In the unlikely event anyone is interesting in what I have been reading lately, here goes. I promise no significant spoilers.
My summer reading list has taken me 3 seasons to complete, but this is par for the course. Reading is pleasurable but time-consuming. I do most of my reading while on vacation. Clearly I need more vacation to keep up.
I brought Dan Simmons’ Endymion to read to Nice, France while at the Cardiostim meeting in June of 2012. I read the original Hyperion during an earlier Cardiostim, and that particular book became one of my all time favorites. If you are a science fiction fan and have not read it, drop everything and read it right away. The book is a set of loosely linked vignettes, told by a set of far-future pilgrims. Several of the tales are among the best science fiction I have ever read. The sequel, The Fall of Hyperion is more straight forward science fiction, but still works well. These two books are really complete in themselves. Nevertheless, the author saw fit to add two more sequels, set much farther in the future than the original stories. For some reason I form strong associations between individual books and places, and it struck my fancy to start reading Endymion at the same location (Nice) as I had started the original Hyperion. After getting back home I then read the final book in the series, The Rise of Endymion. Without giving away anything significant, I found these last two books a step down from the first two. The first-person protagonist, Endymion, seems uncommonly dense to the point it is hard to be sympathetic with him. The final book also is very long, with stretches that are basically scenic without moving the story forward. This seems to be a common problem with authors who become successful — the editor’s pen seems to lighten and page counts go up. The ending is somewhat of a let-down. Nevertheless some of the concepts, such as the dominant mutated Catholic Church of the future made possible by the utterly original alien Cruciforms (highlight of the first book), as well as the advantage of biologic resurrection to the Church militarily in allowing faster interstellar acceleration (ship’s crews literally are killed by the acceleration; then resurrected at their destination) are very clever. Overall the Hyperion series is well worth reading. I was just a little disappointed that the last two books (especially the final book) did not live up the promise of the first two.
Having wrapped up one series, I turned to the Revelation Space trilogy of Alastair Reynolds. I had already read the first two books (Revelation Space and Redemption Ark) so I read the final book, Absolution Gap. The first two books are wonderful, especially the first. Concepts like the vast interstellar spaceship Nostalgia for Infinity haunted by its captain who had been a victim of the “Melding Plague,” a virus affecting both computers and humans, resulting in them becoming one with each other, a planet-sized alien mechanism to explore, the mysterious fate of a lost alien civilization and the nano-machine Inhbitors waiting in the wings to visit the same fate on humanity — this is the stuff of Space Opera! Reynolds even resurrects an updated form of inertialess drive a la E. E. Smith’s Golden Age Lensman books. Unfortunately, much as with the Hyperion series, things grind to somewhat of a halt with the last book. There is a female child Saviour who plays a role even in utero (must be a new meme, there is a female child saviour in the two Endymion books too). There is a strange religion on an airless moon, with massive slowly moving cathedrals that allow worshippers to constantly visualize a gas giant around which the airless moon rotates, because every once in a while this gas giant vanishes for a split second. Unfortunately, much like the TV series Lost there are too many mysteries and loose ends to tie up, and, despite spending hundreds of pages on the slowly moving cathedrals, when it comes to explaining the Inhibitors and a number of other things, a brief Afterword is tacked on that really explains nothing. Like Lost, a great ride to a disappointing denouement. Yet the first two books are so fantastic that I still recommend the whole series, and I will definitely be reading more of Reynolds.
I had been curious about the Culture books of Iain M. Banks. So I picked up the first one Consider Phlebas and read it on my vacation cruise in January. The background to this series is a long-running interstellar war between the Culture, a human civilization run by super-intellegent machines and basically the enemies of the Culture. It is not clear from the start whose side you should be on. The protagonist is a shape-changer, though this talent is not too important in the story, who is best described as amoral but nevertheless a sympathetic character. The race between the protagonist and a female Culture agent to retrieve a lost Culture Mind (a super-powerful A.I.) forms the basis of the book. The vistas are truly immense (this too is Space Opera), and the worlds and civilizations described are quite original. A very entertaining read and I will be definitely be reading more in this series.
I am now reading China Miéville’s The Scar. As a writer, he outshines all of the above authors. His book is a mixture of Jack Vance, H.P. Lovecraft, and Mervyn Peake, with some occasional modern racy language thrown in. It is a sequel to Perdido Street Station, another wonderful fantasy book. Set in the same world of Bas-Lag, the book is told from the point of view of Bellis Coldwine, expert in languages, who is fleeing New Crobuzon related to the events described in Perdido Street Station, only to be seized by pirates and fated to spend the rest of her days on the Armada, a huge floating city made up of hundreds of boats chained together (including a stolen floating oil platform). The leaders of the Armada have a plan to harness an entity from another dimension to pull the city around, and Bellis is enlisted to communicate with the anophelii, human-mosquito hybrids who happen to be scholars (the males at least, the females are deadly bloodsuckers!) and experts on the process to summon the interdimensional creature, but they (the mosquito-men) only speak (acually only read and write) High Kettai, an extremely difficult language that Bellis is an expert at…. It is hard to avoid run-on sentences or to write anything that sounds other than nonsense in describing the plot. But this is a false impression. The plot is tight with its own inner logic that makes sense, the world is totally fantastic and believable at the same time, and the characters are deep and credible. Miéville is an awesome writer, and I definitely will be reading the rest of his oeuvre.
I forgot to mention that during this time I also read two of Will Murray’s new Doc Savage adventures (The Infernal Buddha and Death’s Dark Domain). These are just fun and, having read all the Docs from the mid 1960s on, not to be missed by me. Being an amateur Savageologist, I also read Jeff Deischer’s The Adventures of the Man of Bronze: a Definitive Chronology. This offers an alternative chronology to that presented in Rick Lai’s book, The Revised Complete Chronology of Bronze, previously reviewed here. Can never get enough analyses of the possible floor plans of Doc’s 86th floor headquarters in the Empire State Building.
I almost forgot mentioning reading the 2nd volume of Ian Kershaw’s Hitler biography: Hitler: 1936-1945: Nemesis. I read books about Hitler and World War II to try to understand that which can never be understood.
Finally, what I decided not to read (so far) is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books. At last count there are 14 Wheel of Time books, and, per Wikipedia, 4,056,130 words. I don’t think I dare launch into something like that. Not sure I would live long enough to finish the series (the author didn’t). I’ll stick with the George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones (or, more correctly, A Song of Ice and Fire) books. While long, at least the author gives me plenty of time between book releases to read them!