The Causal Angel (2014)


Third part of a trilogy that heavily depends on having read the previous two volumes to understand what is going on (at all, lots of advanced genre speak with its own inventions liberally thrown around). I really, really liked the previous two books, which were some of the best science fiction novels of recent years that managed to marry complex and dense world-building to equally well-written post-human characters and incredible smart plotting that covered a lot of current topics at the edge where technology and society meets. It’s a rare treat to find a writer so skilled at the hard SF game who also excels as an enthralling word-smith.

And the third part of the trilogy present a thrilling climax in many ways, except…

Well it depends. When it comes to fluff reading (which is probably more than 80% of all my reading) I’m entirely in the narrativist camp. But when it comes to the ambitious kind of science fiction that comes along only every few years, books like Diaspora or Schismatrix or Blindsight or a handful others, I really prefer the simulationist approach that play the What if game to the extreme. No big villains who have their evil monologue before they fry the heroes, no heroes who somehow turn out to be connected to all the important events in the settings past, connected to all the important movers and shakers.

The Causal Angel falls squarely into the narrativist trap after the previous two books hinted at something more complex. Instead all the smart, well written build-up of the past two books, the beautiful imagined setting, leads nowhere interesting, just a few (imaginative, I admit that) fights with various villains, some personal insights (not about the world at large but merely born out of the narrativist structure of the books) and a boring deus ex machina to save a plot that run out of things to dazzle the reader with. The heroes don’t even win, they just escape before the curtain falls.

I enjoyed it, but I really hoped for something with more substance. With more to it than merely a (very) smart surface.