What SF book are you currently reading? (2015-16)

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by TomTB, Apr 24, 2015.

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  1. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I have just started 1st book of Koban Series by S W Bennet. I had to do some mild o_O adjustment to the technical jargon, but I'm managing it as I'm truly intrigued about the plot...
     
  2. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I have owned a copy of Consider Phlebas for a decade I think. It is one of these books I have always intended to read but somehow, I haven't gone round to it. I'm convinced my copy has little legs and keeps disappearing every now and then, only reappearing to taunt me...
    I read your critique @Boreas in the Blog and Consider Phlebas is coming with me this summer holiday.
    By the way, I haven't noticed until very recently there was a Blog! A hidden jewel! I found it through BSF Face Book page.
     
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Consider Phlebas was a great introduction to the Culture for me. But it was The Player of Games that cemented my love for Banks and, upon finishing it, I knew I would read all his works. Of course, you can start with any of his novels (though Inversions and Surface Detail would not be ideal starting points), but I have a feeling that maybe for you, TPoG might be a better introduction. It's both shorter and less action-y, but also more subtle and no less gripping. Either way, you'll do fine.
     
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  4. ecgordon

    ecgordon Well-Known Member

    Boreas, I see that you've read Lightless by C. A. Higgins. What was your impression?
     
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I enjoyed it, overall. While it's grounded in some scientific realism, the 'hard sf' aspects are subdued in favour of psychological drama. The story is essentially a locked-room mystery, one half interrogations, the other half figuring out why the ship's systems have gone haywire. Initially the story seems quite simple, but the interrogations flesh out the larger background of events taking place further in system. Set-up is fairly standard, but I enjoyed the limited the execution of it all, even if some things weren't perfect. The connection between outside events and events on board ship feel simultaneously immediate and distant. I particularly liked how Higgins uses the nature of thermodynamics as a metaphor for events on board ship. One aspect of the ending almost turned out as a slight caricature of a particular theme she was dealing with, but luckily Higgins mostly reins it in on time. Good ending and good psychological thriller. Not action-y. I'd give it a solid 3/5. Pretty decent début that I enjoyed reading and will read the sequel because I want to know what happens next. And by all indications what happens next should be on a much larger scale than the very constrained setting of this novel.
     
  6. ecgordon

    ecgordon Well-Known Member

    My take was almost the exact opposite, but I've read quite a few other positive reviews. I've wondered if the free e-book I got from NetGalley might be at fault, but haven't felt inclined to buy the final published version. I heard the second book might concentrate more on Althea and the computer AI, which was the thing I liked most. I got Supernova from NetGalley too, but there are too many Hugo things to read right now for me to worry about it.

    I'd appreciate it if you'd read my review and give me feedback - http://templetongate.net/lightless.htm
     
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    @ecgordon, will do, but a little later when I have a bit more time to read through carefully and respond. In not by later tonight, then tomorrow for sure.
     
  8. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I see. So I can skip the publication order. Will it not hinder me from picking up the Culture world building?
     
  9. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Not. At. All.

    One of the great differences between the science fiction and fantasy genres is that many fantastic 'series' in SF are in fact made up of self-contained, independent stories. So you can read them however you want. Same goes for Octavia E. Butler's Patternist 'series' that you were interested in. None of the Culture stories are related to each other except for in setting and themes. Almost none of the characters re-appear. One main character is in both a novel and a novella, and another main character from one instalment makes the briefest of cameos in a different story, and that's it. While the first three published Culture stories are generally a good intro, any Culture novel will serve the same purpose. The first three novels are a little special because they introduce the Culture from three perspectives: from the outside (Consider Phlebas), from within (The Player of Games), and from the margins (Use of Weapons). They're an introductory trilogy of sorts. But you could start equally well with the last published Culture novel.
     
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  10. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I had no idea this was the case. I just figured they all followed on from each other...
     
  11. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member


    It's the beauty of the Culture series that the stories are more episodic in nature... these are stories that could have taken place one after another, or not. Also, Iain Banks' narrative style changes from book to book. Some have a harder edge, some are almost playful, one book is satire of a sort. Actually, I'm currently listening to Surface Detail, which thus far is my least favorite in the series, but it is picking up now so perhaps my opinion will change.
    If I were to point you in a direction, I'd recommend either Consider Phlebas or Use of Weapons first. Also, don't expect "world building" in quite the way that you're used to with other books. This isn't Lord of the Rings or Dune. I've now almost completed all the books and still have no clear idea what the Culture is, in both bureaucratic structure and performance, the Culture is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.;)
    And as has been mentioned, there are almost no references made to characters and events from one book to the next. You really get the feeling that in the Culture, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is up to.
     
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  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Yep! The only thing that's a little consistent is that most instalments take place further into the future. Even that's not strictly true, but they all do take place after Consider Phlebas.
    Nice analogy. A consequence of its internally anarchist and 'diffuse' structure.
     
  13. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I love mysterious, riddlying puzzles, especially when I have the certainty I will fall on my face… I looked up The Player of Games @Boreas' suggestion, an introduction of the culture from within: Gaming seems to be the thread that carries out he story. On the other hand, Use of Weapons seems to have, from the description, more of a Crime Novel feel to it. Righ? If so, Crime novels are one of my weaknesses; so I think I will go with the latter. Consider Phlebas can wait a bit longer…
     
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  14. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Good choice @Elvira. Use of Weapons is arguably one of the best Culture instalments and it is an absolute stunner. Also the most structurally complex novel of them all. I've always felt it's the one Culture instalment that requires a second read through before a full appreciation of Banks' skill can be appreciated. It's the instalment I would recommend as an introduction to a classicist. Some great, darkly comic moments and also one of the most poignant of his stories.
     
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  15. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Well, I have added it twice to my TBR list...;)
    Another happy derailment...:D
     
  16. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I actually did that you know. I was just shy of 20 when I read UoW and after I'd finished it, I kept thinking about it for some weeks and then I just felt compelled to read it again. It almost felt like re-discovering the work even though I'd read it some weeks prior. It was my favourite novel for some time.
     
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  17. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I think the main thrust of your review is that you were dissatisfied by details concerning setting and technology, plus you thought characterisation was thin. With regards to characterisation, I think it was quite adequate, even good on occasion for the central characters. Granted, the ancillary characters were minimally sketched, but I felt enough of their essentials shone through for the limited roles they played.

    First of all, I should mention that when I picked up the novel, I wasn't expecting it to be a duology or a trilogy, but it became apparent ca. the 60-70% mark that the story was going to be a lot bigger and would likely continue with sequels. Honestly, that irked me. I bloody hate this growing trend for trilogies and series in SF where plots directly continue with sequels and each subsequent volume requires having read previous instalments. Having said that, I thought this arc was competently handled.

    When it comes to details on setting and technology, in this case, I think you might be concentrating on the proverbial leaves. Limiting the setting for this novel as Higgins did was a good idea. It's an isolated environment where information from outside comes in spurts. While it might not have contained as much detail as you'd have liked, the information that was provided was enough for the purposes of this story. Concentrating on the interactions of those few people aboard ship made the story more personal, quite intimate. From one marginal perspective, it's even a dysfunctional love story.

    And now we enter major spoiler territory.
    Once I understood that this narrative would continue via sequels, it paradoxically made what I was reading more enjoyable because I wasn't too worried about being left in the dark concerning the whys of the tech or the hows of the wider status-quo before the novel ended. I felt that this would be fleshed out later. The information provided in Lightless was a cross-section at a particular moment in time. It wasn't very important to know all the background, merely enough to make the current interactions between characters relatable and to place them in some context. And I thought the information given on the System succinctly gave us a flavour of the authoritarian and corrupt flows of power. Ida herself was a perfect representation of the System. Ivanov was her opposite number. Althea the every-man stuck in between. I felt Ida and Ivanov were especially well sketched. I could feel their sociopathy oozing through. Althea was developed to a certain extent, but she was the weakest of the three characters for most of the narrative except at the end. Perhaps her subordinate position and introverted personality played a role in that.

    I also thought that the slow build-up was warranted. The time constraints between the need to find out both mysteries (terrorist connection + ship failure) played off against the potentially impending attack in-system. It gradually and steadily built up to a critical breaking point and that final rush was quite gripping. The only danger was that the AI sub-plot almost devolved into a caricature. Once the purpose of the ship became clear and the effect of the subversive code on Ananke was finally understood, the AI spiralled down a clichéd, god-mode thought process and I inwardly groaned. Luckily, Higgins was able to curtail it.

    The other plot point that left me feeling iffy was Ivanov's partner hiding out in the ship. Fine, the explanations for how that came to be seemed logical, but it was stretching my suspension of disbelief.

    As for some of your issues on certain details, I'll try to give you my take.

    Regarding repetitive phrasings:

    Yes, I do remember some repetitive phrasings, but I think they were mainly because the same questions were being asked in different ways during the investigation. Ida gave the impression of a very thorough individual.

    Regarding your second paragraph:

    I found nothing odd in a highly advanced and automated ship requiring a crew of only three. As for the secret mission, I got the impression it wasn't supposed to be explained initially and that Ivanov was particularly interested in the purpose of the ship. He might have had an inkling, but nothing more. And the revelations do come, and they come quite explicitly. As for the relativistic drives - I didn't take that to mean FTL in-system, merely that these drives were advanced enough to give enough velocity so that relativity would be in effect; measurable, even if minute. If these ships can travel anywhere ca. 10-20% of c, then that is huge.

    One of the best features of the novel was its oppressive and dark quality. Higgins was able to convey this through her descriptions and also the mood. It fit really well with the astonishing actions of such an over-controlling and oppressive System and the equally astonishing actions of terrorist factions. By the way, I think that info is a spoiler in your review, when you say millions, possibly billions.

    I will add that this is barely an SF novel. It is, but this exact same story could be told in a bunker in Russia with slight changes. But the thermodynamics/entropy element does push it into SF territory. I think the next novel will focus on Althea and the AI as you indicate, but also on what's happening with the System after the disaster on Earth. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend this novel to people unless I know specifically they might enjoy something like this, but I ended up enjoying it and I'd like to read further to see how it continues.
     
  18. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

    If you fancy detective noir science fiction, then you'd want to try Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, or just as good are the first three or four Retrieval Artist books by Kristine Rusch. And of course a classic is, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick... though the movie based on the story, Blade Runner, is better than the book.

    If you want some laughs, then I highly recommend The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, by Douglas Adams. It's one of those books I almost wish I hadn't already listened to, just so I could listen to it again for the first time.
     
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  19. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    and there's also Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson, which is kinda similar to AC but benefits from decent characters.
     
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  20. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Great!! I will look these up !
     
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