Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by Klaus, Aug 31, 2011.
Rereading Brightness Reef by Brin.
Since I last checked in I've read A Case of Conscience by James Blish and The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, and listened to the audiobooks of The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (read by Matthew Rys), The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (read by Tony Jay) and Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (read by Simon Vance).
Ben Bova Titan
Just love his work. I re-read the whole series last year.
^^I'm psyched for his new book Existence, it's out soon!
Finished Tim Powers' new book Hide Me Among the Graves, a sequel to 1989's The Stress of Her Regard about vampire-like creatures which both feed on and inspire humanity... it was very well done as all of Powers' work is, a little slow-developing but creepy in his inimitable style.
On to a 50s classic I've never read, Edgar Pangborn's A Mirror for Observers.
Just started Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold. And I mean 'just started'. Oh well - a book with a larger role for that-idiot-Ivan is all good in my book!
Oh yes, and I am very much looking forward to the release of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.
I bought and read John Varley's Mammoth-not bad, sort of scifi light, and then moved on to Allen Steele's Tranquility Alternative. Anyone who hasn't read Steele's non-Coyote books should give them a try. I have yet to read one I didn't like. He creates worlds we don't just enjoy but that we know-even when they are alternative history like this one. Give him a run, you will thank me.
Finished Brightness Reef. Very good, dense world-building, with the eclectic points of view (although it wasn't until Alvin directly referenced it did I realize his name was a reference to two Arthur C. Clarke novels, which is funny as those were two of my favourites). As a space opera, the Uplift series so far has kind of implied epic scope somewhere in the background as it needles on very specific areas - like Uplift War hinting at some big galactic conflict as it hunkers down on Garth and the Mulun Mountains, or Startide Rising's focus on Kithrup with all that interesting space travel as mostly backstory. (Not to mention Sundiver being a space opera that never leaves the solar system.)
Cetaganda is easily one of the most entertaining Vorkosigan books; the stuff about Cetagandan society alone is worth it. I'm not entirely sure how I'd rate them, but that Vor Game and Mirror Dance would be somewhere near the top.
Oh, she's finally doing that Ivan Vorpatril book? Sweet.
Funny too, because just last week I finished the omnibus of her fantasy Chalion novels. They were alright by and large, with the workings of her fantasy theology being one of the stronger points.
I have no experience with Weber before, but I was reading the first chapters of several novels, but this one grabbed my attention.
I've officially given up on David Brin. I read the first Uplift book, and didn't care for it at all. But, then I was told, "No, no, it's the second one, Startide Rising, that's awesome. You've gotta read that." So I read it. And it was cute. Not bad. Sort of like a mediocre Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. Funny monkeys. Silly dolphins learning about humanity. All very quaint and Star Trek-ish. But I didn't LOVE it. I had heard his name alongside Greg Bear's, but nothing Brin had written had anywhere near the power of a great Greg Bear novel. But then I was told, "No, no, it's The Uplift War that's the really awesome one. That's where the story really hits its stride." So I read it. Or, started to. I got half way. Then I stopped, and realized I couldn't care less what was going to happen.
Here's the problem with David Brin: he's just not that good a writer. I mean, an actual writer, on a sentence-by-sentence basis. He's not great at character development, or prose, or anything really. He's got fantastic concepts, that's true, real heavy way-out-there epic space opera stuff, but his writing never rises to the occasion. He's stuck at a sort of adolescent Star Trek: TNG level of plot and character - it's all very safe, and very cute, and very PC, and very predictable, and all well within budget. Bland, is what I would call it. Bland, palatable space opera. You want space opera with balls? Try Nova, by Samuel Delaney, or Downbelow Station, by C. J. Cherryh.
Anyway, in terms of what I'm reading now, I just finished slogging through Fritz Leiber's The Wanderer. It won the Hugo that year, but hasn't had much of a reputation since then. I think it deserves attention, absolutely. It is indeed ambitious, and apparently was quite influential on 1970's disaster movies, at least in terms of structure (multiple plot lines, with many different groups of different characters, many of whom never cross paths, all dealing with the disaster in their own way.) But the book doesn't sustain the interest throughout. It's first half is very good, but more because of the promise it seems to suggest. Then, as I was nearing the end of the second half, I realized that I didn't really care about any of these characters, and the plot had begun to fizzle. The intensity drained away somewhere around the middle mark. So, in the end, I have to say, great ambition, and an excellent prose writer, but the book itself just sort of got away from him. I'm very interested in reading his famous fantasy series, though, Something or Other Ffarfad and the Gray Mouser? Something like that? Anyway....
There is no 'the story', quite frankly. Or if there is, there hasn't been more than the odd thread in the four books I've read. It's self-contained stories that take place in the same universe where the stuff that happened in the other book has happened here too but don't worry about it kind of fiction.
Eh. I found him fine with all of that. The biggest weaknesses were more the ideas - the more one thinks about the way Galactic society is supposed to work in the books, it leaves more questions than answers.
Spoiler: Well not much, also not the last two books
For example, the idea that for some reason machine cultures are rarely if ever accepted into the oxygen-breathing clan system of culture. I recognize there's a heavy book bias towards biological life as that's one of the main concept hooks of Uplift, but why on earth is artifical intelligence so damn rare? Hell, why does the human species undertaken improving chimps and dolphins and not anything really with artificial intelligence? It may or may not be addressed in the last two books, but eh.
And then it can throw around offhand comments about the existence of a parallel society of hydrogen breathers who exist enitrely independently of the oxygen-based galactic culture, which... well even assuming that somehow they're too alien for the wide freaky variety of aliens that the oxygen races have, what exactly is the cultural connection? They've existed simultaneously for billions of years, they must have influenced each other a lot even with their minimal contact.
Did they also come from some branch of the Progenitor-type culture with their own library and the works or what? If they're affiliated with the Progenitor lore, why not be part of Galactic society, if they're not (and include species which self-evolved) why would humanity's wolfling status seem to aberrant, and if there's instead say a hydrogen equivalent to the Progenitors that's unrelated to the Progenitors, that'd still mean two sapient species that rose from nothing to stratospheric heights etc.
But prose? Pacing? Teenage alien girls with vaguely defined psychic powers? That stuff's fine.
I really like Star Trek: The Next Generation. If I didn't, I really wouldn't be here.
I've heard Nova's pretty good (and Delaney) and had been meaning to getting around to them at some point. Might accelerate that now, likewise give Cherryh a look-see.
I also like Brin, but it's not like anyone's mistaking him for Gene Wolfe.
Finished Edgar Pangborn's 1954 classic A Mirror for Observers... what a lovely book, a tad sentimental and old-fashioned but also still timely. It concerns Martians who have been on Earth for 30,000 years and are observing humanity until we mature enough for them to reveal themselves -- though some of them abdicate that role and actively look to help us destroy ourselves as we're a lost cause, centering around a young boy who has the potential to be a powerful force for good or evil. It's written in a first-person style and has beautiful language and some trenchant observations about human nature.
Speaking of Gene Wolfe, I think I'm on to his novel Peace, one I've never read though it's from the 70s.
Oh, don't get me wrong - I love Star Trek: TNG. It's fantastic television. But it doesn't work in literature. Most sf literature that aims to replicate the Star Trekian style of plot and character comes off as very silly and superficial. You're reading it, and you're thinking, "This feels too much like television." On television, it's the actors, and the music, and the directing, and the special effects that all help create that awesome epic Star Trek feeling. On the page, the sf author doesn't have recourse to any of those things, and must go deeper. (It's the same reason movie-type dialogue doesn't work in theatre - theatre needs to have more complex dialogue and characterization than film, because it doesn't have all of film's other advantages.)
In any case, I also said "adolescent," meaning that I often felt that Brin's writing was a more adolescent version of the more mature writing on TNG. Same style, but not as interesting.
Fair enough. While I've been liking Brin, there's no way I'd personally mention it in the same breath as "The Inner Light" or anything.
Book of the New Sun would be the other novel series I'm currently reading, wouldn't it...
As someone who has tried his hand at writing, Wolfe's sheer courage as a writer is dazzling. There's nothing he won't dare to do.
Brin will be writing a sequel to Uplift in the near future.
I am currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312.
David Brin is an interesting writer. I can't tell you how many times I've started Sundiver and stopped. I really want to read the series, but there's a certain point in the novel where you can just tell he stopped writing for a while and picked it back up. After a great opening, as soon as the main character meets up with the Eatee, it's boring as hell.
Brin is...sort of dry. I agree that his concepts are great(enough to get me through the entire Uplift series) but the style is lacking. He's no John Scalzi, rather more of an anti-Scalzi when it comes to characterization.
I'm re-reading John Varley's Steel Beach.
Or as I like to call it: "dinosaur ranchers on the Moon".
Separate names with a comma.