Peter F. Hamilton, China Mieville, and other readings: book update time

It appears I just can’t give up on Sci-Fi. Here is a list of the recent readings, with very brief notes.Peter F. Hamilton: The Night’s Dawn Trilogy. I think this trilogy exceeds 3000 pages, or something like that. I’ve managed to read it all, and if you want a really long sci-fi book, give your strength a challenge with this one. It is called space opera for a reason!

Hamilton likes to go into every potential outcome of a quite interesting event in this book, and to be honest, you can not easily guess the main story until it begins in an unexpected way. I am not happy about the ending though, so be warned, it won’t give you a very creative ending.

China Mieville: Perdido Street Station: Well, this one is the first book in a couple of years that I could not finish. I’m sorry, but there is way, way to much description in this book, so much that I got bored. Also, certain characters in the book are presented with attributes which later does not match with  their actions in the story.

Frederik Pohl: Heeche Rendevous: The final book of the Heeche saga. I’m not sure if I’ve written about this one, but I’m too lazy to open a new tab and search my own blog, so I’ll just say that this one is not as good as the previous two. Actually, the style of the books change significantly after the first book, but if you want to know more about the Heeche, you’d like to read this.

Ursula K. Le Guin: Left Hand of Darkness: I should have read this ages ago, but I’m glad I finally did it. It is good, but Le Guin does not write too much about technology even when she is writing sci-fi, so if you’re looking for a light weight sci-fi book, this is not what you want.

Terry Pratchett: Guards, guards! : Simply brilliant. Probably one of the best books I’ve read from Pratchett, and I’ll definitely read the other ones about the city watch.

Bill Bryson: Notes from a small Island: If you are an alien in UK like me, you have to read this! I’m still reading this one, but it is one of the funniest books I’ve read, and Bryson’s observations about UK is absolutely fantastic. He is likely to become a favourite author for me.

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What makes a sci-fi book great?

There is no single answer to this question. Actually the question is wrong, but I’ll go ahead and write an answer anyway. In fact, I want to write a couple of things as I think about the books I’ve read so far. These may help me pick my future books better, or who knows, you may want to send me suggestions?

Ok, rule number 1: dear writers, please, please, do not  go into pages and pages of descriptions to make the setting more plausible, or believable, or  whatever you call it. Don’t! Good books give that feeling without describing every little detail in the surroundings. When the main character is walking towards a key meeting, or a very dangerous encounter, the last thing I am interested in, is the history of the city/planet/road/town/whatever the character is in.

What was absolutely brilliant in William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the following two books of the trilogy was that, they made you imagine the surroundings without boring you to death at the wrong time in the story. I am seeing way too many sci fi books these days which take four times the amount of necessary pages than it is necessary to tell the main story.

I’m sorry, but if your creativity is not good enough to make “what is happening” interesting for the reader, “where it is happening” is not much of an interest to us, at least not to me. Inner struggles, thoughts, memories, all fine, just don’t fill pages with descriptions of the city please…

Book update: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Imagine looking at the sky in a summer night. All the stars in the air, and suddenly, they are all gone, as if somebody turned the lights of the universe.

This is all the spoiler I’m going to give about Spin. As human beings we are capable of adopting to so many things. The hole in the ozone layer, hunger in Africa, wars, you name it. Spin is a good book since it depicts a realistic picture of humanity’s potential response to something as impossible and as shocking as described by Robert Wilson. Though I have to admit that it goes a little bit too much into details of a relationship between two people. In the grand setting of the events taking place,Wilson seems to spend too much time with the emotions of two key characters. At least that is what I felt.

There is quite nice science fiction in it, but it is weaved so deep into social observations and emotional challenges of characters, it takes some thinking to realize this. I think Wilson choose not to use certain aspects of his own setting, which would have produced a more interesting book, but the results are quite impressive anyway. Verdict: certainly worth reading.

Who would be the perfect commander at war?

Orson Scott Card’s well known work: Ender’s Game, is answering this question. I won’t give you the details, since I really do not like any spoilers about books. You should read it and see if for yourself, however, I have to say that Scott makes some terrifying points in his book. One can’t help remembering The Lord of The Flies, but this book overlaps with Golding’s work only in some aspects of the depiction of human nature. There is technology, but it is not revealed much till the end of the book, and I’ve realized that I like a little bit of more science in sci-fi! Having finished it just an hour ago, I need to think a little bit more about this book, but I can recommend it (like others tens of thousands of readers) wholeheartedly. I somehow managed to read openings of at least three or more different trilogies, and now have to decide which ones to finish.

Book update, Pohl and Suarez

Just in case you have not read Gateway, please do it. Pohl’s sci-fi is very impressive, focusing on a lead character who is quite defective. He is not even an anti-hero, he is just the guy in the focus, and I really appreciate that kind of balance about the depiction of lead characters.  Certain aspects of this work reminds me of the Rama series, and there are two books following this one, making it a trilogy. The first book introduces so much potential for follow ups, and I hope Pohl’s following books are built on the right aspects. I may have found my new impressive sci-fi trilogy, years after reading Gibson, but it is too early to say this. Let’s see how the two other books are.

Suarez wrote a quite interesting book with Daemon, which I would call a pop tech thriller. What makes it interesting is its reasoning is build on things which exist today, and he is not pushing the limits too much, so technical people would not lose the aspect of believability  easily. If you are a little bit too involved with code, AI and distributed computing however, you may still feel that familiar “that would not really work ” feeling. Still, worth taking a look at.

What I’ve read, a summary for the fellow geek

Ok, slightly off topic, but if you are interested in my reading list for the last couple of months, here is a brief summary.

Atul Gawande, “Better “. Professor Ingram gave this book to me. If you want to see how doctors see certain things, and how hard it is to perform some tasks which they are expected to perform without any errors, read this book. Gawande discusses some interesting topics, including ethics, with quite unusual examples. Would you become a lawyer after years of being a medical doctor, and sue your own colleagues for malpractice cases? Could you use your medical knowledge to end someone’s life, for an execution? A great read.

Stephen King, “Cell”.  King is not the King I’ve admired for so long anymore. He has his style, he never loses it, you get the same feeling everytime you read his work, but Cell made me feel that I am reading a recycled version of his creativity in the past. You’ll find many common points with this book and his previous works. I do not want to believe that he is done with his universe, after finishing the Dark Tower, but I am failing to enjoy his recent works.

Vernor Vinge, “A fire upon the deep”.  My first encounter with Vinge, and  I think this is a good book. Vinge reminded me of Asimov in many ways, and he manages to build a different type of society which is real enough to keep you in the story. A couple of interesting ideas about the universe, including the slow zone, allows him to explore the outcomes of a partitioned universe. I have found some important parts of the book to refer to Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy, but it is hard to avoid him when you’re writing about AI.

Neal Stephenson, “Snowcrash”.  This is the book that come closest to Gibson’s world in Neuromancer, among the others listed in this post. It almost gives that feeling I get when I read Gibson, but the main story did not create a powerful impact on me. Still, a good work of cyberpunk. I’d like to get my hands on this kind of books more, but I’d like to see a little bit darker material.

David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas”.  A serious demonstration of talent. Can’t say the genre, because Mitchell shows that he can write four or five genres in the same book! Tom gave this one to me as a present, and it is one of the most interesting works of fiction I’ve read in the last couple of years. It made me realize that I need to go back to non-science fiction more often.

I am now reading  The Graveyard Book from Neil Gaiman, but I have to say that I want him to focus more on adults’ stories. His genious in Sandman and American Gods shows that he can be very impressive when he constructs complex stories, but all his other works I’ve read after American Gods are a little bit too simple (maybe flat is a better word here). Anansi boys was good, but I want something in the lines of American Gods. I’ll always follow him, but he seems to be a little bit too much into writing books for young people recently.