Prabir Suresh parents once researched a strange species of butterfly, a rare mutation, on an island in the South Pacific that Prabir named Teranesia. When conflicts break out in Indonesia, Prabir’s parents get killed, and he and his sister have to flee. Years later rumors of strange new species arrive, and their origin is near the island Teranesia. His sister goes there trying to find out what is going on. Not wanting her to be alone in that part of the world, Prabir follows her.
The first part of the book is mostly not about ideas but character development time. Which isn’t a bad idea, but Egan has a slight tendency to get preachy about some subjects and in this book it feels as if you hear sock puppets talking, not real humans. Then the plot moves to Prabir’s search for his sister and his return to Teranesia. They find out the mystery behind the strange new species and the book just stops, which is very anticlimactic and unsatisfying.
In Egan’s first three novels we have massive paradigm shifts that redefine mankind’s place in the universe. If there is a unifying theme to his later three novels, the one that comes to my mind is that of a search or quest for knowledge, a voyage to far away places. They have much quieter endings, where the voyage is as important as the finish. That worked very well for Diaspora and Schild’s Ladder, but sadly not in Teranesia, where the whole voyage of the main character wasn’t really that interesting and the mystery behind Teranesia seemed strangely detached from the rest of the novel.
Project Diaspora aims to build STL generation ships. The project is being attacked by a group called Homeworld, who fear that the project is draining Earth of too much resources, both in money but more importantly in manpower, because only the best and brightest are chosen. The Homeworld movement thinks that after the ships will depart, Earth’s society will be irreparable damaged. The historian of the Diaspora project tries to find out the true reason for it, and discovers that the worst fears of the Homeworld movement might be true.
Another book I wanted to like, but couldn’t stand in the end. It wasn’t my problem with the underlying idea behind the whole project, the dark secret. There have been books where the whole concept was also completely gonzo and I still enjoyed them. It’s more that the whole book feels like a setup for the truly interesting things, the book is all about the start of something big.
Which, if done right, can be a good canvas for telling small stories about people and their dreams, stories that are touching and emotional. I think the author tried that, but I thought his characters were boring and annoying, the writing unappealing and the book just not very entertaining. I say give the book a chance, the writing style might be your thing, for me it sadly wasn’t.
Backcover: Young security officer Baro Harkless, an idealist driven by the memory of his heroic father, and jaded Luff Imbry, a mounteback, swindler, and forger of the first water, form an uneasy truce when they discover a common goal: capturing the grandest con-man of them all, Horselan Gebbling. Gebbling has chosen as his prey the victims of the first new disease in millenia, the invariably fatal ailment known as the lassitude.
He dangles in front of the victims the fabled gemstone called black brillion. About black brillion, learned men agree on only two things: it can do anything, and it doesn’t exists. But Gebbling boasts of having it, and its effects on the lassitude are nothing short of magical. Boro and Luff get caught up in an ever-growing tangle of mysteries.
The Archonate, the Old Earth, the whole setting is inspired by Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books, something that Hughes openly acknowledges. But Hughes didn’t do just a bland copy. While his future obviously copies the theme of an Earth so old that our present is buried under layers upon layers of history, he added his own unique touches. There’s the Commons, a dream realm that contains the emotions and memories of all humans that have lived before. Space travel is still something humans and a multitude of aliens do.
But the biggest difference to Vance is the style, which is a lot more accessible and at least to me, much more fun to read. Hughes approach to writing dialog and characters reminded me of Pratchett, with none of the philosophical bent and a slightly different sense of humor that delights in making entirely different types of personalities clash.
The last Massai asks researcher Duncan Rojas to find the tusks of the fabled Kilimanjaro Elephant. He takes the jobs and traces the path the tusks have taken through the galaxy, from owner to owner. And not only does he try to find the tusks, he also wants to know why the last Massai wants them.
There’s a fine line between real emotion and saccharine sentimentality. Many of Resnick’s oeuvre walks that line, falling sometimes in the first, sometimes in the second camp. For me, the friendship that developed between Duncan and his client was the real thing, touching and emotional. The search for the elephant tusks was also an excellent canvas for telling many different stories, and for covering a big area in space and time. It’s a great book that shows the skills of a masterful storyteller, it’s entertaining, original and moving.
Backcover Synopsis: 1870: the power of the British Empire is supreme. The principles of Enhanced Conductance which are utilized by anti-ice have supercharged the Industrial Revolution. At the New Great Exhibition in Manchester, Ned Vicars, a young attache at the Foreign Office, meets the discoverer of anti-ice, Sir Josiah Traveller – and the beautiful Francoise. His fate is doubly sealed. Before he learns the truth about Francois, Ned must survive an unscheduled trip to the Moon and back. But by then the world has gone mad. The only certainty is war… and anti-ice is the most powerful weapon humanity has ever possessed.
A steampunk novel done well. There’s nothing really wrong with the book, it’s competent and intriguing, it’s just that a tiny bit is missing to real greatness. And I’m not sure what that tiny bit is. I still enjoyed reading the book. Despite the mean ending, the book was fun to read, and showed that Baxter had no problems when writing something quite different from his common far future SF.
Backcover Synopsis: 1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetics engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race towards a rendezvous with history – and the future: Sybil Gerard – fallen women, politician’s tart, daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward “Leviathan” Mallory – explorer and paleontologist; Laurence Oliphant – diplomat, mystic, and spy. Their adventures begin with the discovery of box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for…
You take two brilliant writers, mix that with an excellent idea for an alternate history, have the setup for an excellent plot, and then … everything goes wrong. I have really no idea how those two authors could have made such a mess. If there’s one thing that can be said in favor of the book, the two authors nailed the steampunk setting perfectly. You feel like the difference engine must have changed the world on another timeline, but everything else, plot, characters, pacing, solution, all is badly done. It’s tedious and opaque, and worst of all, you can see the potential of what the book could have been. I’m sure there is an alternate reality where the book came out much better. But sadly it’s not ours.
Backcover Synopsis: Fat Charlie Nancy is not having a good week. His estranged father recently dropped dead on a karaoke stage and has left Fat Charlie with much more than just embarrasment. Because, you see, Charlie has discovered that his dad wasn’t just any dad. He was Anansi the trickster spider-god.
Anansi Boys is a book that started late. Only around page two hundred the real action begins, everything before seemed like a long, drawn out setup. There’s another problem with the book, the main mystical antagonist is pitiful when he is revealed, unlike those in American Gods or Neverland, he doesn’t feel either smart or dangerous. Even the human antagonist who is established over the course of the book and who seems to be dangerous, isn’t allowed to do real harm, (okay, he kills someone, but when you see the dead ghost of the person who is killed running around the whole time, it doesn’t ammount to much). That’s not to say that Anansi Boys is a bad book, far from it, but the magic spark I found in some of Gaiman’s other works wasn’t there, it was a competent book, but I wasn’t really enthralled by it.
An apt description would be Moby Dick on an alien world, but at the same time it wouldn’t do justice to the book, because there’s much more to it. On the world Nullaqua the Nullaquans hunt the dustwhales who live in an ocean made of dust. When the drug Flare is outlawed, John Newhouse, an outsider who lives on Nullaqua, joins a crew of the whale hunters to make the drug on his own, since it’s made from the guts of the whales (I wonder if that was inspired by the sandworms from Dune).
Sterlings first novel is also one of his best. It’s completely unlike anything he has written later, at least the setting and the atmosphere of the novel. The main hero begins as one of the more typical Sterling characters, a drug addict and outsider to most of society. The book is about a voyage over a truly alien landscape, where people are small and can easily die, if they don’t work together. During the voyage John falls in love, learns something about the true past of the world he’s living on and changes so much that he can’t go back from where he started. It’s a beautiful first novel, full of weirdness and strangeness, and very unlike all of the rest of Sterling’s books.
After the Tannia/Erde war has ended, a veteran of the beaten Erde space force lives as an instructor on Tannia. It is forbidden for him to fly ever again, but when the third human colony in the system attacks both Tannia and Erde, the situation changes. Coming out of retirement, he tries to mobilize forces on his homeworld to fight back the occonian invaders. But something isn’t right with the Occos, something strange is going on, and soon he finds out when he finds himself as a prisoner on Occo.
It’s a great mix of character study and military SF (with a hard SF approach to space fights). The plot that has some ingenious twists and always plays with the expectations of the readers. When you think you know everything that will happen next, you might, or not. But where the book really succeeds is in bringing the characters to live, the Erde veteran, his Tannian love interest, the Occos, and many others.
One of the things the book shows is the dire effect of the influx of too much new technology into a culture that isn’t adequate to absorb it without harming its own culture in the process, and while I question that this is true for every instance, it’s hard to argue that there might be cultures that can fail at doing so. The solution to this problem in the end is quite drastic, but understandable from the POV of the Tannia/Erde alliance, but I do wonder whether they will allow the Occonian culture to grow at their own pace, or completely preventing them from ever growing at all.
Shadows Fall is the place where all the creatures of imagination go, when they have been forgotten. Over all thrones Father Time, and his minion Jack Fetch, they are the law in the city. But something is wrong, since their unwritten law that nobody gets murdered has been repeatedly broken, somehow someone is going around killing. At that time a man named James Hart comes back to Shadows Fall, he lived there once as a kid, his mission is to find out what happened to his family. But his appearance is an omen for the fall of the city itself, something James doesn’t even know.
The begin of the story is excellent, similar in tone to works by writer like Gaiman and Barker, that fuse the modern world with fantasy. James tries to find out who is the murder and why Jack Fetch, the minion of Father Time hasn’t stopped him, and it’s all very pleasant to read. But in the middle of the book something goes wrong, an external sect invades the city and the rest of the book describes the war between the sect and the people of Shadows Fall.
It’s one bloody fight until the end of the book, the mystery of the murders gets solved near the end like an afterthought and the ending itself is just a big, annoying deus ex machina. If Green had left out the whole plot with the sect, he could have had a really great book on his hands, but this one is a mix of a good first part with a second parts that’s an ugly mess. The result isn’t very satisfying.