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REVIEW: Quick Thoughts on Books by China Miéville, Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton and Cherie Priest

I’ve been traveling a lot recently (Rome, London, San Diego, etc.) and that means my trusty iPad has been loaded up with books. I’ve finished reading them, but I never seem to find the time to write up real reviews for SF Signal. So to perhaps restore some of my credibility (as if I had any!) here, I wrote up a series of quick mini-reviews of the various novels I’ve read….

The City & the City by China Miéville

This is a very enjoyable detective mystery book with an overall dark premise. Miéville does a respectable job interweaving the SF conceit with a police procedural in a way that felt natural and not forced. The world is dark and cold thanks to the language that Miéville uses and the characters were understandable if not exactly loveable. I’d like to see read more stories about the life of Inspector Borlú. MY RATING:

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

Another fine book in the Culture universe, but unfortunately not quite up to Banks’ other works. This one is really only for lovers of the series only. While I enjoyed spending more time in the universe, the book felt rushed and somewhat disjoint. I was most disappointed with a character (Yime) who was given a reasonable backstory only to not matter to the plot. I finished the book feeling like that entire storyline should have been edited out; it added nothing to the overall tension of the book or its finale. That said, there is still plenty to like here if you are a Culture fan.

The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void, The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton

A series I really enjoyed all the way to the end. Hamilton is a very capable hard-SF writer and he is fully in his element here. This series focuses on events 15 centuries after the story in Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained and splits time between the story of humans inside the galaxy-eating Void and the story of the characters outside. If there was a complaint it was I felt the series alluded a bit too much to the events of the previous books, paradoxically especially at the end. In The Dreaming Void you don’t get too much reliance on the old characters but strangely, in the final book many of those old characters come back. I was just a little disappointed in this in that it felt wrong to have those characters return to dominate so many years later. But that is a very minor nit, overall I really liked the series. One aspect I found especially well done was the fact that the story inside the Void is told through flashbacks from the characters outside (they have learned this story through dreams, hence the title of the first book.) I found I really enjoyed what he did with this and how it influenced the characters profoundly but it wasn’t until much later that we get to learn all that they know. That one aspect really made this series hard to put down.

The Dreaming Void

The Temporal Void

The Evolutionary Void

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

A novel set in an alternative steampunk timeline with zombies. What’s not to like? Priest has a great command of the language that pulls you in and really helps you empathize with the main characters. I really cared about Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke, not to mention some of the minor characters too (I’d love to read a whole story about Jeremiah Swakhammer!) If I have a nit it’s that the steampunk thing is really a sideline. Sure, there are dirigibles instead of airplanes, but other than that it’s not a real difference from the late 19th century. A few airships hardly makes it a major steampunk novel. But it doesn’t matter because the story and characters rock. I love the strong female characters (and there are several!) and the way all the characters progress in the story coming to grips with their past and their futures.

3 Comments on REVIEW: Quick Thoughts on Books by China Miéville, Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton and Cherie Priest

  1. I’ve got to disagree, for what it’s worth, on Surface Detail and Boneshaker.

    I thought Surface Detail was one of the best, if not the best, Culture novel of all of them.  A real return to form after the last two damp squibs.

    Boneshaker I thought was trite, foolish and uninteresting.  Even the addition of an airship and zombies didn’t rescue it.


  2. I too really enjoyed Boneshaker and have been enjoying Dreadnought thus far as well.  Your nitpick is actually one of the things I enjoyed about the book, that the steampunk elements (which I love) were so well woven into the story that they were more of a sideline and were not what the story was about.  I think that kept it more character driven thus making it a good gateway book to recommend to people who haven’t read steampunk.



  3. Carl, I agree with you.  I guess (upon reflection) my nit is with the marketing and not the novel itself. The book succeeds because of its interesting characters and story.  However, the marketing out there is mostly about it being a steampunk novel and it’s not much of one.

    Doug, I’d be curious to know what you thought about Surface Detail in more detail (er, no pun intended.)  I was disappointed because I expect a lot from Banks and I felt this novel was poorly assembled.  The Yime plot/character is the one that bothers me the most, but it isn’t the only challenge. I liked the Lededje character, the idea of indentured servitude (and in general the ideas of servitude and imprisonment that existed throughout the novel) and her overall plot.  That’s the main plotline so that’s a positive.  

    However, many of the rest of the characters felt hacked together. The villain is one-dimensional at best. He seems too stupid to have actually risen to a position of power.  I thought Banks attempts to make him more evil through depravity lessened his scariness.  He was more bully and less super-villain.  The ship Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints stayed the teenage boy throughout, never changing.

    The book also features a healthy dose of life in one of the virtual reality Hells setup to punish people in their afterlives.  I admit I’m not quite sure what this plotline was about except to perhaps question the concept and value of Hell itself.  I admired that aspect, but otherwise it was a inconsequential to the overall plot and I ultimately felt it distracted from it.  I wish there had been more either commonality between the plots or more overlap.  As it is, they felt disjoint and disconnected.  It was as if this short story about the Hells had been interleaved with a different novel.

    This book just isn’t in the same league as Use of Weapons, in my opinion.  I would not recommend it to any but Culture fans or I fear it would turn them off of Banks.  JohnD – that means you :).

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