Ben Hatke’s Zita the Space Girl: Far From Home is a great science fictional kids comic. Zita and Joseph find a big red button in a field. Zita presses it and Joseph gets sucked through a vortex. Then she summons up her courage and presses it again to go after him. They’ve both ended up on an asteroid filled with aliens (and robots), some of whom speak English. The asteroid is going to be destroyed by a comet in three days though, so they need to get out of there. Joseph has been kidnapped and taken to a castle to be imprisoned and Zita gathers up her resources to go find and rescue him. She makes allies and gets betrayed and eventually everything works out pretty well.
There’s nothing crazy complex going on with the plot, but the characterization is fun. There’s a war-bot that likes to tell stories of his escapades (much like warship in The Culture novels) and a giant mouse who doesn’t speak but prints out little messages from his collar. The art is cute and the story moves really quickly. I liked it a lot.
As always when I read one of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, after Surface Detail it took me a while to get back into twenty-first century human life. Surface Detail is about a war over hells and whether they should be allowed to exist or not, and it’s about endlessly fighting battles, and about revenge and political expediency.
There’s an excellent bastard you’re rooting against for being terrible, but you know he doesn’t give a shit if you want him to win or not, and a woman who gets murdered in the first chapter (almost everyone dies at least once in this book) and then crosses the galaxy to get revenge, and a couple who voyage to hell and one of them doesn’t make it out again, and an appropriately uncouth Ship designed for battle. Pretty excellent stuff.
Iain M Banks’ The Algebraist was a far future space opera book that wasn’t in the Culture universe, which was disorienting for the first long while of reading it. Instead of Ship Minds this is a universe of wormholes and ships that are restricted to the speed of light otherwise. There are aliens including the gas-giant occupants the Dwellers, who feature heavily in the book.
Dwellers are incredibly long-lived. Some individuals are billions of years old. They’re also full of shit liars and completely uninterested in the deadly serious politics of the Quick (as they refer to all the short-lived species of the universe). This apathy towards politics is important to the inhabitants of the Ulubis system which has been cut off from the wormhole network for centuries and has learned it’s the target of an invasion by a ridiculously terrible warlord with diamond teeth and a huge-ass fleet. The Dwellers aren’t concerned but Fassin Taak has been sent in to find one of their secrets that could help turn the tide of the coming war.
It was a fine space-opera adventure story, but I missed the ubiquitous AI presence from the Culture books. Though there was an awesome bit with a species that was sentenced to become terribly morbid and look after corpses. That was pretty sweet. I also enjoyed the depiction of the Dwellers as so completely unserious. In general, it felt a little more traditional than I like, less mind-bending in its ideas.
Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels are the kinds of books that make me want to be very elsewhere, living in a post-scarcity economy with control over your biology and the ability to live for hundreds of years and be eccentrically apart from society for decades if you want. I got Excession in Portland for a dollar and it was much more than worth that, just for the ability to have conversations about switching genders and carrying children simultaneously and letting the kid gestate for 40 years with no ill effect. And to have incredible intellects machinating about wars and science and the power to do whatever the hell you want.
This isn’t much of a review. I’m sorry. I just love this kind of book. It’s aspirational and the kind of thing I’m never going to see outside of a science fiction novel. The possibilities out here in reality feel so limited some days. Sigh.
The first book I bought from Amazon and then De-RMed was Iain M. Banks’ short story collection The State of the Art. It wasn’t a bad collection, but I think I prefer his novels.
I found that the two Culture stories in it were a little similar to each other (the shorter one was better). Also there were two stories, the first and the last, that I didn’t like at all. But all was redeemed by Descendant, the story of the guy who crashed on a planet with just his intelligent space suit. The two of them have to walk for like a thousand kilometres to where they might find some help. It’s not a mind-blowing idea fest or anything, just a really good story about a human and a machine.
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.