A. A. Attanasio - Radix series thread

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by R-Hat, Jul 4, 2016.

  1. R-Hat

    R-Hat Well-Known Member

    I've read the whole thing. Yes, this is one of the best science fiction stuff out there. Amazing stuff. Do I have anything more to say? This is the problem, I don't. It's so perfect, that it's quite complete and I have little to add.
    I liked the first two novels the most, there was some psychology and character development and ambiguity. I admired the physics, the metaphysics and metapsychology, if you know what I mean. I am a kind of psychonaut myself (the kind without drugs) and I can appreciate all kinds of psychedelic adventures and evolutions. So the first book, maybe the second, a little the third, that's good.

    Attanasio is the master of world-building, things-naming (Gerrold would envy him) and things-working. I can usually spot where the author was taking his inspiration and if it was done inappropriately, but this is all so well done, up to the point of being almost realistic. There are not that many possibilities in sci-fi that spans across universes, it's a matter of which quantum theory you choose, and Attanasio chose well and sticks to it.
    Don't get me wrong, even the stories are good, thrilling, even. You could say it's mostly pure action.

    It's just that in the end, the Last Legends of Earth, the whole action is all like theater, mythical, archetypal, pre-destined, both literally and figuratively, there is nothing to figure out whatsoever, no more than flying bullets can change their goal, only perhaps fall aside, but not much else. It's quite clear who's good, who's bad, everyone knows their destiny and they aren't making much gesture of protest, which is good manners. There are few moral dilemmas, but they fall aside in the face of war of the good vs the bad guys and their pawns. War has a way of uniting things and pushing moral problems aside. Moral philosophy is prevention like nutrition, not surgery, it has no place when hell breaks loose.

    What you will read is the most impressive non-interactive series of scenes you will ever see, except Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (only beautiful and not depressing). A book has an advantage over film, in that it's interactive, it can play with your mind, by relating to something that the fiction and your life have in common. This has nothing in common with anything you know.

    In philosophy it is always important to say, "compared to what?" So, for comparison, let's say I've read a Japanese light novel series called Overlord by Maruyama Kugane (it has a very decent anime adaptation). You may think this is not the top of world's literature or originality (a very common fantasy theme of virtual reality game becoming real), but the settings, the psychology and possible situations with the characters gave me so much inspiration and so much space for philosophical and psychological conflicts and resolutions, that I could take the Overlord LN series and write a new fan fiction series ten times as good as the original, thanks to the universal themes that the author worked with. This is not possible with Attanasio, he will get out of your head as soon as you're done reading. Or maybe just the final book way too long, I don't know. Please share your thoughts.
    Boreas and Diziet Sma like this.
  2. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I haven’t read anything by A.A. Attanasio so I couldn’t possibly contribute to your review. I’m just curious about the books and about what I picked up after I looked Attanasio up.
    It surprised me to see extreme comments from readers. Many loved it but it was also mentioned the issue of “too much metaphysical stuff” “too hard to follow” I’m familiar with some philosophical doctrines and Metaphysic is a kind of a beast that comprises vast, hard to grasp concepts. Is the book dealing truly in metaphysical questions i.e cosmology, cosmogony, ontology etc. Doesn’t it get out of hand as this reader suggests?

    I would personally find dull and disengaging a story, which doesn’t allow me to step in. I believe your imagination should always find you a place in any book. Is it conceptually so “out of reach” and complex? Is that the reason why interacting is so difficult?
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I'm very glad you loved Attanasio's Radix and the other novels in the sequence. One of the reasons I love used book stores is because of jewels like Attanasio that I was able to discover amongst quite a few other excellent authors, actually, but Attanasio was always a parituclarly special find together with Zindell and Kingsbury.
    Attanasio almost pre-figures authors like Banks and Simmons with their space operas and some of their themes, maybe even more so than Harrison's subversive Centauri Device which has had a direct and visible effect on the new space opera authors of which Banks was the best proponent. The sequence as a meditation on transcendence and metamorphosis from a psychological and metaphysical standpoint is beautifully done. The world-building is definitely fantastic, if a little taxing at first. The first time I read Radix, my mind was in what the fuck? mode for a while as I was trying to figure out the Voors and that particularly confusing origin of the Weird. But the odyssey of the protagonist from
    despicable, psychopathic outcast to super-conscious godhood
    was one of the best I've ever read. Better than Dune in that respect. Zindell does an equally good yet different job in Neverness and its sequels, but he's fully invested in exploring the tenets of Advaita and Jain philosophy, esp. in the sequel trilogy.

    There's real beauty in Attanasio's descriptions, and coupled with his nod to the eastern perspective, esp. in certain aspects of Last Legends of Earth, makes him very appealing to me. There's no murkiness and ambiguity from that base (viz. crude), mechanistic stance like in Banks' works which is obsessed with a clear separation between head/heart or cognition/emotion, and there's definitely none of that self-flagellating guilt that Simmons burdens his Hyperion books with. There's a purity and a bird's eye perspective in Attanasio's tetrad that I really love.

    Last Legends of Earth is probably my favourite instalment. Or maybe I'd have to re-read them again to decide, but LLoE is the one I remember most vividly out of them all, and I read these in '99. (I remember specifically because I had quit university a year before and was just on my way to Der Schweiz for a job, and I was hitting up my regular used bookstores where I'd asked the owners to locate a few titles for me, including LLoE.) It is the ultimate set piece, in every respect. It blew my frickin' mind. Just the realisation of the scale (physical, causal, temporal, karmic) left me out of breath. I think it was one of the earliest such novels I read with a scale of such vastness that was paradoxically also intimate, so it made a very strong impression. Good love story, too. Enduring and strong, but without that cloying sentimentality.


    When I was later in Basel, I was continuing my read of Dickson's Childe Cycle and had The Final Encyclopedia at hand, which is excellent and my favourite instalment in the cycle. I definitely recommend the Childe Cycle to you, @R-Hat. It can't compare to Attanasio's artistic beauty or Banks' fluidity of prose, but Dickson's approach to metaphysical themes is very good, an attempt to identify the creative spark of the species where he initially uses military SF as the framework/starting point. Plus, you'll enjoy the politics and economics of Dorsai!. The conflict parallels the dangerous growth of the EU and features an attempt to stop such a complete takeover of civilisations (but Dickson wrote this in 1959!). Dickson's complex economic system in terms of contracts, and how it can be subtly manipulated on a macro scale is especially to be praised. The libertarian in you will enjoy it. And the "psychonaut" in you will enjoy the metaphysical overtones couched in übermensch terms.

    How does Attanasio's work compare to Colin Wilson's Spider World books? I finally got them based on your recommendation long ago.
    R-Hat likes this.
  4. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Some ambitious works that are also excellent can require a degree of commitment and effort. Attanasio rewards in spades. If you're unsure about tackling his Radix or any of the others in the tetrad (any of which can be picked up without reference to the others), then try something smaller scale like Wyvern (a nautical, historical narrative with some magic-realist elements) or Hunting the Ghost Dancer (a pre-historic man sf work), both of which are, again, excellent. Everything I've so far read from Attanasio has been of high calibre.
  5. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    I'm impressed with Attanasio's decision to have all his books in the Kindle Unlimited program. He's probably the "biggest" name author to do so. I downloaded Wyvern to try him out.
    R-Hat likes this.
  6. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I’m definitely interested! as they say “Effort is the best indicator of interest” I was just wondering about the negative comments I read. I take @R-Hat's word and yours for it. I get carried away easily and I need to hold back from buying more books. I already have an impressive "pile turning into hill" waiting to be read. Attanassio is on for my Autumn/Winter due read.
  7. R-Hat

    R-Hat Well-Known Member

    It does get a little out of hand in the last book, but not much. Nothing like Ian M. Banks, for example. I am a philosopher of metaphysics among other things. What Attanasio works with is intimately known to me and in my opinion he handles metaphysics very well. Yes, cosmology, cosmogony, ontology, it's all there. But it's manageable.

    The problem isn't in the story being dull, quite opposite, I'd say Attanasio is such an expressive and poetic writer that he leaves little to imagination. Reading him is like a drug trip plus poetry session plus a bout of synesthesia. Also, the very genre of it is the ancient archetype of good vs evil with some gods using mortals as their champions. Stories like that are told for millenia and by definition they don't contain any surprises. Suspense yes, surprises not. There is nothing left in the book that the reader could help solving, so to speak. But this is also the clarity, purity and freedom from sentiment of which Boreas speaks.

    I totally agree! Very well said.

    I take your recommendation very seriously and this would be the next serious reading I'd get into. It's just that I'm not sure I know what I want right now. When I read these grand works, I feel like a professor reviewing graduate papers, comparing them to the one true standard. Metaphysics not a very suitable area to be creative in, there are not that many possibilities.
    Let's say, just hypothetically, if I wanted to read something psychological, to get again more in touch with human nature, what would it be? I've got a very good idea how to burn through the human nature into the divine, but I forgot what it was like before I started, or perhaps I was never strong in this department. I'd like to see personhood at its best, when there is nothing tragically wrong with it and it doesn't need too drastic metaphysical transformations (or recycling) into the divine end product.
    I don't know, an example could be The Damned Trilogy by Alan Dean Foster, which I count as guilty pleasure good enough not to be ashamed for. It's military sci-fi, alien point of view, focus mostly on humans, very pleasing for my sociological gut. ADF is a prolific writer and not everything from him is good, but this is among his best works. Bested perhaps by Midworld and a few of his other standalone novels.

    Colin Wilson is definitely the less grand author, I get the sense of him being suitable even for younger readers (but in sci-fi, who the hell cares). He is more philosophical, very focused on win-win conflict resolution resulting in harmony, while with Attanasio it is always win-lose, even if things go well at first, almost everyone dies anyway. Wilson is more satisfying I think, but not cheap, only less harsh. I would peg him as similar to the modern religion of New Age or Theosophy, his metaphysics is quite rich yet familiar.
    I think what he shares with Attanasio is the description of how someone can, by the use of psychic or bio energy develop himself into nearly divine abilities and how is that coupled with intellectual and moral development and with active service, work and fight in the world. This is something that I can deeply identify with, because as I share a lot of the symptoms that these authors describe. No special abilities yet, but let's say I would not need the Culture drug glands of Iain M. Banks.
    Diziet Sma likes this.
  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I don't think I'd consider him a 'big name' author at all. I bet self-published authors like Sara King or Christopher Nuttall outsell him many times over and are more widely recognised names, despite Attanasio writing quality SF since the early 1980's. I actually never came across anyone who'd heard of Attanasio till after I joined some online forums in 2013/2014, and I've come across only a handful of people who've read him since. But I'm sure whatever following Attanasio does have will be a dedicated one. Shame his novels have never been in print in all the years I've been aware of him.
    I can sympathise with the negative comments. He can be a challenging read, especially with Radix. The last third of Radix is a positively psychedelic acid trip and a very confusing moment for many (including me). It's the literary equivalent of that section when Dave Bowman utters "My God, it's full of stars" and subsequently plunges into that pyrotechnic miasma of colours and sounds that can only be a crude and approximate stand-in for the ineffable.

    You could start with Last Legends of Earth. It's actually the final instalment in the cycle, but it's fully self-contained and doesn't require knowledge of the other books. It's a heady adventure and a phenomenal set-piece. It's theatre. Think high drama like Ring des Niebelungen in an SF context.
    You must read Eiji Yoshikawa's Musashi! One of the loveliest books I've ever read. A Bildungsroman that is one of the most poetic (yet quaintly written) I've ever come across. Every time I read it, it reaffirms my faith in life, person-hood and that eternal struggle for psychological harmony. And it's one of the best adventure romances of all time, too. As much as I adore Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (and verily, I do), it can't compare to the multi-faceted, psychological depth in Musashi. Yoshikawa is similar to Tolstoy in that he too presents a majestic, grand sweep of grass-roots society, but obviously in the Japanese context. And very, very easy reading that will have you glued to the pages.

    As for Dickson's Childe Cycle, it is both grand and yet not. The deeper thematic exploration is very ambitious, but it is presented in bite-sized chunks, not quite getting to the heart of the theme initially, but tangentially touching it again and again in many of the stories. The Final Encyclopedia is the first full fledged attempt to dive into the deeper psychological explorations of the human mind on an individual and species-wide level, and it's presented as a quasi-picaresque novel (but substituting the traditionally roguish character like, say, Barry Lyndon with a fundamentally moral protagonist).
    Uh, yes for me. Mos def.
  9. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Thanks @Boreas. Notes!
  10. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I'm dithering between Last Legend of Earth and Hunting the Gohst Dancer. Most likely the latter one. There is something about the prehistoric sentting that appeals to me. Anyway, either one will be my next read.
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Hunting the Ghost Dancer is a more relaxed book to get through, so I guess it serves well as an introduction to Attanasio if you don't want to bother with any mental gymnastics at the moment. You can't go wrong whichever one you choose. The pre-historic man theme is something that I also really like. William Golding's The Inheritors is one of the best.
  12. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I will read HtGD and leave LLoE for later. I have also Surface Detail and Excession at home waiting( I bought them both in the end ) and I would like to pick either one before long.
    That is of course, if I don't get derailed by The Inheritors. It looks fascinating.
  13. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    I think that's the brilliance of LLoE. It's the verve and the energy of the storytelling that makes it one of my top 3 books of all time.
    Diziet Sma and Boreas like this.

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