rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Via [livejournal.com profile] papersky.

I can see why this won like all the awards ever, because it is that unusual thing, a combination of an impressive basic premise with actual characterization. I am not entirely certain how much I like it, and I am not entirely certain the ending works for me; but I admire the hell out of it.

In a dystopian near-future, there is star travel of a sort. That is, they've found an asteroid full of docked alien ships from a vanished and inexplicable civilization. The ships can't be reverse-engineered, fixed, refueled, or anything like that, but they still go, and they have autopilots that can let them reverse course once they've gone. So there are prospectors, who take food and water and air and whatever else they can cram into a ship, push the go-button, and. Well. A lot of the time they don't come back, a lot of the time they come back full of corpses, a lot of the time they come back with nothing, and sometimes they come back with the technical basis to upgrade the entire civilization (this appears, in a touch kind of amusing to a reader nowadays, to be how this version of Earth got cell phones).

It's a pretty grim roulette. It takes a lot of money to get out to the asteroid and sign up in the first place, a lot of resolve, and every trip might produce boredom, any number of kinds of hideous death including cannibalism if the trip is too long, a journey through the kinds of madness you get when you cram a lot of people into a small space, or, of course, the Big One.

I absolutely believe that people would do this. Mind you, you have to be a certain kind of nuts. The protagonist, Robinette (Bob) Broadhead, has the misfortune to be almost but not quite precisely the correct kind of nuts.

Bob is a piece of work, and honestly a jerk, though with some reason for it-- one thread of the book takes place in his robotic psychiatrist's office, where he is trying to deal with the undealable, but he's more of a jerk than his life justifies. But the book reminds me of Samuel R. Delaney's Triton in that it is a portrait of a bad person in such careful and amazing detail that one cannot help but sympathize, empathize with and occasionally like him, and it's also like Triton in that while the protagonist has issues with women as people and massive internalized homophobia, the society that can be seen around his blinkers is egalitarian and pretty damn socially awesome. Bob does things in this book that would ordinarily make me hate his guts, but instead my reaction to him is 'poor bastard', which makes me think that Pohl's characterization here is some kind of work of genius.

At any rate, the threading of the world and the character and the ways this world has made this man and vice versa are beautifully interlaced, interesting and unpredictable, full of sidebars containing everything from personal ads to safety advisories. This is a live book, it breathes, it never settles, and at the core there's that unbreakable fear of and attraction to the stars. I would have liked the last few pages to go on maybe another ten pages longer, to really emotionally settle in, but apart from that I regard this with no small degree of awe.

I also noticed about halfway through that this is, in some ways, the Gritty Emo Version of Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. Now I can't unsee it. Send help.

I am told there are sequels, but that they explain things about the aliens, so I have no intention of reading them, because seriously, that was a major part of the point. However, this works fine as a stand-alone, and I am content to think of it that way.

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rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Via [community profile] papersky.

I can see why this won like all the awards ever, because it is that unusual thing, a combination of an impressive basic premise with actual characterization. I am not entirely certain how much I like it, and I am not entirely certain the ending works for me; but I admire the hell out of it.

In a dystopian near-future, there is star travel of a sort. That is, they've found an asteroid full of docked alien ships from a vanished and inexplicable civilization. The ships can't be reverse-engineered, fixed, refueled, or anything like that, but they still go, and they have autopilots that can let them reverse course once they've gone. So there are prospectors, who take food and water and air and whatever else they can cram into a ship, push the go-button, and. Well. A lot of the time they don't come back, a lot of the time they come back full of corpses, a lot of the time they come back with nothing, and sometimes they come back with the technical basis to upgrade the entire civilization (this appears, in a touch kind of amusing to a reader nowadays, to be how this version of Earth got cell phones).

It's a pretty grim roulette. It takes a lot of money to get out to the asteroid and sign up in the first place, a lot of resolve, and every trip might produce boredom, any number of kinds of hideous death including cannibalism if the trip is too long, a journey through the kinds of madness you get when you cram a lot of people into a small space, or, of course, the Big One.

I absolutely believe that people would do this. Mind you, you have to be a certain kind of nuts. The protagonist, Robinette (Bob) Broadhead, has the misfortune to be almost but not quite precisely the correct kind of nuts.

Bob is a piece of work, and honestly a jerk, though with some reason for it-- one thread of the book takes place in his robotic psychiatrist's office, where he is trying to deal with the undealable, but he's more of a jerk than his life justifies. But the book reminds me of Samuel R. Delaney's Triton in that it is a portrait of a bad person in such careful and amazing detail that one cannot help but sympathize, empathize with and occasionally like him, and it's also like Triton in that while the protagonist has issues with women as people and massive internalized homophobia, the society that can be seen around his blinkers is egalitarian and pretty damn socially awesome. Bob does things in this book that would ordinarily make me hate his guts, but instead my reaction to him is 'poor bastard', which makes me think that Pohl's characterization here is some kind of work of genius.

At any rate, the threading of the world and the character and the ways this world has made this man and vice versa are beautifully interlaced, interesting and unpredictable, full of sidebars containing everything from personal ads to safety advisories. This is a live book, it breathes, it never settles, and at the core there's that unbreakable fear of and attraction to the stars. I would have liked the last few pages to go on maybe another ten pages longer, to really emotionally settle in, but apart from that I regard this with no small degree of awe.

I also noticed about halfway through that this is, in some ways, the Gritty Emo Version of Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. Now I can't unsee it. Send help.

I am told there are sequels, but that they explain things about the aliens, so I have no intention of reading them, because seriously, that was a major part of the point. However, this works fine as a stand-alone, and I am content to think of it that way.

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