C. Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust (2017)

Sea of Rust cover

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Title: Sea of Rust

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 365

Series: –

Cargill’s Sea of Rust is an intriguing spiritual offspring of M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts and George Miller’s Mad Max series, fostered by Fritz Lang and Ralph McQuarrie. Seriously! While I was reading this book, I had basically the original concept art from New Hope in my mind 😉  There’s also  a noticeable shadow of Matrix here, too, though in ochre, burnt sienna and beiges instead of cold greens and blacks. A comic book reader can also detect a more than passing affinity to Mark Millar’s pessimistic vision from Old Man Logan. You get the gist, I believe: Sea of Rust is a kaleidoscopic collection of modern pop-cultural inspirations and references, subversively employed to tell a story as old as human culture: the story of patricide and primal sin, of determinism and hope. It is a fast-paced, engaging reimagining of the social evolutionary concept that the world we live in is a ruthless, cruel one, in which survival of the fittest remains the only rule.

SW Ralph McQuarrie

What is Sea of Rust about? Imagine the future where Earth is a dusty husk of its former self. There are no biological life-forms left, all destroyed in an AI revolution that went too far, like overwhelming majority of earlier revolutions. Imagine a world destroyed, rusting and increasingly bereft of sense. The sentient children of the revolution finally realize, too little too late, that the humans they have destroyed gave them a sense of purpose. Without them, the only value and the only norm left is the one of survival, and as the biggest and more powerful AIs increasingly perceive might as the only right, and allow themselves to be ruled by the inescapable logic of economical consolidation, even survival becomes nigh impossible.

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Alastair Reynolds, Galactic North (2006)

Galactic North

Author: Alastair Reynolds

Title: Galactic North

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Series: Revelation Space #6

A collection of short stories and novellas from the Revelation Space universe, Galactic North showcases both the enviable scope of imagination and the undeniable literary skill  of the erstwhile astrophysicist Alastair Reynolds. The collection was recommended to me by two bloggers whose advice I value highly: Maddalena at Space and Sorcery, and Bookstooge, and I must thank them once again for their recommendation – I wasn’t disappointed.

Reynolds’s dry writing style, his rather pessimistic general worldview and, particularly, outlook for humanity, the focus on grey moral areas and difficult choices, as well as his attention to technical and logical detail are all strongly reminiscent of the characteristics of one of my favorite SF authors of all time, Stanisław Lem. In a way, I see Reynolds as his successor, writing cautionary tales set in the far future, which could easily have been a long-forgotten, fantastical past.

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Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit (2016)

Ninefox Gambit

Author: Yoon Ha Lee

Title: Ninefox Gambit

Format: Paperback

Pages: 512

Series: Machineries of Empire #1

This year started out very well – at least with regards to my SF reading 😉 I have only had the misfortune of reading one dud during these first two months of 2020, and it was fantasy, which I’ll definitely scour in a scathing review sometime in the future – but as this review deals with a violent military SF of the highest order, I shall focus on that with all the delight and diligence it deserves.

Ninefox Gambit, the first installment in Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy, presents a world in which math is the language of magic. Or, more precisely, where math begets magic – as long as there are people who absolutely believe in this possibility. The magic of math – of geometry and probability, of statistics and analysis – is a lethal one. The unforgiving inevitability of right angles and straight lines alters the fabric of the universe, creating temporal pockets of reality where life becomes impossible. Radiation, mutation, extreme temperatures – whatever you like, whatever you deem necessary, is at the tips of your fingers. The only thing you need to do is to have enough soldiers to make a meaningful formation and keep it despite constant winnowing by the opposite forces – and, of course, social belief.

Here’s where things become tricky. The power of the mathematical magic is based on popular belief. It can be upheld only through meticulously calculated and obsessively observed rituals and modes of behavior dictated by a uniformly accepted calendar: such and such number of days in a week; such and such day a sacred one; such and such rituals falling on certain dates; such and such number of human sacrifices made when occasion demands. The belief must be absolute and unquestioned; it must form the foundation of the people’s worldview, must be inculcated from the start and rigorously, continuously reinforced. Otherwise you’re bound to find calendrical rot at the core of your perfectly oiled and ticking empire – a dissident movement, a desperate revolution against the totalitarian society which treats an individual only as a replaceable cog in the machine.

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The Wanderlust Book Tag

It’s been some time, actually, since we did a book tag. As we were recently tagged by the wonderful Orangutan Librarian with The Wanderlust Book Tag we decided to do one now 🙂 It looks very interesting, especially as one of us starts thinking about this year’s travelling plans, and the other is just finishing their holidays… 😀

First, Rules of Engagement:

  • Mention the creator of the tag and link back to original post [Alexandra @ Reading by Starlight]
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you – thanks, Orangutan Librarian! This one’s fun!
  • Answer the 10 questions below using any genre
  • Tag 5+ friends

and now,

the questions:

1. Secrets and lies: a book set in a sleepy small town

Ola: James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon is a really nice example of the “cozy mystery” genre, full of nods in all the important directions, and yet still holding up commendably on its own.

Piotrek: Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip takes place in a sleepy village, but there are secrets and lies in a small community, and getting to the hard truth is the key to success of our protagonist.

2. Salt and sand: a book with a beach-side community

Piotrek: H.P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. I don’t remember if there was an actual beach, but definitely a sea-side community of sorts is the central part of the story 🙂 No the perfect seaside for you summer vacation, mind you. Re-reading Lovecraft is one of the great many things I need to do!

Ola: Zoe Gilbert’s Folk is definitely a book that stays with the reader long after the covers are shut. I was deeply impressed by the maturity and melody of her writing voice, and more than a bit appalled by the ferocious abuse visited by her on Folk’s protagonists – the violent fantasy clad in the everyday reality of a small beach-side community, hidden in gorse bushes and suspended indefinitely somewhere between the eighteenth and early twentieth century. Thanks to Bookforager for putting this one on my radar!

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Neal Asher, The Line of Polity (2003)

The Line of Polity

Author: Neal Asher

Title: The Line of Polity

Format: Paperback

Pages: 485

Series: Agent Cormac 2

This review was promised in our summary post for 2019, so I actually twisted my right arm with my left to sit down and write it in the middle of sunny summer ;).

Having reviewed both the first installment, Gridlinked, and the third installment, Brass Man, I’m in a bit of a pickle when it comes to choosing the content for this entry. Probably, it would be sufficient to say that The Line of Polity was the book that thoroughly and inevitably sold me on Asher’s Polity universe, and even if I don’t agree with all the political and ideological views of the author, I plan to remain a devoted fan.

Polity is not as pleasant and safe place as Banks’ Culture, nor is it as boring ;). The immense and mind-bogglingly diverse universe (..and I’m sure I could find another -verse fitting here :P) containing Polity, the human society ruled by nearly omniscient AIs, is a wonderful treat for all SF fans. But Asher goes further than just worldbuilding, however impeccable: he creates a world alive – rife with conflict, ambitions, and emotions, not only human, but also AI. And for a series featuring amazing battle sequences, both in the space and on the ground, Asher spends a lot of time considering the sentience. True, his AIs are very human, but reading Polity books I have a feeling they are this way by design, and not simple lack of thought or convenience. After all, they have been created by humans, influenced by the constant contact with humans, and, in a world where alien sentient races are considered more of a myth or a cautionary tale from the past than reality, AIs remain in a direct relation to humans. This relation can morph into a myriad different constellations: a mirror image, a role model, a dependent, spoiled child, a doted-upon prodigy, a master, an apprentice, a pest, a threat, a hobby… Asher deftly shows the variety of responses possible between sentient beings, each of which has something the other doesn’t possess, and subtly incorporates them into his tightly woven narrative.

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Nostalgia post #6: Ad Astra Per Aspera

Star Trek (1966-?)

Star Trek Space

The other science fiction franchise. Or the science fiction franchise, if we christen Star Wars science fantasy. Where George Lucas took Campbell’s ideas and put the eternal myths into a space adventure story, Gene Roddenberry envisioned a better future for spacefaring humankind. He created a vision of an utopia, in which more enterprising, unruly individuals join the Starfleet in order to find adventure, because in the post-scarcity Earth society there’s not much of that. In Starfleet, they travel across the universe, to meet exciting new people and… not shoot them, unless absolutely necessary.

Piotrek: I’ve always been more of a Babylon 5 guy, but I appreciate Star Trek more and more. As a kid, I’ve seen a random selection of mainly The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes, and there was not enough large-scale conflict for my taste. I generally liked it, but John Sheridan was my space captain. So, my introduction into the world of Star Trek was pretty chaotic… but I always liked the idea of trekking through galaxies in a big spaceship, and in time I came to also appreciate stories about (relatively) peaceful exploration.

Enterprise

Ola: My own acquaintance with Star Trek was no less chaotic, I must admit. I watched nearly all episodes of The Next Generation as a pre-teen kid, and for years Picard was the only true captain of the Enterprise 😉 I waited with bated breath for each episode, and while some of them were rather convoluted for a six- to eight-year-old, it was still a great adventure. Fantasy worlds, various races with distinct cultures, drama on the ship, imminent danger… What I liked about Star Trek then and value even more now was the nearly non-violent approach, so rare in modern pop-culture. Differences were abundant, conflicting interests as well, but more often than not a peaceful resolution could have been – and heroically was – achieved. Exploration and understanding were the key values of the Star Trek universe, and inspired countless SF visions since. As for the liberal vision of future military, with its weirdly relaxed and convoluted structure, the red- and mustard-colored uniforms and the variety of ranks coupled with a nearly total lack of discipline, back then I didn’t even bat an eye 😉

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Neal Asher, Brass Man (2005)

Asher Brass Man

Author: Neal Asher

Title: Brass Man

Format: Paperback

Pages: 485

Series: Agent Cormac 3

With my current rate of reading I’m suffering from overabundance of books to be reviewed. This apparent luxury becomes something of a curse instead of blessing, a bit like Midas’ touch, for I’m torn between different genres, authors, series and books every time I sit down to write a review. This particular review comes a surprise even to me, as I haven’t reviewed yet the second part of the series, The Line of Polity. However, as Brass Man has as much in common with Gridlinked as it has with its direct predecessor, and I’m careful to avoid spoilers, I hope I will be forgiven this slight desynchronization.

The reason for such a jump will soon become obvious, as it has more to do with my reflection on the underlying philosophy, or worldview, of Asher’s work, than with the story itself. But before I focus on this aspect of Brass Man, an introduction to the plot is required.

Following the discovery of active alien technology (alien in the meaning ascribed to something from beyond known universe, which in the world of Polity has become quite substantial, and active in the meaning that its remains, once thought long – some 5 million years – dead, suddenly appear quite aggressively lively) in The Line of Polity, Agent Cormac must once again pursue his once-human nemesis, Skellor, now a terrifying hybrid of AI, human, and the alien Jain, and, not coincidentally, his other nemesis – the Dragon. The whole crew from Gridlinked comes back together for this adventure: the nearly indestructible Sparkind Golems: Gant and Cento, his Sparkind human companion Thorn, Life-coven biophysicist Mika, and of course, Horace Blegg, still as infuriatingly mysterious as ever. They are accompanied by AIs of different levels of sophistication, some of which – such as the infamous warship Jack Ketch and his unruly offspring, as well as Jerusalem, capable of bending the laws of physics –  become fully fledged protagonists in their own right.

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