Archive for the 'Hugo' Category

Hugo review: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

May 16th, 2007

Here’s the third in my series of Hugo reviews for this year. I’m well on track to review them all before the 31 July deadline for voting. So here’s Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. I’ve read two other Vernor Vinge novels before, A Fire Upon The Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. Neither of them really gave me realistic expectations about this book.

In the year 2025, Robert Gu has just awakened from the nightmare of Alzheimers. Thanks to new treatments he looks like a teenager, and has (almost) all of his faculties back. But it’s a strange new world, where libraries are under threat from those who want to shred the contents, and where ubiquitous networking has transformed the way people think. The most highly prized talent is no longer the ability to do something, because you can always find someone in the world who can do it better. What’s valuable is the ability to search, to find the true information buried on the Internet, and to draw it all together.

Robert begins to piece his life back together, learning the skills that are needed. But the big players still play their game, and he is drawn into a net of intrigue involving intelligence agencies across the world.

This is a pretty mixed book. Vinge draws a compelling picture of a possible future. But he spends entirely too long building it up. One of the great dangers of world building in SF is that you want to use it all, and not keep it down to the parts that are most vital. On the positive side, Vinge tries to personalise all of the world detail he draws in through the main character. But there are still some long slabs of expository dialog in a few places, and a few subplots that serve no purpose other than to display some feature or other of this world.

This mess of distractions makes it difficult to follow the main plot at times, which is a pity because it becomes quite complicated and a bit less going on would be welcome. Almost all the characters are somewhat duplicitous in their motives, and at times I felt like making up a chart of what was going on, and what the various protagonists thought was going on. It’s generally entertaining, albeit a bit predictable overall. One nice thing was that Vinge doesn’t rest too much of the continuing novel on mysteries. In places where other authors would sustain a minor mystery for chapters, he tends to throw the solution in almost instantly. This is nice as it underlines one of the main themes of the novel, the changing cost of information, and the increased importance of search.

The characters are generally well drawn and interesting, but seem to spend most of the book alone. Very little of the book is driven by true character dynamics, with everyone pursuing their own path and agenda, often without much reference to other people. This lends to an overall feeling of isolation.

Overall I found this a quite entertaining book, packed with a lot of good ideas about the future. But a bit less futuristic detail and a bit more attention to character interaction would have improved it quite a bit. But I don’t think it would get my Hugo vote other the other two reviewed so far.

One side note – this book had the absolute worst ‘back of book blurb’ that I have seen in a long time. I’m pretty sure that not only had the person writing it not read the thing, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t even read the 10 page synopsis that they were provided with. I suspect they may have had a brief phone call about the book at some point, and maybe they wrote a couple of notes down during it. I kept waiting for the book to become more like the plot described on the back, but it just never happened.


Hugo Review: Glasshouse

April 18th, 2007

The second in my series of Hugo nominated book reviews for this year, Glasshouse, by Charles Stross

Robin doesn’t know a lot about his past. That’s partly because he just had a lot of it erased, and partly because of the Curious Yellow virus that had infected the teleport gates and wiped a lot of memories from everyone. Now he’s in the Glasshouse, an experiment aimed at understanding the ancient history of the old dark ages, 1950-2050. But all is not what it seems – for a start, someone is trying to kill him. And now some of his memories are starting to come back.

This is a very strong novel. The ‘science fiction’ elements mainly take a back seat, and tend to not drive the plot particularly. In fact, you could probably transpose a very large part of the story into a contemporary setting (absent a MacGuffin or two) fairly easily. What you couldn’t do is transpose what was (for me) the most fascinating part of the book, the treatment of the mid-20th century society from a far future perspective. There have been a few versions of this in different stories over the years (Heinlein for instance), but normally in the context of time travel. It’s interesting to see a take on what elements of society might be thought of as normal, which will be misunderstood, and which will be understood but abhored.

The main character is a strong, interesting and well rounded person, and Stross paints their motivations and development well. There’s one section in particular (which I won’t spoil for those who want to read this) where the strength of this characterisation actually becomes an important point in understanding the novel.

However, the main character is fairly isolated for the majority of the novel, and this means that the secondary characters are not as well developed. The motivations of the villains, in particular, are never well explored.

One note that worked well for me, but I suspect may disappoint others, is the number of dangling plot threads. A few different things are hinted at in the background of the story as being important, but some of these never really go anywhere. There is a deeper mystery hinted at in the novel that is not really addressed, let alone solved, in the course of the story. For me, this added to the richness of the world-building, but your mileage may vary.

Immediately after I put this novel down I had thought it was a very strong contender for the Hugo, but after thinking about it for 24 hours or so I’m not as sure – while it’s strong and interesting, it’s a bit light in the philosophical issues that seem to help a lot in winning the Hugo. It would certainly be a worthy winner, and a lot depends on the other three novels yet to be read.


Hugo Review: Temeraire

March 31st, 2007

The Hugo Award nominations for 2007 were just announced this week. I’m going to be reading all of them over the next few weeks, starting with Temeraire by Naomi Novik.

The novel is set in 1795, and Captain William Laurence has just captured a French frigate carrying precious cargo – a dragons egg, about to hatch. Weeks out to sea, someone has to harness the freshly hatched dragon and begin a new life.

This is obviously not a novel for everyone. It’s solidly aimed at that valuable crossover Napoleonic War/Dragon market. Which I think, at last count, had about 12 people in it. I know a lot of people prefer fantasy to be nicely ahistorical. Actually, tone-wise I thought that this book was actually a lot closer to steampunk than most modern fantasy.

Naomi Novik is a first time author (and also nominated for the John W. Campbell award for best new writer), and this is a very impressive book. The writing is strong, the characterisation good, and the plot fast moving. It’s a very enjoyable read, but I did come away with a slight feeling of a little bit of shallowness overall. There’s also just a little bit too much of the cliches of period English drama – the aloof father, the gruff but kind commander, the strong woman in a man’s world, and so on.

I think this is a good book, very enjoyable. But I’ll be surprised (not having read the other books yet) if it does win the Hugo this year – there’s just not enough to it to win.