Slow Bullets – Alastair Reynolds

slow bulletsI’m not very knowledgeable about Golden Age SF, and yet I would risk saying that Slow Bullets has most of its roots in precisely that era of the genre. It is lean, straightforward, functioning mostly on the strength of its focal conceits, and, of course, dealing with grand futuristic ideas. It definitely suffers in terms of complexity and veracity because of these same design features, but one could always argue that was done on purpose. Sacrificing depth for the sake of densely packed conceptual entertainment, pitched against a backdrop of cosmological scale, rarely works with longer fiction. Here, though, in the span of fewer than 200 pages, this compression is quite functional. The author probably had much fun writing this short piece, knowing from the get-go that he didn’t have to dig very deep in psychology, sociology, any –ology for that matter. It’s a pre-New Wave, pre-cyberpunk piece that just goes for that old thrill of exploring a bundle of great concepts, not caring that much about anything else. I imagine it can be a liberating experience for a modern author, to just go with the flow, for the sake of the flow, on a rare occasion. I certainly enjoyed reading it, it took me just a bit more than the duration of my flight to finish, and its succinctness is a quality worthy of applause. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time – Alastair Reynolds

doctor-who-harvest-of-timeDoctor Who: Harvest of Time is a novel about the third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee between 1970 and 1974. Now, I’ll admit it from the get-go – I’m not a dedicated fan of the TV show. I like it quite a lot, but I haven’t seen a single episode of the old series and I have watched less than two seasons of the new. Some episodes I loved as a child loves, others bored me senseless. OK, it’s out there, whew. Harvest of Time is also a novel by Alastair Reynolds. I love Alastair Reynolds novels. So my thinking was as follows: if I absolutely love the best parts of the show, then a writer whose work has not let me down has a damn good chance of hitting just the right notes with this one. Continue reading

The Hydrogen Sonata – Ian M. Banks

Hydrogen Sonata“I told you before: I have a perverse delight in watching species fuck up,” says one of Mr. Banks’ characters, purportedly the oldest human being remaining in existence. Which in the universe of the Culture means that he is thousands upon thousands of years old. That statement applies well enough to the novel itself: it delights in spectacular cosmic-scale fuck-ups.

I admit I am a latecomer to Ian Banks’ body of work, and by extension to the Culture novels. I thought The Hydrogen Sonata – the most recent installment in the series – might serve me as an entry point as well as any other book; that particular universe has a reputation of vastness and scale that somehow assured me I needn’t worry too much about skipping the previous nine novels. I think I was mostly right. Banks’ canvas is so large that individual characters, narratives, political entities, even civilizations cease being of much importance in the grander scheme of things. All that ephemeral fuss is supplanted by ideas. BIG IDEAS, as huge as 200-kilometer-long starships hurtling at staggering velocities through regular and hyperspace. Continue reading

The Fractal Prince – Hannu Rajaniemi

Step into the Palace of Stories, taste their body of fractals…

I gobbled The Fractal Prince up in just a few days, hungry to devour as many pages as possible during my daily commute between tube stations. Or maybe trying to slow down and savor them, sorry to see the book come to an end. Anything inducing such paradoxical states of mind must be more than just good. The follow-up to The Quantum Thief is full of such curiosities. It is pretty short as novels go and yet it feels vast, infinite even. The story is involved to the point of obfuscation, but each day I would sink effortlessly into its winding ways and half an hour later would pop out of the underground, one or more self-contained stories sparkling like exotic jewels in my mind. It is a labyrinth and a room full of mirrors where you can easily lose yourself (occasionally even your self) and where subliminal glimpses of massive creatures moving hidden underneath the surface will startle you, grand colorful illusions will dazzle, memes will burrow and most of what you know will be revealed as nothing more than shifting sands. Continue reading

Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer – Adam Roberts

Jack Glass is the third Adam Roberts book I have read. For the third time I haven’t been disappointed. What I enjoy most about his novels – apart from the fact that they are always well written – is the unique angle presented in each one. All of them deal with big ideas, they are conceptual SF at its best. Roberts usually constructs elaborate conceits upon some wildly fantastic notion and then immerses you in a world where that novum is more than just believable, it is essential for the operation of reality. Then he complicates it all with a narrative twist that actually tricks you to surrender fully to the SF setting. Because by the time you realize what the twist is, you already want to be tricked. Continue reading

The Quantum Thief – Hannu Rajaniemi

After the release of The Quantum Thief in 2010 I wrote a gushing, ten-out-of-ten review. Its sequel – The Fractal Prince – is already on the market and I hope to subject it to blogoscopy soon. As a segue into that I decided to reread/rereview the first book, Rajaniemi’s devilishly good debut.

I have to admit my first review was a bit too ecstatic. The book is a real gem, it’s certainly among the best SF works I have read in the last years. But it isn’t a ten-out-of-ten and it’s not without shortcomings. That said, the book left me almost as hooked and craving for more as it did the first time. Continue reading

The Long Earth – Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett

When I first read about The Long Earth, this collaborative effort between Terry Pratchett and hard SF writer Stephen Baxter seemed to me… a little odd. As it did to quite a few, I am pretty sure. But now that I have finished the novel, I realize my suspicion was absolutely unwarranted. In fact, now I see clearly that this co-authorship is a match made in heaven. The Discworld series is, if anything, one of the biggest arenas for fictional thought experimentation ever imagined, be it related to technology, society, art, etc. Stephen Baxter, on the other hand, has the know-how to take Pratchett’s skill and panache for world creation to the next level – science fiction and its stricter adherence to mimesis. I am happy to say that the brainchild of the two authors delivers spectacularly. Continue reading

Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds

In The History of Science Fiction Adam Roberts writes, after Heidegger, that “technology, from windmills to hydroelectric plants, “enframes” the world in a certain way, allowing or shaping the ways in which we “know” the world around us.” Consequently, the science in science fiction is not much different from a classic thought experiment, an exercise in imagining our possible worlds and their technologically-defined architectures. I find this poke at a definition particularly useful when reading that core type of SF story, the futurist novel. It is easy to invent an imaginary science, like jaunt travel in Bester’s The Star My Destination or Le Guin’s ansible. The more difficult task an SF writer is faced with is to predict the technologies of the future and weave them into the textual world. An emblem of good SF writing is that fulfilling readerly feeling when in the final tapestry those technologies both define and are defined by the cultural milieu in which the narrative agents operate.

Alastair Reynolds has always been a very technology-oriented fantasist. Despite the rather huge gap in my reading of his stories (I hadn’t tried anything outside of the Revelation Space novels), I knew what to expect from his new book with a fair amount of confidence. No FTL-drives and other seemingly magical gimmicks. Continue reading

Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts

Note: This review was written some time ago for ShadowDance. What appears below is a translation of the original. Hence the recognizable formatting with “+” and “–” sections.

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote some time ago that Adam Roberts’s Yellow Blue Tibia should be awarded the Booker prize for 2009. I am not in a position to say whether I agree or not, as I rarely read the shortlisted novels. What I can agree about is that this strange and strangely-titled book absolutely deserves a spotlight. Authors of so-called “literary realism” will definitely benefit from reading it; its methods can make their stories more interesting, their worlds more imaginative and their ideas more provoking.

Adam Roberts is probably one of the currently active authors who are best versed in the genre. He is a London-based professor who specialized in Robert Browning and Victorian literature, author of Science Fiction, a critical introduction to SF,and of the comprehensive study The History of Science Fiction (to the extent such a thing can be comprehensive, of course). In addition to that Roberts maintains an active blog, where he frequently demonstrates and hones his fine critical skills and incisive humor. When an author’s name sits beneath an intellectual overview of the ideas of Frederic Jameson andbeneath popular parodies (such as The Soddit, The Sellamillion, The Dragon With a Girl Tattoo, etc.), and when that author manages to pull off roughly one good SF novel per year, take notice and keep close tabs on that particular career. Continue reading