Archive for Hyperion

space opera by John Scalzi [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2019 by xi'an

John Scalzi, author of the memorable Old Man’s War, has started a trilogy of which I only became aware recently (or more precisely became re-aware!), which has the perk of making two of the three books already published and hence available without a one or two year break. And having the book win the 2018 Locus Award in the meanwhile. This new series is yet again a space opera with space travel made possible by a fairly unclear Flow that even the mathematicians in the story have trouble understanding. And The Flow is used by guilds to carry goods and people to planets that are too hostile an environment for the “local” inhabitants to survive on their own. The whole setup is both homely and old-fashioned: the different guilds are associated with families, despite being centuries old, and the empire of 48 planets is still governed by the same dominant family, who also controls a fairly bland religion. Although the later managed to become the de facto religion.

“I’m a Flow physicist.  It’s high-order math. You don’t have to go out into the field for that.”

This does not sound much exciting, even for space operas, but things are starting to deteriorate when the novels start. Or more exactly, as hinted by the title, the Empire is about to collapse! (No spoiler, since this is the title!!!) However, the story-telling gets a wee bit lazy from that (early) point. In that it fixates on a very few characters [among millions of billions of inhabitants of this universe] who set the cogs spinning one way then the other then the earlier way… Dialogues are witty and often funny, those few characters are mostly well-drawn, albeit too one-dimensional, and cataclysmic events seem to be held at bay by the cleverness of one single person, double-crossing the bad guys. Mostly. While the second volume (unusually) sounds better and sees more action, more surprises, and an improvement in the plot itself, and while this makes for a pleasant travel read (I forgot The Collapsing Empire in a plane from B’ham!), I am surprised at the book winning the 2018 Locus Award indeed. It definitely lacks the scope and ambiguity of the two Ancillary novels. The convoluted philosophical construct and math background of Anathem. The historical background of Cryptonomicon and of the Baroque Cycle. Or the singularity of the Hyperion universe. (But I was also unimpressed by the Three-Body Problem! And by Scalzi’s Hugo Award Redshirts!) The third volume is not yet out.

As a French aside, a former king turned AI is called Tomas Chenevert, on a space-ship called Auvergne, with an attempt at coming from a French speaking planet, Ponthieu, except that is should have been spelled Thomas Chênevert (green oak!). Incidentally, Ponthieu is a county in the Norman marches, north of Rouen, that is now part of Picardy, although I do not think this has anything to do with the current novel!

Great North Road [book review]

Posted in Books, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2017 by xi'an

As I was unsure of the Internet connections and of the more than likely delays I would face during my trip to India, I went fishing for a massive novel on Amazon and eventually ordered Peter Hamilton’s Great North Road, a 1088 pages behemoth! I fear the book qualifies as space opera, with the conventional load of planet invasions, incomprehensible and infinitely wise aliens, gateways for instantaneous space travels, and sentient biospheres. But the core of the story is very, very, Earth-bound, with a detective story taking place in a future Newcastle that is not so distant from now in many ways. (Or even from the past as the 2012 book did not forecast Brexit…) With an occurrence of the town moor where I went running a few years ago.

The book is mostly well-designed, with a plot gripping enough to keep me hooked for Indian evenings in Kolkata and most of the flight back. I actually finished it just before landing in Paris. There is no true depth in the story, though, and the science fiction part is rather lame: a very long part of the detective plot is spent on the hunt for a taxi by an army of detectives, a task one would think should be delegated to a machine-learning algorithm and solved in a nano-second or so. The themes heavily borrow from those of classics like Avatar, Speaker for the Dead, Hyperion [very much Hyperion!], Alien… And from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for an hardcore heroin who is perfect at anything she undertakes.  Furthermore, the Earth at the centre of this extended universe is very close to its present version, with English style taxis, pub culture, and a geopolitic structure of the World pretty much unchanged. Plus main brands identical to currents ones (Apple, BMW, &tc), to the point it sounds like sponsored links! And no clue of a major climate change despite the continued use of fuel engines. Nonetheless, an easy read when stuck in an airport or a plane seat for several hours.

Fall of Hyperion

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on October 27, 2012 by xi'an

I have weighted the consequences of this remote… one would have to say statistically impossible… event many times. We find the risks acceptable. Should the impossible happens (…)The Fall of Hyperion, p. 119

As I had immensely enjoyed Dan Simmons’ Hyperion a few weeks ago, I immediately went for the sequel/conclusion, The Fall of Hyperion. I alas found the second volume much less enjoyable as it was much less inspired and stunningly surprising than the first one… As illustrated by this very well-articulated criticism, I am certainly not the only one to feel as such. The innovative reproduction of Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales that makes stories within the story told in different styles is lost, and so is the complexity of the seven pilgrims, perfect in their imperfection: it seems like they caught a strange form of disease between both volumes, now solely working for the common good and ready to sacrifice themselves over and over again (since they can more or less resurrect!).

First, that Abraham’s path of obedience can no longer be followed, even if ther eis a God demanding such obedience. Second, that we have offered too many sacrifices to that God for too many generations… that the payments of pain must stop.The Fall of Hyperion, p.226

The fact that Simmons borrowed from many sources and myths was exciting in the first volume, but it showed its limits here, as he borrowed just too much! E.g., the connection between Sol and Abraham, the former being a scholar and philosopher spending his life analysing (and fighting) the motives for God requesting Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but eventually giving his (Sol’s) sole daughter Rachel to the (monster) Shrike as depicted on the (ugly) cover of the book.

I am merely a poet dying far from home.The Fall of Hyperion, p.427

The other (original) idea of transplanting the poet Keats in this future dries out fast and the long agony of Keats in Roma does not add anything to the story line. Overall, I think that the second volume, The Fall of Hyperion, explains a lot (and too much) about the first book, Hyperion, but I am of the opinion that the story would have read better without those explanations, thoe too many deus ex machina, and suspensions of belief, and other points of view from implausible characters. A bit more work on the first book would have kept the magic and the mystery there, without going the easy path of space-opera war councils, malevolent AIs, and ambiguous cyborgs… So I really advise against reading The Fall of Hyperion, if you have not done so yet. (I know, I know: this is a 1990 novel so most people who could have read it must have read it!)

summer reads (#2)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2012 by xi'an

As mentioned in a previous blog, I only packed four books in my suitcase in early July. Among those, Richard Ford’s A Piece of my Heart, and Niccolo Ammaniti’s La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci). I also bought Dan Simmons’s Hyperion in the (same) nice bookshop near Bondi Junction in Sydney, Berkelouw Books.

Whoever it was, though, didn’t have no business being here. I’ll tell you that. I’ll tell you that right now.A Piece of my Heart, R. Ford

A Piece of my Heart is the first novel written by Richard Ford and I did not even know about it. (I happen to have bought it perchance in a closing bookshop in Bristol selling every book there for two pounds!) I feel it is quite different from the other novels of Richard Ford I read so far. A Piece of my Heart is quite harsh and bleak in a Southern (U.S.) way, making one feel all characters (esp. men) are doomed from the start and that there is no use fighting against this… This makes their actions and decisions unpredictable and mostly irrational, but there is a kind of beauty in seeing them succumbing to this doom. I also found there is a sort of Faulknerian feeling in the novel, particularly in the character of Mr. Lamb, an old recluse living on an island that does not even exist on official maps. The tragic and foreseeable ending of the book is actually announced in the very first pages, but this does not make A Piece of my Heart less fascinating to read. Because this is not what matter…

There’s a legend that Cowboy Gibson did it before the Core seceded.Hyperion, D. Simmons

I finished reading Hyperion in the plane back home. This again is a (1989) book I had not heard of until I saw it in the Gollancz 50 series (which delivers at a low price the “best” 50 books in science-fiction and fantasy, like Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, its only drawback being a vivid and ugly yellow color!) I do not often read space opera sci’fi’, however this book is a masterpiece that completely deserves its inclusion in the Gollancz 50 series… Hyperion offers a complex plot, compelling characters, an interesting universe, a credible political structure, and, above all, relates quite strongly and openly to literary history, from Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales, to H.G. Wells, to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, to Philip K. Dick (and Blade Runner), and to Keats as a central figure. Plus interesting plays on religions and beliefs. The book does not conclude, as there is a sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, that I will most certainly read.

La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci) is an hilarious book by Niccolo Ammaniti that I can only classify as picaresque, given the accumulation of well-drawn characters and of fantastic events that build throughout the book. It is very different from the much more intimate Io non ho paura, however La Fête du Siècle reads very well and offers a very harsh criticism of the Berlusconi era and of the new social class it created. From nouveaux riches to would-be Satanists (all) looking for recognition or at least a few minutes of fame on TV… And meeting their end in a grandiose way. (I do not know if this book has been translated into english.) I read it in a few hours during my vacation week along the Great Ocean Road. And am still laughing at the comedy it exposed.