Monday, October 23, 2006

Blindsight by Peter Watts

Of Readercon this summer past, one of my enduring memories was of one particular author I had never before heard of speaking to one and all (anyone who would listen, truly) of how much he hated the cover art to his forthcoming novel. But just as this was no man to suffer in silence, Peter Watts had also gone so far as to create alternate covers for people who may (or may not, I suppose) feel inclined to purchase his novel at some later date.

This was undoubtedly a man who cared about his novel, but in truth, I quite unreservedly deemed him a nut job.

Blindsight
is Tip-Of-The-Spear science fiction. It's not an easy read and it's not intended to be. At times I felt not quite smart enough to be reading it, as I've felt before when reading such prominents as Cory Doctorow and R. Scott Bakker.

It's a first contact novel, but the aliens are very much ourselves. In that, I should say, the human beings are beyond recognizable as such today. Our narrator has suffered a lobotomy of staggering proportions, but remains quite the genius -- sans all ability to feel emotion of any sort.

Oh, and there are Vampires.

I don't particularly know how much I enjoyed this novel, but I was immersed and blown away by the most fundamental of all science fiction tropes -- the big ideas. I'm thinking, and I can't stop, and that is an incredibly successful work of art. This is the one we've been waiting for; the novel that finally cements Charlie Stross as the science fiction author of this generation. Except for the simple fact that he did not write it..... One Peter Watts did.

And I'll never be caught offguard by a nameless, excitable science fiction author named Watts again. He may just be a nutjob in truth, but he's also an incredibly gifted author. And now I want one of those alternate covers. My collector's heart yearns for it.

Oh, and I called Spin, for those not keeping score. I am jumping the gun and calling Blindsight for next years big one -- the Hugo Award for Best Novel -- before it's even nominated.

Science Fiction is not dead. It just had half of it's brain cut out.

9.5/10

Collector's Notes:


Jump on board, people. Buy this novel, and buy it in hardcover. I believe you can buy a copy with one or more of the alternate covers from Clarkesworld Books. (Who, might I add, somehow knew how important and good and nougatty this novel was going to be months and months ago.)

At Rifters.com, you can get an immersive background on this and all of Watts' novels.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: Season Three

Never have I been so disheartened with science fiction fandom as when Battlestar Galactica lost the Hugo for best dramatic presentation, short form to the ponderous and preposterous Dr. Who this summer in Los Angeles. Not only was the Pegasus episode of BSG a pinnacle installment of the hands-down best science fiction television program ever created, but Dr. Who is simply unwatchable drivel.

Well, I no longer have any concern over this horror repeating itself. There is simply no plausible -- I even dare say possible -- way in hell that the world did not just witness next years Hugo recipient for short form on Friday evening.

Exodus, Part 2 was the single best episode of a science fiction television program I have ever witnessed. It was an event; something I feel privileged to have been able to see as it was first broadcast.

If you have not yet become a fan of the new Galactica, I haven't the words to describe just what you are missing. Season One, Season 2.0, and Season 2.5 are available as DVD box sets, and Season Three episodes are available to be watched on SciFi.com.

This is the SF TV show that literally grinds beneath its heel all that have come before. (Yes, even Firefly.) You will laugh and cry and think, and perhaps not hate your television quite so much.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Scar Night by Alan Campbell

Scar Night is the first book of The Deepgate Codex, and the debut from Scottish author Alan Campbell. It is billed as the second-coming of China Mieville; the latest from the country that has brought us Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross and Hal Duncan. In fact, the hype surrounding this title has been somewhat deafening, but unlike some earlier releases this year, Scar Night fails to live up to the reputation it has garnered.

Set in a deeply religious city that appears to be chained precariously over, well, Hell, we are introduced to an angel who is not allowed to fly.

I'm a fantasy reader, see that's what I do, but despite years of experience in the suspension of disbelief, I could not get past the preposterous nature of this setting. Everything is chained down, because if it weren't, well, it might fall down.

Err.
Campbell never actually gets into what everything is chained to, exactly, except everything else. But they worship the god of chains, so it's ok, I suppose.

There's also a war with a lesser and evil race. The Angels used to lead the war against these savage hordes, but the Church now has dirigibles, and so no longer need risk their holy ones.

Except, they treat their last surviving Angel as if he were the prototypical pigboy of fantasy yore. (But they give him a young female assassin to pal around with.)

Oh, and if you bleed too much, your soul is gone, and so go to hell. (Unless you're a General.)

This book is preposterous. I wanted to like it. I was set to fall in love with it. What I found myself immersed in was no doubt a wonderful imagining in Campbell's head which he was distressingly unable to convey to paper.

There is a flood of quality books and stories surging out of the United Kingdom these days, but unfortunately Scar Night is not worthy to be numbered among such.

4/10

Collector's Notes:

Scar Night has only been released in the UK thus far, but is recieving a very big push from Bantam for release here in January. If the book becomes popular, and lesser works with less hoopla certainly have, the UK first would be the copy to have.

But if you pass on this title, you're not missing much.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

".....Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at it's worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms."

Starship Troopers (Hugo, 1960) is the controversial classic that spawned the subgenre of military science fiction. It changed modern warfare and is required reading for each and every U.S. soldier and Marine to this day. It is the novel whose voice was so strong, it forced Heinlein to set aside Stranger In A Strange Land to pen it. Beyond being one of the most influential, most important, and absolute best science fiction novels, it's also one of my very favorites.

See, it's dedicated to me.

Well, to be completely forthcoming, it's dedicated to a very many thousands. All Sergeants anywhen, in fact. I fail to hold that against it, however.

A political pamphlet on civic duty as well as a novel, Starship Troopers purports that suffrage ought to be the privilege of those who have earned it, and those alone. In Heinlein's society this group was solely veterans of military service. Though this idea (and many others in Starship Troopers) was very attractive to me in my youth, I can not help but notice Heinlein's shortsightedness in limiting his civic service to military service alone. For instance, do doctors not serve society with as much import as the soldier? I can almost hear RAH sighing when I say that; about to point out how doctors are economically rewarded for their service exponentially more than a soldier. Then I would point to teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and more. I believe he would assert that I would find most of these professions filled with veterans of military service, but some or most, even in the world of his own making, is not enough to make his point valid.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Robert Heinlein, and do not doubt that my mind is far inferior to what his was, but I do believe I would win this argument.

Score.

This one small point aside, I do believe that Johnnie Rico's adventures as a member of the mobile infantry is the most enjoyable, infuriating, and wondrous science fiction tale ever told.

Starship Troopers has become something of a handbook for my former service, The United States Marine Corps. It purports the superiority of an all-volunteer, highly trained, technologically superior elite force, which is exactly what the Marine Corps works constantly towards being. Heinlein envisioned night vision goggles, which are standard issue throughout military forces across the globe, but were first used tactically by the Marine Corps. He also envisioned thermal viewers, now known as forward looking infrared (FLIR) which is used on most tactical aircraft and tanks. The most famous idea from Starship Troopers, the powered armor, has been in development by the U.S. Army for nearly a decade, but has yet to see tactical use.

Starship Troopers was also the basis of somewhat comedic movie of the same name in 1997.

It occurs to me that I've not given any plot summary whatsoever. I don't intend to. You've probably already read it, but if you haven't, you absolutely must. Now. Starship Troopers is one of the five most important novels of science fiction.


10/10

Collector's Notes:


Starship Troopers, due to its relative importance and the collectiblity of Robert A. Heinlein, is a very expensive book in first edition. (Original cover pictured above) A signed first edition in very fine condition is selling on ABE Books for about six thousand dollars. There is also a copy on ABE, unsigned, for sale by Barry Levin for $4,500. I have inspected this particular copy myself, and it is finer than I believe he represents.

The UK first hardcover edition was published in 1975, and is nowhere near as valuable. (~$500)

There have been many reprints, but none worthy of note for collectors. Meisha Merlin, in the process of publishing The Virginia Edition of Heinlein's complete works, will be producing a limited leather edition at some point. However, due to Meisha Merlin's history of poor quality and repeated untimeliness, I would urge caution prior ordering this series.