I got to read a review copy of Godlike Machines a while back, and fell totally in love with it. It’s finally, finally, been published, so I get to talk about it!!
I am so in love with Big Dumb Objects. And Small Dumb Objects. And grand, time-spanning, galaxy-sweeping space opera. Godlike Machines was, basically, written for me.
The opening story is “Troika,” by Alastair Reynolds. Told be a cosmonaut to an old woman, Nesha, it details humanity’s reaction to an astonishing object appearing in our solar system – the Matryoshka. Reynolds has delicate character development, gripping plot development, and an all-too-real visualisation of near-future Earth. This story made me sigh with pure pleasure. A novella, it could easily be a full-length novel; in some ways it reminded me of Clarke’s Rama sequence. I have nothing bad to say about the characters, or the narration, or the climax. This one goes straight to the pool room of All Time Favourites.
Stephen Baxter’s “Return to Titan” was perhaps not as infatuation-producing as I have not yet read any of the Xeelee sequence; but it’s still a good yarn, about going to Titan – obviously; the reasons for doing that and the weird things the explorers discover. The characters were intriguing, and not very likable overall.
Cory Doctorow’s “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” seemed a bit aimless, after the first two which have such strong, driving, and relentless plots; still the characterisation is a marvel, and some of the ideas are breath-taking.
Having recently read “A Map of the Mines of Barnath,” I was immensely pleased to read “A Glimpse of the Marvelous Structure” by Sean Williams. This one goes up alongside “Troika,” for my money; the characters are drawn sparsely but believably; the plot unfolds gently, relentlessly, and suprisingly; and – and – I just loved it!
How can you make a story about a BDO sad and poignant?? Robert Reed manages it in “Alone,” but I’m still a bit bemused. This is another story going straight to my favourites list… a machine on an enormous ship, alone for enormous swathes of time: would it want to know its provenance? Is it possible to be self-contained to such an extreme, for any sentient? *sigh* it’s just wonderful.
And finally, Greg Egan’s “Hot Rock” is yet another take on what exactly a godlike machine could be. In this case, it’s a planet. Explorers from two different worlds come together to a wandering planet, which – despite having no sun – still manages to be balmy and atmospheric. Once again interacting with aliens is the theme of the day; managing your own prejudices and expectations, and figuring out how to make the best of a situation for everyone involved. In this case, it was the action that pulled me along; the characters are interesting enough, but not quite at the same level as Alone or Reynolds’ cosmonaut.
Basically, this anthology has ruined me for space opera for a while. It will be hard for anyone else to compete.