I've been smashing out this deadline since about early December, which means I'm way behind on my TV watching and video game playing, but strangely enough I've managed to do some quality reading. I find it helps when you're pushing through your own words to occasionally dip into someone else's. Maybe it's just a break from the imagined world in which I have to spend 12 hours a day. Could be it's just nice to see that somebody else finished the job.
I've gone through five novels so far this deadline; two of them brilliant, one of them pretty good, one a bit of a dud, and one that I'm only about a third of the way through and beginning to enjoy after some initial misgivings.
The brilliant picks I owe to Orin, I think. I seem to recall him mentioning a couple of space operas by a guy called James SA Corey awhile back, but if it was somebody else I apologise. Unlike most of the space operas I read, these are quite constrained. Humanity has got off this damned rock and colonised Mars, a couple of moons around Saturn and Jupiter, and big chunks of the asteroid belt. Faster than light travel is still impossible. Damn You, Einstein. But the Epstein Drive (invented by a guy called Epstein!) has allowed ship designers to build spacecraft that can get out to the edge of the solar system in mere months, as opposed to years. It gives the politics of the solar civ a wierdly nineteenth century feel.
This is the sort of thing that would normally piss me off, but Corey (a pen name for a couple of other writers who wanted to collaborate on a big splodey space project) does a very good job, Douglas Adams style, of reminding us just how big space is. Even our little solar system. It's really big. The tech is sweet, the science seems very scientific and the story rocks along. I won't give away too many spoilers other than to say an ancient evil from the cold reaches of intergalactic space reaches out and threatens to destroy the human race who are too busy squabbling amongst themselves to present a united front.
It was a joy to read these books because quality shoot-em-ups between the stars are increasingly hard to come by. The characterisations are great in both novels with an ensemble cast of four or five players led by a couple of main actors, who I won't discuss here because it would be difficult to lay out the story arcs without giving away massive spoilers. If you like your space opera with lots of splosions and infamy and space zombies, I recommend a buy.
The Long Earth, another collaborative effort, this time between Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, is the sort of book I would normally be all over like a cheap Chinese suit, since it's about the multi-verse. In the first of the series – there are a few more to come apparently – a scientist discovers a way to step between parallel earths, an infinity of parallel worlds, each one only slightly different from the one before. Of course when you push those differences out towards infinity, the differences become infinite. I found The Long Earth to be a fascinating if occasionally frustrating travel log as narrated by "Joshua Valienté (a natural 'Stepper') and Lobsang, who claims to be a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated as an Artificial intelligence." There’s good fun to be had following them through world after world and watching the repercussions play out on Datum Earth, or Earth version 1.0 I guess you could call it.
There isn't much of a storyline, though; it's really more a book of exploration with the challenges of pushing deeper into the increasingly different worlds providing what passes for a narrative arc. There's a bit of mystery involving some of the life forms which have evolved up and down the contingency tree, and these sort of feed into what passes for a plot in the second book in this series, The Long War. I didn't enjoy War nearly as much as Earth, and wouldn't feel comfortable recommending it to anyone. The whole thing seemed half baked. But if you like your alternate reality stories, there's nothing wrong with The Long Earth and I don't mind fessing up to having enjoyed it.
Finally I was in at Pulp Fiction the other day and saw that Peter Corris had a new Cliff Hardy novel out, Silent Kill I'm a sucker for Pete's work, and I've bought every Hardy book he's ever written; the only crime writer of whom I could say that. It took me a couple of chapters to get into this latest one which starts off with a large info dump about one of the principal protagonists and suffers in its early stages from a lot of characters being introduced a bit too quickly. But then somebody dies and we get back to Cliff doing what Cliff does best, driving around Sydney knocking heads together.
I picked up my copy of Silent Kill on iTunes and have been reading it on my pad and phone, rather than my Kindle. (I saved my Pulp Fiction purchase for a hardback called The Suicide Exhibition, because Nazis and Demons. Or something. I'll drop the link in below). Amazon forced the change on me when they opened the Australian-based Amazon store and tried to make me reset my account locally, where the selections are much thinner and the prices much higher. I'm happy to pay for my digital content, but I'm not willing to get shaken down for it. So, perversely, although I pay a little more per title on iBooks, and the selection is complete arse unless I use my US account, I've decided that's the price I'm willing to pay to chip away at Amazon's monopoly. The link above goes thru Amazon, where the kindle copy seems to be a reasonable seven or eight bucks. If Apple had an associates program, I'd link to them instead.
I'm getting pretty close to the end of the second Hooper book, and I suspect Cliff will see me through. I'll have a couple of days off then before charging into book 3, which I've got plotted out scene by scene and ready to go. At that point I'll need to give me a few more deadline titles in reserve.