It’s a slow time for reading at Nuketown. The frenzy of the summer reading list has given way to the crush of my fall work load (and, if I’m honest, too much time spent playing Civilization 5). Much of my reading these days is of the audio variety, on my way back and forth from work, and it continues to be dominated by science fiction … though I have snuck in a Lovecraftian spy novel.
House of Suns
House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds (Amazon.com) is a post-human novel in which a small number of human pioneers created “shatterlings” of themselves, each copying their minds into a thousand clones. These various houses then spend millennia touring the galaxy, completing dozens of galactic orbits as they visit the various civilizations that rise and fall during that time.
They skim through the ages, using stasis and cold sleep to let the years pass by. Every few circuits of the galaxy each clone line holds a reunion where the shatterlings come together and exchange the myriad of memories they’ve accumulated.
The book revolves around Gentian Line, a benevolent family of clones who specialize in building “star dams” — massive ring world constructs built to constrain exploding stars. The line is happy to go about their business until an unknown force targets them for death, and the survivors suddenly find themselves struggling to figure out why.
House of Suns is a nicely self-contained novel that creates a detailed universe, sets up an intriguing mystery, and then solves said mystery in one book. This is an impressive accomplishment given today’s trilogy-plagued publishing scene, and it makes for a very satisfying read.
Watching the Ender’s Game movie inspired me to go back and re-listen to the original book by Orson Scott Card. It’s available on Audible.com, and since I bought it about eight years ago it was easy for me to go back and re-download it.
The movie hit all the major plot points, but there were these half-remembered battles from the book that I wish they’d included. The battle room scenes were over too soon, and there wasn’t enough focus on the constant psychological stress being imposed on Ender.
The thing is … I was wrong, or at least, I was partially wrong. Those half-remembered battles? Yeah, they never existed. Oh, they were hinted at in the book, but during the re-read I was strong at how few specific battles it mentions. The book often paints Ender’s battle school education in broad strokes; it saves the fine strokes for a few key fights (Ender and his launchies fending off an attack by the older boys, Ender sitting out battles in his early days as part of Bonzo Madrid’s army, and the Battle of Two Armies come immediately to mind).
This may not be entirely my fault — I also read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow, which tells the same story from the perspective of Ender’s friend, Bean. It may be the additional battles I’m vaguely remembering happened in that book instead.
In any case, it was still a good, if perplexing read. There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Card and his stance on gay marriage, and what I find perplexing is how the someone who could write so well about the importance of empathy for another human being (and aliens!) could be such a ass when it came to debating one of the biggest issues of our day. I just don’t get it — a major component of Ender’s Game is a rhetorical war waged by two of Ender’s siblings and yet in the real world, Card seemed to abandon all nuance in favor of incendiary comments.
The Atrocity Files
Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Files reads like a mashup of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Cthulhu Mythos, and The Office (the British version, not the American one).
The setup is that the main character, Bob Howard, is an hacker and secret agent for The Laundry, a covert British agency that defends the United Kingdom from occult threats. In this universe, magic exists … and is carefully described by mathematical formulas. Stross throws in dozens of nods to H.P. Lovecraft and classic demonic horror, and while some of the technology references are now dated, Stross demonstrates it’s almost as easy to go insane working the help desk as it is summoning an unknown horror from the Beyond.
The Big Bad took about half a book to show up, and even then he was still mostly in the shadows. I don’t mind — with a book like this, the language, characters, and geeky wordplay is its own reward. The plot? Well, that’s just gravy. Good gravy, but still gravy. If you liked Hitchhikers and X-Files, you might want to check it out. If you work in IT and like them, then it’s a must read.