I read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until rece...moreI read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until recently when I picked up Pandora's Star.
No one does space opera better than Hamilton, but he still suffers from a serious case of overwriting. I found myself constantly skipping paragraphs that went into negligible detail about one of the dozens of planets he describes.
However, this is a minor flaw, and all told I loved the book. I would very much like to punch Dudley Bose right in the face.(less)
See my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters...moreSee my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters and found myself literally racing through them.(less)
First of all, I need to give some kudos to Orbit Publishing. I was first exposed to Orbit a few years ago when they released the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks in its entirety over a few months. This strategy provided Weeks with a strong shelf presence and offered reader's an assurance of a completed story arc.
Last week Orbit released The Dragon's Path, Daniel Abraham's highly anticipated first book in a new series. Attached to the end of the eBook version of Dragon was an advanced copy of Leviathan Wakes, Abraham's first foray into science fiction under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey (along with co-author Ty Franck). This inclusion has ensured that readers will begin to associate Corey with Abraham and furthermore it gives the online community an opportunity to give Leviathan some love before its wide release in June. Orbit clearly understands how the publishing industry is changing and they are responding. Now, on to Leviathan Wakes.
Leviathan is equal parts science fiction, horror, and crime fiction. Over the past few years we have begun to see drastic changes to the traditional science fiction and fantasy model. I have even begun to see literary terms like modernist and post modernist thrown around. Leviathan is not these things, in fact it's quite the opposite. It is a refreshing return to the science fiction many of us grew up on.
Set in our solar system with a technology level we can conceptualize Leviathan does not reinvent the wheel. The outset of the novel sets a grisly scene reminiscent of the sci-fi horror film Event Horizon leaving an entire ship dead. This simple event throws the solar system into open conflict pitting Mars against the Belters - those living on asteroids in orbit around the outer planets.
Corey tells the story from only two points of view - one a boy scout freighter officer and the other a hard boiled detective who would slide seamlessly into a James Ellroy novel. So many novels in the genre really suffer from the misunderstanding that ten POVs makes for an epic novel. By only showing the thoughts of two characters Corey tells an epic story in a very personal way. It gives his characters authenticity and gives the reader a sense of empathy.
Many who have read Abraham before are familiar with his excellent command of the English language. The Long Price Quartet was beautifully written and while Leviathan is well written it lacks a certain flare that I got from Abraham in the past. My guess is this is intentional. Where many science fiction novels feel vast in a spatial sense, Leviathan feels claustrophobic. From the Belters living in domes completely reliant on imports of air and water to submarine-esque spacecraft, Corey's vision of the future is somewhat bleak.
Leviathan is almost assuredly the first book in a series. Corey never takes the reader to Earth or Mars. I suspect that future novels will focus on the inner planets. With that said, Leviathan absolutely stands on its own and while I look forward to future novels, I don't feel like I need them tomorrow.
In all, Leviathan is a very satisfying read. Potential readers should remember to expect a certain amount of nostalgia for the past days of science fiction as well a certain noir flavor typical of early century crime fiction.(less)
Banks has been discussed as one of the better science fiction writers in the business - not to mention a very successful mainstream author as well. I had high expectations going into the novel, and to be honest I came away disappointed. Phlebas read like a collection of short stories that were turned into a novel.
Many of the other reviews out there (and there are many given Consider Phlebas was published over 20 years ago) react negatively to parts of the novel that are gratuitous. Case in point, the opening scene consists of the main character chained to a wall in a room being filled with sewage. The novel has cannibalism, senseless murder, and not one likable character. However, none of these issues are problematic for me. Having read some of the more edgy or nihilistic entrants into the scifi/fantasy genre in recent years I've become accustomed to not being able to like the main character. I've become accustomed to being offended or disturbed by what I'm reading. What I have not become accustomed to is poor storytelling and that is where Consider Phlebas falls short.
The plot is a simple one. A war rages between the Idrians, a tripedal alien race intent on spreading their religious doctrine throughout the galaxym, and the Culture, a human/machine coalition. Horza, our shapeshifting humanoid main character, is an agent of espionage for the Idrians. When a Culture Mind (think a sentient spaceship) goes missing after a space battle, Horza is sent to find it and plumb its secrets for the Idrian war effort.
From the opening scene to the last scene there is very little that holds the various adventures of Horza together. A series of random events take place to bring Horza to where he wants to go. The reader is told what that goal is in the opening chapters, but then for the next 250 pages Horza makes no progress toward that goal. Characters die (that the reader is given no reason to be attached to), Horza gets himself into tough situations, he gets out - but the plot doesn't progress at anything resembling a compelling pace.
It's not all bad. The worldbuilding is tremendous. There are times when scenes hit just the right note. In fact, despite how much I struggled through Consider Phlebas, I will read future Culture novels. I think there's a lot of potential in the world he's created and for all the problems with the storytelling, Banks is a good wordsmith. I would not recommend the novel to others, and especially not to new readers in the genre, but it hasn't turned me off to Banks either.(less)
Science fiction as a genre has always been based on what if. What if we brought a man back to life? What if we gave a computer control of a space station? What if robots had the ability to reason? Diving Into the Wreck is very much in this tradition, asking what happens when we start to forget technology? Kristine Kathryn Rusch's answer is: nothing good. Refreshingly old school, Wreck calls to mind the horrors of cramped space craft, the bleakness of space, and the depravity of human greed.
Boss loves to dive historical wrecks, derelict spacecraft found adrift in the blackness between stars. Sometimes she dives for salvage, but mostly she's a historian. Once she dives a ship, she either leaves it for others to find or starts selling guided tours. It's a good life for a loner, with more interest in history than the people who make it.
When she comes across an enormous spacecraft, incredibly old, and apparently Earth-made, she's determined to investigate. It's impossible for something built in the days before FTL travel to have journeyed so far from Earth. Boss hires a group of divers to explore the wreck with her, but some secrets are best kept hidden, and the past won't give up its treasures without exacting a price.
Diving in space is a lot like diving in the ocean. Instead of being worried about something snagging the air hose or running into a shark, sharp edges and nebulous ancient stealth technology are the fear du jour. Rusch does a brilliant job of communicating the claustrophobia and paranoia that seem inimical to creeping through a derelict space craft far from any safe haven. Stealth tech is the macguffin, a lost technology that promises untold wealth and power to the person(s) who can bring it back, that promises a horrible death to anyone who comes in contact with it.
The most charming aspect of the novel for me was the author's commitment to wreck diving. Not the plot, but rather the nuts and bolts of the profession. She considers all the pitfalls and realities of the job - what kind of person Boss would have to be, how she would make a living, and why she would put herself through it all. By the end of the novel nothing in Wreck lacked authenticity. So much so that if I didn't know the novel was set in the future I might find myself looking in the yellow pages for wreck divers.... you know, if I had to venture into deep space to recover something.
The novel is divided into three parts corresponding to the two novellas and a third part that weaves them together. Taken on their own the first two parts are incredibly dynamic with pace, tension, and all the hallmarks of great science fiction. It's unfortunate then that the connection of the two comes off a bit disjointed as though they weren't necessarily written with each other in mind. This is pervasive throughout the novel where in order to tie the two novellas into a connected arc with a shared conclusion Boss spends a great deal of time talking, and talking, and talking to members of her team. While these scenes are excellent opportunities to character build, and believe me the characters are tremendous, they leave quite a bit to be desired when it comes to pace.
Told entirely in the first person, Wreck is very introspective . Boss spends a great deal of time humming and hawing her motivations in the midst of coming to grips with relationship to her father. This deep introspection combined with the need to tie together the disparate story modules led to an unfortunate lack of world building. Although not entirely necessary for the kind of story Rusch was telling the world itself is very bare bones. I never got a great feel for the 'space' her lush characters were inhabiting and I'm not sure if the final product wasn't a little harmed as a result.
Nevertheless, Diving Into the Wreck is a worthwhile investment of reading resources. Although the novel as a whole has some hiccups with an overly tidy ending there are parts here that hold up against the best science fiction on the market. City of Ruins, Rusch's sequel, was released in May of this year. I've already got a copy on my bedside table and look forward to getting to it soon. I'm very confident that lacking the need to integrate two novellas into a larger arc City of Ruins can only improve over a very solid first installment.(less)
Heard of this one? Probably not. It's been pretty under the radar for book due out in less than three weeks. Seriously, go Google it. Now try the author's name. What'd you come up with? Not much, I bet. All I could find was an erudite i09 piece and the corresponding Amazon.com and Nightshadebooks.com pages. The Goodreads.com page doesn't even have cover art for crying out loud. All of that goes to say, more people need to be talking about Faith. Jove Love's debut is tremendous science fiction that blends literary traditions with space opera and all the various subgenres therein.
The basic premise is that 300 years ago an unidentified ship visited the Sakhran Empire and left it devastated. One Sakhran recognized the ship for what She was and wrote the Book of Srahr. When they read it, the Sakhran's turned away from each other, sending their Empire into a slow but irreversible decline. They called Her, Faith. Now She's back, threatening the human Commonwealth and the only thing standing in Her way is the Charles Manson.
Aegrescit medendo. A latin medical phrase that means, 'The cure is worse than the disease,' is appropriate here. The Charles Manson isn't the Enterprise. It's an Outsider, one of the Commonwealth's ultimate warships, crewed by people of unusual ability -- sociopaths whose only option is to serve or die.
I mentioned the Enterprise because the main plot is somewhat reminiscent of the Star Trek model. Deep space encounters, prolonged stand-offs, failed diplomacy, synthesizing the unknown, and eventual escalation of force are all eminently present in Faith. The bridge of the Charles Manson, where the vast majority of the novel takes place, has a captain, a first officer, an engineering officer, a pilot, a weapons officer, and all the other parts normally associated with a Federation Starship. Of course, Captain Picard wasn't a sexual deviant (notice I didn't say Kirk!) and Commander Riker wasn't an alien with claws for hands.
In many ways Faith is a satire of the model Gene Roddenberry exemplified in his iconic series. To boldly go where no man has gone before was the mantra of the Enterprise, a ship that was the Federation's representative to all sentient life throughout the galaxy. The Charles Manson is the ship the Federation would send in when a Romulan Warbird took a dump on the Enterprise. It's the ship their embarrassed to have, unwelcome in every port, but tolerated for the service only they can offer. Love gets into the muck with each of his deviants, connecting them one by one to the reader, never redeemed but always compelling.
Not just a delinquent Star Trek novel, Faith is also a psychological journey akin to that of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. On the Charles Manson, Aaron Foord is Ahab, an unrelenting, obsessive, and meticulous task master who drives himself and his crew to the limits to defeat Faith. And Faith, an enigmatic and worthy opponent who Foord both loathes and adores, is the white whale. To someone whose read Melville's classic, many of the concepts that the whale represents are likewise present here. By the novels conclusion Love has melded the space opera with the literary, providing a resolution to the conflict while initiating a conversation with his reader about metaphysical concepts at home in Plato's Cave.
If the novel has a weak point, and I'm not sure it does, it's that some of the early chapters -- incredibly well done in their own right -- seem unrelated to the main narrative. This phenomenon leads to somewhat rhetorical beginning that doesn't engage at the same level as the time spent on the Charles Manson bridge. There are also moments where Love delves into some of the more scientific details or finds himself caught in a logical loop. For a novel that ends with more questions than answers, the fact that these explanations. both scientific and subjective, were allowed to slow down a brisk novel seemed a strange choice.
Given that it's the first 2012 novel I've reviewed, I'm hesitant to be as glowing as I'd like to be about Faith. How can I call it one of the best debuts of the year? I don't suppose I can. I'll have to settle for this: John Love's debut is on par with Dan Simmons's Hyperion in its quest to pose questions and attempt to answer them. It may not measure up to Simmons's classic space opera in terms of pure storytelling, but I have little doubt that the currents of the novel will ebb and flow in mind for years to come. Not bad for a debut no-one's talking about. (less)
Solid, fun, but doesn't do much to move the needle. It's nice to touch back with the characters we love before they became SOMETHING ELSE. It's REALLY...moreSolid, fun, but doesn't do much to move the needle. It's nice to touch back with the characters we love before they became SOMETHING ELSE. It's REALLY great to see all the interesting female characters in this one.