Hugo Voting Season

So, my previously-mentioned plan to read all my 2008-purchased books in time to make Hugo nominations did not come to fruition.  I got through a few, read parts of a few others, and just guessed on the rest.  The final list came out some time ago, and voting closes July 3rd.  My current plan is to read as many of them as I can.  Thankfully, I already have two of the novels completed, and I have read some of the shorter fiction as well.

For the novels, I will do individual posts to talk about them.  For the shorter categories, I may lump them together in summary posts.  For the non-fiction categories, I may also just have one humongous summative post.

The Aurora Awards (the Canada-only Hugo equivalent) are also open to voting now, but the period is open a few weeks longer and so I’ll see to that reading when the Hugo task is over and done with.

So, the coming month of posts may be literature-heavy, but I still have a bunch of posts about movies and concerts in the works, so I’ll try to push those through as fast as I can.  I hope I can make some headway in this.

Reading Summaries Continued

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.

Summary of My 2008 Reading So Far

As the one year anniversary of this blog creeps closer, I’ve realized I haven’t done many of the things I had planned for it.  While I’ve been moderately good about posting my thoughts on movies and the like, my discussion of written entertainment has been alarmingly lax.  (I attribute this to the desire to be more timely with movie discussions, since they only live in theatres for a short time, but it is also, no doubt, due to my inherent laziness.)

That said, I have (surprisingly) been doing quite a bit of novel reading this year — at least, for me.  Ever since I started university over 10 years ago, my novel reading has dropped off, primarily because if I start reading a good novel, I have real difficulty putting it down, and that doesn’t slot well into a demanding school schedule of assignments and projects and labs and exams.

I never stopped buying the novels, though, and so when I finally did an anlaysis of how fast I was buying books, compared to how fast I was reading them, I decided that I had to start reading a lot more.  Thankfully, this has been a pleasant task.

While I had been intending to do individual posts about each book that I’ve read in 2008, at this point I know that’s never going to happen, so over the next few posts, I’m going to give some brief capsule reviews of those books, and hopefully set the ground for individual discussion of my future readings.

I’ll start with the first three novels I read this year.

Triplanetary, by E.E. “Doc” Smith

Triplanetary is an early pulp space opera, part of the Lensman series that laid the foundation for much of the space opera that came after.  In the series, it is first chronologically, although most people recommend the third chronological book (Galactic Patrol) as the proper starting point, so as not to spoil some of the surprises and mysteries in the later books.

So, the writing quality here was absolutely dismal.  It was incredibly rough, the characters were quite flat, the “science” was preposterous… and yet, I really couldn’t put it down.  As was said in the introduction of the Science Fiction Book Club edition I was reading, the series is driven by “pure story” — for all he lacked in polish and craft, Smith sure as hell came up with interesting ideas, and strung them together so that I needed to see what was going to happen next.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Triplanetary in general, but it’s an interesting early example of the genre, and I do intend to read the rest of the series, to try and learn from Smith’s sense of plot and pacing.  I just don’t think most modern readers would be so forgiving of the flawed prose as I am.

Queen of Candesce, by Karl Schroeder

Queen of Candesce is the sequel to Shroeder’s Sun of Suns, which is a novel I absolutely loved.  It picks up following the fate of one of the first novel’s characters, Venera Fanning, and while it is technically a sequel, it is really a stand-alone novel in the same universe, about a character who lived through the events of that earlier book.  I say this to clarify that it’s not a middle book, or an incomplete story — while reading it with Sun of Suns under your belt will give it a fuller context, it really is a self-contained story about Venera.

These books are both set in a most interesting world — I giant, air-filled sphere floating in space, filled with miniatue fusion reactors that act as tiny suns, with free-floating settlements in rotating cities clustered around them.  Flight and freefall is the natural state of things — there is no up or down, except that created by the rotation of the cities.  This leads to a world quite unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before, and would be worth the read itself.

Thankfully, however, Schroeder gives us plenty of other reasons to read than just his fantastic world-building.  Where E.E. “Doc” Smith was pure story and little craft, I think Schroeder hits an excellent balance between the two — presenting an intriguing page-turner, but with quality writing, compelling characters, and a new and exciting world to explore.

The premise of Queen is that Venera Fanning finds herself stranded in the huge, ancient city of Spyre after the events of the previous novel.  With practically nothing but her wits and will, she has to navigate a confusing world full of new cultures and odd rituals, striving to acquire enough resources to make her way home.  While this made it quite different from Sun of Suns, I did find one compelling parallel between the two books — ultimately, both of them are about the main character letting go of their obsession, their anger, their despair, that thing that was hanging over them and controlling their lives.  I’m curious to see if that’s a thematic element that is continued the the recently released Pirate Sun.

This series is exciting and fun, and these books are certainly among my favourites these days.  If the notion of air pirates, zero-gravity sword fights, ancient mysteries, and a scientifically plausible universe appeal to you, you need to read these books.

Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin does not, perhaps, need me to promote it, given that it won the Hugo award for best novel.  It has been widely reviewed and praised, and it deserves every bit of praise it gets.  It’s a fantastic novel — beautifully written, with a scope that is vast and cosmic, but told quietly through the lives of three friends, alternating moments of tension, mystery, revelation, and wonder.

That said, it’s not the style of novel I usually enjoy — in fact, the first hundred pages actually took me quite a while to get through (a lengthy wait in an airport helped with that), as the front of the book follows the main characters from childhood.  While this gives a lot of interesting character background and development, it doesn’t so much deal with the big ideas and concepts, which is what I find most interesting in science fiction.

Once I got through that first patch, however, I couldn’t put the book down as the characters — now grown — started to engage with each other as adults, and with the mystery of the Spin, the event that cut the earth off from the rest of the universe, slowing the passage of time on earth to such an extent that the sun would go nova within the lifetime of everyone alive on earth today.

Anyway, Spin is a beautiful, wonderful, book.  If, like me, you’re a reading that likes getting immediately into the thick of things, I still encourage you to keep pushing with this book, because the payoff is completely worth it.  Highly recommended.