A lesser light once asked Ummon //
Please deliver this learner
from darkness and illusion
Ummon answered //
What is the price of
in Port Romance]
– Dan Simmons in The Fall of Hyperion
Over two years ago, I ended my post about Hyperion with a note saying how unlikely it would be for its sequel to be worthy of the standards set by that excellent novel. Having stumbled across the book in a store in Kuala Lumpur and having devoured it over the course of my holiday, I am sad to report that this is indeed the case.
The Fall of Hyperion is a much more conventional space opera tale than the original was. It does away with the frame story device that made the original so memorable and tells the story in a more straightforward manner. There are now two narrative threads, one continuing the story of the six remaining pilgrims as they finally reach the Time Tombs. The other focuses on the government of the Hegemony as they respond to imminent war with the Ousters while trying their best to keep track with what is happening with the pilgrims on Hyperion.
Continue reading The Fall of Hyperion
As for every human born since the Stone Age, as for the ancestors of every member of the Amalgam, there was nothing the universe was capable of doing that the Arkdwellers were not capable of comprehending. They were not mere clever-looking animals, with some hard-wired repertoire of impressive but inextensible skills. With sufficient motivation and freedom from distractions – and perhaps a modest boost in longevity – they could have grasped anything. Apart from the subjectivities of art or language, where everyone needed tweaking to cross the species barriers, there was nothing in the Amalgam’s million-year-old storehouse of knowledge that would have been beyond their reach. That was the ability, the potential in every one of them. There was, however, no drive to realize it: no curiosity, no joy in discovery, no restlessness, no dissatisfaction.
– Greg Egan in Incandescence
(After thinking about it for a while, I’ve decided to write a discussion of the novel rather than a review. There are already plenty of reviews on it available on the net, most of them probably better than anything I would be able to come up with. For a favourable review, check this out. For a dissenting opinion, read this and maybe Egan’s rather fierce rebuttal to same.)
Cracking open a new Greg Egan novel is always a momentous occasion for me and since Incandescence is the author’s first new novel in six years, you can imagine how great the anticipation must have been. At the end of it however, I’m left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can recognize the tremendous amount of work that must have gone into it and on a purely intellectual level, can’t help but be impressed by it. On the other hand, with not much to go on in the way of plot or characters, I had a hard time being emotionally engaged in the book. In that sense, it may be a work of fiction, but it’s more of an extended thought experiment than a novel.
Continue reading A Book: Incandescence
It was vaguely man-shaped but in no way human. It stood at least three meters tall. Even when it was at rest, the silvered surface of the thing seemed to shift and flow like mercury suspended in midair. The reddish glow from the crosses etched into the tunnel walls reflected from sharp surfaces and glinted on the curved metal blades protruding from the thing’s forehead, four wrists, oddly jointed elbows, knees, armored back, and thorax. It flowed between the kneeling Bikura, and when it extended four long arms, hands extended but fingers clicking into place like chrome scalpels, I was absurdly reminded of His Holiness on Pacem offering a benediction to the faithful.
I had no doubt that I was looking at the legendary Shrike.
– Dan Simmons in Hyperion
As an avid fan of science-fiction, I’ve read just about all of the classics of the genre. Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is one of the exceptions, so it was with some pleasure that I came across a copy of it while browsing at a bookstore at Warisan Square here in Kota Kinabalu. I’ve already had some familiarity with the plot, having read one or two of Simmons’ short stories based on the same setting in various anthologies, but this was the first time that I’ve actually read the book, and I have to say that it deserves every bit of the many accolades it has been given.
Continue reading A Book: Hyperion
“You shouldn’t say that about your father!”
“Well, it’s true. He was crap. A rotten husband and a rotten father.”
“Of course he was!” said Mrs.Higgler, fiercely, “But you can’t judge him like you would judge a man. You got to remember, Fat Charlie, that your father was a god.”
“A god among men?”
“No. Just a god.” She said it without any kind of emphasis, as flatly and as normally as she might have said “he was diabetic” or simply “he was black.”
– Neil Gaiman in Anansi Boys
Anansi Boys may be the sequel to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods but where its predecessor was dour, tragic and epic in scope, this sequel is light-hearted, humorous and family-centered. In place of the hardened ex-convict Shadow of American Gods, the protagonist of Anansi Boys is a regular guy stuck with the unfortunate nickname of Fat Charlie. Not that Charlie is really fat, mind you, just somewhat rounded around the edges. Charlie’s father has a knack for naming things and having the names stick, you see, and as the reader soon learns, that’s just the least of his father’s talents.
Continue reading A Book: Anansi Boys
These are gods who have been forgotten, and now might as well be dead. They can be found only in dry histories. They are gone, all gone, but their names and their images remain with us.
These are the gods who have passed out of memory. Even their names are lost. The people who worshiped them are as forgotten as their gods. Their totems are long since broken and cast down. Their last priests died without passing on their secrets.
Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.
– Neil Gaiman in American Gods.
Quite a few comic book writers have over the years tried their hand at writing novels, but none have achieved as much mainstream success and recognition as Neil Gaiman, winning the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel for American Gods. This is partly explained by the fact that Gaiman actually co-wrote a novel, Good Omens, together with Terry Pratchett, before ever venturing into comics, which he did in a big way, by taking up the mantle for Miracleman following Alan Moore’s departure from the series. Nevertheless, Gaiman is best known for writing the highly acclaimed Sandman series from 1989 to 1996.
American Gods features some of the same themes as The Sandman and deals with the subject of gods, in this case, once great gods whose powers have waned as their worshipers have died off and their religions fallen into obscurity. Set in contemporary times, the novel follows the adventures of Shadow, a recently released convict from prison, as he travels across the United States while working for a mysterious employer, meets with a large number of decidedly odd individuals and learns quite a few secrets along the way, including secrets about himself and the nature of America.
Continue reading A Book: American Gods
Tommie laughed. “You should do some ego surfing. Your hack was noticed. Back when I was young, you could have got a patent off it. Nowadays –”
Xiu patted Tommie’s shoulder. “Nowadays, it should be worth a decent grade in a high school class. You and I — we have things to learn, Thomas.”
– Vernor Vinge in Rainbows End
As the person who came up with the term “Technological Singularity”, any new science-fiction book by Vernor Vinge is always highly anticipated. Unlike his previous two bestsellers, A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep, both of which were space opera novels set in a universe of his own creation with specific rules to allow a high level of technological development without invoking a singularity, Rainbows End is a solid science-fiction story set in a near-future Earth. There are tech toys aplenty and cyberspace permeates and interconnects with the real world, but it’s still more or less our same old planet with recognizable lifestyles and people. Unnoticed by the most of the world’s population however, who live mostly pleasant and peaceful lives, are events that suggest that the state of the world is not as stable as it seems, and there are hints of upheavals yet to come.
Continue reading A Book: Rainbows End
Max Brooks’ World War Z is a follow-up to The Zombie Survival Guide which became a commercial success largely through word of mouth on the Internet. While The Zombie Survival Guide was a fictional manual covering the biology of zombies and suggested methods of killing them and surviving a zombie outbreak, World War Z tells the story of a worldwide zombie apocalypse scenario through the oral testimonies of over 40 survivors. It has since become popular enough that there are plans to make a film version of the book with a screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski.
World War Z places the initial zombie outbreak in Sichuan Province, China, where a boy diving for treasure amongst the submerged villages of the Three Gorges Reservoir comes to the surface with a mysterious bite mark on his foot and is kept locked in an abandoned house by frightened villages after attacking and biting a number of them. They notify the local hospital and the doctor who is sent is shocked to discover that the boy is as savage as an animal, biting and clawing at anyone who comes near him. His skin has become cold and gray, and though numerous wounds are found all over his body from his struggles to free himself, no blood comes out of them. A hypodermic needle inserted into where his veins should be comes up filled with a strange, viscous matter. He is even able to snap his own arm in an effort to free himself and seems affected by neither pain nor exhaustion. Not unexpectedly, all of the villagers bitten by the boy have become comatose with cold and gray skin as well.
Continue reading A Book: World War Z