I am still not entirely sure what this novel is about. It is a near future tale, with few traditional SciFi space trappings. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and my final conclusion is that Bear is writing about societal trends that may appear in the future, in particular the impact of the very rich wanting to live for a very long time. Not nearly as epic as Eon and Eternity, it is nevertheless a solid work.
Eon and Eternity – Greg Bear
Greg Bear can think BIG. Eon is his classic tale of an asteroid that arrives in orbit around the earth. The asteroid is revealed to be simply one endpoint for an endless (?) corridor named The Way. Inside The Way is the city of Thistledown, populated by humans. That human civilization is thousand of years old. Thistledown is the future, and the past. Greg Bear knows how to describe his quantum mechanics, and the non technical reader should not be intimidated. The characters and intrigues of the various factions, as well as the strong characters and fabulous descriptions all combine in a marvelous story.
The sequel, Eternity, is about how mankind must give up it’s manipulation on space-time. After the message of hope brought by the first novel, it is interesting how in Eternity Bear takes humanity back down a notch, not closing the door to the future but simply reminding us that the gods do not take kindly to hubris. And through it all, Bear’s astounding imagination is combined with a gift for good, clear and interesting prose.
Manifold: Time and Manifold: Space – Stephen Baxter
Manifold is not a series per se, but rather different explorations of the theme “Are we alone in the universe?”. In “Time”, a portal is discovered in the solar system, and some fascinating stuff happens related to preserving life and intelligence in the long term. In “Space”, The Fermi Paradox is suddenly reversed, with aliens appearing everywhere and the whole universe is just one big fight for resources, to the point of utter barbarism.
I had some nasty nightmares after these, which is why I will probably never read the third book, “Manifold: Origin”. On a certain level, this is very stuff, but not like a horror movie. It scares me on a very deep level that I can’t rationalize away. The same level that knows that the goody two-shoes future of Star Trek simply is not a realistic vision. Still, I would rather watch Star Trek since I don’t want to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, however good Baxter is. Read the books if you feel you can take it. They are very good and the themes and subjects are both engrossing and fascinating.
Moonseed – Stephen Baxter
This novel starts off rather slowly and without fanfare, with our hero moving to Edinburgh to work on a moon rock. This moon rock is taken out of the lab and lost. It slowly starts to devour the landscape. Weird premise, but Baxter does it well. It’s all about how the humans of today would cope with the Earth literally disappearing under them.
I very much enjoyed how the novel starts small and events snowball into a massive cataclysm by the end. Well worth a look.
Anti-Ice – Stephen Baxter
Steam Age SciFi from Baxter. In the 19th Century, the British discover a pile of stuff in the Antarctic. This stuff releases fabulous quantities of energy when it comes into contact with other stuff. A whole transportation economy develops based on the so-called Anti-Ice. And there is a mission to the moon. Fun!
The Time Ships – Stephen Baxter
Authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’s classic novella The Time Machine. Baxter pulls it off quite well, putting his own touch on the old story. Enjoyable, especially if you like old Steam Age stuff such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
MÃ¤n som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – Stieg Larsson
Since I am Swedish, it seems somewhat odd that I seem to be the last person to have read Stieg Larsson’s wildly successful Millennium trilogy. I have finally gotten around to it, starting of course with the first novel. For the record, I read it in the original Swedish.
The novel has two protagonists, middle-aged muckraker journalist Mikael Blomkvist and twenty-five year old sociopathic hacker genius Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist is hired to dig into a forty-year old murder mystery by an old industrialist. Salander is a researcher, expert at finding the dirt on people, who becomes involved in the investigation. What they finally find is shocking beyond their wildest expectations.
I am often irrationally suspicious when an author becomes universally acclaimed by both critics and public, and this is perhaps why it took me so long to get around to reading The Girl with the DragonÂ Tattoo. But I also do not mind being proven wrong. This novel is certainly one of the finest I have read in a long time. The characters are deep, interesting and “different”. They do not fit any preconceived molds but are very real and believable. Salander especially is a very peculiar character to say the least, but Larsson adeptly makes her plausible and even sympathetic. This even though she certainly is not a sympathetic person by any normal definition. She is almost the comic relief versus Blomkvist’s straight man in a twisted sort of way. The story is excellent, but the book is at heart a character study of the two protagonists. And that is the key to its genius.
The pacing is not perfect, faltering a bit in the slow middle part, but overall it is very good. The story itself is complex without being hard to follow, supporting the plot perfectly. The device of the age old mystery of Harriet’s disappearance set against the backdrop of the intricacies of Vanger family politics is simply superb. And even when you think it is all over, over a tenth of the book is left, with a very extended epilogue that is still satisfying, possessing the same page-turning quality as the rest of the book. The language is elegant without being pompous, with clever turns of phrase in support of the story but never for their own sake.
One thing I do wonder about, and which is not really a reflection on the book’s merit, is how a person without any Swedish background experiences the novel. Many behaviors, locations and situations are so very Swedish that they would seem hard to translate. I guess I will never know.
Silverhair – Stephen Baxter
Titan – Stephen Baxter
Initially I thought this book was going to be rather upbeat, but the mood goes on a downward spiral towards the end. Humanity loses interest in space exploration completely. In fact the only thing to still progress is the search for shallow consumer happiness. NASA decides to go for one last hurrah and sends a one way expedition to Titan. As the years pass during the voyage, the small crew gets increasingly on each others nerves while listening from afar as humanity fades away to oblivion back on earth. The novel is powerful and moving, with there is a glimmer of hope in the end when those among us most suited for it, the voyagers and explorers, get to carry on the seed of humanity. Life goes on despite short-sighted humanity.
Zero History – William Gibson
This is the last book in the Bigend Trilogy, and thus sequel to Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. While I loved the former and thought the latter was pretty good, I found Zero History to be a total yawner. We follow once again the odd adventures of Hollis Mason and Milgrim as they chase down obscure pop culture details for Hubertus Bigend.
It’s all very cool and trendy, with the excellent cutting edge prose that is Gibson’s trademark.Â Unfortunately it is also very soulless and uninteresting. Taken individually, the scenes in this book are splendid. Elaborately crafted little vignettes, meticulously describing a setting and the actors inside it. As a narrative, I felt it didn’t seem to go anywhere. This is the first Gibson book I have actively disliked. I gave up about halfway through since I honestly couldn’t work up the least motivation to pick the book up again.
Flux – Stephen Baxter
As he did in Raft, Baxter plays with an idea in this novel. Heavily modified humans have colonized the mantle of a neutron star. The micro story taking up most of the novel is rather pedestrian, but the setting is magnificent. The macro story is about the fulfillment of a long lost purpose. Fun idea but not such a fun read.
Ring – Stephen Baxter
This is probably the most important novel in the “early Baxter” books of the Xeelee sequence. Michael Poole has opened the universe to mankind with his wormholes. We are introduced to Lieserl, humanity’s sentient probe inside our sun. GUTships ride to the very edge of space and time. One of them carries, ark-like, the seed of humanity. Thousands of subjective years later, it arrives at the Ring, a classic BDO (Big Dumb Object) constructed as an escape hatch from the impending destruction of our universe. Big stuff, and Baxter makes it look easy. The message of hope and the importance of Life expressed here are, I think, Baxter’s greatest hallmarks. A fascinating novel indeed.
Timelike Infinity – Stephen Baxter
In this important book in Baxter’s Xeelee sequence, Michael Poole, architect of a tunnel through time, must confront what happens when the tunnel ends in a time when humanity is enslaved. Be prepared to stretch those physics and existential synapses in your brain to the limit. If you are not really into hard SciFi, you should probably give this one a pass.
Raft – Stephen Baxter
Baxter always thinks big, but his stories often revolve around small communities on the edge of the main action in his universe(s). Raft is about such a human community living in a universe where gravity is much stronger than in our universe. The ancestors of the community somehow crossed over into this universe about five hundred years prior to the action. It is a solid story of courage and determination, and the need to face one’s destiny.
Jennifer Government – Max Barry
This starts off very well. It is a satire on globalization. The free market is everything and people change their last names to that of the company they work for. Take Mr. Hack Nike, for example. He is hired by the marketing department of Nije to stir up hype for a new line of trainers. The plan is for him to kill a couple of customers in order to give the product “street cred”. He subcontracts the job out to the Police. The government is weak and only handles crime. Jennifer Government is a government agent who used to work for an advertising agency. Definite Shades of “Snow Crash“.
This book is very clever in many ways, but disappoints in others. The story and characters are not much in themselves, but work pretty much only as vehicles for the author’s admittedly excellent satire. The novelty of the whole globalization run rampant idea wears off pretty soon, but it’s a fun, light-hearted read that kept me going until the end.
A History of the World in 10Â½ Chapter – Julian Barnes
Kaleidoscope Century – John Barnes
Orbital Resonance – John Barnes
The Great and Secret Show – Clive Barker
Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks
Banks is a best selling author of both Science Fiction and regular fiction. His Sci-Fi universe is known as “The Culture”, referring to the main civilization. Being systematic, I started at the beginning with the very first book of this celebrated series. I was sorely disappointed. Although there are space pirates, BDOs (Big Dumb Objects), interstellar intrigue, great characters and some solid action scenes, I failed to grasp the point of the story. For me, it was just plain dull. Your results may vary. The cover is gorgeous though.
The Digital Dead – Bruce Balfour
In the setting for novel, one can get an implant that takes a snapshot of the brain at death (a little like in Altered Carbon). This snapshot is transferred to the databanks of the company Elysian Fields and a sort of electronic heaven. So the dead are not really dead. Looks promising, but my first question is: If these dead can be “alive” why don’t they just implant their cybernetic consciousnesses into cyborgs and roam free? This question is answered, but not really to anyone’s satisfaction.
The story is rather complex, with a host of characters being introduced in the first eighty pages or so. It remains complex for most of the novel, but without ever really coming into focus. The driving threat feels abstract and the actions of the characters are rather erratic.
The writing is average. Many good ideas are competently presented, but there is no sign of prose virtuosity. The author tries a bit too hard with the near future clichÃ©s, such as “Brooks Armani”, or the worst one yet: “President Schwarzenegger”. Not because it is implausible, but because it is so uncool. His descriptions of locales are formulaic and boring and I found myself skimming through them.
I was left dissatisfied. I could barely work up the energy to finish the book, and it took a long time. Balfour has some great ideas, but does not present them nearly well enough.
Nightfall – Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg
An expansion of an earlier story with the same name by Asimov. Very interesting novel about a planet with six suns. This astronomical oddity results in a world that (almost) never knows night, and has never seen the stars. Astronomy is all about calculating the orbits of the suns. An astronomer figures out that night is going to fall soon, for the first time in 2049 years. Chaos and madness follow.
The Ugly Little Boy – Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg
An expansion of an earlier story by Asimov in which scientists retrieve a Neanderthal child from the past. A nurse feels empathy for the boy and helps him escape. Competently written, but mostly interesting due to the questions it raises about scientific ethics. Published as “Child of Time” in the UK.
Nemesis – Isaac Asimov
The Foundation Series – Isaac Asimov
The series consists of seven books. In order of internal chronology with original trilogy shown in bold.
- Forward the Foundation
- Prelude to Foundation
- Foundation and Empire
- Second Foundation
- Foundation’s Edge
- Foundation and Earth
This is truly one of SciFi’s classics. The original trilogy (starting with Foundation) is widely considered to be one of the finest SciFi series ever written. The rest of the books are of equally high quality, except (in my opinion) for Forward the Foundation, which seems more like an attempt to tie up loose ends, something of an obsession with Asimov towards the end of his career. Interestingly enough, the man who is arguably the main character, psychohistorian Hari Seldon, is long dead in most of the books. Few series convey a sense of evolving history as this one does, and at least the original three should be a must read for any Science Fiction fan.
So why not a higher score? Well, I feel that although it is a classic and very good, it did not quite capture my imagination as much as some other books have.