Daily Archives: April 6th, 2007

Galactic North

I finished this a couple of days ago – given it is a set of novellas, it serves as my break from reading about the Chinese Revolution, which book I will also post about at some time – there are some doozies of quotes that I have to share with people.

Anyway, to Galactic North: the latest Alastair Reynolds (although apparently there’s a new novel on the way – hurrah). I am eternally grateful to Kate for getting me to to read short stories, since before she started foisting Urchin stories on me (an example of which can be read here – I do so love the Wild Hunt), I never was much of a fan. This I have since repented, and am doing my part in reading a large stack of Aussie shorts (don’t believe me? Check this out). But back to the point. The first two stories (Great Wall of Mars, and Glacial) of this collection are about Galiana and Clavain, familiar to anyone who has read Revelation Space stories and still fascinating characters for newbies. Representing very different forms of culture and humanity – one a Conjoiner, those humans who exist with what is, crudely, an interweb between them, connecting them irrevocably, the other from a faction implacably opposed to such forms of humanity. They are great stories, and although you can read them as stand-alones, as I said, i think they are best seen as filling in (very nicely) holes from the novels.

Those two stories were probablymy favourites, because they did plug holes. “A Spy in Europa” is excellent, a very clever twisty story; “Weather” looks at both Ultras (space-adapted sailors, basically) and Conjoiners more than usual. “Dilation Sleep” is apparently a very old story, and suitably creepy, although not the most interesting of the set; “Grafenwalder’s Bestiary” allows Reynolds’ macabre side out to play. “Nightingale” (took me a while to get the name; it’s the name of a hospital ship) is also quite macabre, and an anti-war gem. Finally, “Galactic North” reminded me a lot of Time, Space, and Origin by Stephen Baxter, for its sheer scope of time and space. It was really, really good, too – picking up on something mentioned in one of the novels, and running with it to what should be a ridiculous extent, and yet… it works.

All in all, a glorious set of stories. And it just makes me want more from the Revelation Space ‘verse.

The Player of Games

I found Iain M Banks when we were in the UK – reminds me that I should get around to talking at least about the books I read over there, if not about the whole trip. It feels like it was such a long time ago, now, though – 10 weeks in fact. Anyway: I just finished his The Player of Games the second of the Culture novels. I think I’ve decided they can be safely read out of order, which is nice – now I can just go nuts at the second hand book shop, and buy whatever they happen to have.

It’s a great book. Banks is a great storyteller – you know, after you’ve read one, that there is a fair bit more going on than is obvious at the first and that this will be revealed in clever ways, and pretty much logically too: that is, there won’t be ta-dah! moments just to get the hero out of a sticky spot. I have to say, though, that I found the conclusion to this one just a bit anti-climactic. I don’t know what else I was expecting (well, yes actually I do, and it has a lot to do with Janny Wurts and the Empire books), but it wasn’t what happened.

Getting to that conclusion, though, was fun. The main character isn’t much of a hero – just an every-day Culture dude, who happens to be about the best games-player in the entirety of the Culture. He gets contracted, basically, to go and play the highest-stakes game he’s ever come across, and the book is about him learning it and playing it. Which sounds daft, except that the stakes are who gets to Emperor of Azad.

One of the more interesting, if surprisingly understated, aspects is the difference between Azad and the Culture, in politics and morals and pretty much every other aspect of life. There are a few conversation where these things are explored, and – I think deliberately – it’s weird for a reader to try and figure out exactly where they want to position themselves. With the Culture, that tolerates incest and pretty much anything else its citizens can come up with, or the Empire, that goes around subjugating everyone they meet (sounds familiar)? And really, as things are presented here, there are no half-measures. One side or the other.

Interesting. Fun. And, unlike Consider Phlebas (the one I read in the UK), only one page of ickiness that I had to skip over.