An assassin attempts to kill all the members of the Colonial Congress, fails and consequently is hunted by many different people who want to find out who his client is. Meanwhile the oracles, sentient computers, watch the events undetected, furthering their own mysterious goals.
Strangely, unlike Barton’s first novel, this shows fewer traces of Barton’s typical style. It looks like an attempt to write a standard adventure fare, but does fail completely. It’s not a pain to read, but still feels on the whole rather dull. During the whole time you wait for something big happening at the end, a plot-twist that improves the mediocre hunt-the-assassin-plot.
Sadly that doesn’t really happen, and neither does the book gives a solid explanation for the whole subplot about the oracles watching the events. It looks like they intervene at some point in the story, and they got something out of it, but the reader doesn’t learn what it is and why (apart from some hackneyed phrases that explain nothing, like overmind now in reach).
While it’s better plotted than Barton’s first novel (sadly the plot is not good in itself), characterization seems to have suffered because of this and is worse than in Hunting On Kunderer.
The Wandervogel (a spaceship) stops at Kunderer and some of the people who came with the ship go hunting in it’s jungle. Later the captain of the ship follows them to find out if one of them had sabotaged it at the port before Kunderer, something that has been found out only after the party had left for the jungle. Meanwhile, the alien in the hunting party uses his human concubine to learn more about human relationships by letting her seduce the other members of the hunting party.
The setting was interesting, a richly populated galaxy with many different alien races and a four thousand year old, intricate human history, full of galactic exploration, expansion and conflict. Sadly the book squandered that potential by not really using the rich background, it’s only about a party of characters going hunting on an alien world and some unremarkable events happen.
All the action was mostly character driven, but the problem was that at that time in his career Barton’s writing wasn’t yet at the level of his later novels and so even that didn’t worked so well. The book showed traces of what would be the defining elements in most of Barton’s later fiction, sex, gloomy moments and characters who were neither black or white, what it most of all lacked was a better plot.
An almighty alien race, for whom matter, energy and form held no more secrets, finds a human who is near-death in a ship wreck, heal him and send him back. Added to that they send one of their own with him, as an observer to learn more about humans (seems the omniscience of the Shogleet has some gaps after all).
The man they rebuilt was an agent of Galactopol, an organization that fights against any form of change in certain human colonies on other planets, colonies that are stuck in some historical mode, like the feudal age of Arthurian Legend. The agent and the Shogleet go on three adventures, and always come back victorious. In the second and third adventure they’re aided by a female agent of Galactopol.
It feels as if the author wasn’t sure whether he wanted to write something funny or something more serious (in the sense of a serious adventure story, not something really deep). The outcome is something that is dumb and a pain to read. I’m not completely sure whether Phillifent wanted to mock some things with this book, or whether the silliness was unintentional in the first place, but the end result is just bad.
The Shogleet observer is a deus ex machina who solves all the plot problems, the male Galactopol agent is a moron of the first order, and the women in later chapters are some of the worst female characters I’ve seen in a book (I have a theory that they are an attempt to mock exactly that by other writers, but if that’s so, it fails to work on any level).
A William Barton story is never simple, but if I would give a simplified synopsis of the plot, it would sound like, “A man becomes a whore for aliens, to pay for his monthly longevity treatment, since it’s an easier job than the treadmill that his life has been until then, working a grueling job everyday just to live longer, where living longer means just extending this neverending cycle of work and longevity treatment.” But like I said, William Barton’s stories are never that simple.
Thomas Morley, the man in question, doesn’t become a whore just because of the ‘easy’ money, equally important is his longing for something he can’t admit to himself, he craves love, and if all he gets is the cheap emotional substitute of being a whore (actually courtesan would be a much more apt description in his situation), then so be it. At the end of the story, Morley’s situation in life doesn’t look much worse than at the beginning, he has traded one treadmill against another, how the reader perceives his situation alas depends on how much he despises the concept of being a courtesan. The chapbook (it’s only 40 pages long, probably a novella) has a depressing and claustrophobic feel to it (everybody seems to be trapped by something, work, passion, life), an interesting setting with many colorful aliens and some weird human/alien sex scenes.
While Tiffany Aching is en route to begin her apprenticeship in witchery, something is following, something that can’t be killed, that is as old as the universe itself and that won’t stop until it has taken over Tiffany completely and remade her into something else. Something cold, nasty and wretched.
When you think Pratchett can’t surprise you anymore, he writes something like when the creature following Tiffany, the hiver, tells her about human nature, how it wonders that we can face infinity, life and the universe itself, and still be bored, and what he says rings all-too-true and makes you stop and think. Pratchett always has these moments, when he shows his astute power of observation of human nature, but unlike many he can wrap these into entertaining stories with interesting characters.
Or when for example Granny Weatherwax reopens the door to Death’s realms and defies rules that she hasn’t approved of, and you feel yourself gleefully grinning, because just a moment before you expected something completely different would happen next, but what has happened is much better.
Yes, this is another excellent book by Pratchett. I don’t know how he does it, writing one great book after another, but as long as I have fun with them, I don’t care.
The queen of fairyland has stolen the brother of nine year old Tiffany Aching, but with the help of some little men (the Nac Mac Feegle, whose whole purpose in life seems to be stealing, drinking and fighting), a talking toad and her own unique skills she hopes to get him back.
To tell the truth the story isn’t terrible original, not even the Nac Mac Feegle are, even if I liked their conception. Still, what makes this book great is not originality, but the solid storytelling of Pratchett, he gets into the head of his characters and makes them seem as real to the reader, as real people are, and how often can you get into the head of other people.
Pratchett has long mastered pacing, plotting and all the rest to make his books immensely readable, and doesn’t show any signs of growing weaker despite writing already the 30th part of his Discworld series (apart from originality, that one is hard to do even if you don’t write long series). It’s a book that’s obviously written with children in mind, but can easily be read by adults, and thus is an excellent entry point into the Discworld setting for everyone. And it’s highly entertaining too.
While all good books should have good characters, plot, pacing, setting and story, every genre has something in which books can excel that is hard to do in other genres. Science fiction books for example can take a simple (or not so simple) idea and look at the long-term ramifications for humanity, and that is the primary quality of Wil McCarthy’s ‘Queendom of Sol’ trilogy.
It’s a follow-up to ‘The Collapsium’, in which a future human society can fax humans all over the solar system, the fax system can make countless duplicates and filters in the fax system even heal any disease, including aging. While the former read like a far future fairy tale with queens, kings, villains and betrayal; the tone of the later trilogy is much more tied to realism (at least as much as this is possible in SF).
McCarthy looks at the long-term ramifications of immortality: the generation gap (The Wellstone), relationship problems, overpopulation (To Crush the Moon) and others, and tries to do that in the most exhausting way. At times this is exhausting to read, but it’s always worthwhile to plunge forward. McCarthy doesn’t just present the problems that may arise through immortality, he tries to find some ingenious solutions as well.
At times this trilogy seems to have a slightly everything-will-fail-in-the-end attitude, but I think McCarthy’s point is, if you live for a very long time, you’ll see the end of everything. But the end of something is always the beginning of something new. If you’re immortal ups and downs will happen ad infinitum, but being alive is a promise that something good is always waiting around the corner.
Some of the stories haven’t aged that well or weren’t good to begin with, others are good but far from being rememberable. But some gems can be found in this collection, like Gentleman Pervert off on a Spree, a dark story that never found a home until this collection was published. Solely looked at the story content, I would say this is a collection for people who like Barnes’s fiction in the first place, having read his excellent novels, but none other.
But that’s not true, there’s something that makes this collection readable for everyone interested in SF. Eight non-fiction pieces are spread over the collection and all of them are excellent. Often the non-fiction of writers I like is drivel or just plain uninteresting, yet Barnes seems to be an exception, he elaborates with insights on things like style, genre and others, and he always seems to hit the nail on the head. In the end you get a collection that has some good, some bad and some excellent stories, and eight fantastic articles that everyone who likes SF should have read.
It’s rare for an author to get a collection published before he has a novel out, but it is understandable in his case. Chiang is a writer who has great and novel ideas, but is also able to combine that with well written human characters.
That said, some of his stories left me unsatisfied. There was this why-should-I-care feeling, despite the interesting ideas. The reactions of his characters are believable, like in ‘Division by Zero’ that of the Renee when she discovers that mathematics is inconsistent, but at the same time I’ve a hard time relating to her when she tries to off herself over that.
The story after which the collection was named, ‘Stories of Your Life’, had like the others an interesting concept that was combined with a human conflict, yet how the main character reacted felt wrong. Often the stories in Chiangs collection have a great build-up, but at the end something is missing to make them really great. They were clever stories, but without heart (still compared to many other stories by other writers they are very good). Yet some stories, like ‘Understand’, ‘Hell Is the Absence of God’ and ‘Liking What You See’ are real gems, where the core idea and its execution is so excellent that every other concern is negligible.
A nice collection that is a great showcase for the wide spectrum of WJW’s fiction, we have alternate fiction, science fiction, fantasy and some other stuff. And even if he works in only one genre, he easily alternates between different modes. When I read other writers I often only like it when they write in a special mode, for example either fantasy or science fiction, few can seamlessly switch from one into the other without losing something, but WJW can. He’s also one of those writers who can establish in only a short time excellent characters for whom you care and you don’t want the stories to end.
Another good reason for this collection is Solip: System, a novella that functions as a bridge between Hardwired and Voice of the Whirlwind. Erogenoscape has the same background, a creepy tale of obsession combined with some good sfnal ideas. The collection has so many good stories that it’s hard to say which impressed me the most, but that’s probably Prayers on the Wind, a story about a so-called enlightened future human society, and how they deal with an alien invasion. If there’s one mode of fiction of WJW I like less than the others, that might be some of his alternate fiction pieces. He takes so much care with the historical details that he forgets to write enticing stories.