The second volume of the trilogy about Trajan covers the years 101-107 and the Dacian wars - though essentially it takes place in 101-early 103 and 10...moreThe second volume of the trilogy about Trajan covers the years 101-107 and the Dacian wars - though essentially it takes place in 101-early 103 and 105-early 107 - but it brings so much more especially in the Rome parts that focus on the vestal Menenia and her childhood friend, chariot superstar Celer; the portrait of Trajan from the first volume where he is more of an enigma and a distantly seen character is here rounded with a lot of personal details, though the author still keeps him at some distance
The battles (Tapae, Adamclisi, multiple sieges ending with the final one of Sarmisegetusa), the construction of the bridge at Drobeta, the fate of Longinus and more generally all of Decebal's ruses and plots to stop the Roman juggernaut, all very well known events about which I read in countless books and studied in school (as after all the Dacian wars are the foundation of the Romanian people), are rendered extraordinarily well - and surprisingly balanced with great respect towards the Dacians - and with such narrative power that kept me in suspense despite knowing perfectly well what will happen
On the other hand the Rome events and to a lesser extent the fate of Marcio and his family among the Sarmatians, while predictable to some extent (including the parentage of Menenia which was obvious by the dates and by what we knew from volume 1), had enough twists and turns to lift this book to one of my huge favorites of the year and possibly of all time - though of course for that time needs to pass
The only minor negative was making Hadrian (and Plotina to a lesser extent) the sort of baddies of the book and hinting at the future novel about Partia and Trajan's world changing plans that he believed needed a successor with his universal vision - and not the cautious and scheming Hadrian - and we will see how the author will approach this in the last volume
As characters, here there is no one that took over the novel like big bad Domitian in the Killers of the Emperor - and we even have a cameo appearance of the monster in a flashback from Menenia's childhood when at age 10 she is taken from her Patrician home and made a Vestal by the emperor with a promise to investigate her parentage and haunt her forever if what he suspects is true, flashback that the horrified child manages to suppress for a long time - while Domitia, the second superstar of the first volume, actually appears in a lot of great scenes but is still only a secondary character here, so overall I would say that Menenia and Trajan were the ones I really enjoyed following the most, but almost all the rest - Celer, Pliny the Younger, King Decebal, Longinus, Dochia, Marcio, Alana and Tamura, the various Roman generals, Appolodorus, the corrupt senators that try to frame Menenia and Celer, the fanatical "rex sacrorum" who wants to erase all traces of Domitian's line and quite a few more are outstanding, only Hadrian as mentioned seems at odds with his historical portrait, though it is true that like Octavian reviled for his cruelty in his youth, became Augustus, it is possible that the scheming youngster laughed at in Trajan's military court, for his awkwardness, learning and Greek manners, will become the famous emperor of later
Of the many great scenes, I would say that Trajan's recounting of his teenage trip with his father to Subura when he saved a few street children from death by beating for stealing a few apples to appease their hunger - fact that impressed so much the young Trajan that when he became Emperor one the first things he did was establish orphanages for the street children of Rome despite an empty treasury and lots of other things to spend money on - when preparing for the hunt with the leaders of the Roman renegades who deserted Decebal, one of whom obviously was Marcio, the street kid of long ago, was the most emotional, though his conversations to Menenia came close second, while in a nod to the present I really enjoyed Trajan's economic conservatism when he kept refusing to raise the taxes as asked by all his advisers, pointing out that if they do that people will spend less and they will evade taxes more so the government will actually get less...
A mammoth 1000+ page book like its predecessor (though there are extensive glossaries and authorial insertion of classical sources in the text, so the actual novel text is about 150 pages less than the total page count) which was almost un-puttable down and as opposed to its predecessor which was excellent but more scattered by its 63-99 time span, I stayed way too late to read a couple of nights, Circo Maximo is highly, highly recommended
Arimnestos from his return from the West till the battles of Artemisium and Thermopyle(485- early 480); the first maybe 3/4 or 4/5 of the book are awe...moreArimnestos from his return from the West till the battles of Artemisium and Thermopyle(485- early 480); the first maybe 3/4 or 4/5 of the book are awesome, both among the best of the author and of historical fiction in general - among the highlights being the political maneuverings to unify Greece in the face of the Persian juggernaut, the Olympic Games of 484, Sparta and the Spartans as seen by Arimnestos, a trip to Susa and a memorable audience with Xerses...
The last 1/5-1/4 is more rushed and will be appreciated better once the next book (presumably dealing with the sack of Athens, Salamis, the departure of Xerses from Greece, Plataea, Mycale etc) is out as it covers the actual war in Greece and as we get only to Artemisium and Thermopylae, the story is very incomplete and that shows in the book - the earlier volumes all had great stopping points, this one though really needs volume 5 for completion
Full of larger than life characters from Aristides, Themistocles, Leonidas to Xerses, and from Briseis (still beguiling and full of surprises), Queen Gorgo of Sparta (Leonidas' younger wife), to a Babylonian princess and Queen Mother Atosa (wife of Darius and mother of Xerses)
Arimnestos finds out about his various children, gets to meet and help raise some of them, finds new and old enemies as well as new and old friends while being at the center of the action as usual
the Secret Keeper is a book that catapults Kate Morton from the rank of top historical fiction writers of today to my very short list of huge favorite...morethe Secret Keeper is a book that catapults Kate Morton from the rank of top historical fiction writers of today to my very short list of huge favorite writers period (of active authors who write historical fiction, Steven Saylor, Iain Pears and Christian Cameron are there, though of course Colleen McCullough would be there too if she were to write more historical fiction).
Actually there is some resemblance between Stone's fall and The Secret Keeper in the way that you have to read the book at least twice, once before you know and once after you know (know what, well that would be telling...) just to pick up the clues, see how events you thought meant one thing, meant something different etc
The setup of the book is similar to her earlier novels though this time it acquires an extra layer and while the modern (2011) part is occasionally slower, the 1938-1941 parts are pure spellbinding
In 1961 (not 1959 as the blurb has it and not that it is a big deal, just that it is not possible as Laurel is 16 and her parents met in 1944 and she was born in 1945/6) Laurel has an idyllic life with her 4 younger siblings on her family somewhat isolated farm, when a stranger comes to farm and Laurel sees him greeting her mother Dorothy by name and telling her something in a low voice, while she immediately stabs him to death.
Later in the police investigation, Laurel recounts the scene omitting the greeting part and corroborates her mother's story (stranger attacks her, tries to grab the baby, self defense etc) and the case is closed, while being 1961 and a gentler, politer time, the press does not make a big fuss.
Life goes on, the incident is forgotten, her parents have a 50+ year long and happy marriage until her father's death some ten years earlier, but 50 years later, Laurel now a successful grand dame of British cinema, visiting her mother (now close to 90 and slipping in and out of lucidity) at her nursing home starts remembering the incident vividly and becomes determined to understand it.
It was clearly tied to her mother's life before she became Dorothy Nicholson in 1945, and actually before she came from London in may 1941 to work as maid in the Nicholson household, never returning to visit London since, while keeping a lid on her history beyond the bare facts (left Coventry for London against the wishes of her parents, worked as maid to a rich old woman and was involved in the war effort, parents and younger brother dead in 1940 and the infamous Coventry bombing...)
And from here the book starts moving between the past and the present, Laurel discovers that the intruder was a formerly successful writer Henry Jenkins who started his descent into drinking and obscurity (and some said madness) in 1941 after the death in a London bombing of his wife Vivien, who seemed to be an acquaintance of Dolly despite the huge social gulf between them (Vivien being quite rich, an Australian orphan with traumatic memories of her own, raised by her English schoolmaster uncle of whom Henry, older by some 20 years than her and from lower class origins himself was a protegee)
There is a curious disconnect between the frivolous Dolly Smithan of 1938-1941, her desires to mingle with the rich and famous which somewhat estrange her from her photographer boyfriend Jimmy and the current Dorothy Nicholson, content mother of four and living a happy, prosperous but not particularly glamorous family life, but the dramatic pages (inserted just after the stabbing) that show Vivien and Dolly's last meeting seem to hint at the main reason for that change
And so it goes and the more we delve into the past (both with Laurel who starts investigating Dorothy's life in London and with the young Dorothy and later Vivien's povs), the more things start coming together into what became a tragedy from misunderstood motives and different social expectations; but there is still something weird that bugs Laurel to the end...
Just awesome stuff, book to be read many times for atmosphere, details, hints - even when you know what's what and the book is as powerful if not more - not to speak of Kate Morton's narrative pull that makes one compulsively turn the pages...
FBC Rv (more or less the above polished plus some quotes)
awesome stuff so far about 100 pages in - had to reread Black prism and greatly enjoyed it again on the 4th or 5th read; great news that there will be...moreawesome stuff so far about 100 pages in - had to reread Black prism and greatly enjoyed it again on the 4th or 5th read; great news that there will be four books in the series as the author needs another 1000+ pages to finish it
I finished the novel staying again way too late and turning the pages too fast towards the end to see what happens and I plan to start a reread later in the day to enjoy the book at leisure.
A few points (review on publication which means either Sept 11 or when i see it in stores if early out) and will try to have no real spoilers:
- slightly different structure as Kip takes center stage, though Gavin appears a lot of course; I liked how the "official" opposing side was handled using Liv's pov too
- great ending at a tbc place with one major reveal and one twist (the reveal is something which I remember speculating a little in Black prism and thinking, no, cannot be, but still this is Brent Weeks so yes it could; gotta look at those lines there and read them now ...)
- major universe expansion, geographical, magical and "theological" as there are new colors, old and new gods and new countries which may become important later
- major character expansion with cool stuff like Seers, Mirrors, prophecy cards and "history cards" that are sort like recording video of our time, though of course you need magic to access them
- twists, turns, lots of great moments, tragedy and triumph, narrative pull
Like with Black Prism the major shortcoming of the novel is that it ended as i would have loved 600 pages more again (the book stands at ~630 pages of text, plus character list, plus glossary and the map in front is useful too)
And the title, well Blinding Knife indeed...
Overall, just great stuff, exuberant epic fantasy that I could read thousands of pages and a top 10 sff of mine for the year
now rereading it and Black prism sort of together and hunting for clues especially in the light of the ending
Hard to say how many times I"ve read this book - I would guess this was my 7th or 8th reread of the novel, but possibly more, though first after the 4...moreHard to say how many times I"ve read this book - I would guess this was my 7th or 8th reread of the novel, but possibly more, though first after the 4 year intensive sff reading/reviewing so I was curious how it will stand versus more modern sff - and the book still stands tall so to speak deserving a place on my all time favorite lists (that also covers the rest of the near-future Australia sequence of George Turner comprising Destiny Makers, Drowning Towers, Genetic Soldier and the posthumous Down There in Darkness); the book is a sort of retro-future Australia of the 2040's with climate change, overpopulation and no Internet, but the power of the narrative, the extraordinarily compelling style of the author, the superbly drawn characters and the twists and turns of the story spiced with a few nuggets of eternal wisdom (power corrupts, who do you trust to watch the watchers etc) make this a top-top sfnal novel.
The story seems straightforward - in 2002 the government created super-babies of which 3 (quadruplet and related in-between like sort of cousins) groups of two girls, two boys A, B, C survived; group A turned to be good at science and group B at art but outside a few social dysfunctions they were within normal human parameters and were released at 18, while now in the 2040's they are reclusive and working for the government in group A case and just reclusive in group B case.
David Chance, young upcoming journalist raised into an upscale orphanage (under the population laws extra children born without permits become charge of the state and are raised in orphanages and of course the rich people "indiscretions" get better orphanages...) gets summoned by Arthur Hazard (of group A, not to speak of the pun of the surnames plus the letter D) who declares that he is his father (not by intention as he was experimenting with sex when 18, a girl wanted to keep hold of him etc... and David did not get aborted as the girl concealed her pregnancy etc...also David is only known child of the groups) and that David has to undertake the mission he was raised for and subtly influenced from young age when his existence became known to Arthur and the government (so he became journalist etc)....
After a bit of recriminations and feeling upset, David is hooked on the mission and so the adventure starts...
And the mission - well remember group C; they were true posthumans, super-powerful, unknowable and the humans in charge got scared and kept them isolated, but at age 18 one of them, Conrad escaped to unknown hereabouts; returning a few months later he conferred with his group - nobody knows what about since once Conrad returned his group which until them accepted the humans surveillance and later harsh interrogation up to torture, now isolated itself and accepted only one nurse as point of contact - and then they committed suicide (they just stopped living), but Conrad tantalizingly mentioned a "legacy' to the nurse and only a few like Armstrong, the scummy politician that kept that nurse on his private payroll and the Hazards knew about that...
Said legacy may have to do with human immortality or at least control of DNA and genetics, while David is also nudged to find out what happened to Conrad in his months away and why group C committed suicide on return...
Just awesome and with so many twists and turns and a "jaw breaking" denouement that is still powerful on the 8th reading or so
All George Turner's books mentioned above in this sequence are superb, still relevant and highly readable though Brain Child is still the one that stayed with me the most (less)
for anyone who does not know the details about - Delirul - published in 1975 by arguably the most acclaimed writer of the middle era of the communist...morefor anyone who does not know the details about - Delirul - published in 1975 by arguably the most acclaimed writer of the middle era of the communist regime (1960-1980) in Romania, Marin Preda, was a book that sold its huge (for the day) first printing in a few days, was attacked both by Moscow and by the US through its Radio Free Europe broadcast and while the author was ostensibly thrown under the bus by the regime's literary establishment, the book served the regime and the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (who is portrayed in the book as a secondary character btw) so well that it was reprinted with just cosmetic changes to appease the foreign critics.
The main reason for the controversy was that Delirul contained the first "toe in the waters" attempt at the rehabilitation of Romania wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu and I have read quite convincing speculations that if this rehabilitation would have been tacitly accepted in Moscow and Washington, Ceausescu would have added the Marshal to the Romanian people's pantheon of heroes (Burebista, Decebal, Mircea, Stefan, Mihai and of course Nicolae) whose culmination at the time as mentioned was himself; anyway the attempt foundered and Marin Preda never dared to continue Delirul in the five years of life until his sad death from alcohol abuse (while conspiracy theories about that abound, the author was such a heavy drinker that it is quite likely he died of natural causes).
Incidentally showing that his "disgrace" expressed in nasty reviews of Delirul in the official press, was a facade to appease Moscow (and even Washington as Ceausescu was a great friend of the US presidents in the 70's and even in the early 80's with Romania the only Eastern bloc country that participated at the LA Olympics in 84 for example), Marin Preda went and published to great acclaim (and of course a few editions with stuff changed as needed) his monumental 3 volume Cel Mai Iubit Dintre Paminteni - The Best Loved Person on Earth - which treated the murderous nature of the early communist era and the terrible communist prisons and labor camps of the 50's in the clearest fashion to date (this topic unlike the Antonescu rehabilitation was treated earlier and was something purely internal of course so no foreign trouble, but never so directly till then in communist and later Ceausist Romania)
Now Delirul has its political component but in large part it is a love story and the saga of a young man who leaves his natal village and discovers a talent for journalism while he gets lucky to be taken under the wing of the most famous journalist of the day; overall the book is an astounding portrait of Romania in the turbulent years following Carol's downfall and the Legion-Antonescu cohabitation in the fall of 1940, through the bloody Legionary rebellion of January 1941 to the declaration of the Sacred War against the USSR on June 22 1941 (in June 1940 under the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop August 1939 pact, the USSR offered an ultimatum to Romania and annexed two Romanian provinces when Carol and the Crown Council declined to fight, annexation followed by terror and uncountable murders and deportations in the two provinces, so the June 22 invasion of the USSR was extremely popular to start with and was justified from the Romanian point of view) and the first few months of the war and it ends while not quite on a cliffhanger but close to one.
Read in the dark communist years as i originally did in the early 80's the book was a revelation; reread quite a few times across the years including this year, the book is still a masterpiece(less)
This is the novel of my parents generation and of the fate I thought would await me unless I could escape communist Romania - of course the regime fel...moreThis is the novel of my parents generation and of the fate I thought would await me unless I could escape communist Romania - of course the regime fell when I was 21 and I could get away and come here to the US - with vignettes from the past both pre-war and during the communist terror of the late 40's and early 50's, the main action takes place from ~1970-1980 and follows Letitia Branea's life and her marriage with Petre Arcan and her affair with Sorin Olaru, which is the mainstay of the book.
All the little details of the communist era "middle class" life are in there. Funny, sad and depressing by turns, this novel made me laugh and cry by turns and remember how utterly lucky I have been that I could escape...
Edit later: as per the comment below I add more detail:
The book is both fun and sad - at least the main part (not the historical part that takes place in the 1938-1950's) is not particularly sensational - just the daily lives of people who were reasonably privileged at least as Romania of the time went (eg had jobs in Bucharest at the main press house "Casa Scanteii" or in academia, had access to some older western magazines like an 8 month old Paris Match, had the occasional import item, the occasional trip outside) but still had to scramble for a place on the apartment list, for a place on the car/furniture list, had to suck up to the uneducated politrucs for various crumbs, etc while their lives were very limited in many other ways; the book is clearly based on the author's experiences and it shows.
The ending is of The Gone with Wind type, "tomorrow is another day' and I dearly hope Mrs. Adamesteanu will write another book telling Letitia's life in the really tough 80's decade after the 70's here and the late 50's and 60's in Drumul Egal.
There are glimpses at the post-89 Romania here and there but maddeningly (or cunningly) no hint about happens to Letitia's relationships - we just see her in 1990 talking with a colleague while protesting the Iliescu government in Piata Universitatii...
The book will be published in France in 2012 and who knows we may see an English translation too after the wonderful Wasted morning this year; fragments appeared in English in an anthology (less)
after several weeks of reading, rereading, going back and forth and extensively using the search button on my epub version which i alternated with the...moreafter several weeks of reading, rereading, going back and forth and extensively using the search button on my epub version which i alternated with the print version, I finished (at least temporarily and tentatively since this is a book to be reread quite a few times) the novel.
I plan to have a full review on FBC soon so again several points for now;
- the book is extremely dense and jumps between pov's, narrative forms, tenses, characters, so it is best read as a collection of vignettes; some shorter, some longer as in the (in)famous seventy page sex scene that is like most of this novel not for the easily offended (did not count the pages though it seemed to be 50 pages at least but others did and it sounds right)
- some haunting descriptions from war to sex to death
- bodily fluids left and right
- very deep and subtle connections between characters that are easy to miss
- the parallel stories of the title have rarely any finality and characters jump in and out though there are several mainstays in the sort of bedrock part of the novel that takes place in Budapest 1961 and revolves around several late middle aged women with troubled past, their sons, nephews, husbands... and especially the Lippay-Fehr household
- but there is much more that it is really hard to convey what the novel is about unless you start reading
-worth all the money and time i spent on it, no question about it
on the other hand the scathing review of Tibor Fischer in the Guardian has a kernel truth and the novel may turn readers off easily, but I am in the "masterpiece camp"
- as for comparisons with something like 2666, i would say that the Bolano novel reads like a page turner thriller against this one, but I also think that Bolano is a very readable author and in 2666 the ultra-dark middle part with its repetitions of murders is the reason the novel got the reputation of a "hard read" as otherwise it really flows very well and is quite entertaining
all in all Parallel Stories is a truly impressive achievement and while for sheer entertainment and readability 1q84 is still my favorite, this one will easily be my #2 novel of the year if not a co-#1(less)
now that even GRRM endorsed it as a main source of Got and a new translation is in the works for 2013, this unmatched work of "real" fiction should ge...morenow that even GRRM endorsed it as a main source of Got and a new translation is in the works for 2013, this unmatched work of "real" fiction should get the exposure it deserves in the English speaking world(less)
this is the gold standard for bumbling anti-hero tale narrated in his own words; alternates between funny and wrenching and has been a perennial favor...morethis is the gold standard for bumbling anti-hero tale narrated in his own words; alternates between funny and wrenching and has been a perennial favorite of many including the famous plagiarism case and a few homages(less)
If I would be forced to choose one single novel to have on a deserted island, this would be hands down; I read it 10 times+ in 3 languages (English fi...moreIf I would be forced to choose one single novel to have on a deserted island, this would be hands down; I read it 10 times+ in 3 languages (English first few times, French and finally Romanian original) and I've just reread it now and it is still a masterpiece
Sadly the English language edition ( title - The Forbidden Forest) is rare though good university libraries have it.
epic, (slight) paranormal, romance, world building, great characters and a powerful sense of history; the last 200 pages and the ending are still among the most emotional ones I've ever read even today after many readings of the book
recently watched the 15 episode series (in French) which dramatizes all 4 volumes of the Revolution cycle (Joseph Balsamo, Queen's necklace, Ange Pito...morerecently watched the 15 episode series (in French) which dramatizes all 4 volumes of the Revolution cycle (Joseph Balsamo, Queen's necklace, Ange Pitou and this one); with an awesome cast the TV mini series focuses only on the personal aspect of the main characters (of course as the Queen is among them, there is some political stuff) and while the the 1770 part is a bit weaker (the personal stuff is faithful but that was only a part of the book) and the 1784 part is skimpy, the miniseries starts being impossible to stop watching from episode 7 or so when Gilbert comes home from America and the Revolution starts.
Reminded me once again why that part (and the two books - Ange Pitou and La Comtesse de Charny which are in effect one large novel) is still among my all time favorites as i was keeping the books opened on one screen when watching the film on the other since the dialog is kept original and I am better at reading French than at listening to it
The book is still superb and the ending as bittersweet as it gets(less)
This is the perfect sf novel and a clear example why sf is still my favorite genre; besides the strong sfnal content though it is very well written an...moreThis is the perfect sf novel and a clear example why sf is still my favorite genre; besides the strong sfnal content though it is very well written and flows on the page and it has in Yalda one of the best characters in recent memories, with a good supporting cast too.
Shapeshifter (for good reasons explained at the author's site about how molecules look like in the universe he describes) generally (see before) six limbed aliens symmetric in 3D in their "normal" form - so they have eyes both back and front for example - that emit light, sleep in beds dug in the ground to cool down (emitting light generates heat in their universe) though of course the well off in cities have special cooled beds, that reproduce by the mother being divided into four - 2 twin pairs that each generally forms a reproducing couple, though there are the occasional solos like Yalda and the social misfits - while the men are conditioned to take care of the children...
A harsh universe with unstable matter, but also a culture of cities, science, technology, society, books, philosophers, scientists...
The people in this universe are "not us" and in some ways are very strange due to their biology - "being able to fly is like being able to know your mother" is one of the simple proverbs that appear in the book - but they are also "us" in many important ways that matter and this is why this book is both a pitch perfect example of how to imagine aliens that are simply not "costume-ones", but that are similar enough that we understand and care about them...
And not to speak of the main story with the orthogonal stars, the threat to their civilization...
The novel moved me deeply too and I almost cried at the end despite that I saw what will happen from a long time back and I *really, really* want the second installment.
I will have a coherent review in due time since these ramblings really need editing, but for now I am still under the influence of this powerful novel...
FULL FBC Rv HERE:
INTRODUCTION: While contemporary sf is very diverse, encompassing everything from space opera to near-future to alt-history and steampunk, when I think of "pure sf" as the genre has originally evolved to intermix scientific speculation with literature, there are only two authors of today that stand at the top and one of them is Greg Egan whose superb far-future novels like Incandescence, Schild's Ladder or Diaspora combine the cutting edge of today's science with entertaining story-lines. Also Mr. Egan's short stories which are combined in several collections, most notably Luminous, Oceanic, Dark Integers and Crystal Nights and contain some of the most mind-blowing sf at short length that I've ever read, are mileposts of today's genre.
I have read almost all of Mr. Egan's work from the first novels like Permutation City and Quarantine to his prodigious short fiction output with only the two notable exceptions of his near future novels (Teranesia and Zendegi) which are of less interest for me and I never failed to be blown away by his ability to put the most abstract and farthest reaching concepts of modern science in a story that entertains and moves.
So when I read about his planned new series that takes place in a "Riemannian universe", one where the metric - the math concept that encodes the basic physics of the universe - is positive definite and symmetric in space and time as opposed to the indefinite antisymmetric metric in the Einsteinian universe we seemingly inhabit, I was truly intrigued and indeed The Clockwork Rocket was what I expected and more and so far it is my all around top novel of the year for the combination of sense of wonder, great world building, characters and general "human interest" - the shape-shifting, weird biology aliens of The Clockwork Rocket are both strange and familiar and the story of the main character Yalda is as emotional as any I've read this year...
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "The Clockwork Rocket" is the perfect sf novel and a clear example why sf is still my favorite genre; on the one hand there is sense of wonder given by the speculative but informed exploration of an universe with definite though different laws of physics than ours, on the other hand the book flows on the page and it has in Yalda one of the best main characters in recent memories, while the supporting cast is well drawn and distinctive.
The protagonists of the story are strange: the metric of the universe requires complex molecules to be really complex so to speak, so all life is shapeshifting; our heroes are six limbed shapeshifters, symmetric in 3D in their "normal" form - so they have eyes both back and front for example - that emit light, sleep in beds dug in the ground to cool down - though of course the well off in cities have special cooled beds.
They reproduce by the mother being divided into four - two twin pairs, each usually forming a new reproducing couple, though there are the occasional solos like Yalda and the social misfits mostly female, that run away from their twin, not to speak of the usual hardships of life that prevent exponential overpopulation from the generational doubling above, while the longer lived men are conditioned to take care of the children...
A harsh universe with unstable matter, but also a culture of cities, science, technology, society, books, philosophers, scientists... The people in this universe are "not us" and in some ways are very strange due to their biology - "being able to fly is like being able to know your mother" is one of the simple proverbs that appear in the book - but they are also "us" in the ways that matter. So The Clockwork Rocket is a pitch perfect example of how to imagine aliens that are not "costume aliens" ie pseudo-humans with one human characteristic expanded to usually grotesque proportions a la Star Trek species, but that are similar enough that we understand and care about them...
The book follows the "solo" Yalda - ie she "ate" her twin in the womb as the other "normal" children tease her - from a farmer family but who is lucky enough to have a father who appreciates learning and who has promised Yalda's mother to school any of the offspring that shows inclination. So despite being almost twice as big as the normal female - and females are considerably bigger than males here for obvious biological reasons - and not expected to reproduce - ie be quartered in four - in the usual age range due to the lack of a twin mate, so being potentially of huge help on the family farm, Yalda gets to go to school and later is admitted to the university in one of the cities that form the civilization of the planet.
Soon she starts rewriting the physics books by some ingenious experiments, while becoming involved with a group of "liberated" professional females who had learned how to extend their lives and avoid the harsh fate nature destined for them, since even if they do not mate, there is "spontaneous" reproduction and the chances of such increase drastically with age, while the special drug that prevents it, needs to be taken in larger and larger doses...
And then of course comes the main story we read about in the blurb with the orthogonal stars, the threat to Yalda's civilization and the crazy solution she and some of her friends come up with...
So there is discovery, drama, even the stirrings of social change, while in the second part of the book the pace accelerates and the book becomes a true sf classic of people learning to cope with new, challenging and unforeseen circumstances, while Yalda's saga continues towards its clear conclusion. The novel moved me deeply too and I *really* want the second installment to see where the story goes next since there is ample scope for surprises and the author surely did not show his full hand about his exploration of this wonderfully imagined universe.
Overall, The Clockwork Rocket (A++) is the one sf novel I strongly recommend to read if you want to understand why the genre has fascinated so many people for so long. Even if you are confused at the beginning by the seemingly familiar but actually strange people of the book, keep reading since things will start making sense soon and the story is captivating from the first page till the superb but emotional last paragraph...
"When Yalda was almost three years old, she was entrusted with the task of bearing her grandfather into the forest to convalesce.
After squeezing and prodding the old man all over with more hands than most people used in a day, Doctor Livia announced her diagnosis. “You’re suffering from a serious light deficiency. The crops here are virtually monochromatic; your body needs a broader spectrum of illumination.” (less)