Hmmm, a very interesting book, if not easy to read. Who would think a setting of North Korea could be so interesting and well done, almost sci-fi settHmmm, a very interesting book, if not easy to read. Who would think a setting of North Korea could be so interesting and well done, almost sci-fi setting surreal. As a book, I really enjoyed the first half, then it changes narrative style in the second half which makes for more difficult reading. But well worth the effort....more
Well, that was outrageously fun, right down to the giant robot wars. Was it an entirely new dimension of the word "fanwank"? Oh yes. Was it a little fWell, that was outrageously fun, right down to the giant robot wars. Was it an entirely new dimension of the word "fanwank"? Oh yes. Was it a little flawed as a book? Oh yes. Did I thoroughly enjoy the hell out of it? Oh my yes. So I'm putting my inner curmudgeon on hold and sticking with a 5 star rating....more
I've kept away from KSR after the Mars Trilogy due to a series of lukewarm reviews (and not overly interesting topics) but wow, this is good stuff. ItI've kept away from KSR after the Mars Trilogy due to a series of lukewarm reviews (and not overly interesting topics) but wow, this is good stuff. It's impossible to review him without comparing against the MT benchmark so I won't even try.
Aurora is a huge evolution in storytelling form over MT, in every possible good way. We get some hard science exposition (it being KSR) and we get some meanderings down whatever intellectual curiosities he is interested in poking on at the time (it being KSR), but they're contained, not ponderous (even playful!), and embedded in a narrative that moves along and builds momentum, populated by characters (both human and machine) we can connect with and care about. And while sometimes tedious these meanderings have never wanted for being fascinating, just overly drawn out. Not so here.
There's even, early on, a tremendously amusing chapter in which a human character instructs the interstellar ship's AI to construct a narrative of their journey, and the resulting interplay between human tutor and AI looks for all the world like KSR struggling with his critics (and editors) to overcome the pedantic, dry and rambling writing style that swelled Mars Trilogy (and probably some other books) to epic page counts accessible only to the truly faithful. While this self-referential approach could have been schlocky it ended up being delightful, amusing, and ultimately a key part of the plot.
Robinson also devotes a couple of pages to updating and revising his prognostications about Mars colonization, factoring in some learning since the 1990s. And keeps it to a couple of pages! Knock me over with a feather!
Aurora may not be perfect; its first and last chapters may not have been the best choices stylistically, and it's sufficiently non-utopian to probably alienate some die-hards. But it's warm, human, compelling, thoughtful and entertaining. I'm so pleasantly surprised.
My reactions to this book are complicated, and this review contains mild spoilers (up to perhaps the 2nd chapter or so). Seveneves partiallySigh. Meh.
My reactions to this book are complicated, and this review contains mild spoilers (up to perhaps the 2nd chapter or so). Seveneves partially reminds me of why I drifted away from reading science fiction for so long; it is full of interesting concepts but is two-dimensional (at best) on a human level and lacks a compelling narrative structure. On top of that, its first half makes a number of stylistic choices which are distracting, irritating and unneeded. As other reviewers have commented, Seveneves also spends an excruciatingly long time explaining the physics and mechanics of everything. KSR's Mars Trilogy convinced me that I could enjoy such "hard" science fiction provided there was a compelling human narrative and dimension to the story; unfortunately, Seveneves lacks this redeeming feature.
The first half of Seveneves appears to be set in the mid-2020s, if we are to calibrate against the use of the aging International Space Station as a centerpiece of the plot, or the overwhelming (and irritating) throwaway references to contemporary social media, programming scripts, etc. The choice of timing is important as the central plot device is that a (perhaps) natural catastrophe threatens humanity, which has precisely two years to react. And herein is where things go astray; humanity's response is a space-based effort which strains all credulity beyond the breaking point to enact within the prescribed two years, given any conceivable space infrastructure which could have been developed by the 2020s. Throw in the gratuitous use of paper-thin caricatures of plucky internet billionaires (who alone have the vision to save the human race) and latter day astronomer-media darlings (complete with slightly French names), and this all begins to read like so much NewSpace fanwank. This isn't just an "old NASA thinking" antibody reaction; it simply takes *time* to do the sorts of things Stephenson posits, bounded by some pretty basic limiters like design cycles, supply chains etc, and two years doesn't cut it (two years is sporty for the simplest of robotic satellites, much less developing an entire architecture and infrastructure to save the species). Nor are these the sorts of problems that throwing more money or people at can accelerate (this typically has the opposite effect), no matter how much allegorical Elon Musk hagiography is woven into the story. The existence of several human "deus ex machinas" in the plot is even more frustrating given the hundreds of pages spent explaining the gory physics and engineering of everything else in excruciating detail. This is all a bit tragic, as the basic concept is really interesting, and the solution and eventual plot development is extremely clever. Stephenson made a stylistic choice to have the story "Torn From the Headlines of Today", which leaves it implausible, vaguely irritating, and likely to age very, very poorly. This all could have been avoided had he chosen to begin the narrative 20 or 30 years in the future.