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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Space Exploration

I finally got around to ordering a copy of Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds. It's the third volume of his Revelation Space trilogy. It's chock full of strange new worlds, giant machines, demented personalities and evil monsters baying at the doors. It's great stuff. Some of the dialog is a little, um, what's the word? Childish, maybe? Kind of reminds me of what you hear on television. And then it struck me - this is exactly the thing that determines whether I will like a book or not. I used to think it was realism, that is whether the characters in a story were behaving in a believable manner or not. Now I'm thinking it's whether the dialog is intelligent or dumb. That's why I like James Bond movies, because of all the witty remarks and the absence of banal chatter. Realistic? Hardly, but witty.
    Last year I was reading John LeCarre espionage novels. I was enjoying the heck out of them until I got to one that struck a little close to home, or something. It was the one about the arms dealer selling weapons to the drug lords in Central America. It put me off his stories, but for  another reason entirely, not because of the dialog. Recently I picked up a copy of his The Looking Glass War. This was the first book he wrote after he made his first big success. It is supposed to be a more realistic look at the world of spy-v-spy, and it's a real downer. You have never seen such stupidity or incompetence. If this is what our intelligence agencies are made of (and being as they are made of people, not James Bond super-heroes, I imagine it probably is) it's a wonder they can manage to tie their shoes in the morning, much less figure out what our "enemies" are doing, assuming they can even figure out who our enemies are. I didn't even get half way through before I got totally discouraged and put it down.
    So Absolution Gap is a mixed bag. It's got a lot of really good stuff in it, like characters and concepts and conflict, but it's got a little of the stupid thrown in as well. On balance though it's pretty dang good.
    There are some uneven story lines. He will spend a hundred pages setting the stage for a climatic event, and then later on, in the middle of another story line (there are three main story lines) he will spend a couple of paragraphs explaining how the other story played out. Disappointing. But then the book is over 500 pages as it is, and I imagine that he might have wanted to wrap this story up in three volumes and not spend the rest of his life writing it.
    This is the third Science Fiction book I've read this year that had:

  • millions of people
  • living in tunnels underground
  • on an airless world.
The others were 
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein,
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

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