Overall, this collection of "constellation"-themed stories is OK, and none rate more than three stars in my opinion.
"A Heritage of Stars" - Eric BrownOverall, this collection of "constellation"-themed stories is OK, and none rate more than three stars in my opinion.
"A Heritage of Stars" - Eric Brown - This one starts out well enough about a near-future where aliens have given humans immortality and how that might affect the relationship between two people. Brown drops the ball, however, ending the story with a sappy, feel-good resolution that could have been much more interesting.
"Rats of the System" - Paul McAuley - This is an episode from a time when humanity is divided between interstellar colonies established after AIs took over Earth and humans who have made those AIs gods and are bent on destroying the infidel. (The AIs apparently take no notice of this, going about the galaxy doing their inexplicable things. On the plus side, they're good enough to leave human-colonized stars alone and only work with uninhabited systems.) The story in itself is good. McAuley is an accomplished writer and I've enjoyed what I've read of him but this feels like a chapter in a longer book and leaves the reader hanging.
"Star!" - Tony Ballantyne - A tale about a human who wants to be a star and the AI who helps her out.
"Lakes of Light" - Stephen Baxter - An episode from Baxter's Xeelee future history.
"No Cure for Love" - Roger Levy - An elliptical tale about a man who may or may not have caused civilization to collapse.
"The Navigator's Children" - Ian Watson - A decent story about a future where humans have learned that we're all part of a simulation (a la The Matrix) and the navigator of the title - who has serious issues with children and dolls - inadvertently reconfigures reality.
"A Different Sky" - Keith Brooke - A tale of alien abduction.
"The Fulcrum" - Gwyneth Jones - This story reminded me of Frederik Pohl's Gateway books.
"The Meteor Party" - James Lovegrove - Except for meteors, there's nothing particularly SF about this story. Instead, it's a meditation on the place of humans and their worries compared to the universe.
"Written in the Stars" - Ian McDonald - This is another story that raised some intriguing ideas but ultimately left me wanting more. In this future, astrology works - people receive daily horoscopes that guide their lives, and one day the hero of our story gets the wrong one.
"The Order of Things" - Adam Roberts - Competently written if not overly memorable tale about a future ruled by a theocracy that believes its God-given mandate is to make the world conform to its ideas of what He wants - both physically and mentally.
"The Little Bear" - Justina Robson - This is a story about quantum mechanics, teleportation and alternate worlds.
"Kings" - Colin Greenland - This is an allegory based on the Three Wise Men of the Christian Bible.
"Beyond the Aquila Rift" - Alistair Reynolds - I enjoyed this story the most. Humans have discovered and are using an alien network of (what may be) wormholes to colonize our nearby stellar neighborhood. Occasionally, however, a mistake occurs and a ship finds itself far from its intended destination. This is a story of a crew that finds itself a long, long way from home.
Not a bad collection but not one that stands out. If any of the authors mentioned above are favorites, you might want to check this book out (and I mean that literally; I wouldn't lay down money for this)....more
I picked up this novel from the library shelf on impulse.
But I can't finish it. It's not that the writing is bad, which is why I've given it two starsI picked up this novel from the library shelf on impulse.
But I can't finish it. It's not that the writing is bad, which is why I've given it two stars. Usually, if I can't finish a book, it gets one star. But there's nothing here that's engaging me on any level, and I don't want to waste my time with it when I have so much on my shelf that promises to be more interesting.
Obviously, I'm not recommending The Drowning City but I wouldn't want to deter anyone from reading it. It may be just the thing for some reader....more
**spoiler alert** There’s a dialog about 1/3rd of the way through The Hermetic Millennia where Menelaus Montrose is talking to a Warlock of the 48th c**spoiler alert** There’s a dialog about 1/3rd of the way through The Hermetic Millennia where Menelaus Montrose is talking to a Warlock of the 48th century AD, one of the human races the Hermeticists have created in their quest to create a suitable slave race for the alien intelligences of the Hyades. They’re discussing the man’s holy scriptures and the “history” they relate:
Or, in your case, as wide. Wait. Did you just say Gandalf?
He is the founder of our order, and the first of the Five Warlocks. He comes from afar across the Western Ocean, from Easter Island, or perhaps from Japan.
No, I think he comes from the mind of a story writer. An old-fashioned Roman Catholic from the days just before [the] First Space Age. Unless I am confusing him with the guy who wrote about Talking Animal Land? With the Cowardly Lion who gets killed by a Wicked White Witch? I never read the text, I watched the comic.
Oh, you err so! The Witches, we have preserved this lore since the time of the Fall of the Giants, whom we overthrew and destroyed. The tale is this: C.S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke were led by the Indian Maiden Sacagawea to the Pacific Ocean and back, stealing the land from the Red Man and selling them blankets impregnated with smallpox. It was called the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. When they reached the Pacific, they set out in the Dawn Treader to find the sea route to India, where the sacred river Alph runs through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea. They came to the Last Island, called Ramandu or Selidor, where the World Serpent guards the gateway to the Land of the Dead, and there they found Gandalf, returned alive from the underworld, and stripped of all his powers. He came again to mortal lands in North America to teach the Simon Families. The Chronicle is a symbolic retelling of their journey. It is one of our Holy Books.
Your Holy Books were written for children by Englishmen.
The gods wear many masks! If the Continuum chooses the lips of a White Man to be the lips through which the Continuum speaks, who are we to question? Tolkien was not Roman. He was of a race called the hobbits, Homo floresiensis, discovered on an isle in Indonesia, and he would have live in happiness, had not the White Man killed him with DDT. So there were no Roman Catholics involved. May the Earth curse their memory forever! May they be forgotten forever! (pp. 135-6)
The passage illustrates two things. One – and this isn’t a bad thing – is how time and human nature twist narratives so that they are hardly recognizable. The second thing it illustrates is a major problem with the book as a whole, and that is the author’s indulgence in asides and Easter eggs catering to readers “in the know” about SF tropes and authors. It takes the reader out of the story too often, and – worse – doesn’t serve any purpose other than to show off Wright’s shallow cleverness.
The Hermetic Millennia is the second book in the series that began with Count to a Trillion. That book ended with Menelaus Montrose, who was determined to resist the enslavement of humanity by the armada on its way from the Hyades cluster, losing a duel with Ximen del Azarchel, his erstwhile friend, equally determined to create a human race that would be suitable for the aliens’ needs, and being buried under the wreckage of a space elevator. In that same catastrophe, Rania Grimaldi, Menelaus’ recent bride and Azarchel’s former fiancée, is swept away into space, where she takes the starship Hermetic and sets out to confront the masters of the Hyades and redeem humanity from its impending servitude.
The Hermetic Millennia begins with three prologues that take place in AD 2535, 2540 and 9999, respectively, and set the stage for the rest of the novel. In the first, we learn that Rania has reached the antimatter star V 886 Centauri and has appropriated it to power her voyage to the M3 cluster, where the galaxy’s masters reside. Menelaus has set up a network of Tombs so that he can survive until AD 70,000, when Rania is expected to return, and so he can be reawakened occasionally to thwart Azarchel and the Hermeticists’ schemes. The Tombs also serve to preserve various human species across the aeons. The second prologue takes place on the farside of the Moon, where Azarchel lives in exile. He and the Hermeticists map out the next eight millennia of human history. Each will have 1,000 years to create a human race and attempt to prove that his version of Man is best suited for enslavement. The third prologue takes place 7,500 years later when Menelaus awakes to discover that Azarchel has apparently wiped the slate clean by dropping a planet-killing asteroid that’s triggered a global ice age.
In part four, we finally get to the story. We’re dropped in media res about 500 years later as Menelaus’ slumber is interrupted by Tomb raiders. Though these thieves are looking for the fabled Judge of Ages (aka Menelaus), they don’t recognize him and Montrose finds himself one of a group of revenants awakened from every era since the events of Count to a Trillion. What follows – in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales or Dan Simmon’s Hyperion (which, itself, is based on the Tales) – are a series of chapters told from the point of view of these relicts that bring the reader up to date on what’s happened since AD 2500. Interspersed between these asides is Menelaus’ effort to get the contentious human species to work together to free themselves.
Taken individually, I enjoyed reading each chapter but in terms of the narrative, they keep bringing the story to a screeching halt. We spend nearly 400 pages absorbing background but never going anywhere. It’s only in the last chapter that things begin to move but then Wright leaves us hanging from an even higher cliff than last time.
And – as in Count to a Trillion – there’s no character development. I still like Menelaus but we don’t really get to know anyone else. There are possibilities: The three people outside of Montrose who get the most face time are Illiance, one of the Blue Men who are plundering the Tombs; Soorm, a Hormagaunt from the 69th century; and Oenoe, a Nymph from the preceding human race. All three have potential that isn’t developed.
I want to know what’s going to happen; I continue to enjoy Wright’s prose; and that part of me who enjoyed the appendices in The Return of the King, didn’t mind the backgrounding. So if anyone were prompted to read the first book from my review, I recommend The Hermetic Millennia. It suffers from a sever case of middle-book-of-a-trilogy syndrome but if Wright can return to the pace and focus of the first book, the fever can be endured and the author’s self-indulgence forgiven....more
I tried to read The Golden Age several years ago and remember that I couldn’t finish it. As I recall, the writing was florid and overblown, and it wasI tried to read The Golden Age several years ago and remember that I couldn’t finish it. As I recall, the writing was florid and overblown, and it was a chore to read. While the style here is still florid, it worked for me this time (and I may go back to The Golden Age to see if my opinion of that has changed).
The story revolves around Menelaus Illation Montrose, a mathematical genius and member of humanity’s first manned mission to another star – V 886 Centauri. An unmanned probe had been sent there because it's made of anti-matter. If the star can be mined, it promises a future of unlimited energy. Arriving, the probe discovers a moon-sized alien artifact. The Monument – as it comes to be called – proves to be a blueprint for communicating with its builders. Unfortunately, as translation slowly progresses, it becomes clear that the star is a trap, and now an armada is on its way from the Hyades Cluster to enslave humanity. Moving at 10% light-speed, it won’t arrive for 8,000 years but for a star-faring race that’s an insignificant amount of time. Part of the starship’s crew mutinies; seizes control of the anti-matter after massacring their enemies; and returns to Earth, where they establish a benevolent dictatorship based on their control of energy. Menelaus’ role up to this point has been peripheral. In an effort to become smart enough to translate the Monument, he had injected himself with a witch’s brew of biochemicals. He becomes smarter but he also goes insane. For the next few centuries, the mutineers occasionally awaken him from suspended animation to interpret parts of the artifact. Meanwhile, two factions have emerged. One faction, led by Menelaus’ former friend, wants to prepare a future humanity that will be of maximum use to the invaders. The other side, led by a posthuman chimera created by the mutineers, wants to raise humans up to a level where they can negotiate with the aliens on a more equal footing and retain as much autonomy as possible.
It becomes apparent, as more of the Monument’s secrets emerge, that the Hyades is only the first layer in a hierarchy of galactic civilizations. They are the servants of an even greater polity in the Praesepe Cluster that, in turn, is subordinate to the Milky Way’s masters, who reside in the M3 cluster, nearly 34,000 light-years from Sol. A civilization as far above humanity as humanity is above the amoeba.
It’s that controlling civilization that the posthuman faction aims to contact.
The novel ends on a cliff with the reader hanging but I’m interested enough to want to know more so when I return this volume to the library, I’m going to pick up the sequel.
I complained in my review of David Brin’s Existence that I couldn’t find any hard SF that had both interesting ideas and interesting characters. In Count to a Trillion, I’ve found an answer to my plaint. Wright doesn’t develop any character beyond Menelaus – and that character can be painted in broad, cartoonish strokes – but I like him and I’ll take what I can get.
Count to a Trillion is recommended for the hard SF fan primarily; but if you’re an SF fan in general, you may want to check this book out.
PS - The copy editor in me raged because I found more typos in this published edition than in the unproofed galley of Stephen Donaldson's The Last Dark that I got to read earlier this month....more