The first half of "Our Man in Havana" is chock-full of some of the best comedic set-pieces ever committed to the page. Greene's spy spoof is a wonderfThe first half of "Our Man in Havana" is chock-full of some of the best comedic set-pieces ever committed to the page. Greene's spy spoof is a wonderful send-up of Cold War legerdemain and at the same time a meditation on writing, as our hero, inventing intelligence out of whole cloth for the secret service, finds his fictions taking on a life of their own and creating problems that are very real and very deadly. ...more
Pohl's tale of a man acclimatizing to his new cyborg body is moving and harrowing in spots, but episodic and bogged down in peripheral details and chaPohl's tale of a man acclimatizing to his new cyborg body is moving and harrowing in spots, but episodic and bogged down in peripheral details and characters that do little but distract from the strengths of the narrative. Efforts to enlarge the scope of the story toward the end fall flat, with a meaningless cipher of an epilogue....more
Burdys demonstrates a flair for characterization, but the by-the-numbers espionage plot is really kind of weak. The problem, is, the character of LucaBurdys demonstrates a flair for characterization, but the by-the-numbers espionage plot is really kind of weak. The problem, is, the character of Lucas Martino ought to have been the protagonist; it is frustratingly perverse that he is not, as this is his story. Disfigured in a lab accident, Martino is rescued by Soviet forces hoping to glean information about a top secret project of his conception. So extensive are his injuries that much of his body must be replaced with robotic parts. When he is returne to the US, it is impossible to prove his loyalty or his identity, either to the government men who now shadow him where ever he goes or, ultimately, to himself....more
In the 1000 or so pages of Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, there is one word choice that betrays the fact that he is writing for childIn the 1000 or so pages of Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, there is one word choice that betrays the fact that he is writing for children. It occurs in "The Subtle Knife" as our heroes come upon a madman trying in vain to use the eponymous blade, who in his fumblings has thrown the room around him into disarray, and Pullman writes that the furnishings had been thrown about "higgledy-piggledy". This bad bit of diction is the sort that stops a reader cold. There's something so plainly condescending about it. After a few minutes I decided to dismiss this as a bit of British vernacular and went on reading that otherwise terrific book. Farmer's book, and this is my principal objection to it, is filled to the brim with precious little misbegotten turns of phrase like that. A single instance: "In the Cow's Guts [the neighborhood of the titular detectives:] a person could have green wings and purple horns: no one would be the least surprised." Farmer is plainly writing for children here, and one can't help but think that she doesn't think much of the children she's writing for, unless they share a tin ear....more
Time travel paradox bifurcate the hero's journey. Baxter has a head full of great concepts, and not all seem to make it to the page intact. The war betTime travel paradox bifurcate the hero's journey. Baxter has a head full of great concepts, and not all seem to make it to the page intact. The war between human and the mysterious Xeelee introduces a lot of wild concepts (most familiar among them the idea of war as Malthusian population control), but when we meet the bureaucrats on Earth who command the war effort these ideas teeter on the brink of clumsy satire; when the younger Pirius is granted an audience with one such bureaucrat, the man behind the curtain is hugely fat and constantly fed by a couple of attendants.
Baxter later seems to lose interest in the war drama in favor of telling a weird and wild history of the universe, in which life proliferates everywhere: in the soup of quarks congealing out of the Big Bang, in the heart of suns, in curvatures of space-time. He takes his impressive knowledge of theoretical physics and, rather than hewing in the safe territory "hard scifi" authors tend to favor, goes out on a limb, confronting the limits of our knowledge, risking the occasional implausibility in order to make some points. I get the feeling that this is a stage in his Xeelee Sequence when these implausibilities have begun to crop up; the far-future technology used by humans in the book was reverse-engineered from artifacts of far more advanced aliens, and often seems indistinguishable from magic. Sometimes we see that Baxter is making a point therein, but occasionally I felt he was pandering, making an excuse to give his soldiers some wicked-sounding zap guns ("Starbreakers!" I imagine him crying after brainstorming a good thirty minutes at the ol word processor. "The proles will eat that shit up.").
There is a disappointing familiarity to the ending, too. I don't think I'm being too spoilery if I say that there is a big space-battle and that in the end the heroes save the day. Baxter is giving us original ideas and original, mind-bending settings in his stories, and can it be too much to expect that he use these tools to create original stories? I don't think so, and I suspect that if I find the right Baxter book, he will deliver....more