As a break from software debugging, I thought I’d continue my capsule reviews of SF books I’ve read so far this year. Hold on to your seat for another three reviews!
Bright of the Sky, by Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon’s Bright of the Sky is somewhat reminiscent of the sword-and-planet style stories, in which an earthman has strange adventures on another world. Kenyon’s take on the sub-genre, however, takes a fully modern approach in terms of both style and content.
Bright of the Sky is the first book (of four) in the series The Entire and the Rose, and tells the story of Titus Quinn, a former star pilot who is given a chance to return to the parallel universe where he lost his wife and daughter during a ten-year sojourn that spanned only three months of Earth-time. The world he encounters once he crosses over is quite unlike anything he’d ever imagined, although his suppressed memories slowly return as he explores once again.
Kenyon builds a unique and interesting world, with a hint of wonder and magic explained by science beyond our comprehension, but focuses on telling a very personal story. Her narrative thoroughly inhabits Quinn’s head, pulling the reader along with the ebb and flow of his emotions and drive to find his daughter and get his revenge.
All of this made the book a page-turner in the best possible way, providing a wonderful, exciting backdrop with an interesting character and intense, personal motivation to drive the action of the story. Despite this, it still maintains a grand, epic scope that I hope continues through the subsequent books. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and its sequel, A World Too Near, is sitting on my shelf already, waiting for its turn.
Eon, by Greg Bear
Greg Bear’s 1985 book Eon is something of a classic already, being rather well-known in SF circles. I found it a bit heavy for my usual tastes, though, as often seems to be the case, once I got through all the background and setup and into the exploration of the big ideas and mysteries, the pages started to fly past. It was fairly long, had a large and complexly interwoven cast of characters (both human and post-human), and was rather heavy on politics, but it was a rewarding read.
My only real gripe about Eon comes from its age — the premise springs from an apocalyptic nuclear exchange between the United States and the U.S.S.R., and so reading it after the fall of the Soviet Union makes it seem somewhat anachronistic. It’s only really noticeable since the novel is heavily political, and so it’s thrust into your consciousness repeatedly, making it hard to gloss over. As a result, I’m not sure I’d recommend this to a general reader, despite the excellent caliber of Bear’s writing and story. If the mis-speculation won’t bother you, you won’t go wrong with Eon.
Mainspring, by Jay Lake
Jay Lake’s Mainspring is a steampunk novel — or perhaps, more accurately, clockpunk — that posits an alternate universe where the Earth moves through the heavens on a track, propelled by a gargantuan gear around the equator. This naturally leads to a few major differences with our world — the existence of God, for example, is no longer simply a matter of faith, as the constructs that drive the universe are visible for all to see.
Lake wastes no time in starting the adventure — the opening scene has Hethor, a clockmaker’s apprentice, visited in his room by the Archangel Gabriel and being tasked to find the Key Perilous to rewind the Earth’s mainspring. Of course, this first leads to trouble, and then to travel, as we’re taken along with Hethor on something of a tour of Lake’s intriguing clockwork world.
Perhaps the greatest flaw of Mainspring is that there are so many interesting ideas and backdrops that it feels like we’re being rushed through them — as a reader, we start to get comfortable with a particular place and scenario, only to be whisked away into a new and dangerous and unfamiliar situation. In this respect, the reader’s distress no doubt mirrors that of the protagonist, but at the same time, I would have loved a more thorough exploration of some of the settings provided by Lake. (There is something to be said for leaving them wanting more, however — the sequel Escapement may well do this.)
My only real criticism — and I use that term lightly, since I thoroughly enjoyed this book — was that the ending felt rather abrupt, and relied (almost literally) on deus ex machina to solve things. While I didn’t dislike the ending, I’m left feeling there is an ending out there that I could have been happier with. Nevertheless, I most certainly enjoyed the ride, and am looking forward to reading Escapement.