarai and their beautiful twenty-six-year-old-daughter, returning from a year of archeological discovery on Hyperion with no discovery except the Shrike's curse, the Merlin sickness." is exemplary. There's nothing new in this sentence, which wouldn't have been a problem if it would have been well written, or contained nice imagery, or a worthwile thought, etc. No, all we get is a vapid adjective like "beautiful"...

The book also suffers from pseudo-philosophical insights and a heavy handed poetic theme. I am a big lover of poetry, but the entire John Keats things feels forced, and again, actually adds nothing to the story. It's just a whim of the author, taking up too much page time. This sentence from the epilogue: "I learned that poets aren't God, but if there is a god ... or anything approaching a God ... he's a poet. And a failed one at that." illustrates the problem perfectly: Simmons tries to be a philosopher, but miserably fails at it, since all we get is bland and broken aforisms.

Certain parts of the plot are unbelievable as well, or just don't add up. A main character dreams what other characters are experiencing light years away, which does get some quick justification involving an AI core, etc., but it actually boils down to magic. None of the (human, scientific) characters seem to mind. It's not believable SF. This is just a small example, but there are problems with the general plot as well, logic, etc.

How this tedious book won the Locus and the BSFA and ends up in all kinds of lists is beyond me. Sure, there are interesting bits and pieces scattered throughout, and it has some highly imaginative SF ideas, but it lacked overall tension and suffered big time from all the problems listed above.

A journalist of the Washinton Post wrote "Matches and perhaps even surpasses Isaac Asimov", and someone of the NYT wrote "bears comparision with Foundation and Dune". Of course, the publishing company didn't hesitate to put such high praise on the back cover. All things considered, they are insults to both Dune and Asimov's Foundation.


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SURFACE DETAIL - Iain M. Banks (2010)

It's simple: if you like Culture novels, you'll like this one. It's not the best Culture novel - that's Excession - but it's still excellent.

If you don't know the Culture novels, don't start here: start with The Player of Games, and work your way up in the order they've been released. Banks is a giant, and his highly imaginative Culture series is one of the best things that ever happened to SciFi, and his premature death one of the worst.

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Re: great SF books

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Just finished the fourth and last part of the stunning debut series of Daniel Abraham. Abraham (together with Ty Franck) also writes SF under the name of James S. A. Corey, most notably The Expanse series, but I haven't read those yet.


THE PRICE OF SPRING - Daniel Abraham (2009)

When I ended this book my cheeks were moist with tears, and my lips formed a broad smile. It is one of the faces of happiness I take most delight in, and it is rare. The series as a whole is among the best things I've ever read.

The Price Of Spring takes off slowly, and feels a bit like an afterthought to the impressive ending of the third book at first. But after about 100 pages, it picks up speed and becomes a page turner too. More importantly, the true magnitude of Abraham's power as an author becomes clear. The series is stunningly well conceived, and the full weight of plot lines started in A Shadow in Summer start to reveal itself. There are no loose ends and it turns out that nothing in the books is superfluous. Yet, it doesn't feel forced at all. One of the main qualities of this series is that it feels so natural and so balanced that one forgets one is reading something artificial, a construct by an author. This goes for the plot, and it goes for the prose too. Both the language and the deeply moving story about humanity this giant set of words convey, couldn't resonate more with the reality of life and the order of things.

The series spans the life of Otah Machi, and as such has it all: the energy, hope and folly of youth, the contemplation, regret and peace of old age, and everything in between. It is very much a story about human characters, and not about gods or immortal mages. It is deeply moving, and yet as exciting as any other great adventure tale set in a fantastical world. Its canvas is big enough, so that the story about friendship and family is not a mere miniature, but something fleshed out, given depth and perspective by the politics and history around it. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes nations to bring great characters truly to life.

For me, the greatest quality of The Long Price Quartet is that is has no pretension whatsoever. It does not try to show off, nor tries to preach. It is not heavy handed, nor overshadowed by something other than itself. And while magicians are called poets in the books, it is not meta literature. The messages it conveys are old, simple and humble ones. It doesn't need some showy narrative device, it doesn't try to be different or new, it's not centered around some gimmick or one neat idea. The books of the Long Price are about love and life. Please, give them a try.

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Re: great SF books

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BABEL-17 --- Samuel R. Delany (1966)

Babel-17 failed to connect with me. I felt this classic is way past it sell by date. Since it's mainly a book about ideas, the ideas must remain fresh and crisp for a 21st century reader to enjoy it. Sadly, this isn't the case. The most focussed on ideas in the book are about the nature of language. Even when reading it in 1966, I doubt that someone with a fairly basic knowledge of language philosophy could have enjoyed this. It's not so much the matter that the famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been discredited to some degree, but it's simply just the general sloppiness of the ideas and little tidbits about language Babel-17 tries to force feed you. I'll briefly illustrate that with 2 examples... Delany writes about a language that can describe a very big and complicated power plant fully, to pretty small details (colors of the wall, mechanics, lay-out, etc.) in just 9 (nine!) short words, even though the culture that speaks this language beforehand has never even encountered a power plant. As a character with a keen mind says in the novel: "That's impossible." The prodigy main character, a thelepatic uberpolyglot poet, just dismisses this with a very short explanation, and simply states it is just a matter of the right vocabulary. Yeah, right. No, it is downright impossible, and any serious language philosopher would have told you in the sixties too. There's nothing speculative about claiming something else, it's just bad reasoning. Delany further also devotes pages and pages about a language without the word "I". Sure, thinking in (only) this language would probably influence one's self consciousness. Yet, Delany then goes on to claim such people wouldn't have any will or incentive to escape a dangerous situation or be free, would know no fear, etc. Again, any behavioral scientist (or about anybody else with a right mind) in the 60ies would claim otherwise. I'm guessing ants or lizards have no word for "I", yet still try to scuttle off when in danger. Yet a character thinking in this language does try to escape a prison and (I'll just stop here.)

All this maybe wouldn't be a problem if just about the entire narrative of the book wouldn't depend on the content of the above examples and others like it, but alas, it does.

A lot of the other, science fictionesque ideas (those not about language) are ill conceived too. Who would possibly want to have real, sharp metal spurs implanted on their wrists? Think about it for a second: do the benefits outweigh the practicalities of such a gimmick when sleeping or generally not being in battle? The book is full of stuff like that. Cringeworthy.

The characters are cardboard. Full stop.

On top of all that, Delany tries to be literary. So, it's not only a SF book about language (how meta!), it's an artistic book too (how deep!). But again, it's just feeble attempts. There's a full chapter (that is just 1 page long!) with only broken syntax, there's bad poetry at the start of every chapter, there's a chapter with a minor lay-out experiment, etc. Other writers did stuff like that decades earlier, with more impact, and above all: out of internal necessity, because their books needed it to advance the story.

This book probably has merit for those that read with an historical eye, but contemporary readers only looking for a good, entertaining read better stay away: even the action and the adventure story isn't captivating.

And oh, there's the giant infodump in the last 10 pages that explains just about everything that was in the previous 180. So maybe just read that, and save yourself some time.

Concluding, as jwharris wrote on the Worlds Without End's forum: "these older books for the most part are poorly written compared to modern science fiction. (...) Often these old novels have some neat ideas, but the storytelling is crap." In Babel-17, even the ideas aren't that neat, often feel forced, not fully fleshed out or simply wrong. Most of the time they are even unnecessary and not used in a meaningful way.

Final verdict: embellishments + half-baked substance = shiny turd.

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Re: great SF books

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2312 --- Kim Stanly Robinson (2012)

As an excellent review on Worlds Without End hinted at, the heart of this novel is a love affair with the universe itself... People that haven't lost their sense of wonder and amazement at the splendor of existence, and who also like to learn and discover as much as they can about the vast reality we live in, will find a lot to rejoice in this breathtaking and brave book.

That plentitude is one of 2312's strengths. It covers a very broad spectrum, and people with a keen interest in non-fiction will see that Robinson has incorporated lots and lots of stuff from various scholarly domains. It was a boisterous, joyous feast of recognition that broadened my horizon at the same time.

As every more or less enlightened person nowadays thinks in the wake of Darwin, Robinson is a writer of evolution as well, and his bold speculations of how things might evolve in the near future is depressing and hopeful at the same time. As such, 2312 is a very realistic, hard SF book, and utterly mindblowing at that.

Robinson has found a really interesting narrative voice, funny at times, revealing things at the right time, switching between 3 main different modes, without it ever being confusing. The way the novel is structured elegantly solves the info dump problem. While it drags a wee bit around the halfway mark, and it suffers a bit from too much description at times, generally, it's a fast paced book.

2312 sometimes reads as a giant, original 540-page summary of other contemporary SF, as it touches upon so many themes. It feels a bit like the true Hard SF variant of Bank's utopianism, as if we were witnessing the very early stages of the birth of a human Culture, confined to this solar system. And what Reynolds did for the realistic, lonely portrayal of interstellar space travel, Robinson does for the portrayal of life on the other planets, moons and asteroids of this solar system. I'm interested if Stephenson will equal this in his upcoming Seveneves - a book with a similar setting, albeit in a much further future.

This was the first book of Robinson I've read. I guess most of his other stuff will end up on my TBR-pile, so there you have it.

One more thing... Over the course of a small week, this book made me look up at the sun, the clouds and the sky multiple times, and made me deeply appreciate our biosphere, not really for the first time, but this time with a new sense of wonder and awe - we are actually walking and living on the surface of a planet, without space suits at all.

Highly recommended, especially for fans of Hard SF.

4.5/5

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Re: great SF books

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Finished this collection of award winning, highly praised stories...


STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS --- Ted Chiang (2002)

This collection of stories is highly polished, and certainly shows the author's skill to compose short stories - at the same time, it's all fairly standard composition: Chiang surprises you in the story when you expect to be surprised. So, polished, yes, but sterile too. Moreover, there's hardly any interesting characterization.

Yet the real reason this collection won't be read anymore 50 years from now, when the hype has passed, is that Chiang is first and foremost a writer of artificial ideas and philosophical concepts, not of stories. This became obvious fairly quickly when reading this book, and the author's 'story notes' at the end confirmed it. Basing art on ideas is not necessarily a bad thing, as most literature starts with an idea or a message an author has or wants to convey. The problem is that Chiang doesn't try to hide his ideas, but leaves them out in the open, glaringly obvious. Nothing is left to the reader's own mental devices. A story shouldn't be a treatise nor a sermon. I am of the firm conviction that most Great Literature uses ideas as an invisible base on which to build a plot, not as the explicit surface level message. It's the difference between a Book that makes you think, and a book that tells you what to think.

My thoughts on the individual stories:

The first two stories (Tower of Babylon, 29 pages and Understand, 40pp.) have a great build up, but both suffer from a disappointing ending. One is left with the feeling: "did I read all these good pages to arrive to this?" Tower of Babylon is not a science fiction story at all, for those who would care. All and all, after these 2, I was curious and eager to read more.

Devision by Zero (20pp.), is well constructed, but ultimelty unbelievable. Its mathematical premisses is preposterous, and if it were like it is described in the story, and nobody - including other well respected mathematicians - would find a fault in the proof of a humongously important mathematical claim, it would cause a giant stir in science/math land. Yet nothing like that even happens, it reads like nobody seems to care. To make things worse, it also features a mistake, and that's not a good thing for a story that relies so much on theory. If one could prove 1=2, math itself wouldn't become just empirical, as the main character says & regrets, but the opposite: it would become something non-emperical. By the way, this is only an SF story in the way Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is, not so much.

The fourth tale, Story of Your Life (60pp.), may hold something of interest for those uninitiated in Linguistics 101. But everybody with a bit of basic knowledge about language and writing systems won't find much here, except their old course books disguised as a story. Moreover, the main premises (which is spoiled on the back of the book, so forgive me doing the same here) - that a human can predicted the future because she learned an alien language - is again preposterous. The fact that Chiang tries to sell it to the reader via some half baked science and philosophy makes it even worse. Don't try to write hard science if you are actually writing magic. There's also an emotional side to the story, that deals with grief for a dead child, but the heavy handedness of the linguistics and the unbelievable premise get in the way of actually conveying emotions.

Seventy-Two Letters (50pp.), starts of with a spectacular first scene. It is not an SF story, but something in the realm of magical realism. Finally, I thought - this must be the stuff all those high praise reviews rave about. It quickly becomes boring though, filled with lifeless dialogue, and a story of which the plot is more the result of 2 thought experiments (what if golems have been real, and something else) instead of the want to write about a succession of interesting events and/or character development. At this point in the book, I began to sense this is more or less Chiang's standard way to approach writing.

Next up is The Evolution of Human Science, not even 3 full pages long. It's a sketch of a few ideas in the form of a fictional scientific magazine article, no story.

Hell is the absence of God (32pp.) features the same trick as Tower of Babylon and Seventy-Two Letters: what if X were real? As this time the X are angels, this too is no SF at all. It's a good story, but again the ending is mildly disappointing. And again I have the feeling Chiang wants to drive something home, more than to tell a story.

The final piece, Liking What You See: a documentary (38pp.) is the worst of the entire collection. Chiang introduces the concept of 'lookism' (cf. sexism, racism,...) and a pill that disables one to see people's beauty, and lets an array of characters ponder about that in diary fragments and the likes. This alternative, 'clever' narrative structure disguises the fact that this is again no story, but a tedious homily filled with clichés about beauty and its place in human society.

---

This is the sort of book that makes some readers feel special because they get all the tidbits of science and philosophical stuff that's mentioned, and at the same time appreciate the author's smooth chiseled way with words. So, popular award stuff for sure, all the more since it seems deep & serious, but ultimatly goes down easily, because it's shallow in essence, having only one level. Undeniably, Chiang has heaps of skill. But he needs to stop trying to come across as a 'sharp', multi-disciplinarian intellectual with a soft touch, and write some real goddamned stories.

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Re: great SF books

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Just finished the first book of The Expanse-series. It's soon to be televised btw, and I think it will work well on screen. James S. A. Corey is the shared pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck for when they engage in SF writing.


LEVIATHAN WAKES --- James S.A. Corey (2011)

Excellent science fiction needs two things: a great story and great ideas. Leviathan Wakes doesn't offer much of both.

The universe it portrays feels small and not fully fleshed out - the only science that is tackled more or less thoroughy is g-acceleration, and it's mentioned ad nauseam. The world building is just a vague backdrop to the action. There's hardly anything original in the book - even the horror aspects are routine.

The story is okay, but generic too, and drags in the beginning: it takes about half of the 561 pages to become engaging. It's a fast, uncomplicated read nonetheless, but still, it should have been trimmed down at least 100 pages - I found myself skimming multiple times over a couple of pages because they didn't advance the story nor offered any else that was interesting. The two main characters are rather clichéd and all other characters are just functional sides. It generally lacks depth.

The io9.com-quote on the cover nailed it: it's a book equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster. If that sounds up your alley, give this book a try. But if you're short on time, and want your mind truly engaged by a book in a similar setting, read 2312 instead.

As a big fan of Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet, I had high hopes for this book... I hoped that what I gathered from reviews - not to expect a lot of originality or refinement - would prove untrue. It didn't. So, is this lack compensated for enough by other good stuff, like thrills, fun and general coolness? Not much. Leviathan Wakes is just run-of-the-mill space opera. It's entertaining most of the time, but nothing more. I suppose I'll read book 2, but if the quality doesn't improve, I'm probably out after that.

3/5
Last edited by schiksalgemeinschaft on Tue Jun 23, 2015 3:19 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: great SF books

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HUNTERS OF DUNE --- Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert (2006)


It has been 2 years (almost to the day) since I finished the final Dune book Frank Herbert wrote. I consider the series as a whole to be the greatest thing ever written, and think books 5 and 6 are actually the best of the lot. Not surprisingly, I was interested in how the story ends. Written about 20 years after the release of Chapterhouse Dune, this book continues the saga, as the first half of what should have been Dune 7.

Obviously it's not nearly as good as the original series. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson wrote two books of about 550 pages each, based on a 30 page outline Frank Herbert left.

The main negative remark about this first sequel is that it should have been about half its length, since this book has a lot of repetition. Heaps of it. It's a much read criticism, and it's very much true. The first 100 or so pages are not much more than a recap of the previous books, and in the new story lines there's lots and lots of repeating too. On the other hand, this makes for an easy, fast read: occasionally skimming paragraphs or pages isn't a big deal at all. Since most stuff is explained multiple times, it's okay to miss a beat.

Another point of criticism is the fact that some of the characters behave as if they're pretty dumb. A couple of times they find obvious solutions to a problem only years and years after we as a reader saw that already. This is partly due to the writers stretching out the story, but should have been edited out. It's annoying, since it deals a minor blow to the suspension of disbelief.

Finally, part of The New York Times-quote on the Wikipedia-page on Hunters of Dune is spot on: "by the end of Hunters, [Herbert and Anderson] have done little more than set the table for Sandworms of Dune."

So... yes... as expected, this is Dune Light.

BUT, caveats aside, I must admit... I liked it very much, simply because it just felt really good to be back in the Dune-universe, as if meeting old, beloved acquaintances again after a long time. The work that Frank Herbert has done is so amazing that even a derivative of it still is entertaining and mildly interesting.

I'm looking forward to read Sandworms of Dune in a couple of weeks, so that - in a couple of months or years - I can finally start to reread the original Dunes aware of the full scope Frank Herbert had envisioned. I'm not interested in reading any of the prequels, nor any of those other books in what has become the franchise at all, but people who were in awe of Dune 1-6 should give Hunters of Dune at least a try.

3/5


---------

And 2 other, older reviews of sequels (prequels actually) of another classic series:


PRELUDE TO FOUNCATION --- Isaac Asimov (1988)

This is a prequel to the Foundation trilogy, which in itself was followed by Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth. Those two sequels aren't as good as the first 3 books, but they are much better than this one. Even though it is a prequel, I do not advise on reading it first. It might damage one's opinion of the entire series, or even cause uninterest in the "real" trilogy, which would be a dying shame.

Prelude to Foundation is, however, a quick and at times fun read, and has a good ending, so for anybody who has read and enjoyed the first 3 (or 5) books, it's a nice addition to the series. But it is not much more: taken on its own it's rather bland, especially the middel part, so please: don't start here, just read everything in order of publication.

The first 3 books of the Foundation series are a true monument of SF, with wild ideas, a vast and breathtaking scope and a really interesting story. This book has none of that: it is basically Hari Seldon visiting four different sectors (with a different culture) of Trantor, in order to learn something from those cultures so he can work out the basics of his psychohistory. This starting up of psychohistory is sketchy at best, and there's not that much to be learned about it you didn't already know if you've read the rest. Seldon gets in some trouble, there's some fighting, there's some political scheming, and again there's a link with the robot novels (as in the 2 sequels), etc., but nothing like the plot of the Trilogy.

I hope the final book, a sequel to this story (and so a prequel to the others as well), is a lot better...

3/5


---

FORWARD THE FOUNDATION --- Isaac Asimov (1993)

Somewhat better than the previous book ('Prelude to the Foundation'), this book might be of interest to Foundation completionists, but it lacks the scope, depth and vision of the Trilogy, and it also lacks the interesting story the 4th and the 5th novels still had.

This is just Hari Seldon working on psychohistory on Trantor, setting up the Foundations, etc.. At least it isn't as predictable structurewise as 'Prelude...'. There's not really that much of interest to learn, and as always, Asimov is not a good stylist, nor a writer of vivid dialogue.

The text on the backcover is hyperbole: this is no "crowning achievement" nor a "stunning testament". I feel Asimov had better not succumbed to his readers' pressure, and should have ended the series after 'Foundation and Earth'. The 2 prequels feel forced, but this is the finer of the 2, for what that's worth.

Still, since it's only about 400 pages in pocket format, and not a dense read at all, completing the series isn't a big investment timewise. Just don't start reading because you fear you might "miss" something if you don't...

3/5

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Re: great SF books

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2 short reviews today. First up, I just finished this fantasy novel, worth checking out if fantasy is your thing:


RANGE OF GHOSTS --- Elizabeth Bear (2012)

This is an excellent book, albeit the fact that it suffers heavily from the fact that it is the first in a trilogy: it's not self-contained and it takes a long time to get used to all the names and politics of the world - there's hardly any infodump in Range of Ghosts, and that's the way I like it.

Bear creates a fascinating, original fantasy world set in something resembling the steppes, deserts and mountain ranges of Eurazia after the death of Genghis Khan. It's heavily inspired by this period and setting - names and geography clearly intend to reference the human reality, and there's a lot of attention to realistic details about horses and the likes - but Bear very much does her own thing with. It's not an historical novel at all, a lot is added and at times Range of Ghosts almost has a mythological feel to it.
Although the book is only 330 pages long, it's not a quick read: there's the names etc. I mentioned, but also the strangely lucid, beautiful prose of Bear, that needs a careful reading to appreciate.

The characters are interesting, but generally rather flat, since not that much happens to them in this first volume, that builds up slowly. So, the scene is wonderfully set, and obviously I'm eager to start in the next installment of The Eternal Sky-trilogy.

4/5

---------

And an older review of the 2nd book of the trilogy that got my hooked on Reynolds...


REDEMPTION ARK --- Alastair Reynolds (2002)

This is gold. It's better than the first book in the Revelation Space-trilogy, and that was gold too. Redemption Ark is more high-paced. It's full of rich ideas and has some great characters, and this time focusses more on Conjoiner society (humans that evolved into a Borg-like hivemind) in a storyline that continues the threat of the Inhibitors.

This book has the best chase scene I've ever read (or seen on a screen for that matter), it lasts for several chapters, and it's between 2 starships traveling just below the speed of light.

What Reynolds manages to do so well is actually convey what interstellar travel and battle would mean for humans that haven't invented faster-than-light-travel. This is true hard SF.

The conclusion to this trilogy is sitting on my shelves, but I'm first going to read a few other books, just to savour the moment. I just don't want this story to end. Luckily there are a few other books set in the same universe.

4.5/5

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Re: great SF books

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Finished 2 books this week... + one older review


SLAUTHERHOUSE - FIVE --- Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

First thing first: although it's featured in quite some SF-lists, this is no science fiction book. It's a book about human life, war and the non-existence of free will. The time travel elements are a metaphorical narrative device to convey a sense of being mentally disoriented, among other things. The science fiction elements are metaphorical as well, and the book explicitly talks about SF in that regard. So, I would rather qualify this book as a novel in the grotesque tradition. All this doesn't mean a SF fan shouldn't read this short, quick book, because, well, you should. Slaughterhouse - Five is brilliant. It remains very fresh & crisp, it's creative, poetic and captivating, contains highly imaginative imagery, and makes very, very sharp and deep observations about, well, a lot of things.

Vonnegut manages to both convey feelings of dread, meaninglessness and cynicism, and at the same time keep up the wonderous joy of life via a healthy dose of absurdism and lightheartedness. While the book certainly has a message and Vonnegut is very open about his viewpoints, he doesn't fall in the trap of making his Dresden book a moral sermon. It doesn't try to be serious, it just presents things as they are. In that way, it had the same feel as the 3 war books from the 40ies and early 50ies by famous Belgian writer and Nobelprice contender Louis Paul Boon - masterpieces as well (all three translated in English as My Little War, Chapel Road and Summer in Termuren).

Let me end with a quote by one of the book's aliens, describing their literature to the protagonist. Obviously, the quote is meta, but not annoyingly so, since it's so brutally honest and upfront about it.

"There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no cause, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."

Needless to say, I think Kurt Vonnegut succeeded splendidly by the standards of his own mission statement.


5/5

PS - I wouldn't call this an anti-war book at all. By Vonnegut's own admission, he could've just as well written an anti-glacier book. And so it goes.



-----


PUSHING ICE --- Alastair Reynolds (2005)

After Terminal World, this is the second disappointing book I read by Reynolds. Long story short: while there is a great story in this book (a lot better than the story of Terminal World), it is marred by a terrible and totally unbelievable subplot involving the 2 protagonists behaving like children, and nobody of the crew minding that. That's a crying shame, because it doesn't do justice to the story's potential and it takes a lot of fun out of the reading, since it's so damn irritating. With some good editing, the 515 pages of Pushing Ice could have been reduced to an excellent page-turner of 350 pages.

I seriously considered giving up after 150 pages, pushed on anyhow, but was or irritated or bored out of my mind, because of serious drag issues and bad characterization. Childlike behaviour and bad decision making aplenty, plus the fact that the numerous side characters were - aside from their names - simply indistinguishable from each other.

Things got better in the final 4th of the book, because the bigger story arc became more dominant, but in the finale the conflict between the protagonists again played, and some characters started to behave utterly stupid again. It felt like watching Prometheus.

The ending leaves room for a sequel. If Reynolds decides to come back to this universe, I hope he doesn't make the same mistakes he made in this book.

So, another Reynolds' book that will go to the second-hand shop. I haven't given up on him though: as I've written before, I thought the Revelation Space trilogy was utterly brilliant, as was House of Suns. I still have high hopes for the Poseidon's Children trilogy, Chasm City, The Perfect and Slow Bullets.

Reynolds veterans might give this a try, since the book does have lots of neat ideas sprinkled around in it. All other space opera/hard SF fans: please, start elsewhere, but do start.


2.5/5


------

Because I've noticed I haven't posted my review for Terminal World, of which I talk a bit above, I'll post yet another Reynolds review below:


TERMINAL WORLD --- Alastair Reynolds (2010)

As a big fan of its autor, this book was a major disappointment. It's not the different subject matter that makes this a lesser Reynolds' book, but quite a lot of problems on a structural level. And while the book starts promising, it quickly deteriorates, and I had to force myself through the final half.

Terminal World desperately needs major editing: it's too long, and there's way, way too much repetition in the dialogue, and in the story as well: how many times do we have to read sentences about the main character, some other character and the word "trust"? Certain plot elements are repeatedly explained in expositionary dialogue again and again. This makes it rather boring, at times.

It also needs a better backstory: for the bulk of the book, the true nature of the world wasn't clear to me. The attempts to provide backstory felt a bit haphazard, and even as painting by numbers: it feels like Reynolds started with all kinds of neat ideas and sketches, threw them all together, and ultimately knew he had to provide a bit more backstory, yet couldn't really deliver. One of Reynolds' strengths always was a high degree of believability, no matter how outrageous the ideas. That quality is lacking in Terminal World.

Most importantly, the book lacks focus. I was 180 pages in, and still I didn't know what the story was about, except for the protagonist fleeing for some unclear reason from some unclear enemy. Again, Reynolds throws around a lot of ideas and tropes (Mad Max, witches, cyborgs, steampunk lung machines, posthuman angels,...), but it's just too much, and often ideas or plotlines are quicly abandoned - why not edit them out totally? Reynolds should have cut back a lot of stuff, and focussed on the main story. (E.g. "carnivorgs". Nice wordplay, but bad storytelling: too random, and not needed for the story at all. It only diverts attention and doesn't contribute a thing, except a mild smirk from the reader, since, come on, "carnivorgs"? The fact that Reynolds feels the need to explicitly explain it later on - "carnivorous cyborgs" - only makes it even stupider.) The magic tectomancer part should have been cut back too. It's not well conceived, and it reeks of Frank Herbert: genetical stuff giving people extraordinary powers. In Dune it was done right, believable. Here it just looks like yet another a coincidence on top of everything else. It should've been cut back too, and replaced by something better to drive the story to its ending.

The book could've benefitted from shifts in perspective and jumps in time. Now it just follows one protagonist chronologically the full 490 pages, and sadly, Quillon isn't a very interesting character. Things just seem to happen to him, and he more or less just goes with the flow. Not somebody you root for as a reader. He could've benefitted from a more detailled backstory, and flashbacks to that. There's some romance hidden in his past, but it doesn't come out and doesn't make for emotions we can cling to as readers.

There's a great novel in here somewhere, but Reynolds didn't bring it out this time, nor did the publisher's editors do their job. A missed opportunity. Sad, especially for readers who would judge Reynolds based on this book alone: House of Suns and the Revelation Space-trilogy are such thrilling, well-crafted books. Definitely avoid as your first contact with Alastair Reynolds.

2/5

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Re: great SF books

Post by Adrian »

Not sure if it's really SF, but filed under SF anyway, Jeff Vandermeer's 'Southern Reach'-trilogy is supposed to be excellent...
plus sonat quam valet - seneca

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schiksalgemeinschaft
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Re: great SF books

Post by schiksalgemeinschaft »

Adrian wrote:Not sure if it's really SF, but filed under SF anyway, Jeff Vandermeer's 'Southern Reach'-trilogy is supposed to be excellent...
I posted a review of the first book, Annihilation, a couple of posts above. I didn't like it very much. Still, give it a try if the blurb sounds appealing.

Adrian
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Joined: Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:22 am

Re: great SF books

Post by Adrian »

Found it, thanks - from your description it looks like I won't be enjoying this very much... ;-)
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mudd
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Re: great SF books

Post by mudd »

i thought the first book was great, but mostly as an atmospheric horror novel and not sci-fi.

the second two were less interesting.

m

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