I like SF, and I like much of what gets lumped under the rather stuffy title 'classic literature'. Clearly, so does Dan Simmons. Set iMost excellent.
I like SF, and I like much of what gets lumped under the rather stuffy title 'classic literature'. Clearly, so does Dan Simmons. Set in a very distant future, long after both AI and posthumans have merged, this novel contains three main storylines, all of which ventually intersect.
First, there's a group of languid, pleasure-seeking old-style humans living on old earth, all their needs taken care of by mechanical servitors left for them, presumably, by the posthumans. Upon completing a century of life, they are supposed to ascend to the orbital rings where the posthumans reside, and join them. A small group of old-style humans decides to find out what's really going on in those orbital rings. Which, as it turns out, involves Prospero and Caliban from Shakespeare's 'Tempest'.
Simultaneously, a group of AI robots left to pursue their own ends in the Jupiter moon system note anomalous amounts of quantum acitivity on Mars, and launch a mission to find out what is going on. Among them are Mahnmut, who is obsessed with Shakespeare's sonnets, and his friend Orphu, who prefers Proust.
Oh, and there's the Olympian gods too, who have all the powers ascribed to them in Greek myth. Only, it seems they can't see the future, so they've brough back a bunch of scholars from the future to confirm if the events taking place as they observe and interfere in the Trojan war correspond with Homer's account.
Simmons has pulled off quite a coup here. His novel bristles with the up-to-the-minute hard sf concerns about posthumanism, quantum science, AI and so on. At the same time, he's found a way to bring in heroes from antiquity and great works of literature from our past and use them illuminate what our future might be like.
ILIUM is the first part of a duology. The second is OLYMPOS, which I'm currently reading. There is so much left over to be tied up in the first book that I think the two would best be considered as one long story split into two books. ...more
I didn't care much for Singularity Sky and had sort of dismissed Stross as someone who dealt in a nerd-friendly thriller-mode SF that was of little inI didn't care much for Singularity Sky and had sort of dismissed Stross as someone who dealt in a nerd-friendly thriller-mode SF that was of little interest to me. Still, when one of my favourite booksellers showed me this shiny new trade paperback with its title ripped straight from yesterday's internet memes, I was intrigued.
So what we have here is a near-future police procedural, broadly put. It revolves around a police detective from the internet porn tracking squad who gets involved in a murder investigation that turns out to be nothing less than an investigation into the simultaneous deaths of large numbers of people who are somehow connected with net-related illegal activities. Along the way, Stross skewers conventional notions of AI and the singularity while offering interesting ideas about how both natural and artificial intelligence and consciousness might work and be subverted.
This takes a long time to kick in though; for more than half this novel I saw it as something enjoyable but not deeply engaging. I have nothing against unlikable characters in fiction, but Stross has this knack for creating characters who are both unlikable and deeply uninteresting. Then there's his style - good at moving things along and making an impact, but with a marked tendency to get lost in too-cool details, sidebars and annoying metephors assembled from corporate jargon.
Somewhere on page 286 though, I finally caught sight of that larger-scale view that is one of the typical pay-offs one looks for in an SF novel. While I didn't eventually feel this was anything more than a good SF thriller with a sprinkling of up-to-the-second cool concepts and one or two really interesting ideas, I didn't hate it either.
But I'd still say that the surface of Stross' work is too concerned with doing things in a thriller or, in this case, police-procedural mode to add up to the kind of SF narrative I like the best. A number of ideas are waved about, but the real strangeness at the heart of this novel is submerged under all the infodumps and ultimately hollow characterisation. Good for some values of good then. ...more
This is the first Vance novel I've re-read and it was pretty damn awesome the second time around. It is on one level a fairly typical Vance narrativeThis is the first Vance novel I've re-read and it was pretty damn awesome the second time around. It is on one level a fairly typical Vance narrative where an amoral protagonist claws his way through a rigid, highly-organised society, only to bring the system crashing through and then become a space explorer.
But with Vance, the details are everything. There are the wonderful proper nouns - Vance's characters just have the best names ever - The Jacynth Martin, The Grayven Warlock and so on. His knack for naming places is just as euphonious - the chief settings of the story are the rigidly-structured city of Clarges and its licentious counterpart, Carnevalle. There's an elaborate social scheme, with eternal life as goal, plenty of lush description, pungent dialogue and suspense. One of the highlights is a description of a mime performance. Another Vance highlight are imaginary artforms - this time we are shown a form of water sculpture.
You can't really unconditionally applaud Vance's heroes but you have to admire the determination and ruthlessness with which they go about achieving their ends, and Grayven/Gavin is no exception. I'm not sure this goes in the highest rung of Vance's work - I reserve that for the Demon Princes books, the Marune books, Dying Earth and Lyonesse, but it gets pretty damn close. ...more
I've previously only read fantasy novels from much earlier in Modessitt's career. This later science fiction novel shows that he has improved a bit ovI've previously only read fantasy novels from much earlier in Modessitt's career. This later science fiction novel shows that he has improved a bit over the years; his strengths still remain and some of his rough edges have been smoothed out. But too much of this novel is still given over to what happens in between things actually happening, which would be great if Modessitt had the prose chops and psychological depth to pull off something like that. Instead, we have here another rather workmanlike novel with some clever ideas and halfway interesting characters, and a bit too much sprawl for its own good. Modessitt plays his usual on-the-fence game with ideologies, but imagines a fairly detailed near future with corporate shenanigans, social injustices and emergent AI that might be worth visiting again. ...more
This book is full of the sort of mind-bending ideas and narrative experiments that I like best in my science fiction - Watson is very much writing inThis book is full of the sort of mind-bending ideas and narrative experiments that I like best in my science fiction - Watson is very much writing in a British SF tradition, that of Brian Aldiss and JG Ballard I'd say, but his vision is his own. Much as I loved the caliber of Watson's conceits (a mind-meld with an entity within a black hole whose idea of reality is an inversion of our own, a visit to an Earth where impermeable barriers divide various regions along meridional lines, a sojourn among aliens who extend further in time than we do - and what exactly that could mean - and more) and his formal freedom (several of these stories do not deliver conventional narratives but almost fragmentary vignettes), I disliked aspects of his treatment of gender and race. Most female characters are sexualised and people are often characterised a little too strongly according to race or ethnicity....more
There's no other way to explain his novel FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND. In it, Joe Bodenland, a man from the 21st century slBrian Aldiss has a mother complex.
There's no other way to explain his novel FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND. In it, Joe Bodenland, a man from the 21st century slips back in time to the 19th century; specifically, to Switzerland, where he first meets Victor Frankenstein and his monster and then, after another displacement, Mary Shelley and her illustrious companions. He becomes obsessed with thwarting first Frankenstein, and then his monsters.
There's some good stuff along the way. Aldiss' portraits of Percy Shelley and Lord Byron are colourful and convincing. The narrator's various meditations on the scientific quest to learn more and improve on nature are occasionally though-provoking, raising interesting questions about, for instance, whether rationality has really done more for human dignity than religion, even when the points they make are debatable (did religion really protect the basic dignity of every human being more than reason-based capitalism? It seems unlikely). Aldiss' depiction of the monster and its mate (yes, Frankenstein Makes Woman in this pastiche) are pretty good, too.
But there's little sense to it all. The narrator is obsessed with destroying the monster and his mate, even though they seem to deserve it little enough. Bodenland himself becomes a bit of a monster in his murderous quest. There are one too many time-slips, and nothing is really explained or tied up.
Most egregious of all, the narrator sleeps with Mary Shelley, for little reason other than that he is there, and he makes her happy by telling her that he is a time traveller who can vouch for the eventual success of her novel. It seems highly out of character from what I've read of Mary Shelley, who was no libertine, and certainly the fact that the narrator is presented as an old man, a grandfather, at the end of his career, makes the liaison that much stranger. I think Aldiss just wanted to fantasise about making love to Mary Shelley, whom he has often described as the mother of his genre, and to hell with sense or plot coherence. Having written this bit of slash fic, he then built a fairly shoddy structure around it, and then, being of a thoughtful bent of mind, fleshed it out a bit with philosophical ramblings.
The end result is less than a novel, not quite an essay. An alogether vexatious and disappointing exercise. Aldiss is one of the more interesting and original literary SF writers, and one with a keen engagement with the genre's nature and history. I expected much more from his take on what he holds to be one of the first, if not the first, SF novel. ...more
Amazing and sometimes a little infuriating, this self-absorbed, often solipsist, frequently overwritten novel is also conceptually brilliant - metaphoAmazing and sometimes a little infuriating, this self-absorbed, often solipsist, frequently overwritten novel is also conceptually brilliant - metaphors nestling within metaphors, and all tellingly deployed - and moving. It's as if a bright emo kid read too much po-mo fiction and somehow managed to sit down and right a great novel anyway. This is the usual novel of a son paying the psychic debts of his father's abdication from paternal duties, but played out with both verve and heart against a setting that uses time travel as a metaphor for storytelling, storytelling as a metaphor for life. That's a lot of conceptual baggage for one novel and to add to it, Yu is also consciously engaging with the SF genre, parlaying its unique ways with language into a lexical space where dense cod-scientific jargon co-exists with loopy, loping sentences rife with parallel metaphors and emotional infodumps. My only reservations are that Yu's meandering way with sentences sometimes gets the better of him and that it sometimes all seems a bit claustral and self-absorbed. But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have minded the latter in my 20s. ...more
I'd previously read The Female Man, Russ' classic examination of gender, a novel that was more notable for the ideas it contained than for telling a sI'd previously read The Female Man, Russ' classic examination of gender, a novel that was more notable for the ideas it contained than for telling a successful story (that's alright by me, by the way - there are many parameters of success for a novel, in my opinion, and story is only one of them). This smart, swift and vivid novel is nearly as intellectually deep and loads more fun. ...more
a pretty good post-apocalyptic tale. It had some truly horrific moments, some neat conceits (I especially liked the hemogoblin - a great name for a bla pretty good post-apocalyptic tale. It had some truly horrific moments, some neat conceits (I especially liked the hemogoblin - a great name for a blood-sucking parasite) and the typical Powers reluctant hero. It felt a little average compared to his other books, though. Perhaps the setting felt a little dated. ...more
Essential and mind-blowing. Kirby writes and draws like a man possessed, like an outsider artist weaving a mad mythos of his own, only with real storyEssential and mind-blowing. Kirby writes and draws like a man possessed, like an outsider artist weaving a mad mythos of his own, only with real storytelling chops. This first volume collecting Kirby's DC work introduces so many new entities - the New Gods, the Forever People, Mister Miracle, to say nothing of their dread nemesis, Darkseid and his henchmen, that its hard to keep track of what is going on at times. But it's all glorious, madly inventive epic comic book storytelling, so sit back and enjoy the ride! ...more
Somewhere on the intersection of Italo Calvino and Philip K Dick (as comparisons, not influences - I have no idea if Casares ever read either author).Somewhere on the intersection of Italo Calvino and Philip K Dick (as comparisons, not influences - I have no idea if Casares ever read either author). A fugitive thinks dark, Malthusian thoughts and hides out on a deserted island, which soon turns out to be all too crowded. Who are these strange people? Along the way, thoughts on sentience, artificial intelligence, machines as aids to memory and immortality, the possibility of editing in new elements into an old recording and more. Brilliant. I want more! ...more
Episodic and disjointed. I'll give this novel some benefit of doubt because it's actually a sequel to a previous Blaylock novel, Homunculus. I hope thEpisodic and disjointed. I'll give this novel some benefit of doubt because it's actually a sequel to a previous Blaylock novel, Homunculus. I hope the earlier novel does a better job of establishing the characters, because a sense of characterisation is entirely absent here. Instead we are thrown headlong into three loosely connected Victorian-era science fantasy/adventure tales written in a rather weak attempt at period prose, including a middle section that is narrated in first person by one of the participants, for no particular reason.
There are many elements of a good story here, but it all falls apart because the characters are so characterless and the narrative is so episodic and loth to reveal its own points of interest that the time travel angle doesn't even kick in until the final third of the novel. Even then, it's such a slapdash affair that I'd have been better served just viewing the Back To The Future trilogy once more. Still, I have Homunculus on my to-read list. But I will say that even if it throws this later work into sharper focus, Blaylock really should have worked harder to make this one stand on its own. ...more