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
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
It's not clear where all the details in this book came from given how the Saudi's have attempted to erase it from their history- part of the story comIt's not clear where all the details in this book came from given how the Saudi's have attempted to erase it from their history- part of the story comes from French and U.S. sources, and there is mention of a censored book, but were Saudi's interviewed on the condition of anonymity?
An A-12/SR-71 overflew the mosque during the siege and took pictures, I wonder if any of these pictures have been released to the public.
The author finds many faults with Carter's initial hands-off Middle-East policy, but seems equally critical of the later adopted 'Carter doctrine' of more forcefully defending U.S. interests in the region. I suppose he's advocating some position in-between those two, or given 20/20 hindsight we should have given the Shah the tear gas he wanted to get the fundamentalists and leftists out of the streets, but not have stationed troops in Saudi Arabia or liberated Kuwait from Iraq, while giving marines at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan permission to fire on the protesters who would burn it down? ...more