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

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