This is an Michener-sized epic tale of conflict, cooperation and betrayal between two human civilizations racing to make first contact with an alien rThis is an Michener-sized epic tale of conflict, cooperation and betrayal between two human civilizations racing to make first contact with an alien race.
To a very small extent, this is a prequel to Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep — it is set much earlier in the same universe, and features the character Pham Nuwen (who plays a somewhat unusual role in Fire).
While Fire involves the interactions between many races, Deepness takes place before humans had met any other technological civilizations. It is the story of a race to that first meeting, but the books have other similarities. In both books, the new alien race is relatively primitive in technological terms, and in both books Vinge describes how a radically non-human society and non-human physical type explores the same science and technology that we recognize from our own history. Also, both stories involve the convergence of two conflicts: one on the aliens' planet (although, of course, they aren't the aliens there) driven largely by the sociological interplay between social mores, governmental forms and quickly changing technology, while the other follows a simpler conflict in space. The two tracks accelerate towards a breathless convergence when contact is made, at which points all subplots and tensions resolve within a few dozen pages.
Wikipedia's definition for Space Opera would seem to preclude this from being included (due to the lack of a central romance), but if Star Wars "closely follows many traditional space opera conventions", then so does Vinge's Fire and Deepness:
Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing powerful (and sometimes quite fanciful) technologies and abilities. Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale.
Vinge's books are more complex than Star Wars, but otherwise similar in these respects. The increased complexity is understandable — this book is in the 97th percentile for word count, so we're talking very long for a science fiction book. But don't worry — it's at a comfortable 6.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid Index, so while it might take twice as long, we're not dealing with a Dune or a Hyperion here.
Strongly recommended for moderately advanced science fiction fans.
Well, better than that — 3 stars — but not as good as I'd hoped.
There were two major problems. The first I could almost forgive—as simply not beinMeh.
Well, better than that — 3½ stars — but not as good as I'd hoped.
There were two major problems. The first I could almost forgive—as simply not being to my taste, the same way I don't enjoy the silliness of Terry Pratchett. The Algebraist tossed together rather high-concept themes (persecution of AIs, morally ambiguous revolution against a powerful hegemon, mass-death tragedy) and silliness bordering on stupidity. The major alien race is depicted as bumbling Woosters enjoying the life of a Gilbert & Sullivan farce... except when it is convenient for one or more to suddenly turn into James Bond. The high and low concept was like a radicchio-marshmallow salad.
The other problem was simple carelessness. For example...
Our hero spends most of the novel inside his micro-spaceship. It is described as "about five metres long, four across the beam if you included the outboard manoeuvering nacells and a little under two metres in height." So, in its smallest dimension it is a bit bigger than a typical adult male. Yet much of the time Fessin is stuck inside this oversized coffin, he seems to be strolling the corridors of spaceships and otherwise moving naturally. Yet this is in the same text as careful depictions of how narrow wormholes are, and thus the reason for "needleships".
Another problem is the bewildering decision of Quercer & Janath. Why on earth did they take that risk? And the Voehn knew who they were? How, and why? And the megalomaniac psychopath really deserved either a novel of his own; his subplot was so obvious and dead-ended so casually it was a pity the author spent so much time on him. The occasionally eruptions of profanity and sex were bizarre discontinuities.
I have the sneaking suspicion that Banks was working out a really clever novel, using graph paper and plotting out relationships and plot arcs on butcher paper tacked to the wall when he realized he was putting too much effort into a non-Culture novel and shut it down. Then he came back some years later and stormed through it to get it out the door, but he had coincidentally just re-read and become inspired by Good Omens.
I'll read Consider Phlebas 'cause the Culture series deals with topics some friends think I'll find interesting, but I'm wary. ...more
Voltaire said something like "the best is the enemy of the good" (okay, he actually said le mieux est l'ennemi du bien). ButTwo stars is about right.
Voltaire said something like "the best is the enemy of the good" (okay, he actually said le mieux est l'ennemi du bien). But what is really annoying is that the coulda-been-good is more disappointing than the meh.
Banks clearly has a great deal of imagination. If he was able to discipline himself, he'd have some four-star stuff going on here, easily — maybe better.
But he fritters away his energy on irrelevant grotesquerries, like a schoolboy scrawling naughty pictures inside his textbooks, or sneaking fart jokes into the Wikipedia page for the Sistine Chapel. Because naughtiness is its own reward.
Consider Phlebas opens with a character drowning in a room full of shit. Why? Because he's failed at an espionage mission, and the rulers are nasty enough to want to degrade him as they kill him. Does this have anything to do with the larger story arc of Consider Phlebas? Well, no: it has no bearing whatsoever, other than being a memorably gross entrance for the major character.
Later this same fellow will encounter a band of starving religious cannibals led by a grotesquely (yes, there's that word again) obese prophet. Does this interlude have any bearing on the larger story arc? Again, no. Those are just the most glaring flaws, but the book is pervaded with haphazard storytelling.
There is actually a story, and if it weren't for all the ill-considered byzantine dross, it would probably be pretty good. There are two or three characters that are well developed enough that one might actually care what happens to them, and a depth of context and mythos that is very alluring. Sometimes the story is smooth and very well told for several pages at a time.
But it really isn't enough.
And the reason I first heard about the Culture Universe isn't dealt with well, either. The Culture is an amalgam of human and machine intelligence, with the latter forming the functional backbone and the humans being mostly decorative. The question of how humanity will deal with (or survive, or whatever) the Singularity should be a philosophically engrossing aspect to any book that touches on the subject, but Banks really doesn't seem to want to stretch himself reaching for the tough stuff when his febrile imagination can spin off so much vomit-flavored cotton candy.
Oh — if you are looking for a much better space opera, may I recommend Alastair Reynolds'Revelation Space? Reynolds doesn't promise as much as Banks, but he actually delivers on the promise, and then some. ...more
Reynolds' first novel in his Revelation Space Universe (up to five books, with 2007's The Prefect) delivers a space opera of stunning breadth and deptReynolds' first novel in his Revelation Space Universe (up to five books, with 2007's The Prefect) delivers a space opera of stunning breadth and depth.
This novel picks up the trail of humanity's descendants (some of whom we would not recognize as obviously human) in a distant solar system just as they start running into... troubles. It seems that aliens that have been dead hundreds of thousands of years have left tantalizing relics, and they might have something to do with the relics that other aliens left even longer ago. Maybe there are staggering fortunes to be made, or maybe there are deadly traps that would make Cthulhu whimper. Two things are certain: nothing is certain and no one is to be trusted.
Reynolds has hidden clues to a deeply textured backstory here, reminiscent of the contextual mythos pervading Frank Herbert's Dune series. He deals well with a number of philosophical problems, such as the sentience of "uploaded" software instantiations of people at varying levels of cognitive resolution. The sinister allure of massively advanced technology is central — even if one suspects something is a horrendously destructive weapon, it would be so hard to turn away without knowing...
The only reason this novel didn't receive five stars is that, in the end, it suffered from a bit of over-stretch. When you try to describe the technology of the gods, it starts sounding just a bit too mystical. Remember the psychedelic trip at the end of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey? Yeah, that.
Much better than I’d expected, based on the two other Iain Banks’ scifi stories I’d read (Consider Phlebas and The Algebraist). Matter is in the "Much better than I’d expected, based on the two other Iain Banks’ scifi stories I’d read (Consider Phlebas and The Algebraist). Matter is in the "Culture" universe, as was Consider Phlebas, but the twenty-one years between the two has greatly increased Banks’ skill.
Specifically, in the earlier work his explosive innovation splashed out in undisciplined and often grotesque ways. In this novel, most of that is reined in. He is still a bit to exuberant in showing off, but the effort is no longer quite as distracting as before.
His flaws are still there: first, he provides too much useless detail. For example, he spends far too many paragraphs noting the baroque forms of the various species that inhabit his universe, even though most of those are throw-away points that do little besides slow down the narrative.
Second, he indulges himself in pseudo-philosophical monologues that should be repackaged more tightly as dialog, if he feels they are so important that they must remain.
If Banks were to rectify these two tendencies, he’d be flirting with five-star material. But until then, he’s too garrulous by half.
Four stars is generous, but still a pleasant read. ...more
Primary Inversion is a quick, fun read. Nothing profound.
There's quite a bit too much world-building in the first pages, and the amount of pseudo-sciePrimary Inversion is a quick, fun read. Nothing profound.
There's quite a bit too much world-building in the first pages, and the amount of pseudo-science babble is pretty extreme. A few of the characters are well conceived, but the villains are stick figures.
The best part, I think, is the portrayal of the psychiatric profession, astonishingly enough.
If the next books in the series were available at my local library, I might read more. But they aren't, and there are too many other books awaiting for me to put much effort into this. Although the blurb of the third book did seem somewhat intriguing......more
I'm rating this for-and-a-half stars, rounded down to four. If I hadn't just finished Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword, I might have rounded up. CalibanI'm rating this for-and-a-half stars, rounded down to four. If I hadn't just finished Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword, I might have rounded up. Caliban's War was a great adventure story — definitely a great read — but it while it does everything really well, it nothing it does is pathbreaking, which is why is suffers in comparison to Leckie's effort. Still, read 'em both. Great stuff....more