Aaron Arnold's Reviews > Void Star

Void Star by Zachary Mason
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bookshelves: science-fiction, read-in-2018

Mason's previous book The Lost Books of the Odyssey was spectacular, so I'm unhappy that this sci-fi novel didn't live up to it for me, especially because as a computer scientist this should have been home turf for him. On a prose level, this is great; there are no iconic, standout lines like Neuromancer's "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel", but just about every sentence is beautifully written, well-balanced and full of interesting imagery. There really isn't a wasted sentence in the whole book, so his various scenes and landscapes are always vividly rendered. However, much like in Neuromancer (and a lot of this novel is like in Neuromancer), the plot isn't very emotionally resonant, so the lucid language feels wasted. Characters act, choices are made, and things then happen, but according to a rapid, purely internal logic that doesn't give the reader much opportunity to get invested in the world, especially because the point of view shifts so rapidly and a lot of the various perils come out of nowhere. "Sit back and let the plot take you for a ride!" sounds like cheesy marketing copy on the back of an airport thriller, but it's also pretty apt here, and I didn't like feeling like such a passive reader.

The world is your standard cyberpunk quasi-dystopia that owes much to Snow Crash (itself an affectionate Neuromancer parody/homage), but without the manic humor or invention of Stephenson's work, so instead of people living in self-storage complexes guarded by armed robot dogs, people just live in grungy favelas, and instead of Sumerian technolinguistic mind-viruses, there's just really powerful Hackers-style algorithms (they literally hack the Gibson in one scene). I also found myself questioning why Mason bothered with 3 narrative lines for the main characters - ascetic street boxer Kern, dying political scion Thales, and Johnny Mnemonic-style hacker Irina - since although they do eventually intersect to fight the requisite evil rich guy and super-powerful AI, their individual quests to uh, find the secret of life/upload consciousness into the computer/become a Japanese swordmaker don't feel emotionally connected at all. Maybe the characters could have spent more time together, or there could have been fewer 2-page chapters to let the story breathe a bit; certainly many aspects of the world could have used some more exploration. I hate ragging on a work by an author I respect so much, so perhaps this will improve on a reread, but this feels like a real letdown, especially because he was able to be so creative with almost literally the most played-out material in history in his last book. I hope he takes more risks in his next book.
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Reading Progress

June 26, 2016 – Shelved
June 26, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
September, 2018 – Finished Reading
September 25, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
September 25, 2018 – Shelved as: read-in-2018
September 25, 2018 – Shelved as: science-fiction

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