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What I’ve been reading

May 14th, 2006

I’ve been reading a fair bit of science fiction lately, and thinking about doing another preview of the contenders for the Hugos for best novel. Of those I’ve read so far, Accelerando by Charles Stross is definitely the pick. It’s the ultimate Singularity novel (at least assuming it’s a novel). It’s super-evolved lobsters and feral abaci make for something that’s much more readable and, paradoxically, more convincing than Kurzweil’s book on the topic, which I reviewed a while back.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is also based on the Singularity, but much more of a traditional hard SF novel in form. The earth is mysteriously sealed off from the rest of the universe by a barrier within which the passage of time is drastically slowed. I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t stand up to comparison with Accelerando.

A Feast for Crows is Volume 4 in the epic fantasy sequence A Ring of Ice and Fire. I started gamely enough, and the opening chapters held my interest, but after 100 pages nothing had happened except conversations between various characters about events that had presumably taken place in Volume 3. I cheered up when I noticed that there was a dramatis personae at the back, but then realised that the list itself ran for many pages and included hundreds of characters I hadn’t yet encountered. The style is engaging, and the series has a lot of fans, but it’s clear that if you want to tackle it, you have to start at the beginning of the series. And, just as any long book has some necessary slow bits where the various threads are gathered, so any multi-volume epic has some slow moving volumes. Nothing wrong with that, but the result is not, in my view, a candidate for a Hugo award – maybe a separate category is needed.

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  1. Ian Gould
    May 14th, 2006 at 23:52 | #1

    A Song of Ice and Fire was originally conceived as a single novel, it shows.

    I’m surprised it’s in Hugo consideration since it’s clearly fantasy not sf.

  2. May 15th, 2006 at 04:56 | #2

    The Aussie Econ Bloggers; You all know John Quiggin; I once tried following his ‘what am I reading’ posts, I came to conclusion he must be speed reading champion economist

  3. May 15th, 2006 at 09:21 | #3

    Trying to get in the spirit of the forthcoming singularity, I’ve downloaded Accelerando onto my mobile phone (using a freeware Java reader). I will get back to you as to whether Stross is right in figuring that most people will get fed up with the digital read and buy a paper copy.

  4. Warbo
    May 15th, 2006 at 13:26 | #4

    I’ve just finished Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World, which I’d highly recommend. Loved it.

    Bruce, I can’t imagine anything worse than trying to read a novel on a mobile phone. Computer screens are bad enough.

  5. jquiggin
    May 15th, 2006 at 14:06 | #5

    I think we should be reading them on translucent heads-up displays, with optional audio commentary and attention-driven hyperlinks!

  6. David Cake
    May 15th, 2006 at 15:00 | #6

    I agree that A Feast For Crows isn’t really Hugo material. Its easily the worst novel of the series, and certainly doesn’t stand alone. It has relatively little to recommend it to anyone not following the series, and is a distinctly disappointing volume for those that are (particularly as the original book was split into two, and the majority of the more interesting characters/action appears to have been relegated to the second book).

    I haven’t yet read the whole field yet, but Accelerando is off to an early lead. I want to read Learning the World, however, though I found McLeods previous, Newtons Wake, very readable but a little light by his standards.

    Stross is visiting Melbourne in August.

  7. jquiggin
    May 15th, 2006 at 15:19 | #7

    I just read Newton’s Wake and had much the same reaction; I should get my copy of Learning the World this week.

  8. Marlowe Johnson
    May 16th, 2006 at 01:01 | #8

    I didn’t realize fantasy could be considered for the Hugo’s. But if that’s the case then I’ve got to put in a couple of plugs for two outstanding Canadian authors — R. Scott Bakker for his Prince of Nothing trilogy, which IMHO is one of the most stunning pieces of writing the genre has seen in a long time. Next would be Steven Erikson’s Malazan series which is equally compelling, albeit for different reasons. The sheer scope of the world that he has built is without equal….

  9. May 18th, 2006 at 14:33 | #9

    Not speculative, but Jakarta-based journalist, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, Andre Vltchek’s global epic Point of No Return (Mainstay Press) is one of the most accomplished novels of recent years:

    Also see his recently released book of interviews with the great Indonesian novelist Toer: Exile (Haymarket Books)

  10. wilful
    May 18th, 2006 at 16:41 | #10

    Downloaded and started Accelerando based on this thread. Terrible terrible book I think – the writing is really quite immature. Couldn’t get past the fifth page. I thought Corey Doctorow’s Down and out in the Magic Kingdom (http://craphound.com/down) was a much better read.

  11. Xander
    May 19th, 2006 at 00:17 | #11

    A bit late but – George RR Martin is a good epic author but no, he should not be considered in the context of a Hugo. I also didn’t realise that fantasy was to be considered – perhaps that was partly due to the influence of authors such as Margaret Atwood who only write “speculative fiction” – and yes, all fiction is speculative. If they are going to consider fantasy authors then yes, George RR Martin is complex and interesting but authors such as Robin Hobb (a pseudonym) or, like Marlowe says, Steven Erikson, deserve far more recognition. There is a continuing disparagement of fantasy authors, even within the sci-fi community, that ignores some of the brilliant work that has been done in the last twenty years. In that, I would disagree with Marlowe – Erikson is the best fantasy author I have read (but you should not start in the middle of the series or you will become horribly lost 🙂

  12. May 20th, 2006 at 13:33 | #12

    Now finished Accelerando. (Read it on my mobile phone – didn’t find that hard at all). Loved the ideas but the character development is pretty weak. He could easily have made it into 3 books – using the extra space to further flesh out the characters and some of the quickly passed over plot points.

    Perhaps the most interesting idea for me was the idea of the intelligent corporate instruments. He takes the idea of the legal identity of corporations to the next logical step – giving them intelligence to carry out their corporate objectives. Scarily plausible.

  13. June 2nd, 2006 at 07:28 | #13

    thank you for your work

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