I've gotten the three books in this series as well as Chasm City, a stand alone novel in the same universe. When reading these reviews, I notice many negative comments, and I actually, at one point, probably written the same.
However, after quitting the first book, and focusing on books by other "british space opera" writers such as Peter Hamilton and Richard K. Morgan, I went back to give it another try.
I think what makes these books great is probably the same thing that turns some listeners off. The mythology of the universe is so deep, that until you are familiar with it, it is overwhelming with the references to the different factions, planets, aliens, etc.
But once that familiarity is gained, the stories are so rich, that I am disappointed that I have finished.
And as far as the narrator goes, it seems as though people either love or hate John Lee. But he is incredibly talented with a unique style and once you get use to him, his narration is addicting.
This listen is truly amazing on several different levels. The mind expanding sci fi imagery is accessible and believable. It is an achievement because there is none of the explanation of the technology like most hard sci fi fans demand, but is well integrated in the plot, above and is satisfying.
The exploration of language as a main theme would generally not draw me in when I want to listen to sci-fi, but in this novel, it is brilliantly done.
Finally, it is almost an evolution of the literary sci-fi of Dan Simmons, but not as dependant on reworking older styles and themes, although there are plenty of allusions.
Before I listened to this I liked but didn't love China Mieville, but after this ....wow!
And don't get the impression the this will be an ethereal, high brow, listen. It's not. But the fact that it is so multi layered is what makes what will be a sci-fi classic.
I give this offering from Mr. Reynolds four stars based on his masterful writing style as well as the narration of John Lee.
However, the listener should be aware that this is a marked departure from his previous works, which many people list as genius among British space opera.
This story is more of a quest novel, and the story flows more from the setting and the character responses to cataclysmic changes, rather than deep character development.
Also, the main character has many similarities to the main character in Chasm City, i.e., mysterious past, assumed identity, and what will happen when the main character's true nature is revealed.
That being said, if you are a fan of Reynolds, than it is a worthwhile use of a credit. And although this review may seem to focus on the negatives, I think understanding the book's shortcomings will actually increase enjoyability, because the listener will not anticipate familiar plot points and can appreciate the book on its on merits.
I loved this book for most of the reasons others have posted, including those who didn't like it. Stephenson writes speculative fiction, but is really a literary genius whose writing transcends the genre.
It is heady, full of subtle or not so subtle references to literature, contemporary culture, and innovative ideas concerning consciousness and time. For me, part of the enjoyment in listening were the moments where "i got it".
It also pokes fun of religion, but at the same time, recognizes its importance in society.
But at the same time, you can't purchase this thinking it is going to be a space opera. The technology is not innovative, and often times involves common items given different names. But that is key to the plot.
So if you are buying it for light, action-packed entertainment, then you may be one of those who were disappointed.
But if you want to be challenged, this is a great choice.
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