the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘hard science fiction

Echopraxia, by Peter Watts

published in 2014

Where I got it: I don’t remember

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Echopraxia, from dictionary.com:

  1. the abnormal repetition of the actions of another person.
  2. the involuntary imitation of the actions of others

 

Daniel Bruks is a regular human.  Living out in the desert after committing career suicide, Bruks is just a regular guy. And by regular, I mean he has no augments and his DNA and brain haven’t been mucked around with. By regular, I mean humanity is, in general, leaving him behind. But so long as they leave him alone, he’s fine with that.

 

Bruks keeps saying he doesn’t understand what’s happening, or why the Bicamerals even took him along on their mission when it would have been much easier to leave him behind. He’s not alone, as for the first half of this book, I had no idea what was happening either.  Watts certainly throws the reader into the deep end, and it was a frustrating first hundred pages.  Luckily, about a third of the way in, there are some conversational infodumps that tell you exactly what all these augmented humans are, and what Bruks is not.  And maybe  Bruks will eventually come to realize all the mean names the augments call him, names like roach and baseline, aren’t insults at all.

 

Echopraxia takes place in the same universe as Blindsight, and if you haven’t read Blindsight it is 1) one of the most incredible hard scifi novels ever written, and 2) won’t much prepare you for Echopraxia, as these two novels are those distant cousins who see each other at weddings and funerals, but can’t think of a reason to speak to each other.  That said, I couldn’t stop thinking about Blindsight while reading this novel. There is so much discussion in Echopraxia about how you can’t trust your own brain, you can’t trust your own perception. Blindsight was ALL ABOUT perception, and we see that story from Siri’s point of view, and of course he trusts his perception.  It makes for a fascinating dichotomy between the two novels!

 

Plotwise, I’m not 100% sure what is going on in Echopraxia. Bruk’s desert home is under attack by zombie drones, so he takes refuge at the nearby monastery of Bicamerals.  The Bicamerals are a sort of hive mind type thing, they have souped up synapses spiked with genetics from our ancient ancestors, genetics homo sapiens evolved away from because we “didn’t need that stuff anymore”.  Turns out, it isn’t Bruks the zombies are attacking, but the monastery. When the Bicams escape, they take Bruks and their “pet” vampire, Valerie, along with. What the hell do they need Bruks for? For that matter, what the hell do they need a god damn Vampire for?  Once out in space, the story takes a turn for the visceral horror, because Valerie is the smartest predator the Earth has ever seen.  (What are vampires doing in a hard scifi novel, you ask? Fantastic question!  And the answer is in Blindsight, and also in that novel’s appendix, where Watts brilliantly discusses how Vampires are genetically viable and possible on Earth, and why it was a really terrible idea for us to bring their genetics back)

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arkwrightArkwright by Allen Steele

published March 2016

where I got it: purchased new

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Reviewers seem to really love this book or really be frustrated by it, there doesn’t seem to be much in between.  Here’s my issue:  I can’t figure out if my frustration with the book is because it was crafted poorly, or if I’m just whining that an author didn’t write the exact book that I wanted to read.  As the process of me writing these reviews and such is more often than not just me having a conversation with myself about a reading experience I had,  let’s let the review write itself and see what happens.

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Warning – spoilers ahead.

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The concept of Arkwright is a very fun one.  A fictitious science fiction writer, Nathan Arkwright, puts his life savings towards a foundation whose goal is to get humanity to the stars. Doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly successful, movies and TV shows are made from his stories and novels, he knows how to invest, he has a fantastic agent, etc. He kinda reminds me of a romanticized Gene Roddenberry combined with the kind of success every science fiction author dreams of.  The novel opens with Nathan’s death, and his granddaughter Kate learning the truth about her family, and about why every cent in his will went to some Foundation she’s never heard of. Once she learns the truth, she decides to get involved with the Arkwright Foundation.  And their methods of ensuring humanity gets to a colony planet and can survive the trip is a pretty innovative idea. There is some good hard science in Arkwright, that’s for sure!

 

This is not a long book.   If the plot is going to zip forward a bunch of generations, Steele doesn’t have much time to introduce characters and their motivations, and develop any interesting side plots.  So he doesn’t.  The characters barely get developed,which makes  much of the writing feel rushed and clunky. To add insult to injury I found Nathan’s flashbacks of meeting new friends at the 1939 WorldCon to be so overly schmaltzy sweet, I nearly DNF’d this book right then and there to avoid getting cavities in my teeth. What so many reviewers saw as a love letter to the genre, I saw as characters flatly written to be at exactly the right place at the exactly the right time to quite literally Forward the Foundation.  As we meet new generations of Arkwrights, unfortunately even their stories became predictable: handsome and brilliant Arkwright of marriageable age meets brilliant scientist of the opposite gender, awkwardly written romance ensues, the next generation is born,  bam, on to the next chapter and generation we go. Do these characters exist for any other reason except to ensure that the next generation of Arkwrights is born?

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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.