Reading EftD brought back memories of Dan Simmon’s Hyperion/Endymion tetralogy, which is quite different in many ways, but very similar in one big aspect. In Simmon’s books one main faction was an assortment of AI’s that could be divided into three big groups. Later, it turned out that this was just a facade, the internal structure of AI-society just as fragmented as that of humanity. Something similar happens in Adam-Troy Castro’s book, where the true nature of the AI faction is characterized by a similar fragmentation and internal struggle, even if they seem to act with one voice to outsiders.
But that’s not where the similarities end, one big mystery in both series is the real resting place of the AI’s, their hardware. In that regard, I thought the reveal of EftD much more satisfying than that of Simmon’s books, where Simmon pulled a rabbit out of his hat by hypothesizing an new dimension of love that harbored AI’s and even allowed superluminal travel, but in my opinion reeked to much of magic and a convenient deus ex machina that wasn’t one bit believable. While I liked Simmon’s books, I always thought that this was a cheat which sullied his otherwise great series.
EftD’s reveal is far more satisfying and makes more sense in an SFnal way, even if it might be a bit much for some readers. At least it allows for some fine story developments in future books, as this one seems to be just the first in a series. The rest of the book is quite different from Simmon’s series, so no further comparison there. It’s a murder mystery that reminds me of many of the urban fantasy novels that I’ve read in recent times: a strong female main character and the tone and style of the writing.
At times Castro overdoes his fictional setting by trying too much for a depressing background and an angsty heroine, but most of the time it works. One thing that feels a bit odd is that most of the human space expansion seems like a hellhole, yet when it comes to the main character’s past they seem to act high and mighty, as if they were the federation. Castro seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. But maybe that’s just a slightly skewed perspective of the human expansion in the first book, one that will be rectified or deepened in further books and explain this disconnect.
All in all, not the most powerful novel I read this year, as the quote on the back of the book says it is, but still a very fine novel that I enjoyed tremendously.
Scott Bakker’s book is a theory clothed into a narrative. We are biological machines that dupe themselves into believing stuff like love, free will or even the self, but it’s all just a grand illusion, consciousness just a narration that happens after the act, humanity just a big robot dance. He backs this up by letting his main character comment on his and other characters behavior all the time, explaining the difference between what they perceive and think they are doing, and what is really going.
Depending on whether you dismiss the main idea outright or engage it seriously, this can be either a book that annoys you or prove to be quite the mind-fuck, even if you finally try to rationalize why you don’t buy it. As for me, it’s not the first time I’ve seen this line of argument, but when I did originally (the last chapters of the Susan Blackmore’s non-fiction book The Meme Machine) the main idea really grabbed me.
But the funny thing is, even if you are convinced the argument is right it doesn’t change anything. There’s no alternative, no way to step outside of your body and not experience the grand illusion. It’s like if someone is imprisoned in a perfect virtual reality, he may know that it’s not real, but he has no way of experiencing the difference. If you’re not Neo the chosen one, the spoon will always be a spoon.
As for the book. I found it to be an extremely intense read, even if the action is slow and everything very cerebral. Probably not a good action/techno thriller, but a very fine SF novel.
Solanin is an attempt to depict the phase that comes after you’ve outgrown schooling environments but haven’t yet figured out what to do with your life. Not kids anymore, but not really a part of the world of those grown ups who seemingly have figured it all out. An invention of modern society, for who had the time in less rich societies to sit around and do this kind of thing. Which is just an observation, I’ve been there and can understand how fucked up this can feel. Later you’ll realize nobody ever gets a clue, but that’s another story.
Which is why I think Solanin is a nice read, but not particularly successful. It’s emotional gutted, most of the characters feel slightly apathetic, as if everyone of them is on meds. There’s no anger or frustration, only boredom. Maybe Solanin is kinda successful, who knows, people can react very different to this phase of life, but I prefer characters who explore extremes instead of doing nothing.
For crying sakes, someone is dying and all these people can do is look melancholic around. At least it could have gone into the self-delusions people use to rationalize their inactivity in this phase of life. But all it amounts to in the end is some disneyfied experience, where everything ugly or painful is blanked out. Everything becomes bland.
This one volume prequel to Tsutomu Nihei’s manga Blame! sheds some light on the origins of the silicon lifeforms and shows the early days of the breakdown of human control in the megasphere. Unlike it’s prequel it doesn’t show a world completely dominated by technology, there’s still some architecture around that reminds us of the present. But the first aspects of the later megasphere are already showing. One point of departure from its sequel is the chaotic nature of the order, which reminds me more of horror or dark fantasy images than SF aesthetics. Not unlike its sequel, it also avoids answering anything outright and directly, each answer raises more questions. This seems less the result of careful planning than of an author who is just making things up as he goes along. Still works most of the time.
NOisE is interesting, not a must read, but a nice addition to those who savored Blame. But it’s not a complete story unto it self. Read as a self-contained piece, it must be more confusing than illuminating. Nothing is solved, there’s no pay-off to any of the plot threads and most of the references don’t make much sense.
My second read of Tsutomu Nihei’s unique manga about a loner traveling through the confines of a Dyson sphere. The art is still awesome and despite me having seen it already, it still manages to impress me. Partly because it’s quite unique in comparison to other manga, but even similar looking stuff from some European artists hasn’t tackled the same theme. Nobody before and since then has been able to communicate the size of an SFnal mega-structure as well. In that regard it does stand quite alone.
The story is another matter. While it’s rather sparse in the beginning, it does present an intriguing variant of technology and humans growing apart. But instead of following the main story that starts everything, the whole plot stalls the furthering of said development and gets sidetracked by other developments, until the ending comes around, which is quite disappointing. It’s not completely without merit, but you’ll get the feeling as if the author has lost interest or written himself into a corner.
Still, even with the story this flawed, it’s quite an experience.
The focus of the first Rifter novel was very narrow. The story was told from one viewpoint, it took place at one location. Maelstrom is a very different type of novel. Many different viewpoints, mostly humans, but also one breathtaking sequence of events told from the viewpoint of a line of computer viruses, whose place in the overall scheme is not apparent at first. Thematically it’s, like most fiction by Watts, a hefty mix, incorporating many themes, but his pet peeve, the mental wiring of people is still one of the more dominant ones.
The main plot is about a race against time. Starfish ended with Lenie Clark surviving the attack on her life, still carrying a deadly virus. Now she’s back to get her revenge, whatever the cost. Maelstrom nicely draws the lines between the groups who are working against each other, without actually letting the reader easily fall back onto learned good vs bad patterns. Emotionally I was fully sympathetic to Lenie, while I hated the corpses. But Watts never forgot to remind everyone that Lenie’s success would be a very bad thing, while the success of the corpses a very good thing.
Maelstrom is an object lesson in how easily we can be manipulated by even a piece of fiction (something that is not too different from many news stories that follow the same principle). People rarely care for millions of people or the greater good. Mostly they care about the few people they know, even if those are about to do some very bad things. In the end, you remember not the faceless dead, but those whose name you knew or spend some time with.
Like I already said, Maelstrom is very different from Starfish, yet equally brilliant. If the first one was a slick indie movie, the second one is a big blockbuster with brains. The first one ended with an apparent apocalypse. If you want to guess for the ending of Maelstrom, you only need to remember that it’s written by Peter Watts.
An omnibus collecting the first three novels depicting Dunk Hoffnung’s rise in Blood Bowl, a comedic and extremely violent variant of American Football that is set in a slightly tilted Warhammer lookalike setting. There are some minor and some major points that made it one of the worst reads I’ve had to suffer through recently, which contributed to the fact that I was only able to go through the first part (Blood Bowl) and the first half of the second part (Dead Ball).
The minor point is that many characters have Germanized names, which wouldn’t be a problem, if the author had shown even a slightly comprehension of the German language. The outcome was a horse named Horse (Pferd), a sorcerer named Sorcerer (Zauberer), a teacher named Teacher (Lehrer) and so on. Worse were some of the more creative names, like Annoying Female (Lästiges Weibchen) or Spider Beauty (which may sound not so bad in English, but rather awful translated into German). Still, this is minor, as I don’t expect most people reading this in English to understand German.
One major problem was bad characterization, the main character seemed to shift between a tranquil state and sheer bloodlust without giving the reader the feeling that these were two aspects of his character, but instead two different personalities that surfaced whenever it was useful for advancing the plot. He shifted hating things at one moment only to change his opinion seconds later and doing a complete u-turn. First-person-narratives need a strong main character to anchor the reader, not a plaything that changes at the whim of the plot.
Another problem was the style of the novels. As if Forbeck wasn’t sure himself whether he wanted to write a straight adventure yarn or something that spoofed sports in a fantasy setting, he shifted between those two styles without ever making either successful. Some writers have done convincing genre-benders combining ingredients like action and humor perfectly. Forbeck’s novels aren’t in that league, but sadly they even fail at just plain entertainment.
Batman Beyond has, beyond the obvious (depicting an old Bruce Wayne and a new Batman who feels like someone who can actually fill the role), some fascinating aspects. One, it’s a show deeply rooted in superhero comics, one of the most conservative genres in comics, but it’s also a show that takes place in the future and tries its hands at doing science fiction, a genre that can be rather progressive (I know that there are exceptions, I’m just generalizing). This makes for an odd mix, a show that takes place in the future, yet one that is deeply suspicious of any new technology and depicts it nearly always as something threatening, be it human augmentations, mind uploads or similar stuff.
The second fascinating aspect of the show is that it doesn’t just convey the adage that crime doesn’t pay, most of the time the criminals and assorted enemies of Batman suffer rather gruesome fates. In that respect it reminds me of old horror comics, where the punishment for moral digressions of any kind (as perceived by the public opinion of the day) met with death or worse. This also happened to villains in the original Batman Animated series, but somehow I thought it felt even more pronounced here.
And yet, despite it’s conservative stance, I really like the show. Sure, most of the time the plots are rigged to make Batman’s stance the right one, his suspicions of new technology seemingly always proves right. The only exception is Zeta, a neat episode where the new technology shows to be as humans or even more so than it’s creators. Sadly this was spun off into a mediocre, short-lived series that completely lacked the complexities of the Batman Beyond episode that spawned it.
But most of the time I wished they would have shown a more progressive stance, or at least be more ambiguous about future technology. That said, exactly this position between SFnal aesthetics and superheroes morals makes it such an interesting, strange beast. Well, and the good writing, the good animation and all the rest.
This is the first season of an aborted vampire-themed TV-series. Kinda generic, if you know that kind of stuff. The main character is a vampire who hates his existence and longs for being human, agonizing over every second of his existence, his best friend is the stereotypical vampire who relishes it. There’s nothing really outstanding about it, neither really good or bad (okay, some dialog was quite awful).
It’s watchable stuff and I thought while watching it man, this isn’t even as directionless and boring as Angel, but apart from that I can’t say I feel like history has missed a chance with cutting this one down after one season. Could have gotten better with more seasons, but real potential to be something truly good was never apparent.
I really liked the first season, maybe because the main problem wasn’t that obvious there as it was still fresh and new. But the rot was already sitting deep. Alias is some kind of spy-themed action series fused with the structure of a soap opera.
As I said this isn’t really obvious from the beginning, but as I reached the start of the third season I was completely sickened by the emotional flip-flopping of the main character and other characters as well (without any real character development), the constant desire for new shocking twists and revelations that made each new episode more ridiculous than the last (and not really much sense if you spent more than two minutes thinking about it), the deus ex machina nature of Rambaldi and his artifacts and other stuff. I haven’t seen more than the first two and the first half of the third season, so it may have gotten better or not. Can’t say, as I felt like I had wasted enough time on that crap.