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 bought Surface Detail and I'm hoping to read it soon- ish. Do share how you are getting on please (without spoilers):)
     
  2. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

    I finished Surface Detail last month and it is by far my least favorite Culture book. It's the least "epic" of the books I've read thus far, most unlikeable and poorly rendered characters, and the story doesn't really dovetail into any of the other books. The other books have this tenuous link to each other, but I felt Surface Detail was a stray dog, just sort of out there on its own. 2 1/2 star rating, the only Culture book I can't recommend.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2016
  3. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I see. I wish you had shared your views when you finished Surface Detail..
     
  4. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    I've read the samples of three Neal Stephenson books and settled on The Baroque Cycle over Anathem and Cryptonomicon, both of which I will get to later as I already have them on my Kindle. After the very positive experience with Seveneves, I'm in a groove with his writing style and want to take advantage of that. He says that Baroque is science fiction rather than historical fiction. I'm liking it already.

    On June 6 2016 it was announced that Ron Howard will be making a feature film adaptation of Seveneves and will have his screenwriter from Apollo 13 doing the script. http://collider.com/seveneves-movie-ron-howard/
     
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  5. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Elvira, I liked Surface Detail a lot, and it has the highest ratings by Amazon readers of all the Culture novels except for Player of Games. Good choice.
     
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  6. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    @Elvira, I'm not one to pay attention to ratings, since many books that I rate very highly have lower cumulative stars on Amazon, but Surface Detail is a great book. And in fact, it does have a strong link with the other novels in terms of its setting & involvement with other, major civilisational players, the Culture theme of "pain is bad, pleasure is good" which you find running throughout the novels, and even a reference that very conspicuously connects to a previous novel, so I'm not sure what @Sparrow means when he says it doesn't.

    In one sense, I agree with Sparrow that it is a bit of an outlier (though not nearly as much as Inversions, and to some extent even Consider Phlebas) in that it's probably one of the most polemical works that Banks has written on issues of morality and ethics. It certainly contains some Inferno channelling passages that are some of Banks' most disturbing outside of a scene from CP from his Culture works (Banks has always had a cruel streak, though he mitigates it with humour, dark though it may be). I actually thought SD marked a return to form after Matter, which I was a little disappointed by at the time, but even a less than average Banks novel is a more imaginative and better written offering than a majority of current SF&F. Both SD and The Hydrogen Sonata (sadly, his last novel) were interesting because Banks was beginning to take the Culture into new territory. If he'd been able to write another Culture work before he died (a sentiment he expressed once he became aware of his condition - stating in an interview that he'd have wanted to go out with a bang with an epic Culture story instead of the final mainstream one he penned), I think it might have been radically different. The feel of Special Circumstances by THS is quite different from what you find in the earlier novels.

    As for characters, the main 'human' antagonist is very over-the-top, a caricature, but quite an apposite representation given current political and corporate figures and those of the recent past. As for the Abominator class ship Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints (such an epic name), it's one of my favourite Banks creations. One couldn't ask for a more cheerful psychopath!

    I guess I can sympathise with the feeling of a certain reluctance with this novel, especially because of those Inferno scenes. But it's actually quite an accomplished work which aims to highlight and bring to life an ethical metaphor. It's possibly my favourite of the final three, although I really liked THS and I've only read that once so far, so maybe a second reading might make me like it even more. Conversely, I re-read SD just a few months after I read it the first time. It's a lot more fun than Use of Weapons, the most fun since Excession, which, I'll state for the umpteenth time, is my most favouritest Culture book.
     
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  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've not read the Baroque Cycle yet, so I'd be interested to know how you find it. I don't understand how it's science fiction...I thought it was supposed to be pure historical fiction. But at the same time, you can never tell how authors define their works - Kim Stanley Robinson considers his prehistoric-man novel a work of science fiction.

    Yeah, I just heard of the movie adaptation of Seveneves. Gotta say I think it won't work.
     
  8. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Thank you @Boreas for the detailed info.
    As I haven’t read any other books by Banks except Use of Weapons, I don’t have that internal, culture link that Sparrow mentioned. I will therefore not miss it. I like stories where moral issues and ethics are at the core of it. Like any other theme, if they are delivered masterly and in an engaging way, then I will definitely enjoy it.
    Regarding Banks’ cruel streak disguised in black humour, well I absolutely loved that in UoW. As you know, I’m a bunny for crime, noir novels, in which psychological tension decorated with a myraid of psychopaths of different colours and shades are a must: home territory for me. I’m looking forward to reading it. :)
     
  9. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member


    The problem with Surface Detail is Banks writes it with a heavy hand... and those last chapters where loose ends are being tied and lots of action scenes, just seemed hurried and amateurish. Thank goodness Surface Detail wasn't my first foray into the Culture, because it would have been my last.
     
  10. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member


    But the moral concepts don't get delivered in either an engaging way, or even crafted artistically enough to warrant any introspection. The bad guy begins off as really bad, by book's end he's still the same asshole. And really, not even an interesting asshole. Beyond that, there's some metaphysical nonsense, some sort of message Banks is trying to get out about revenge, a protagonist that is rather pathetic... and yes, Boreas is correct; there is a connection to
    Use of Weapons, but that it's revealed via an epilogue
    is just too stupid, and cheap. Banks' other Culture books have a bitter sweet quality to them, in Surface Detail you get black and white, good and evil.

    Edit by mod/Boreas: I'd normally ask you to add the spoiler tag yourself, but since Elvira is going to read the book soon, and I wasn't sure whether you might come back in time to edit your post, I decided this was an exceptional circumstance and took the liberty of doing it myself.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 19, 2016
  11. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Ah, @Sparrow ! I feel like when I was 8 and my two sisters were pulling my pigtails each in different direction…
    As the book has been paid for and is due to arrive within the next couple of days, I’ll read it and then I’ll compare my own notes and thoughts to Boreas' and yours…;)
     
  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Ah, crap! I was too late! You saw the spoiler just as I was editing @Sparrow's post! All for naught.
     
  13. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    No worries! It went into my goldfish memory. Already gone!
     
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  14. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Stop trying to make me feel better!

    Anyway, I think you'll still enjoy the book. That bit that Sparrow found cheap, I loved, but that sense of vague anticipation without actually anticipating it had been building up over a 10 year period, so for me it was a blast, just a little extra icing. Might not effect you in the same way. There's some really great humour in it, too. Will expect a detailed review of it when you're done!
     
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  15. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I'm about 1/5th into Excession, and this is possibly my favourite Culture experience ... so far. Looking forward to the last 4/5th.
     
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  16. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    @Elvira, are you still interested in reading The Skinner sometime soon, or are you busy on some other book? I'm planning on starting the Asher book in around three or so days.
     
  17. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Yes, I am! I have read about 70% of Up the Walls of the World. I can also begin The Skinner in a day or two.
     
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  18. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

    I can't bring myself to read anything by Neal Asher.
    Bumped into him on the old Asimov's Forum many years ago, and he was quite the Conservative, Liberal bashing muckity-muck. Always bitching about how liberal England was and all the taxes they took from him. Very angry older gentleman.
     
  19. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Well, you don't have to date him to read his book. You still have time to join us...:)
     
  20. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    60% through Quicksilver, I swear there is a laugh out loud line every page. No one mentioned he was funny but Seveneves and this one are and the first 100 pages of Anathem is also, especially the opening scene with the fraa and the Artisan. I'm so pleased to have a new favorite author and someone who I previously had avoided because he was "too dense and complicated". His teaching is so much a part of the stories that I don't notice plus I'm a Wikipedia addict, always looking up stuff I used to have to wonder about.
     
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