I love the themes of this book -- the problem of communication, the nature of language, the relationships among language, thought, and reality -- and the story is vividly written and quite compelling throughout. The timeline of the first part of the book is challenging (especially in audio format) but brilliant. However, there are deep conceptual problems at the heart of the very issues the book tackles. The fiction definitely trumps the science in this one. It is, however, a great book to argue about with others who have read it. The narration is also excellent for the most part, although it does become a bit melodramatic toward the end (although perhaps the prose demands that).
...but if you give it time to develop you just might. Stephenson has often had a penchant for careful, detailed world-building that sometimes seems to overdo unnecessary features not really critical even for creating the necessary atmosphere, and for much of the first part of this book I thought this was another example of that tendency. However, a great deal more of what seems irrelevant becomes relevant later, and if you can keep it all in mind it will repay you with interesting insights. This is a book best heard in a few long sessions rather than in many smaller chunks, although that approach may seem painful for the first few hours. In the end this turns out to be a remarkable series of carefully researched discussions about some deep conceptual problems in physics and in philosophy (especially philosophy of science and epistemology). If this kind of abstract, meta-level discussion is not your cup of tea, then you might want to skip this one. If it is, then summon the patience to get through the first couple of hours and you will be rewarded.
This remains one of my favorite first contact stories for a variety of reasons. (1) The science is (at least until this book) near-future-plausible, which lends an air of reality to the fantastic themes. (2) The characters are well developed and believable, with very few cliches employed even in minor players. There are bad people and good, but even the bad people have reasons for being bad -- no evil for the sake of evil here. (3) The portrayal of the human penchant for political intrigue, even when species survival is on the line, seems all too real and captures well some of the things that we all wish were not true about us. Together all of these elements make this a rare and excellent mix of good, old-fashioned hard science fiction and good, newfangled social science fiction. Of course you have to begin at the beginning of the series (Leviathan Wakes and then Caliban's War) before you try this one, but that just triples your pleasure.
Peter Hamilton always writes great aliens, in part because he really thinks about how the biology might work. This is an early example with some clever ideas in play. It winds up being a bit predictable (in fact, the story here really deserves a 4.5 rather than a 5.0 for its predictability at key points), but it manages to be quite suspense filled even though one can sometimes see where it must be going. There is a satisfying set of resolutions in the lives of characters who have been the reader's friends and heroes since the first novel in the trilogy (Mindstar Brigade), and there are some excellent combat sequences, as well as some very neat technologies described in sufficient detail that one can imagine living in the world that Hamilton has created. All in all a very satisfying listening experience, enhanced and elevated as always by Toby Longworth's excellent characterizations.
The intriguing characters from the first novel (hormone-augmented Greg Mandel with his psi abilities, Julia Evans with her machine-augmented links to alternate personality cores) return to solve a very bizarre murder mystery with world-changing implications. Hamilton plays a bit fast and loose with the quantum mechanics hinted at in the title, but the story is so well told that it is easy to suspend disbelief. It's certainly a must read in order to get to the final novel in the trilogy.
Peter Hamilton's first trilogy already displays the vivid descriptive writing and complex character development that are hallmarks of his later, more ambitious work. You won't find a better example of the mystery-meets-science-fiction hybrid, and every major character is post-human yet remains profoundly human at his or her core. Fascinating read, great suspense, satisfying resolution.
The Human Division is organized as a set of Episodes, each of them involving the B-team, a group of low level diplomats with their side-kick and Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) technical expert Harry Wilson, well known to readers of Scalzi's "Old Man's War" series. The B-team is really an A-team that has been recruited to solve unsolvable problems, but they do not know how well they are regarded by the powers that be. This makes for some fun moments and interesting twists as our diplomatic heroes attempt to keep the Colonial Union out of fights it can't possibly win against a conclave of hundreds of other races determined to keep humanity from spreading through the galaxy as quickly as it would like.
You don't have to have read the previous Harry Wilson books to enjoy this one because the episodes are very self-contained and self-explanatory. Indeed, the one flaw in this collection is the redundancy that comes from assembling stories each of which was written so that it could stand alone. That means that the same background material often gets repeated. You will, however, want to read whatever Scalzi writes next in this universe because the episodes end just as new threats and mysteries are revealed. I can't wait to find out where he takes us.
Reader William Dufris interprets Scalzi's sarcastic and amusing characters exactly as I would have imagined them, so kudos on the performance as well.
On the surface this is no more than a satisfying coming of age story, full of strong characters struggling to make a life in a hostile universe. But underneath this is a very sophisticated piece of science fiction, emphasis on the science. A lot of genetics-based science fiction garbles the science pretty badly, but Cherryh nailed the complexity of the relationship between genes and the environments in which they are expressed at a time when this was still confusing to many professionals. Most amazing is that she made these ideas the heart of the story, so the unfolding lives of her characters actually embody the idea that genes and environment evolve together, neither of them possible without the other. Who we are may be explainable at some abstract level, but that doesn't make us predictable, even to ourselves. This is a very gratifying read both as fiction and as science. The unresolved nature of some key issues at the end was a bit disappointing, but only because I wanted more. That's the only reason I didn't give the story five stars.
I listened to the first version of this course on cassette tapes way back in the day and found it truly fascinating. The second version contains much of the original material, and it was fun to be reminded of the things I had forgotten. It is a testament to the original course that I also remembered quite a lot! The new material at the end brings the history of English up to date by covering the ways in which new technologies are transforming the language. Professor Lerer presents the lectures at a perfect pace, uses great examples to illustrate abstract concepts, and clearly loves this material. His enthusiasm is infectious. Highly recommended as a way to learn not only the history of English but also some widely applicable principles of philology and linguistics.
This is Max Barry's take on the theme of how language affects thought with a special focus on language as a code for hacking the brains of other people in order to control them. There are many interesting ideas here, although the fiction does tend to outweigh the science most of the time and the book slips into the fantasy zone on occasion. Nevertheless, the story is strong enough to counter the hand waving going on, and you can't help caring about Barry's very complicated and compelling characters. I would recommend Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash," and Samuel R. Delaney's "Babel 17" as earlier novels on this same theme. If you read them first, you will actually catch some of the subtle nods to these stories in Barry's book.
This is a peculiar kind of fantasy, with elements of science fiction thrown in just to keep the reader guessing. It's a universe in which believers battle non-believers and the god they love or hate is a powerful being transformed by technology he does not understand. Indeed, all of the magic is technological in some respect. The battles over whether god or man should rule are the action core of the story, but it is also a story about journeys, both literal and figurative. All of the characters are struggling to reconcile who they are with who they think they should be, and much of the story is told as retrospective personal histories about how they got to where they are. The structure of the story is flawed, with odd discontinuities and long periods of time when unnecessary bouts of raw description overtake the scene and threaten to induce sleep, but the core ideas are interesting enough. As others have noted, you have to be willing to endure some pretty graphic gore, often combined with some pretty graphic sex, at several points. On balance, though, enough happens that is interesting and unexpected to make it worth the journey as a reader. I'd give it 3.5 stars if that were an option. What really kept me listening, though, was John FitzGibbon's narration, which is just amazing. He turned the book into audible theater. If I had been reading instead of listening, I'm not sure that I would have stayed with it.
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