So between work and Intercon prep I haven't been reading as much as I'd like. I'm certainly not reviewing what I've read. So let's fix that now.
First up Excession by Iain M. Banks. This is another one of his Culture novels (and sadly, I'm going to have read all of them pretty soon). It's usual drill, far-future, transhuman, AI utopian polity The Culture has to deal with some issue. The problems of little people don't amount to a hill of beans but we still focus on them.
In this particular book, the Culture discovers an Excession -- some object from beyond our universe with a technology vastly superior to the Culture's own (and the Culture is considered to be top dog in our galaxy). Ships are sent out to investigate while the various AI minds ponder what the object is, what it might mean and how to deal with it.
As part of their activities, Byr Genar-Hofoen is pulled off his diplomatic job with the Affront (imagine high-tech frat-boys) and is being sent to Sleeper Service, a slightly dotty Culture ship. Byr's job is to get in touch with one of the souls on Sleeper Service, a Culture captain who encountered a very similar excession object several centuries ago. He's a little reluctant because he knows a former lover of his is also on board the ship and the last time they were together, she stabbed him.
Meanwhile, the Affront learn about this excession and seeing a chance to upgrade their tech and surpass the Culture, they hijack a mothballed Culture fleet and make tracks for the object.
Things come to a head.
As always, Banks has a books stuffed full of interesting and fascinating ideas. Stuff that's just casually mentioned could fuel and entire book on its own. The human angle is also done pretty well here. The various relationships involved are rendered well and you care about these people in the middle of something larger than they could ever comprehend.
I'm pleased to note that people don't kill themselves off from ennui or get introduced solely to be killed off. The Culture is still a little too-perfect but the interactions of the various AIs is always fun. I think this book stands very well next to his more recent Culture novels and I'd certainly recommend it.
Next up, I was dragooned into a micro book club (by which I mean there's two of us not that the books are tiny). Our reading selection was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
So sci-fi dystopian fiction is always a fun read and this one hits all the highlights. Massive ecological damage and a nasty super-plague have wiped out the human race. There's only one survivor a man who goes by the name Snowman. He watches over the Crakers, a group of homids genetically engineered to be better adapted to the harsh conditions of the world and to also be a sort of Humanity 2.0 with the various flaws in the brain re-wired for a more peaceful existence. The Crakers are named after Crake, who was Snowman's friend and former employer. The Crakers also revere Oryx, a woman Crake and Snowman loved who was their teacher back when the Crakers lived in a compound before the plague kicked off.
This book has some problems.
First, it's the opening of a trilogy and while the ending isn't a cliff-hanger, it leaves off just when things were getting interesting. That's the second problem. There's a huge amount of flash-back to explain what happened and why things are the way they are and almost zero present-day activity. The stuff that Snowman actually does in the book wouldn't even take up 25% of the pages and is not terribly exciting for the most part.
Not that you're super interested in reading about Snowman anyway. He's a pretty unlikeable character and even at the end of the world, his efforts to act as a shepherd for the Crakers doesn't really offset his self-centeredness. Or if he has really undergone some sort of transformation, it's buried under all the flashbacks.
And in the flashbacks, we see a world that's basically what you got in a lot of Cyberpunk fiction (although with less cybernetics). Corporate compounds surrounded by cities full of starving, desperate people and a world desensitized to violence of all sorts. It's all just a little too over-the-top. The upside is that at least you figure the mass extinction of humanity is probably the best outcome from any perspective.
Anyway, the book isn't unreadable, just very unsatisfying and I'm not in any hurry to pick up the next volume.