Archive for April, 2009

Gridlinked: The Culture, with Altered Carbon

April 17, 2009

Neal Asher’s Agent Cormac books are what you would get if you mixed Iain Banks Culture novels with Richard K Morgan’s Takashi Kovacs books. The Polity is a Human empire that is run by a series of AIs (they even have really big ships and AI drones). The polity novels I’ve read so far deal with the border (line of polity) between those that are part of the enlightened culture and human settlements on the outside (separatists). So a bit like Special Circumstances in the Banks books. The central character is Agent Ian Cormac, a hard hitting Earth Central Security agent who was for a long time wired into the AI grid (gridlinked) and has lost a bit of his humanity because of it.

I’m in the process of reading the series, having been impressed by the starting novel (I’m reading Line of Polity right now which I’ll review in due course). The violence isn’t as full on as in Richard Morgan’s books, but the main character doesn’t mind busting heads. The universe is reasonably hard SF, which you kinda expect now days with the crop of UK/Irish Sci-Fi writers that seem to be pumping out the best stuff. I won’t go into the plot as it is a little convoluted, but if you’ve found the Culture novels a little dry (though liked the background and idea) you’ll probably get a kick out of Gridlinked. The second novel makes a lot of references back to the first, so it is definitely a series rather than stand alone books with the same characters set in the same universe. There are currently five books in the Agent Cormac series and a couple of others that are set in the “Polity Universe”. I haven’t started on those, but I’ll get to them after I finish what has been published of the Agent Cormac sequence.

Signal to Noise: First Contact with a Twist

April 15, 2009

Signal to Noise is a satirical hard science first contact story. The short of it is that a paranoid hacker genius comes up with a decryption algorithm that when applied to what was thought to be background noise from space actually finds communication traffic. Rather than share this revelation with the world, he sets up his own company and starts trading with aliens for advanced technology. He starts making lots of money. That is when the sharks (both human and alien) start coming out of the woodwork with hostile take over bids and blackmail threats. The moral of the story is that when aliens you meet on the intergalactic internet offer you some really nifty tech in exchange for some “cultural works” like Beatles recordings and Shakespeare, there is probably going to be a big hidden catch.

The style is free flowing. The paranoia is fun rather than oppressive. The protagonist is clearly *way* out of his depth and it is good to see a novel where the human doesn’t get to pull the wool over the eyes of the aliens by coming up with some clever leap of logic. Like I said in a recent Blunty thread – we better hope we don’t run into aliens that are smarter than us. As this novel shows, taking advantage of civilizations that aren’t as clever of yours is like taking candy from a baby.

I haven’t been able to source a copy of the sequel, A Signal Shattered, but would love to read it after enjoying Signal to Noise.

Peter F Hamilton Back Catalog

April 12, 2009

I finally got around to reading a bunch of Peter F Hamilton books that I hadn’t read. I purchased Reality Dysfunction when it came out and have everything in the series (including the handbook and Second Chance at Eden) and also have the TPB of Pandoras Star and Judas Unchained as well as hardbacks of the two released Void books, but hadn’t read any other Hamilton. Partly this was because a work colleague back in 2001 said that the other stuff was a bit rubbish. Anyway, after one of the Cheeseburgers suggested that some of the Hamilton back catalog wasn’t rubbish, I took my Christmas/Birthday gift card and got everything that I didn’t already own.

Fallen Dragon

Of the set, Fallen Dragon reaches the same standard as the Confederation and Commonwealth sagas. I also like the fact that the book starts in a pub in Kuranda and there is a big arse spaceport in Cairns. The blurb on the back is a bit misleading as the main character has no idea what the fallen dragon is (or even that it is called that) until the very end of the book (whereas the blurb makes it sound like he’s heard some legend about a fallen dragon and wants to go look). The book is set a couple of hundred years from now in a galaxy where about 150 planets or so have been settled by starship. Colonization was a corporate rather than government driven affair and turns out to bring no money whatsoever back to Earth, so has pretty much stopped by the time the book starts. Some corporations “buy the debts” of colony companies and essentially go on “asset realization” missions (which are essentially piracy) to the colonies to legally pilfer whatever they can. The main story takes place on a planet that for some reason appears to have a very effective resistance movement. The major character is with the pirates and Hamilton is pretty clever in writing a sympathetic hero who is clearly working for some pretty nasty people. This is a stand alone novel and worth picking up if you haven’t read it.

Mindstar RisingQuantum MurderNano Flower

The Nano-Flower is the next best of the set above, though comes in as the third part of the Greg Mandel trilogy. Mandel is a psionic detective. He has been surgically modified with a “psi” sense that makes him an empath. He also has a bit of precognition. He was in the mindstar brigade, which is basically a bunch of hard hitting military dudes that also have psychic powers – so no soft “Deanna Troi” type empathy here. Each Mandel book stands on its own with only minor references to the previous ones so you could read this one by itself. All books in the trilogy are set in a near future post global warming England which has just thrown off a decade of totalitarian socialist government. Mindstar Rising and A Quantum Murder are reasonably good, though not as un-put-downable as Nano-Flower. The only drawback with Mandel is that he isn’t as well written a character as some of Hamilton’s later ones (which makes sense, the Mandel books are his first three). There are definite hints of future characters (Julia, leader of a hypernational is clearly the template for Ione Saldana in the Confederation books, down to being a really powerful just turned adult teenage girl given the reigns of a powerful organization)

Misspent Youth

The one I wouldn’t recommend is Misspent Youth. Even though it sets up the Commonwealth Universe in terms of rejuvination, this book never really seems to come together all that well. The story revolves around the first person to undergo rejuvination therapy, being altered from having a body in his 70’s to having a body appear in its mid-20’s. The major problem for me was that none of the characters seemed to jell well. The son was perhaps the most understandable, but the main protagonist’s journey was all over the place – mostly into the beds of a whole lot of women who for some reason couldn’t stop jumping him. The plot can be summed up as “old dude gets to be young again and mysteriously turns into Casanova”. ┬áThe end is hinted at obliquely throughout the book, but feels more like a non-sequitur. The “what happens after he turns into casanova” isn’t really handled all that well and I put down the book thinking “meh”. Hamilton usually writes a lot of action into his books and this one didn’t have much (unless you count the bonking). So avoid this one unless you are a Hamilton completist.