Game, Set, Match

I finished The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks’ second Culture novel, yesterday and truly enjoyed it.  It wasn’t a brilliantly written book or even an amazing or inventive narrative (I flashbacked to Ender’s Game regularly, which was published only three years prior to Player).  But what I really liked about it was how it didn’t take itself too seriously, it was fast-paced and fairly lighthearted, and a really fun read.

Banks’ Culture is a wonderful setting, too.  It is almost the exact opposite of Reynold’s Revelation Space universe.  Where as Reynolds’ universe is dark, scary, unconquerable, and oppressive, Banks’ Culture universe is settled, utopian, calm and orderly, and you don’t get the sense there is any real threat to the Culture out there.  If push came to shove, I would prefer Reynold’s universe, but Banks’ Culture is quite enjoyable, too.  I particularly enjoy his sentient drones and called what happened on the last page just before getting there.

The whole book is a build up to the ending (duh!, right? – but not all books do this well) and the real shocker, like Ender’s Game, is at the end.  Ender’s Game did it a lot better, but this was still good, if slightly more predictable.  Looking over my shelf, that’s the last sci-fi book I have to read, which is somewhat sad, but also the opportunity to go get more – likely more Reynolds and Banks; I’ve heard Use of Weapons (the 3rd Culture novel) is amazing.

But for now, I’m headed back to fantasy and am finally ready to begin the enormously daunting and much talked about Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson.  On sffworld.com, there are three distinct groups of people: those who hate the first book (often because of how confusing they say it is) and never finish it or the series, those who like the first book but find it ridiculously confusing, and either do or do not continue the series, and those who love both the first book and the series.

Now, this series has a huge advantage in my opinion – it is completed!  I hate reading series books that are not yet completed.  That is not to say that I will read all ten, fat, Malazan books in a row, but I like to know that there is a concluding volume on the shelf somewhere and that the author won’t up and die before finishing.

The Malazan series is what is apparently now known as BFF – Big, Fat, Fantasy.  I like those.  Yes, they are confusing because they’re so large.  No, you won’t be able to grasp every name, place, and concept within the first 50 pages, and yes, a lot will be asked of you as the reader.  I know that.  I accept that.  Which is probable why I’m 50 pages into Garden of the Moon and am not having any trouble with it.  I refer to the maps (which are impoverished in the paperback version I have) and to the glossary regularly.  Nether of which is 100% helpful.  But that is ok – I’m being taken for the ride and I’m going to enjoy it.  The writing is fine so far, in my opinion – another frequent complaint I’ve read, so that’s good.  Apparently, the story is going to jump around a lot in terms of people, places, and even time.  Ok, so what?  Pay attention, follow along, and if worse comes to worst, there are several kind and energetic folks out there who have written chapter by chapter guides!  So far, the story and the characters have grabbed me; the writing has succeeded in putting me squarely in a fantasy-war ravaged environment that I can see and feel in my mind’s eye; and sense of the huge setting with all of its complicating factors is palpable.  I’ve not yet been confused.  There’s stuff I don’t understand, but I feel like I will, the more I read.  So, in essence, I’m not afraid of this book and I felt like I might be.  And I’m poised to enjoy it!  Here we go!

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Not wasting any more time

I had to give up on the Age of Misrule.  I just couldn’t do it any more – I found I didn’t really know much about the characters, let alone care about them or what happened to them.  I had a hard time differentiating between some of them even.  I made it to about 1/3 of the way through the second book when I caught myself thinking before bed, “Oh, I don’t want to read tonight…” which is never, NEVER a good sign for a book for me.  So, I shelved it.

And was thoroughly excited to pick up Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds, the third and final book in the “Revelation Space” trilogy.  A bit unusually for me, I’ve not read this trilogy back-to-back-to-back, like I normally like to do.  It’s been pretty good that way, as Reynolds’ books tend to be dense, packed with information, and mostly by the end of one two things have happened: I end up loving the book, and I don’t want to read another one of his right away.

I picked this one up because I had been reading so much fantasy recently that I decided it was time for a shift and I’ve been having my hard sci-fi/space opera itch lately (probably cause I’ve been playing a lot of Mass Effect 2).  I’m about 80 pages into it so far and I think Reynolds’ writing has gotten better with each novel.  It’s tighter, somehow, which is daunting, given how much information is already in his books.  But I love reading about stars and star systems – the grandeur of it all impresses me.  I love how much he knows about astrophysics, and I’ll happily go to his school for several pages if that’s what he wants to do.  This trilogy took some time getting into, but the payoff is definitely worth it – the end of the second book, Redemption Ark, has really stuck with me and this final installment picks up right where he left off.  The only thing I would say might be helpful to add is a glossary of terms (astrophysics), factions, characters, and locations.

Back to Infinity and Beyond

Having finished Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I decided to switch genres again and go back to science fiction for a time.  Larsson’s book was pretty good; the story was engrossing after it took of but you did have to be patient for that.  I felt like some of the writing was very pedestrian, but I can’t help but imagine that a part of that was due to the fact that it was a work in translation.  So, I’m going to blame the translator a little here.  All too often I felt like someone was relaying the narrative to me as if it was a newscast.  I didn’t feel like I was in the story as much as I might have wanted.  Was it good enough to make me want to read the two other books in the “Lisbeth Salander” trilogy?  Sure, but not right away.

Instead, I decided to head back to space.  A while back, before I started this blog, I read Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space and Chasm City.  I enjoyed them, the second more than the first, but when I finished Chasm City I didn’t want to read any more.  It’s what they call “hard” science fiction, which means its heavy on the science and technology aspects.  But it is also classified as space opera – large, sweeping narratives encompassing enormous amounts of physical space and civilizations.  That part is what I can really get behind.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the hard science parts, just not as much.

So, this morning before work, I read the prologue and I’m hooked.  It picks up several decades after Revelation Space left off, but in space opera time, that’s not a whole heck of a lot.  His idea of the “melding plague” (a virus that infects nano-machines and biological matter the same, merging them together in a horrific juxtaposition) is back and I have to say, that’s one of the coolest sci-fi ideas I’ve read.  Probably why I enjoyed Chasm City so much; it was all about that.

So, this book picks up with the idea that humanity has gotten the attention of the Inhibitors, a mysterious race of heretofore unseen aliens who have set up, for lack of a better word, space stations throughout the universe to alert them to the presence of other star-faring cultures.  Alert them to their presence so they can destroy them before they become a threat.  Destroy them with super weapons that rival what the Death Star could do.  Now if that doesn’t set up a good conflict for space opera, I don’t know what does.  We’ll see where it takes me…