Bova, Stephenson, Reynolds

Because they are intended for mass consumption, there are few modern science fiction movies or TV shows that really hit the mark for me. Sturgeon’s famous statement about everything being 90% crap seems even more true with mass media. It’s no less true of science fiction books, but there are so many more of those that it’s easier to find good ones. The trick is finding good authors.

Neal Stephenson is one author that usually delivers for me. Ben Bova is another good one, although until recently it was decades since I read his work. Alastair Reynolds, compared to them, is a new entry on the scene. All three write hard SF — my favored flavor of science fiction.

Unfortunately, the last Reynolds books I read was a disappointment.

I’ll get to that, but first let start with Stephenson’s most recent novel and the first Ben Bova novel I’ve read in decades. I enjoyed them both.

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Termination Shock (2021), by Neal Stephenson, is set in the near future. So near the story almost isn’t science fiction. Global warming has advanced to the point that, in parts of the USA (such as Texas), an environment suit is necessary to survive being outside during the day.

The story centers on a rogue project by oil industry billionaire, T.R. Schmidt, who builds a giant vertical shell launcher on the Texas-Mexico border. It’s a giant gun that fires large rocket-powered shells into the stratosphere. The shells are loaded with molten sulfur to fuel their rocket motors.

This serves two purposes: The rocket, although inefficient, helps the shells gain the stratosphere and, more importantly, the burning of sulfur creates sulfur dioxide (SO2), which stays in the stratosphere and acts to reflect sunlight.

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo released 17 megatons of SO2 into the atmosphere, which reduced global temperatures for two years by almost one degree Fahrenheit. Climate scientists have considered the idea of deliberately releasing SO2 to reduce global warming but worry about unexpected side effects.

T.R. decides to use his wealth to go ahead and do it on his own. According to his analysis, multiple gun locations around the world will allow precise control of side effects. And while some nations will experience negative effects, the overall effect is certain to be positive.

He hopes that, by the time the world can react to oppose him, his efforts will have made a noticeable change in the climate proving his project right.

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Two main characters are Frederika Mathilde Louisa Saskia (“Saskia”), the Queen of the Netherlands (a country already severely challenged by sea level rise), and Rufus Grant, part-Comanche and full-time exterminator of feral hogs (already a problem in the southern USA and more so in the near future of the book). He meets Saskia when her plane crashes on landing because its landing gear strikes a fleeing giant feral hog that is Rufus’s Moby Dick.

The other main character (T.R. is a more of a supporting character) is Deep “Laks” Singh, a Punjab-Canadian Sikh, who gets caught up in the events. He becomes the almost unwitting tip of the spear that India aims at T.R.’s project in what amounts to an act of war (India fears the project will affect the monsoons critical to agriculture in the Punjab region).

As Stephenson’s Earth-set books usually do, the story spans the globe with locations in Asia (India and Papua), Europe (Netherlands, Venice, Albania), the Middle East, and multiple locations in North America (especially around New Orleans and Texas).

It moves along nicely and kept my interest and engagement throughout. Sulfur, the 10th most common element on Earth, is cheap, and the rocket-gun technology is already within our grasp, so the story is very plausible. As I mentioned, Stephenson usually hits the mark for me (although not always), and I rate some of his books quite highly (Snow Crash is a particular favorite).

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Uranus (2020), by Ben Bova, is one of many novels in his Grand Tour (of the Solar system) series. Uranus is the first of an Outer Planets trilogy. I have the next one, Neptune (2021) on hold with the library, but since Bova died in 2020, I don’t know if the trilogy will ever be completed. (I assume the third one would be Pluto.)

I’ll be seeking out as many of the other Grand Tour books as I can find, because I quite enjoyed reading Bova again.

The story takes place on a spinning wheel habitat, called Haven, in orbit around Uranus. It’s the project of a religious idealist, Kyle Umber, who invites “the tired, the sick, the poor” of Earth to a place of spiritual peace and refuge.

His billionaire friend and financier, Evan Waxman, has turned to unfortunate and immoral methods to keep it solvent, and this becomes a key conflict point.

There is also a scientist, Tomas Gomez (from Brazil), who comes to Haven to study Uranus. His goal is to determine why it is the only planet that is completely sterile with none of the signs of life found on all others.

I won’t spoil any of the plot because, well, that would spoil it. Suffice to say that the situation is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off and, of course, it does. I will mention the obvious narrative imperative that it’s Gomez who triggers it. Things were going along “fine” (ha!) until his discoveries bring too much attention from the outside.

I was reminded somewhat of the Near Space books by Allen Steele (which are also called the “Rude Astronaut” books for good reason). One might also call them “Blue Collar Industrial Workers… In Space!” (Hard working; hard playing; hard fighting; hard drinking.)

One reason that it’s easier to find good SF books than movies or TV shows is that there are so many from the last 50–60 years of science fiction. I’ve long thought it tragic that Hollywood wallows in shallow derivative crap and sequels when there are so many outstanding SF novels. Decades of good material. So often I’m reading a book and thinking, “Damn! This would make a great movie!”

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I mentioned recently that I finally got around to reading Alastair Reynolds, who has been on my radar for some time. Last year it was Octavia Butler, who blew me away and quickly became one of my favorite authors, SF or otherwise. (See these posts.)

Reynolds and I got off to a good start. I have a soft spot for hard SF, especially when it respects Einstein’s speed of light (no warp drives). I started with, and enjoyed, Revelation Space (2000), which is the first of the four-book Inhibitor Sequence series.

While waiting for the next books in the series to come available at the library, I read House of Suns (2008), which I enjoyed very much.

I didn’t enjoy Terminal World (2010) quite as much, but it was okay. It mostly seemed like a steam punk book about dirigibles, but it kept my interest. Then I read Century Rain (2004) and liked that more. I thought his novella, Slow Bullets (2015), was worthwhile, too.

So, I was looking forward to Redemption Ark (2002) and the others in the Inhibitors series, but as I read it, I began to find aspects of Reynolds’s writing irritating. For one thing, he never says in 50 words what he can say in 500. He writes some of the most pointlessly over-explained stories I can recall. It’s never a good sign when I start sifting chaff in search of wheat.

There is also that, in this series, his main characters, without exception, are total assholes. That’s not always bad thing if the characters are compelling, but I didn’t find them so. To me they seemed rude, close-minded, monomaniacal, and generally without redeeming qualities.

Revelation Space (560 pages) features Dan Sylveste, a rude, close-minded, monomaniacal scientist so driven to prove his point that he precipitates what looks to be the end of humanity in the galaxy due to the Inhibitors, a machine species dedicated to preventing intelligent space-faring life. (Reminds me of the Berserker series by Fred Saberhagen, although the motivation of the Inhibitors is murky.)

Reynolds has a style where separate plot threads ultimately meet and combine. Here there is a space crew of Ultras (cyber-humans) as well as a former soldier, Ana Khouri (who also appears in books two and three). None of them are particularly likeable, and everyone is keeping secrets.

Redemption Ark (576 pages) centers on Skade and Clavain, two rude, close-minded, monomaniacal Ultras who want to get their hands on some ancient mind-bendingly powerful weapons that were hidden because they were too scary to use (so, yeah, we’ll just hide them in an untended “secret” location; it’ll be fine).

The Inhibitors have shown up and are converting entire moons and a gas giant into a sun-destroying weapon to cleanse Resurgam, the planet that was the focus of book one. Ilia (the Ultra) has the 40 super-weapons on her ship from having successfully raided the cache years ago. Skade and Clavain, from the Yellowstone system detect those weapons (because neutrinos) and head to Resurgam.

Absolution Gap (2003; 565 tedious pages) features Quaiche, rude, close-minded, monomaniacal, religious tyrant; Grelier, his thoroughly unprincipled right hand; and Rashmika Elis, a snotty unlikeable 17-year-old girl. Worse, far worse, I thought the plot was just plain stupid in almost every regard.

One thread resumes the story of Skade, Clavain, and Khouri, but the main thread concerns the religion created by Quaiche. It’s based on how the system’s gas giant, Haldora, sometimes briefly vanishes. (I kept wondering about gravity and why every scientist in creation wasn’t studying it.) The people and visiting pilgrims live on the moon, Hela, in orbit around Haldora. The moon is almost tidally locked, but not quite, so giant mobile “cathedrals” slowly move along the equator to keep the planet directly overhead so the religious can stare at it hoping to see the “miracle” of it briefly vanishing.

There is so much wrong with every aspect of the story that I don’t know where to begin. It’s one where the more you think about it, the stupider it seems. It’s never a good sign when I’m so taken out of a story that I begin taking notes. Here are some of those notes:

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Too much quasi-science for a hard SF book. Reynolds leans too heavily on Clarke’s Third Law for my taste. A dash of that is fine, but this book was more preposterous magic than science (including a major time travel violation — information from the future delivered by an “oracle” infant).

Everything new or different is alarming, upsetting, or even nauseating, to the characters. Their reactions never involve joy, wonder, awe, or just being impressed. It’s as if the characters don’t live in their own reality and aren’t used to their own technology.

I’d like to know if Reynolds has a low disgust threshold or is generally squeamish. The giant spaceship infected with a nano-virus that alters it in weird ways causes the walls to weep fluids and the hallways are ankle deep in it. Given the spaceship is four kilometers long, that’s a lot of fluid. Why? What does a nano-virus want with fluid? (There’s a vague handwave to it being influenced by having infected the ship’s captain who is uncommunicative, insane, or perfectly lucid, depending on what the plot requires.)

Reynolds, despite his verbosity, likes keeping the reader in the dark as much as he can. SF is known for reveals, but not every plot beat needs to be a reveal. Not everything characters know needs to be kept from other characters (and the reader). His scenes are often choppy because he cuts away every time there’s anything resembling a cliffhanger, no matter how mild. That got really old, and it broke the flow.

Certain characters are said to be so valuable that they’re necessary to others, but their value is never truly demonstrated. There’s also a weird disconnect between the ruthlessness they show, the general ruthlessness of the era, and deciding one individual is valuable. It’s too plot convenient. (Former soldier Khouri speaks casually of doing political assassinations to ensure their scheme works, but other times is squeamish about killing.)

That’s a key objection I have. Too much plot convenience. Reynolds is driven by what the plot needs, not by anything organic. The novel felt so constructed.

And, OMG, he spends over three pages describing in detail how one of the super-weapons fires. Since the “science” is total bullshit, who cares? It’s like reading several pages describing exactly how Harry Potter does a spell (and equally “scientific”).

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All-in-all, the book was a big disappointment. I skimmed and even skipped many pages and came away feeling it didn’t do much for the overall Inhibitors story.

On the other hand, the epilogue gives away what happens next, which makes me wonder if there is any point to reading the fourth book, Inhibitor Phase (2021). I’ve got it on hold and will give it a shot, but… we’ll see. He wrote that one almost 20 years after the first three.

I have a suspicion that Reynolds does better when confined to a single novel. I really did like House of Suns and Century Rain. His Revenger series doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I might try the Poseidon’s Children series as a test.

§ §

On the other hand, I’m looking forward to diving into Ben Bova and his Grand Tour series. He pretty much qualifies as a Grand Master of science fiction.

Stay in character, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

24 responses to “Bova, Stephenson, Reynolds

  • Wyrd Smythe

    A few more notes the post was too long for:

    The frozen captain and Ilia’s conversations with him really reminded me so much of Doolittle’s conversations with frozen Captain Powell in Dark Star. Given that Reynolds seems to borrow a lot of beats from other SF, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

    Speaking of which, Scorpio the “uplifted” pig and the various uplifted simian workers reminded me of the Uplift books by David Brin.

    (Although I’ll say that the pig is ultimately the only character I kinda liked. He was the least inconsistent in his behavior.)

    Rashmika twice sees something that reminds her of a Bruegel painting. How does a supposed 17-year-old raised on a moon in orbit around a gas giant in a distant system in the 28th century know about Bruegel? How many people in 2022 know about Bruegel?

    How is it possible to receive information from the future about magical weapons they can build and operate but apparently not understand? The amount of detail required to pull that off seems phenomenal, but the oracle seems only to provide vague information. (Like the captain, she’s lucid and detailed when the plot needs her to be and utterly vague when Reynolds wants to be coy.) Every aspect of that was just wrong.

    Not only does Reynolds over-explain things, but he also tends to repeat himself. A lot. It was almost like he didn’t trust the reader to remember anything. (Is he padding his books? Was he paid by the word?)

    I wondered if Reynolds is hoping for a screenplay based on the books. Some of his over-description strikes me as the sort of thing you find in a script that’s mainly intended for the production designers.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I really hope Redemption Ark and, especially, Absolution Gap are exceptions to the rule. I did like Revelation Space and several of his standalone novels, so fingers crossed.

      It happens. In the post I referenced a Stephenson book that missed for me. For another, I like John Scalzi (I loved Redshirts!) but I had much the same very negative reaction to his The Interdependency series. Even Scalzi admits he was off his game because COVID.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Just thinking about the book brings up so many objections. The crew installs lots of bilge pumps on the giant spaceship to keep the ankle-deep fluid in check. Where are those bilge pumps pumping all that fluid? The normal answer would be overboard into the water, but are they actually pumping all that fluid into space?

      If observing Haldora to see if it vanishes is the raison d’etre for the civilization on Hela (such as it is), why don’t they just build habitats in space in orbit around Haldora? Then the rotation of the moon wouldn’t be an issue. It seems Reynolds as if just wanted to write a mobile city book, logic be damned.

      How do Khouri and Vasko learn enough about life on Hela to insert Aura, and why did she need to have any childhood at all? It’s a ridiculous plot arc. What if she forgot herself?

      How is that bridge a mystery? And why is it even there? (Because Reynolds wanted it, that’s why.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Is Skade pronounced “ska-DAY” or does it rhyme with “spade”?

      Is Clavain pronounced “clah-VANE” or “CLAY-van”?

      Is the final “e” in Sylveste voiced or silent?

      I can’t even begin to guess how Quaiche should be pronounced. (I thought of him as “quiche”.)

  • Anonymole

    I went on a sampling spree, 30 novels fetched from my local (?) digital library. Nope, nope, nope… Until, “Hmm, The 5th Wave — Rich Yancey” (Oof the movie was awful, but… maybe the film makers corrupted a good story.)

    I gotta tell ya, First Person Present Tense is THE way to tell a gripping story. Hunger Games, Divergent, and this one, are told that way.

    Now, the problem with First Person POV stories is you have to /assume/ the main character is capable of telling the story in a way that’s believable. 16 year old girls are not believable architects of quality prose. But, if the writing is good enough — and I stuck with it long enough (amazing, I know) to find out — then this POV + present tense is a killer way to tell a “in the trenches” story.

    I’ll see if I can find your referenced stories in my library…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, a lot of detective novels are first person present tense. It absolutely gives the text an immediacy. (Sometimes I write posts in present tense for that same reason.) It also lets authors play around with unreliable narrator (which can be jarring if you don’t catch on to it). As you say, it does take some skill to pull off well.

      I’m not usually big on murderous alien invasion stories, nor on YA SF (though I noticed the Wiki entry says it transcends the genre), but I’ll keep The 5th Wave in mind. My reading list currently has almost thirty books on it, and I’m looking forward to diving back into Bova, but who knows. If I live long enough,… 🤷🏼‍♂️

      If you’re into murderous alien invasion stories, one of the best I’ve read was The Forge of God (1987), by Greg Bear. It has one of my favorite openings for such a book. A group of geologists are camping/exploring Death Valley and come upon an apparent basaltic cinder cone that isn’t marked on any map. Soon they discover an injured alien whose first clear words are, “I am sorry but there is bad news.” (Which, indeed, there is. As in the total destruction of the Earth by some clever mechanisms, like replicators creating lots of H-bombs along undersea fault lines.) What humanity can manage it, with help from other displaced aliens, flees the Earth for a life in space.

      Unfortunately, the sequel, Anvil of Stars (1993), which is about those surviving humans and their quest for revenge, was unreadable to me. I’ve tried twice to read the damn thing and gotten too bored to continue each time.

      • Anonymole

        The reveal of the “aliens” in the 5th Wave, is one that is novel. But the context presents an untenable situation — in my mind at least. It’s the writing that’s engaging and the thing I can’t get past if it such (even a little).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, alien invasion stories usually have something untenable about them. Crossing all that distance… for what? Just mayhem? I suspect high intelligence and morality may be correlated, and if a species is smart enough to cross intergalactic space, it’s hard to accept they’d be murderous monsters. That’s some serious xenophobia, that is. At least The War of the Worlds involved neighbors conceivably interested in our real estate.

        I forget which series it was, but it featured machine life that viewed organic life as a transient accident whose main value was that they concentrated tasty minerals in one convenient place. Kinda like bears view bees and honey and don’t view the bees as significant but merely a means to an end. That at least made some sense.

        If all you want to do is destroy life on a planet, especially one that lacks real space travel, just divert some asteroids and smash the place to pieces. (You’ve seen and/or read The Expanse? Same idea as what happened to Earth.)

        I agree bad writing is hard to get past and good writing is elevating. That said, if the ideas are sufficiently creative and interesting, I can live with mundane (but not bad) writing. A lot of hard SF has regrettably mundane writing (James P. Hogan is a good example of interesting ideas and mundane writing).

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Sounds like the Reynolds experience turned. Sorry to hear that. I’ve never found his stories out of the park, but enjoy most of them for their ideas and settings. I wondered about your initial impression of his writing being tight since it didn’t match my experience. It’s always been more descriptive than I care for, but not to the point where I felt the need to skim. (I actually did feel that need when I tried to read Cryptonomicon decades ago, and have been leery of Stephenson ever since.)

    Redemption Ark was actually my favorite of the Inhibitor books, although the ending left me underwhelmed. (He frequently seems to struggle with endings.) I remember Clavain’s motives being honorable, but it’s been several years and my memory is pretty spotty. Can’t say I cared much for Absolution Gap. I didn’t like where Reynolds went with the character arcs. I was also still a believer at the time and recall being annoyed by the book’s attitude toward religion. I’d say if you’re tired of his penchant for monomaniacal characters, it’s not a good sign for Inhibitor Phase.

    I enjoyed Terminal World, particularly in the sense of picking up the clues of where that world was and its history, although the science in it seemed seriously suspect, and it didn’t seem like he knew where to go with it at the end. I didn’t find the first Revenger book that good and so bailed on that series. I mostly enjoyed the Poseidon’s Children books, and did a post reviewing the first two, but they weren’t without their own issues, so not sure what you’d think.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I can’t recall saying I found Reynolds’s writing tight. (Might it have been Butler? Her writing definitely is.) I do recall we’ve talked about Reynolds’s verbosity, so if I did say that at some point, I’ve sure seen otherwise! His writing and plotting began to bother me in Redemption Ark, and I was segued immediately into Absolution Gap, so there may have been something of a one-two punch effect.

      Cryptonomicon is… long (918 pages), and one probably needs to be very, very interested in cryptography (including its history) to find the book of much value. (I am and did. Secret codes have interested me since high school.)

      Clavain’s motives are honorable (as he sees them), but he’s generally monomaniacal in accomplishing his goals. Skade is another matter, of course. (I wondered what happened to that idea she was supposedly taken over by the Mademoiselle. I kept waiting for the payoff, but it was never mentioned again.) Remontoire and Felka were okay characters, but secondary. Ana Khouri was a cypher to me. That scene where she shows up on Ararat bugged me, all that “give me weapons, I’m driven to save my daughter” stuff is exactly the monomaniacal nonsense I meant. Just tell your story clearly, but Reynolds needed to serve out in drips and drabs. To what end?

      I’ll probably give Inhibitor Phase a shot. I’ve had it on hold so long. But the epilogue of Absolution Gap seems to give away the future, so I kinda wonder what the point is.

      I think Sturgeon’s Law probably applies to most authors. There aren’t many that turn out gems every time. The only two I can think of off the top of my head are Terry Pratchett and Octavia Butler (and she has a fairly small body of work). I suspect it has to do with both of them being legit intellectual giants.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I probably did get the wires crossed between your descriptions of Butler and Reynolds. Tight prose is a much better description of Butler, at least based on what I’ve seen of her writing.

        I’ve noticed that British authors seem to be more verbose than US ones, at least in the small sample of SF authors I read: Reynolds, Neal Asher, Iain Banks, and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Another that I keep trying to read, Peter Hamilton, is the most verbose of all. They often write from a camera’s point of view rather than the viewpoint character’s.

        Not only that AG epilogue, but also the novella Galactic North, which covers the history of that universe much further into the future. But neither tell you the fate of the main protagonists in Inhibitor Phase. Actually, if you can get it, reading the overall story collection Galactic North, at least the first story in it, might be worth doing prior to Inhibitor Phase. (Although be warned that first story is an early Clavain one.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Next to Scorpio, who seems the one major character with an evolution arc, and who I came to like, Clavain wasn’t that bad, in large part because of that honorable nature you mentioned. His being a character in another story wouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t much care for his “1000-yard stare” state in Absolution Gap, but I didn’t hate him in Redemption Ark. I’m thinking I’ll give Chasm City a try, and I think Galactic North is available at the library, so I’ll keep that in mind, too.

        I don’t know if you read my self-comments above (“I wondered if Reynolds is hoping for a screenplay based on the books. Some of his over-description strikes me as the sort of thing you find in a script that’s mainly intended for the production designers.”), but regarding the camera POV thing, I felt that with Reynolds at times.

        Maybe it is a British thing. I’m thinking of the often-languid character-driven British murder mysteries compared to the American more action-driven and terse private eye stories. The Brits have time for afternoon tea, the Americans are always in a hurry. 🙂

  • Katherine Wikoff

    I’m not a huge SF fan, but my husband is—although he mostly rereads his old, falling-apart faves. I’m going to pass along these titles to him. And I’m always looking for a good read no matter what the genre. I may try one of these myself! Is there one you’d recommend more than the others for a “general” reader?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’d say Stephenson’s Termination Shock has the lowest SF content and should be accessible to any reader. Hard SF often requires a fair bit of background on the reader’s part, some training in science and some experience with science fiction tropes and modes. That said, the Ben Bova book isn’t too bad, either, and is more SF-ish (because it’s In Space).

      I will take this opportunity to suggest my favorite author of all time, Terry Pratchett (who I’ve posted about plenty here). His work is fantasy, but his writing is delightful and insightful, philosophical and observant, silly and sublime. I re-read his entire Discworld series (all 40 books) every handful of years or so. I’d also strongly recommend Octavia E. Butler, whose work blew me away. I think both are literary geniuses.

      • Katherine Wikoff

        Thank you so much for these recommendations! I have definitely heard of Octavia Butler, so I may start with her. But I appreciate having several additional authors to help in reserve for the future. This will be a fun adventure, delving into an unfamiliar genre! Actually genres plural, considering Pratchett’s work, which you categorize as fantasy. Looking forward to this! Although my progress will be slow because my job is so demanding at the moment (continued COVID-19 disruptions and a huge semester conversion project at my institution).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        For Butler, Kindred, although heart-rending might be a good first. Except for the never-explained fantasy aspect used to send Dana back to slave times, the novel isn’t SF-ish or fantasy but a gripping engaging tale. Good way to see Butler’s writing ability.

        Fledgling is her “sexy vampire” story, but as those go it’s one of the best ever. (If you like sexy vampire stories, as opposed to the more horrific ones, the best series ever is the Count St. Germain novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Somewhat like the Anne Rice stuff, but better. I never got beyond Rice’s first few books.)

        Butler’s two-book Parable series (Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents) might also be a good starting point. These are also not hugely SF but more a very realistic depiction of how society might collapse. (Written in 1993 and 1998, she effectively predicted Twitler and his horde.)

        Pratchett has a much larger body of work. The Discworld novels are mostly standalone, but major characters thread throughout them and grow and evolve over time. (Those are my proverbial “desert island” books.) There are four major threads that weave through them, each focusing on a certain group of characters (with lots of cross-over): the Rincewind/Wizards stories, the Witches stories (Granny Weatherwax is one of my two favorite characters), the DEATH stories, and the City Watch stories (Commander Vimes is my other favorite character). I think both Granny and Vimes are Pratchett’s voice. I think I’d recommend Guards! Guards! (the first City Watch novel) as the best starting point. It’s the eighth book in the series, and Pratchett was in great form. (He died from early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2015, and the last few novels, although still great, don’t have quite the sharp sparkle of his earlier work.)

        Equal Rites, the first Witches novel is the third Discworld book and another possible starting point depending on your taste. The first few books in the series are fairly short. (Remember when authors wrote short novels? I’ve long been bemused by how, in long-running series, the books get fatter and fatter over time. But, hell, so did I.)

        Enjoy!!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Well, the good news is that I’m enjoying Reynolds’s Inhibitor Phase a lot more than I did Absolution Gap. The story moves along nicely, which puts a lot of spackle over what I see as Reynolds’s writing flaws. He even seems to have somewhat toned down the excessive verbosity.

    Inhibitor Phase is written in first person (singular and so far from only one person’s POV), which makes it a lot more dynamic. I don’t recall Reynolds using first person in the other books; I don’t think he did. It makes a big difference in this one. He also doesn’t use that multi-thread approach that’s a big part of his style, and I’m liking the consistency of a story arc told as a single piece. That multi-thread stuff was getting old.

    That said, Reynolds will never be a favorite of mine, I think. Those writing flaws, which a good story goes a long way in balancing out, still take me out of the story.

    For instance, saying about Glass that she was “…as monochrome as an old photograph,” seems weird for a character 500 years from now. Given their technology, who would be familiar with a B&W photo?

    I suppose it goes with the whole space opera thing, the notion of certain individuals being so valuable that other characters use “any means necessary” (including kidnapping) to obtain their help. I’m also not impressed by forced demonstrates of whatever, such as Lady Arek demonstrating the stone skein to “Clavain” (I just knew Reynolds would bring him back somehow). The high-handed arrogance of the characters makes them unsympathetic.

    Speaking of bringing back characters supposedly dead, we know from the Epilogue of Absolution Gap that Aura survives until 3125, so the loss of Lady Arek needs some ‘splaining.

    I sense a strong media influence in Reynolds’s writing. I don’t know if it’s because he’s young and has gotten as much or more of his storytelling from media then from books, or if he’s hoping his books get picked up for movies or TV. So many of his descriptions feel like production design instructions. (The “key and lock” thing… is a good example of a dumb visually oriented bit.)

    Again, space opera, but still, the image of space being crowded with asteroids or habitats. Reynolds should know better.

    His dialog is so chunky. The exposition and flourishes of his characters is… well, I sorry, but just plain bad. The way Lady Arek speaks, in particular, although Glass also. It’s right out of a comic book.

    I thought he went kinda Mad Max with the Swinery or whatever it was called. Reynolds does seem to have horror tendencies.

    So, like I said, he’ll never be a favorite, but Inhibitor Phase has managed to put him back in my good graces.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      p.s. I’m only 3/4 through it so far. Probably finish today.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Funny how, when I picked it up again this afternoon, it immediately dealt with Lady Arek and added a new spin to the first-person singular narrative. 😀

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Finished it, and I found the ending hugely disappointing. Firstly, because the last 200 (eBook) pages or so had such a high level of bullshit indistinguishable from magic. Secondly, because it ends with a whimper and not a bang — a horribly boring ending for a novel, let alone for a four-book series.

      The book is basically a quest, and the heroes find what they sought, … and then pretty much nothing. We never see it put to use, either in the short term for the heroes themselves or in the long term for humanity.

      Absolution Gap was a book that, the more I thought about it, the worse it seemed. The ending of Inhibitor Phase is similar. The more I think about it, the worse it seems.

      Apparently, Reynolds is always going to be an “iffy” author for me.

      The good new (I hope) is that Ben Bova’s Neptune came available for loan yesterday, so that’s next on the list. It looks like it’s one of the last books he wrote.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Followup post on Inhibitor Phase and Neptune appearing this Saturday…

  • Reynolds, Bova (redux) | Logos con carne

    […] Two weeks ago, for Sci-Fi Saturday I posted about Absolution Gap (2003), by Alastair Reynolds. It’s the third book in his Revelation Space series. If you read the post, you know I didn’t care for it. Really didn’t care for it, especially after some disappointment with his writing style in the second book in the series, Redemption Ark (2002). […]

  • Farscape (plus Bova and dreams) | Logos con carne

    […] while back, I posted about the Ben Bova novel Uranus (2020). More recently, I posted about the sequel, Neptune (2021). While I […]

  • Sci-Fi Saturday 8/13/22 | Logos con carne

    […] sequel, Neptune (2021). Then I read, and really enjoyed the much older, Mars (1992). [See Bova, Stephenson, Reynolds, Reynolds, Bova (redux), and Farscape (plus Bova and dreams), […]

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