The best parts of this book are where the characters are still converging, there are interleaved story lines at different points in time due to relatiThe best parts of this book are where the characters are still converging, there are interleaved story lines at different points in time due to relativistic travel and/or artistic license. It's not as interesting on the second read once everyone gets on board the Nostalgia for Infinity because the major plot reveals don't have much weight, though I had forgotten a lot of the specifics. Knowing that there isn't a satisfying resolution with the Inhibitors or the origins of the Melding Plague (or the greenfly plague) in later books makes them those aspects a little less interesting.
I was paying a lot of attention to the world building, a lot of things struck me as odd that I took for granted before:
Ultra culture is supposed to be very divergent and strange, but if the people have been spending a lot of time travelling at relativistic speeds and in hibernation then not a lot of subjective time has passed since their ships were built (300 years earlier, but maybe only a few decades experienced for the frequent flyers), which doesn't leave a lot of time for creating a new culture and modifying their brains and bodies.
The relative levels of technology of different aliens and human groups:
The Conjoiner drives were created by humans, though the technology seems now lost, and so were the 'hell class' weapons that can raze a planet if not reduce it to rubble entirely. There seems to be enough magic/advanced technology there the ship and presumably all or most other human groups can't manufacture duplicates of either.
The Amarantin could warp space time and construct artificial planets sized structures before getting noticed and wiped out, which is way beyond the current human level. (Warping space time doesn't get them FTL though)
The Inhibitors are another level or two beyond that, but it isn't clear what those levels are beyond the ability to interfere with stars to produce flares.
I'll eventually reread Chasm City, and some or most of the novellas and short stories if I can find a good collection of them, but the other novels I may just read the wikipedia pages to recall the major details....more
The first half of this book seemed like Ursula K. Le Guin with some virtual reality mixed in, and there was an odd appearance of the pain box from DunThe first half of this book seemed like Ursula K. Le Guin with some virtual reality mixed in, and there was an odd appearance of the pain box from Dune (where you put your hand in and are tortured, then remove it and the hand is fine). I don't mind the genre of interstellar colonies regressed to pre-20th century technology combined (Glory Season was maybe the last one I read, and was really good), but I'm unmotivated to go out of my way to read them- which is why this book has been on my shelf unread for at least a decade.
The pace picks up in the second half, and there are more intriguing glimpses of the background story of the world of Miranda and Earth and interstellar civilization.
I didn't read the real book (though it has been on my shelf for years), or an audiobook, instead I listened to an abridged BBC radio drama available fI didn't read the real book (though it has been on my shelf for years), or an audiobook, instead I listened to an abridged BBC radio drama available for download here: https://archive.org/details/ACanticle...
The central problem of this book is neatly illustrated by Mortenson's encounter with Pentagon officials: Mortenson gives a presentation on the importaThe central problem of this book is neatly illustrated by Mortenson's encounter with Pentagon officials: Mortenson gives a presentation on the importance of building schools in addition to purely military efforts in Afghanistan, but when offered support he turns it down because association with U.S. military or intelligence agencies would undermine his credibility there and in Pakistan. (Though the CIA could send him money from anonymous sources without his permission, but probably only on a smaller scale) This is despite his admiration for Mother Teresa, who was controversial because she accepted money from any source without question.
Scaling problems are also hinted at when Mortenson is temporarily imprisoned in a new region of Pakistan he is not familiar with, and abandons efforts to build schools there. For a charity with limited resources every new school is a success, but for a large government sponsored effort every school not built is a failure.
The flow of money from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia into the funding of Wahhabi Madrassas is interesting- I wonder if it's possible to quantify how much of every dollar spent on gasoline goes into a school like that?
An epilogue that tells the story of the creation of the book would be nice- I think there was something at the beginning but it's hard to remember and connect it to where the book leaves off....more