I really felt that this was missing something as I closed in on the final hours of the book. I felt uncommitted to the story for the entire first half, waiting for something (anything) to happen. Finally in the fifth part you get the bigger picture, but even now that I've completed the book, I feel like a couple of things were executed on in a funny way.
Right at first, I was kind of afraid that the detective premise would be a rehash of a Paula Myo circumstance from Pandora's Star and the followup books. I wasn't going to be super enthusiastic about that sort of lack of imagination, but Hamilton really does nothing for you to alleviate that fear: nothing happens. No really. For 18.25 hours, nearly nothing happens.
It's not for a lack of shifting perspective either. The story is built on a lot of flashback material, which at first feels like a crude LOST-style maneuver. Entire scenes in the present are created and inhabited just so that you can go back in time 20 years. Which could have been fine, but nothing happened in the present, and nothing helpful happened in the flashback. One flashback, a pilot, has a nice colorful flashback story, but Angela and the others are all severely lacking, because telling you what happened would sort of undermine the whole set of mysteries in the character timeline. It very very obviously gives you only what you need, showfully leaving out material that is clearly important.
So for over 18 hours, you've got nothing to chew on but really empty flashbacks that, while interesting at first, are actually lacking substance.
The worst of it is really just that the mystery at the heart of the book feels extremely manufactured after a while. Flashbacks are clearly incomplete, probably to instill doubt about the identity of a murderer. But once you finally get the missing 30 second memory, it's nearly uninteresting. Not irrelevant, just not impressive for the core of a huge mystery.
The second half of the book makes it good. The first half is a character-building experience, I grant you, but man was it drawn out. I was even expecting that, but was still surprised.
If the book has any weakness, it's one of managing expectations. I say that with an open mind, having considered several angles.
The whole story looks great from the bird's eye view, but when I was in the thick of some of its parts I found myself just listening to an extra hour or two just to cut through and absorb more, to compress the experience and convince myself I'm interested in what happens next.
I enjoyed it, and the end is good. I gave it a good rating, because it's a good story. My qualms come from stylistic preference, especially held up against Hamilton's previous previous sci-fi work. I think Alastair Reynolds has given me a taste for heavier science components woven into all that storycrafting (which I generally enjoy, mind you).
My advice: if you're unsure about getting the book, don't rush to this one at the expense of something else you're excited for. This one will be waiting for you when you're ready. On an my impromptu eventfulness scale of 1-10 (say, 1Q84 to Daemon) this is a 5, while I'd place Pandora's Star and related works in the 7-8 range.
I jump at the opportunity to experience more of the Pandora's Star universe, and was pleased with the the opening scenes of this book.
After that, the story structure was pretty confusing, but eventually you have an opportunity to comprehend it. I was worried as I was 2/3s of the way through that this whole thing was just a feeble grab for Void-like storytelling with no clear bigger picture, but I was glad to discover that there is indeed a goal for this whole storyline. This story felt necessary to frame future events and make them feel connected to the bigger universe.
This book is a thing that is good as a whole, not necessarily because any given slice is a 5-star wonder. I do recommend it, but I suspect the followup stories will be the heavier hitters.
I think I'm pretty open minded, but sadly the audio performance on this story leaves a lot to be desired. It's a wonky combination of a story-bookish tone and missed nuances. The individual sentences are acted, instead of the scene or character as a whole.
I realized a few hours into this book that the narration was making me think less of Alistair Reynolds' storytelling ability. But when I imagined the scenes as acted by someone like John Lee, I realized the story could have felt so much more rich.
Instead of suspense, I felt apathy. Instead of urgency, I felt impatient. Instead of voice acting bringing personalities to life, I was repeatedly taken aback at how overly strong the accents were, including her use of unwritten, amazingly repetitive slurping inhales for the aquatics. The majority of dialog between characters intended for development instead feels flimsy because of the storybookishness tone. Everybody that isn't Russian or Southern-redneck uses the same African intonation, including the Japanese-named character (which got no special accent and is apparently African.)
I felt that the African style worked better in the first book. Despite my best efforts to enjoy the audiobook, I was constantly distracted by the audio medium. I frankly intend to repeat my experience of this story in print, in hopes that I can think more highly of the original text.
This is a hugely satisfying story. Very emotionally powerful in those last several hours. That ending. This is going to be an incredible series.
This book's job is a little different from the previous two. It's easy to tell that from the opening words of this one's subtext narration that opens/closes each chapter.
There's so much going on here, which is an important part of why I think so highly of this book. It's not just an ending. It's not just about finally giving a reason for mists. It's not just about one gem of cleverness that carries the rest of the book. The whole thing is purposeful, from beginning to end.
Some of that purpose is revealed as you go by the chapter introductions, which feels a little weird sometimes, like it's giving you information for free, without bothering to do storytelling to accomplish that revelation. But it's okay: let the author give that part up so that he can move along with the other host of things he's going to do his storytelling with.
The cleverness of this book lies—I think—in the way it lets you feel like you're solving problems on your own. It's not even trying to trick you, so it doesn't feel like you're risking your credibility to believe in your hunches. And in fact you're probably right about your hunches, but you can't justify HOW you're right because the story still needs to prove everything. And that turns out to be more fun.
And that's the nature of this book's little journey: it has a stockpile of secrets it's going to use, and it's okay that some of them are solvable by the reader, because, as they say, "there's a lot more where that came from." But really, no matter how many you figure out, there are revelations in this book that evolve the meaning of all that came before.
Given this ending, I'm entirely confident that when I soon go back and list the original unmodified prophecies, all of them will fit, even though this book didn't highlight the occurrences the way it tried to do with the second book. The second book spent so much time yanking you around with false variants of the prophecies, but this one leaves so much to be rediscovered with the knowledge that the ending brings.
Anyway, this story is one of the most sturdy pieces of fiction I've had the pleasure to read in a long time. It resorts to exactly zero tricks to cheat its way out of the dire circumstances. That's typically why I like long science fiction stories that have no choice but to do it without cheating or to go home, but this one was perhaps more expert in this respect.
The pace of this book is more like what I'm accustomed to from the type of science fiction that I enjoy. I worried every now and then that it was spending too much time just wandering in storytelling land without adding value...
But then. Then you read the last chapter and understand the scope of the war, the depth of the deceit. Then you go and buy the third one without waiting for a credit.
This book is the one that gives power to the third one. And you can't imagine to what extent the finale relies on all that came before until the last pages of the third book.
Without the next book, this one would only deserve maybe four stars, but because of the foresight and careful crafting (some of which is not obvious during this book), I give it 5.
That is all. You should read it.
There's probably a whole lot of room for analysis in the various parts of the stories. I haven't the mind for doing it, since it brings me back to writing analytical essays on The Great Gatsby back in school once upon a time.
If you enjoyed the film version of this, I recommend the book for the completion of certain details on the Sonmi timeline, which is far more complicated than the movie is able to show you.
That said, Luisa Rey's part 2 story kind of made me consider beating myself with a heated toaster. It started to feel like it was making stuff up in order to fill a word count, so that it wasn't shorter than the rest of the book's parts.
The storytelling pace is pretty different, given the way the story is broken up. You really have to look at each piece as its own set of storytelling goals. The last part, for example, is not particularly any more dramatic than the second-to-last, or the third.
At times, I felt as though the themes described by the author are perhaps themselves more interesting than the stories the author chose to describe those themes. In other words, he tells you a story and makes you think about X and Y, which are themselves the interesting topics. The characters and stories are sometimes less memorable, by comparison.
Good book, but I wouldn't rush it if you've got your eye on something else.
Once you've whetted your taste for well-crafted science fiction, it can sometimes feel dull to read something less painstakingly assembled. Fantasy, like Science Fiction, being a popular genre, I had to build up some faith to jump in and trust the author.
The magic system here is clearly a masterpiece in its own right. It deftly avoids some of the commonly mind-numbing aspects of magic: 1) calling everything magic, 2) failing to justify why anything works, 3) failing to limit magic users with anything other than their mood.
These frustrations are avoided by 1) naming the magic what it really is to the people, including its variations, 2) providing the push/pull lines to metals, which gives you a handle on the mechanical aspect of imagining what it must be like for the character, and 3) providing fuels.
The system is balanced, and includes shadowed areas where knowledge has been lost. It works extremely well.
Beyond the Allomancy mechanics, the story is also sturdy. Only once near the end did I get scared that the whole thing was a religious allegory, but I think that was just one component of what Sanderson was doing with just one of the characters, which provides a convincing stage for the next book. I was happy with his treatment of the situation and I think he did it correctly.
I recommend this story, and if you're oriented for the details, you'll notice lots of things that are brought up in the book that aren't at all addressed in this book, which keeps the ground fertile for the followup stories.
I recommend this book because it's good, even if you're not always into the slightly more fantastical works of fiction.
I've read nearly everything else by the author, and for some reason avoided spending the credit on this book for what I thought were shaky reviews. While the audio suffers from some bizarrely short scene shifts in the recording (not the narrator's fault, mind you), this is a much more interesting independent story than I was prepared to expect.
Before picking it up, the notion of a trite story about Saturn's moon flying away sounded boring to me, a drama cooked up around the local solar system. Held against Revelation Space or the newer and more primitive Blue Remembered Earth, I was thinking this story would be the half-baked stillborn that had no choice but to exist between the two story types.
Welp. I was wrong. The very idea that you aren't sure what Reynolds could possibly do with the story to develop it beyond the synopsis is exactly why you should dive into this one. The scale of it is more immense than you're prepared for, and it's brimming with unknowns, contrary to the opening setting in the local solar system. The only story with a larger storytelling scale is perhaps the Galactic North short story, as even House of Suns took place almost entirely within the far future, without having to drag you all the way there.
Very glad that I wised up and bought this book.
I think it's clear at this point that after completing the many Revelation Space books that the author decided to explore a fascination with old technologies and settings, perhaps dating back to 2004 when he did Century Rain and heavily involved 1950s Paris. This time there is a spread of technology levels, but the book fundamentally takes place in near-zero technology levels, lending the story to wooden airships bound to the principles of air travel and gun warfare.
For a long while I was dissatisfied with the trend of the story, but Reynolds always has that one part near the end of his books that suddenly drop intellectual bombs and grant you insider knowledge that sometimes even the characters can't fully grasp. This book is no exception, but by the end I selfishly wanted just a bit more out of the world's lore.
If I'm being honest, the strength of this story is that it gives you the silent treatment about the outside universe, although there is plenty of speculation provided by some characters. Reynolds even goes through his traditional trouble of presenting plausible explanations for complex problems, and then invalidates the characters' hypothesis so that he can make sure you know that he's in strict control of the story progression.
The untold story behind Terminal World is the way that things arrived into their current state, which would have been a stellar short story, like in the Galactic North collection, but that is likely never to happen. Besides, the strength of this as a story is, again, the assumption that humanity knows very little anymore about its past, save for vague scripture that presumably dates back to the incidents that resulted in the state of the world.
I think that it's also worth making a note, as tangential as it might be, that the relationship development in this story is subtly more powerful than I expected. Character development is always a key area for Reynolds, but the untold and between-the-lines development of Meroka with those around her, including a deniable interest in Curtana, her relaxation around Quillon, and her affinity for the young Nimcha and her loaned storybooks.
Also... assuming you have completed the story, consider the Wikipedia information in the section titled "Which World?" (check revision history in case it changes). You might have horribly missed some very interesting information about "Earth".
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