For the past week or so I've been reading Alistair Reynold's Revelation Space. The jury is still out on whether I'm enjoying it or not.

Reynolds is part of a small wave of speculative fiction writers coming out of Britain; others I've read are China Mieville, Charlie Stross, and Ken MacLeod, and I feel like I've read enough to make some tentative pronouncements on what this wave is about.

One thing the writers all seem to have in common is a distinct socialist bent, refreshing after the liberatarian-dominated American sf. (Not that I've anything in particular against liberatarians, although I find them sadly naive on certain points. It's just nice to read something different.) The more important distinction, though, is that they are all very setting-focused... and more than that, they concentrate on making the setting as alien and distinctive as they can. At the same time, they're still filtering the setting through people, and it is the people on which they're focusing. None of it is what I'd call hard sf, that is, technology-focused. It's far closer to social sf, but not quite. The overall intent seems to be to cram people into the weirdest, most contorted molds that can be thought of and see which bits still look human.

Mieville does it best, in my opinion. I buy his books for the lush imagery and the sense of brain-melting, but I keep reading because his characters are real to me and I'm desperate to find out what horrible fate is in store for them. (This is, after all, Mieville. It's always a horrible fate.) MacLeod was the least successful - in fact, I must admit that the one book of his I tried to read (Cassini Division) I never finished. Despite the fact that it was written in first person, the main character was never real to me; she was too blatantly an observer-narrator, too clearly a vehicle for conveying all the weird and nifty ideas of the book through. And they were very weird and very nifty ideas. I am, I confess, a very shallow reader. I read to be entertained, and I don't find explore-the-theme-park "ideas" books entertaining enough.

Reynolds is somewhere in between. He writes what I think of as skeleton characters; they aren't two-dimensional by any means, and I find their motivations and actions perfectly believable, but they've clearly been given just the amount of attention and care that allows the writer to hang a story on them without breaking them. More to the point, they haven't nerves. I am interested in such characters, I care what happens to them, I am willing to read about them - but when they bleed, I am but an interested and mildly pitying bystander. I do not bleed with them, as I do with Mieville's characters. They do not make me feel what they feel. They are believable, but not compelling.

That's one of the reasons I'm moving so slowly through Reynolds's book. The other is that watching his plot happen is like watching glaciers mate: the scenery's good, and you get the feeling that the end result will be both spectacular and unique, but do bring a packed lunch. I am 304 pages into this 545 page book and I am only just beginning to sense the shape of where this thing is going and what is driving it and how all these bloody characters are going to meet up. The lapse in book-time between chapters is frequently months or years, the events sometimes dramatic in their own right but frequently very tiny in the overall plot sense, little infintesmal moves towards a distantly seen, vaguely conceived ending. It's lovely, but not for the impatient.

The general result has been that I read a chapter, leave the book for a day or two, read another chapter, forget the book, read a few more chapters... I do keep drifting back; the characters are just good enough, the plot just interesting enough to make me wonder what's going to happen. But a grabbing story this one's not.

Perhaps I'll change my mind in a few weeks when I finish it.

Revision Progress: 269 pages (of 380)
Changes: Less than I thought there would be. Added some description and chopped a dead plotline: the rest was just line edits.
Up Next: A scene that largely consists of floundering and dead plotlines but needs to be there for timing purposes. I'll come up with something.

posted at 12:53 PM on 07/01/05 by kat - Category: Books - Comments closed because I was getting enough spam to run over my bandwidth limits. Sorry guys!
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!


No comments yet

Add Comments

This item is closed, it's not possible to add new comments to it or to vote on it
The only unhackable computer is one that's running a secure operating system, welded inside a steel safe, buried under a ton of concrete at the bottom of a coal mine guarded by the SAS and a couple of armoured divisions, and SWITCHED OFF.

Charlie Stross, "The Atrocity Archives"

The To Be Read Pile

Recent Posts

January 2015
May 2011
January 2011
November 2010
April 2010
March 2010
July 2009
January 2009
November 2008
August 2008
February 2008
January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
March 2003
December 2002
November 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002

Browse By Category