Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger is his latest space opera and it is not very good. I often pick up one of his books thinking, “Why haven’t I read one of these in a while?” I was 2% into this one when I remembered.
It’s all tell and no show. Reynolds has characters that are cardboard standups engaging in cliche actions that anyone who’s ever read or watched better science fiction will see coming a million leagues away. In some of his previous space operas I know there’ve been enough good bits that I could deal with the plodding language, but none of that is in Revenger.
I can’t recommend such a formulaic and blah space opera, not when there’s such good stuff happening in the field these days. The Stars are Legion is a zillion times better than this, as is Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy (though that has more of a military sf aspect).
Terminal World is another one of these Alastair Reynolds books that reminds me why I read him sporadically. There are neat science fictiony adventurous ideas in his books but the writing makes me clench my teeth. No one behaves in a neurotypical fashion: everyone’s dialogue is clichés or exposition-speak. It feels more like the transcription of a bunch of socially-awkward 14-year-olds role-playing. Which is a shame because the plot and setting would be pretty spiffy if it was described by someone with a bit of flair for language.
It’s thousands of years in the future, on what appears to be Mars, even though everyone calls it Earth (I think that’s supposed to be clever, to show that they’ve forgotten they were once colonists). In the giant spire city of Spearpoint there are different zones of technology, from the Celestial levels where the angels who can fly and are filled with nanotech live, down to Neon Heights and Horse Town. These zones aren’t just stylistic; the rules of physics are different in each zone, making the technology from a higher zone cease to function in lower ones. It’s a pretty clever idea that gets developed as the story goes on, and is a good excuse for energy weapons and dirigibles to coexist.
Quillon is on the run from the angels so he’s heading out of Spearpoint for a while. He has a guide and they rescue a woman and child who will “change the world forever” (of course). There’s nothing really surprising that happens in the book. And the prose is boring. But it would make a pretty good RPG setting to play in.
I loved Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief so much. It’s about a thief who gets broken out of an eternal Dilemma Prison (where you enact the Prisoner’s Dilemma with copies of yourself and the rest of the prisoners in adjoining virtual cells forever) in order to steal something very important on Mars. There is also a hotshot young detective being groomed by one of Mars’ vigilantes who thinks he’s working on a case about uploaded soul privates but the truth is much weirder.
The society on Mars is called the Oubliette and it’s all about privacy controls and the access people allow to others. The currency is time until the person’s soul is uploaded into one of the Quiet, the slave machines that keep the world functioning until they get reincarnated. The Oubliette is quite chicly primitive to some of the other cultures in the solar system and it’s all just amazing. The world-building around a cat and mouse detective story was amazing (and very reminiscent of The City & the City). The characters were rakish and severe and outrageous and ultra-competent and awesome.
I highly recommend it if you like China Mieville’s more science-fictiony things or Charles Stross or want to think a bit harder than you would with an Alastair Reynolds book.
Knowing how Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels would be made me more comfortable with Look to Windward. This time I had no expectations it was going to veer off into a Vernor Vinge type thing and was ready for its Alastair Reynolds similarities (avec more literary heft). I was ready for the decadent Culture to just kind of go along and for the plot to be not unimportant but like a red-herring for the dilemmas going on within characters. There was a secondary character/plot that ended up being close to a pointless (beautiful) digression about megafauna but it capped off the end of the book wonderfully.
I want to be a spaceship when I grow up.
I expected something different from Iain M Banks’ Consider Phlebas. I mean I knew coming in that it was science fiction, that there was a group in it called The Culture, who are kind of a post scarcity and everything else kind of society, and that there are a few books in the series. I also knew from interviews that the protagonist would be a rebel against The Culture, which it sees as too perfect, an evolutionary dead end. I didn’t expect it to read like a game of Traveller. A very good game, one filled with adventure and mercenaries and explosions and an alien war and crazy card games and stuff, but it was a lot less cerebral than I’d been led to expect.
I’d thought the rebellious protagonist would engage in debate with the Culture and that would be how it would all get illuminated. Instead it was a bunch of space opera action scenes. Which is cool and all. I just expected density. It was better written than the (similar) Alastair Reynolds books I’ve been reading in the last year or so (but with fewer cool ideas), and now I know what to expect.
I’m trying a new thing for me. Re-reading books I already own. First on the list was George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It’s an epic fantasy series without a lot of magic and with a lot of swearing and politics (in one of those internet things people do to make more descriptive titles for books it became “Knights Who Say Fuck”). Wow though. It’s been maybe ten years since I read it and I’d forgotten how good this thing was. He does horrible things to his characters but he’s got the skill to make you feel like all of it is inevitable, instead of like the author is pulling strings to make what he wants to have happen happen (which is my biggest problem with Alastair Reynolds’ books).
You know how good this book is? The main family is from the north and the cold and their motto is “Winter is coming,” and I find myself wishing I was there in the cold with them. I have no desire to be anywhere warm in that world, even as my toes fall off here.