the Little Red Reviewer

Big Ideas AND Compelling Characters?!

Posted on: October 10, 2019

I’m slowly making my way through Death’s End by Cixin Liu.   I’m 250 pages in, and it feels like I’ve barely made it past the first few chapters. In a way, this is sorta feeling like Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle?  (if you’ve not read The Baroque Cycle – spoiler: it never freakin’ ends. like, ever)

 

I am LOVING the big ideas in this book!  How space faring races might find each other, why they’d be wise to avoid each other.  Of course I can’t find the section now, but the part about how there is a child walking through the Dark Forest, and the child makes a small campfire ot keep warm (or safe? Or makes the campfire just to have something to do?), and not only does the campfire allow any observers to show where the child is,  the child is made nightblind by the light of the fire, and can’t clearly see what’s happening away from the light.

 

And the scale of everything!

 

And holy shit the stuff that the Interstellar ships Blue Space and Gravity find, holy shit!!!

 

The ideas!  The scale! The cool outerspace stuff!  Everything about why it’s so quiet out there!

 

But.

 

But?

 

But I find my mind wandering, I find myself struggling to stay engaged with the story, I’m finding it difficult to care about all this amazing stuff because I’m not connecting with the characters.   Cheng Xin is cool, but I don’t feel like I know her as a person. I don’t feel like I’m invested in what happens to her. I’m going to keep reading, I just which there was more character driven stuff going on.

 

I’m that persnickety reader who wants cool big ideas and characters.  Because if I care about the characters, I’m gonna care triple about the hella awesome ideas.

 

Which got me thinking – which books have I really enjoyed because I loved the hella cool science ideas and the characters were really cool?

 

Darwin’s Radio  by Greg Bear – Big ideas about biology, evolution, human sociology, how we quantify and qualify scientific knowledge, how diseases work and what exactly makes something a disease (a rose in a corn field is considered a weed).  Characters were predictable but still very relatable.

 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – the characters will grab you and pull you back into the story with them, but oh yeah there is freakin’ planetary geology! And plate tectonics! And like, literal earth science!!!!  And probably genetics? And i’m not entirely sure what else because I haven’t finished the trilogy.

 

The Quantum Magician – Big ideas on quantum entanglement, genetically modifying entire races of humans to survive on different planets, how religion and faith actually work, really hella cool characters. I’m still mad at the main character, Bel, for what he does to his friend William. I hope to see Stills again. The puppets still horrify me. Like, six months after I read this book I am still mad at Bel!  And I’m still in awe of all the cool science in this book!

 

Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee – seriously the best characters of the year, and big ideas about psychology, social engineering, something brilliantly terrible called Calendrical Mathematics, some fun observations on how language is connected to how a person thinks,  and a thing that happens between two characters that still makes me burst into tears. It’s been over a year, and I am still freaked out about this thing that happened – a thing that couldn’t have happened if not for the cool science and psychology concepts the story revolves around.

 

Blindsight by Peter Watts – Something I’m coming to love about Communication is that the better you think you are at it,  the worse you probably are at it. I’m coming to the conclusion that the worst possible way for human to interact with each other is through verbal communication. So, how many ways can we screw up talking with aliens?  A lot. This one takes social and psychological concepts behind how communication works (and yet, it totally doesn’t work), alongside excellent characters and a scientifically plausible explanation for why and how Vampires could really exist.

 

There’s a bazillion more big huge wonderful ideas and compelling characters books, but these were the few that quickly came to mind.

 

What are some of your favorites?

7 Responses to "Big Ideas AND Compelling Characters?!"

Blindsight most def! Seveneves too, although not everybody will agree on characters: it got me emotional. Some of Banks’ Culture novels: those Minds tend to be great characters too.

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I’ve been meaning to try Seveneves, just haven’t gotten around to it yet. and YES!! Banks’ Culture books! thank you for mentioning him, how did he not get onto my quick posted list? I was literally staring at a bookshelf that has Culture books on it while I was writing that post. I went on a Culture book kick a while ago, the ones I loved the most were Use of Weapons and Player of Games. I should give one of those a reread one of these days.

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“Passages,” by Connie Willis. Haunting characters in a haunting story.

“Omega,” by Jack McDevitt. Wonderful, unusual characters!

And try an oldie, “The Green Kingdom,” by Rachel Maddux. A lifelong favorite.

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Anything by Connie Willis is sure to be good!

ooh, The Green Kingdom looks amazing, and it looks like something i could fall into for years (which means it is perfect). Thank you for that recommendation! Later today I’m stopping in at the local bookstore, so perfect timing too!

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Cool! I have The Quantum Magician right here ready to read for November (thanks to your review of it).
As Banks’ Culture books have already been mentioned above I have no suggestions. But I did watch the movie Arrival the other day and that was pretty frigging awesome. I want to find a copy of Ted Chiang’s original short story to compare. Anyhow, when I was watching Arrival I thought about you and our previous conversation about language.
That is all. 🙂

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Arrival is one of my favorite movies!! I am so happy you enjoyed it!

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Argh! Awesome!! 😀

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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