Aaron's Reviews > Void Star

Void Star by Zachary Mason
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A book about technology, artificial intelligence, immortality, memory, the nature of existence itself... and confusion. That last one tends to dominate, for better or worse. I've seen reviews that love the book's florid descriptions and the depth of insight, and others that find it all impenetrably detached, slow-going, overly confusing. I land somewhere in between: Void Star is all of that and more, flawed and brilliant, ponderous and fascinating in turns. The technology shines brighter than the characters, and the plot is rather hard to follow, but there's something here that kept me going. I have no problem setting a book aside if it isn't holding my interest; this one took patience, but I'm glad I saw it through.

Mason writes what you might call "literary near-future SF": think latter-day William Gibson with the "detached chill" knob dimed. Descriptions are pristine and nearly constant, rich in $10 words like "imbricate" and "arabescato" that do fit rather well, despite their tendency to disorient. Human behaviors are coolly observed, subtle psychological insights described through a layer of glass, almost clinical in their sense of remove. The prose is sharp but often obtuse without meaning to be, like something written by a scientist who can't quite disengage the full weight of his intellect, so it has a tendency to dip into the pretentious zone. Similarly, the narrative is built around three unrelated characters whose actions and backgrounds we don't fully understand until much, much further into the book, which lends a sense of comfortable incomprehension (if that makes any sense at all): the language is generally gorgeous, and the snapshots of action within each chapter (some incredibly short, which I honestly love) are often fascinating on their own, but wrapping your head around the larger picture is an exercise in frustration until the final third of the novel.

Where Void Star shines, however, is in its vision: Mason, in the real world, spends his days as a computer engineer or something similar, studying artificial intelligence, and that deep understanding of unknowable complexity informs the story at every turn. Memory implants, rejuvenation treatments, perpetual surveillance, full integration of robotics into society... Mason's vision of the world in a hundred years feels less like science fiction and much closer to our own world after a few more generations of technological development. That is to say, it feels real. His vision of a "smart" laptop designed by an NGO to teach impoverished children to survive by any means necessary is brilliant; it occupies a single chapter of the book, but it's so perfectly drawn it ends up pulling the disparate threads of plot into something resembling relief against the backdrop of endless description and disorienting perspectives. Inevitably, a lot of readers will find this book frustrating, which isn't to say it's particularly hard to read—it just takes patience. Whether it's worth it is ultimately up to you. Caveats aside, I took my time and enjoyed myself.
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Reading Progress

March 7, 2017 – Started Reading
March 10, 2017 – Shelved
April 7, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Devon An excellent review. This very much represents my thoughts on this book. Thanks Aaron.

message 2: by Daniel (new) - added it

Daniel This review is accurate. I read the book and felt the same.

Bon Tom Great, now I can stop feeling guilty for not getting this book, at least not in the first go. But I feel there's value behind all the complexity so I thing I'll give it another shot.

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