Review: The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi

Ages ago Isaac Asimov grafted the detective story trope on the science fiction stem (Caves of Steel), and over the years the two have become more comfortable with each other – in The Quantum Thief so much so that only allusion is needed to convey the set of ideas; in itself a sign of maturity, perhaps?

The Quantum Thief is the début work of Hannu Rajaniemi, and as such an impressive one. Well written, and then I haven’t even considered the fact that he doesn’t write in his native tongue. Well conceived. A main character that grows on you, even if his main feature is neither he or we really knows who he is (more than once he reminds me of Hergé’s Tintin, in his relative featurelessness). Interesting concepts, well drawn. Hints of lifestyles and cultures I’d love to know more about.

But. Is it me or is this just one more of the same? One more in the British Literary SF canon, bravely daring the quantum ice ledge? One more experimenting with the texture of time and reality, of perception?

I’m not ready to answer that yet. Time will show if this is the start of a series featuring dashing breathless adventures against an exotic but inconsequential backdrop culture, or if he’ll be ready to tackle the ethical, moral and ideological consequences of the world he has created.
Will he be able to break free from the Brit SF idea-maze?

But for a début – well done. Very well done.
I’ll definitely look out for his next book, with the hope that I won’t have to wait an eternity ;-)

Review: Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Blue Mars, which concludes Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars Trilogy, continue in the tradition of it’s predecessors. The style is disconnected and rambling, telling a tale seemingly free of storyline or plot, through the eyes of a shifting gallery of protagonists. Sometimes it gets intensely detailed, sometimes extremely sketchy – a decade of someone’s life can be covered by one single sentence.

I had an extremely hard time getting through the opening chapters. They detail the formation of the Martian Constitution and legal system, which was a tedious (and not very interesting) process for the character through whose eyes we see it, and tedious for me as a reader. With about two thirds of the book left, but with the majority of the story behind me, I felt like I had trudged around on Mars forever, with no ending in sight. Add to that scientific speculations ranging from eyebrow-rising to outright incredible, and I think you’ll understand why this book took four weeks to get through – a true tour de force.

So. Was it worth it? Definitely. Because this is not a novel, or even a set of novels. It’s a document chronicling a hypothetical future, an epic chronicle on a grand scale, displaying how the here and now transforms into history, and how that history changes the now and the perception of what really did happen. It also sketches a future model society, one I guess Robinson himself favoured as his personal take on utopia when the books were written.

As utopias go it’s OK – ideal societies always get too bubblegummy for my tastes but here it is acceptable, much because the chronicle concerns the voyage there more than the final state of things.

This trilogy is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the future, in economic and political systems and in societies and cultures. Endurance is a must, though, so not for everyone. And reading only one, or even two, of the books won’t do – if you’re in, you’re in for the whole three book journey. Because on their own these books aren’t much value. Epic. Epic. EPIC.

Review: Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Back in the beginning of December, when I had just finished Red Mars, I ached to get on with the sequel, Green Mars. But first it took me some time to find it and then I started to read other things, always with Green Mars looking at me – I think I started or intended to start reading it about once a week for months.

Then, finally, about a week ago, I picked it up, determined to read it. And this time I did. Writing a review is hard, though. Almost just as hard as getting started with the book.
Part of it is that like Red Mars it’s so obviously a part of a trilogy that it’s more like part two of a one tripartite book than anything else. But part of it is my over all impression of it, which is hard to sort or define.

This time the telling feels even more distanced than in Red Mars. In Red Mars people were passionately angry or loving or pro or con something or the other – this time it’s just a shrug of the shoulders. Even when things are bad.
Granted, some passages had me reading on without wanting to put the book away but those were mainly in the first half of the book – the second half I often had a strong feeling of disbelief, something which worked to distance me even further from the goings-on. The book never touches on the psycho-social effects on society of prolonged lifespans, only on the socio-economic and then only at a distance, and the original cast, those who survived Red Mars, just lives on and on and on, without much problems other than a sense of disconnection and some insomnia. And some of the other stuff is just plain unbelievable. Like the “resistance” being able to covertly build hidden silos AND missiles for ground to space warfare.
So, this is definitely Big Ideas fiction, in the grandest sense, but this time with insufficient drive and energy.

That said this is not the worst book I’ve ever read and I have a profound feeling that I will not be able to judge this book, this trilogy, until I’ve read the last one – Blue Mars. So that’s what I’ll do – read the last one. Then my verdict will fall.

Review: Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Some books are well nigh impossible to review. Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, is one of them. My reason for this feeling is this is so very obviously the first of the three books in the Mars Trilogy – the stage setting, the laying of the foundation for more to come…

As such it is a good one, I think.

In many ways this is Big Ideas fiction, and I’m an avid fan of every book that makes me think. The grandness of the scale is impressive, a multi-decade storyline involving a lot of people, both as individuals and as pieces in a jigsaw too big for them to fathom. The main characters are mostly scientists, with little idea of how they and their side taking affects the world or how they and their ideas will come back at them, with a political twist.

The way the story plays out is plausible, if depressing, but I am eager to get to know how this social, economic and political experiment will develop.

On the down side this is very clearly about people and systems of people – normally known as “societies” and their close kin “political systems” and “economic system” – and not about individuals. Sure, we follow certain characters, but in a distanced third person, and only for a short while – the story is told from multiple perspectives, and these perspectives shifts every now and then. These characters are there to illustrate different viewpoints and different ideas about who to tackle a situation, and sometimes this is too obvious.

Sometimes the text feels like an embellished piece of non fiction, veritable info dumps that gets no less info dumpish by being real science.

Finally, the text is somewhat dated. It plays out in a reality where the US and Russia were still THE dominant actors. This, honestly, doesn’t bother me much. Politics is politics, just like economics is economics – the name tags are not as important as the actual system, and the basic premise that he stipulates is not that far fetched.

All in all it works quite well and at the moment I’m staring at the door waiting for the next instalment – Green Mars – to be delivered; the SF bookshop was out of stock, so I had to order it from another source. (I do favour brick’n’mortar bookshops, I want them to stay in business, so I try to use those I particularly fancy. No luck this time, though.)

I should say that this is not a book to read as distraction. It needs a focussed mind to work, as evidenced by the fact that I had to put it down for a while – since my previous post here I’ve had planned tonsillectomy, followed by high levels of pain and its mitigator (codeine based painkillers, yuk /but that’s another story/) and what felt like a fried brain. During that time – almost two weeks – I either didn’t read at all, or did feel-good rereads.

I’m very glad that I picked Red Mars up again, as it ultimately was a rewarding read.