I am always on the lookout for solar system exploration fic, which is difficult to find, because aliens are king in contemporary space opera. I wish I liked classic SF more than I do; a lot of the old stuff was solar system specific. The oldest I’ll go back is 1990’s/ turn of the turn-of-the-millennium, and even that stuff seems dated. To a book, late 90s solar system fic is cynical. Not the writers; but their characters. The writers are desperate and sad: “We’ve given up on space!” They produced desperate and sad fantasies about characters fighting to get back to space against big odds. Nowadays, we get gee-whiz stories like The Martian, reflecting the greater optimism of the SpaceX and ISS era.
This book, written in 1996, tries hard to inject the pessimism with optimism, but the author has a political ax to grind, and the book has more than a little Fountainhead subtext, a naive belief in the benignness of privatizing not only space ventures, but public education as well.
Although I have my doubts about privatization as some panacea–removing ventures in the public interest from public oversight and lock-stepping the evaluation of their success with the profit motive–I’ve always shared the particular frustrated impatience with government progress in space. It is too cautious, too hamstrung by goal-lessness. But this book peppers its privatization with potshots at NASA, environmentalists, and straw-man liberals.
Which is too bad, because underneath that peppering is an complex near-future (now alt-history) world peopled with interesting characters, and despite me, I’ll probably read the next book in the series.
I give this tour-de-force exploration of one possible answer to the Fermi paradox a 3.5. Better than a three, but not as good as a four. However, there is no 3.5, so four it is. It reminds me, in structure, of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312–a long, meandering novel with multiple characters and story lines, where the plot eeks along at a snail’s pace while entire chapters are turned over to philosophical musings.
Then, in the last quarter of the book, the myopic detail of the story lines is dumped to take a different point of attack on resolving the larger story, leaving the emotional payoff of the original story lines hanging, to be resolved by various, off the cuff “tellings,” rather than “showings.” This is frustrating, although you do find out what happened to the characters, and the ultimate message of the novel is positive.
I’ve decided that, “My science fiction is pasted on, yay!” stories make me cranky. These are stories that could just have easily have been set in early 21st century Earth, but are instead plopped onto another planet, or a ship or station in space. The mechanisms of travel between stars aren’t even hand-waved, they’re just not mentioned at all. The aliens are Obscure, or are referred to as “human.”
Renata Ghali is a complex character, and even I was taken in by Sung Suh’s mild manner, but that doesn’t make this story any less an episode of Hoarders set in a town so small it’s boggling that no one could have known about a community leaders/home-builders problem for over twenty years.
Yes, buried secrets (literally). Stress. A mysterious alien artifact. But all that leads up to one of those obscure endings that leaves you not satisfied, but scratching your head wondering how to interpret exactly what happened.
I was a bit disoriented at first by the admixture of common moon colonization tropes with the almost medieval merchant-dynastic politics whose commonplaces include trial by combat and arranged marriages (granted, some of them are same-sex arranged marriages).
This novel is soap opera-meets-space opera, most specifically, a 1980s-prime time type soap opera of the “Dynasty” stripe. Once you accept that, though, it’s good entertainment. Me, I dig soap opera when it’s done well, as it is here.
I found the feudalistic/Wild West/post-nationalistic depiction of the Moon’s near future unlikely, but the narrative admits freely that that is the kind of world it is depicting. It helped having one character’s (Adriana Corta) past set in our present as a bridge between the now and the future of the story.
Indeed, this first novel in the Luna series is Adriana Corta’s story. She is the common thread that knits together the various story lines of her children, grandchildren, allies, and enemies.
There is also a “character of invitation” (a character with a background more like the reader’s), Earth-born Marina Calzaghe, who reacts to and interprets the actions of the characters in a way most readers will. This also helped ground me in the story. However, you don’t start to see those reactions until after you’ve been thrust into the story world as it is perceived by Moon natives.
This book is way sexier than KSR’s 2312, I must add, although it is downright pornographic in places.
It might have been too soon after Aurora to read another Kim Stanley Robinson novel. But I’ve had 2312 in my collection for two years and needed to finish it. Also, I’ve been Jonesing lately for science fiction stories that take place exclusively in our solar system, rather than depicting interstellar travel.
Robinson builds up a plot in his usual way– out of a mosaic of endless, tiresome, breathtaking description. He does random, nonsensical things just for the opportunity they provide for his long-winded sensualities, like having his protagonist travel from Io to Earth on a ship with absolutely no internal lighting, and another ship that is one long orgy.
He breaks up the narrative with entire chapters of scientific, technological, and sociological exposition and lists, which he calls “abstracts,” “extracts,” and yes, “lists,” as if determined to show off his world-building notes and editing castoffs. Must be nice to get away with that.
His main character is annoyingly, stubbornly naive and storms through the novel like a bull in a China shop. I went back and forth between admiring her courage and wanting to smack her.
I was intrigued by the actual plot, when Robinson actually paused to spend syllables on it. It presents as a political mystery–terrorist acts the main characters must trace the origin of. Robinson should consider adding a plot to his word paintings more often in the future.
2015’s Cloud Atlas: a somewhat offbeat tour-de-force whose character motivations ultimately strain credulity just a bit. Every time someone went into the three – body game, I wanted to skip over those parts. I didn’t see the appeal of the Trisolaran culture as depicted in the game. In fact, I found it repugnant. So I couldn’t really understand its appeal to the characters.
A lot of this book relied on tell-don’t-show, flashback, and pure info dump to get the entire story told in a reasonable length.
The Chinese cultural setting is the most interesting and refreshing part of the book. Well, that and the living computer circuit scene.