Reviews #4

There are no books set in San Francisco this month. Perhaps the last few were a statistical aberration. There was lots of great SF though.

The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson
Iíve probably said this before, but Neal Stephenson is pretty much the hottest property in SF writing around at the moment. The Diamond Age is his latest effort and in terms of style picks up where Snow Crash left off. Where Snow Crash dealt with computers and other hi-tech materials and how they shape the future, this latest work creates a world built on nanotechnology. Extrapolating from current trends and taking them in entirely reasonable directions he has created an extraordinary world where the air and peoples bodies are a battleground for armies of microscopic machines. As usual, Stephenson tells a multi-threaded tale of action and pace which is hard to put down and paints a vivid picture of the future. The future of your nightmares perhaps, but very very possible.

Legacy - Greg Bear
Eon was possibly Bearís best SF novel - its certainly my favourite. Of the many interesting characters in that novel, Olmy was by far the most mysterious and exotic. Bear obviously likes the character as he came back in the sequel (Eternity). Now he gets a third outing in Legacy - a prequel to the other two novels. Legacy tells the story of a young Olmy sent to a planet to check out how a breakaway group of settlers is faring. The settlers are radical Naderites (for Ralph Nader) and so have a low technology level - this gives Bear the opportunity to have his hero on a sailing ship exploring the unique ecology of the planet. The voyage become a rites of passage type experience for Olmy which is supposed to explain his actions in the later novels. Iím not sure that it did, but I enjoyed the book anyway once I got past the slow start.

Dirty Work - Pat Cadigan
Pat Cadigan is a guest of honour at Conspiracy - thatís the í97 NatCon in case youíve been asleep. She is one of the top Cyberpunk authors and has produced a number of top class novels in this sub-genre. But Dirty Work is something else again. It is a short story collection, but the stories are not cyberpunk. Although the themes and settings cover a wide span, for the most part, they are personal intimate tales centered about the reactions of a single character. Some of these stories will make you laugh and some will chill you to the bone. There is not space in this review to describe the stories in detail, but I can tell you that they do provide a showcase for a very talented author. I do not chase autographs very often, but come Conspiracy I will be getting my copy of Dirty Work signed for sure.

Bellwether - Connie Willis
The novels of Connie Willis are always about people first and settings second. In Bellwether, two researchers are trying to come to grips with how people behave in groups. They try to study a simple system using sheep but without much success. In the meantime, chaos threatens to overwhelm them. The story is disappointingly predictable - the ending being obvious from sometime in the first half of the book. But as I mentioned, the people are what Willisís books are about and you donít win as many awards as she has without knowing a thing or two about characterisation. Even so, the predictability does leave things a bit flat.

Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers - Nancy Kress
These two novels form a pair. The basic story generating premise being that sleep is bad for you. If you genetically engineer the need for sleep out of people, you find that they are more intelligent and that they stop ageing. From this start, Kress builds a world and a story of these sleepless folk as they cope with prejudice even as they take over the world financially. These are basically novels of politics and intrigue and as such work fairly well. The first novel Beggars in Spain was originally a novella which won the Hugo and Nebula awards. I just have the feeling that perhaps the quality has been diluted by the extra pages but it is still a good novel. The second was probably designed to be a novel from the outset and it shows by being a better constructed and more directed work.