some book reviews

over christmas i decided i needed to give some thought to finding some new science fiction. I’m a huge fan of very particular forms and blends of spec fic, politically charged, near future, cyber/punk, post apocalyptic reading. it really had it’s hay-day for me with william gibson and neil stephenson driving that force through the 90’s but the distinct blend i like comes up in many forms and pops up here and there but i have to admit that there hasn’t been alot of it since the verge of the millenium. (I hear rumors that american publishers where shying away from any thing that smacked of post apocalypse or ‘the end of america as we know it’ since yea old 9/11 (idiots). ) I’ve been buying the odd used book on a long shot and not having much luck, so at christmas i went wandering in the amazon recommendations and lists, seeking the answer to the question “what the hell are all the people who like what i like reading right now?” I ended up with three solid little books, almost all first books by their authors. I have almost worked my way through two so i figure i will share my feedback with the world.

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what can i say, if feels like a first book. a good first book, but a first book none the less.

the plot wanders and depends too much on decisions of convenience, you know the kinds where the protagonist just happens to notice this, or stumble on that. it contains far too many different armed fight scenario’s where everyone dies; the sex is boring and stinks of cliche and the characters’ motivations ring hollow. I make it sound horrible but it’s really not if what you want from science fiction is a vision of a possible future, a possible inter-planitary world. it’s an interesting vision and if the next few books in this series show better story depth i would happily stay here and see how it plays out.

one of the interesting things about the newer forms of interplanetary sci-fi is that the authors are having to work really really hard to overcome the huge time gaps to move from planet to planet. Altered Carbon, looks to a solution that still seems rather far fetch but is well played out and informs the plot extensively in this case. Digitized minds moved from body to body, called ‘sleeving’, mixed up with cloning and long distance broadcast for transportation between worlds. Sounds cheesy but it’s surprisingly not. Effectively this results in immortality, for those who can afford it, and the logical extension the cyber space idea’s from the 90’s, pushing the mind not just beyond the body but completely out of it.

Altered Carbon’s strength is in it’s back story, a story of mingled class politics and revolutionary freedom, of the will to live and the desire to actually die. Of gender and identity in a world were bodies are interchangable. it plays out familiar stories of cultural war and conflict and the technology is simple and doesn’t overwhelm the world and the people interacting with it. It’s weakness is a kinda of adolescent fixation with the under belly of war, torture, prostitution, rape etc. that in this case almost turned me off. I’ll give the next one try and see if the plots loose some of their macho edge, since from what i can tell the extremes where perhaps just a technique of inexperienced author trying to keep things interesting.

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