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

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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 Writer as a Squad of Cognitive Designers

OK, I am going to stretch some analogies here. No pretense for comprehensive overview or scientific method, just plain hypothesizing about the nature of story writing. The reason – it’s fun. Also, I have found out for myself that relating writing as a process to cognitive theories helps me think more clearly about the former and more enthusiastically about the latter. The post is a bit technical, but I have tried to provide brief explanations and relevant links where needed.

Sitting in a series of lectures on cognitive robotics and spatial cognition this week, I have been bouncing around my brain various sporadic thoughts, only vaguely related to the courses in question. So, here follow, very sketchy and somewhat amorphous, a few ideas about writerly roles.

Writing as astral projection (in your own brain)

 What does it take to write good sensory descriptions, to help the reader walk in the shoes of a character, to wrest emotions of fear and disgust out of her, to pump some adrenaline in her bloodstream? Samuel Delany wrote in an essay (either in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw or in About Writing; too bad I don’t have the books to check and provide quotations) that the first step of the writing process is that of imagining a scene as fully as possible. 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