28 September 2013

The Land of Meh: Rethinking the Skolian Saga, Catherine Asaro

Follow-up to Primary Inversion
With the leaves on the verge of turning, the squirrels on a full-scale deployment to bury as many nuts as possible and me keening over the colour "grey", I have slipped into the land of meh.  You know that land, the one at which everything is fine but fine never is fine enough. Over the past months, my gleeful boasting of discovering new authors, with long catalogues of works to sift through have drastically, and depressingly fallen apart. It feels as if I was captured in a magic reading bubble that once having read, blogged, and subsequently proclaimed amazing, popped as soon as I reached out for the book two or three or book four. As with songs, there seems to be a trend for one hit wonders in the SF world which in turn leads to massive sales and acclaim for a series that in truth should be re-evaluated and proclaimed, meh.

It is best to be truthful from the get go, the Skolian Saga is falling to pieces around me. I know, I know this is the same universe that brought Primary Inversion which I still stand behind as a must read. But as the more books I put on hold through the library, and then eventually sign-out, take home, read, and return I am left with the desire to read more of them hoping to uncover that what so impressed me with the first read from Asaro's works. Unsure at who is at fault, the author or myself, I spent the last two months plowing through the saga, feeling rather bored and rather annoyed. So what is the problem, or is there a problem at all. Maybe it is fall, or maybe it is me or maybe the world is not perfect and not all writers are Herbert

what's with the cheese-ball cover?
All the elements that make Primary Inversion such an enjoyment becomes trite after book 3. Asaro's story-telling is a redundancy of romantic ideals, sexual exploitation and fairy tale plot twists that worked only the first time. There are parts to the Skolian Saga that deserve acclaim:  the Juggernauts, the conception of inversion,  the archaic quality to the Ruby Dynasty. However world-building is complex and what I am discovering is some authors who pour their creativity into this type of SF are writing beyond their capabilities. 

Asaro's strength lies within the world of science. She has that wonderful knack and mind to express laws, theories and hypotheses to support her ideas. Rather than taking on the universe the books would be better if Asaro honed in on smaller scenarios, less grand scale visions which subsequently would result in a more intimate and true expression of the world she is trying to develop. The Skolian Saga becomes less of a space operatic adventure and more a tale of disconnected ruling families, and wealth that feel less SF and more romantic in genre.

10 September 2013

The Man Who Sold the World: A Review of the Culture Series, Iain M. Banks

As promised, my review of the Culture is at hand, unfortunately the speed at which my thoughts are progressing are as slow as molasses, actually molasses just lapped them and a sloth is about to break out in front. The immensity of the Culture series, combined with the creative genius that is Iain Banks has left me at a loss. I can't even claim that I am muddled over with sentences, as the only thing bouncing around my synaptic nerves is a large, neon yellow WOW. Literary eloquence and perfection is not grounded upon the word wow, thus I sit listening to Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World", shaking things up every 10 minutes by switching to Nirvanna's cover in the dire hope that adjectives, adverbs and brilliance channels down onto me.  
Nothing yet, I suspect heavenly intervention may not transpire today. I am totally going to write to Bowie (he is god, right?) and express my dissatisfaction with his lack of intervention. And with one word, I will plug along, an eternity of books have been published with less, how bad can I mess this up?  

Abhorring research, hence my lack of attaining a doctorate, I jumped into the first two books having no sense to what I would be getting into. Based completely on guilt, my initial interest quickly blossomed to astonishment at the scope of Banks vision and then back to guilt because it became obvious my intentions to be a great reader of SF had failed miserably since it was only now, after Banks passing that I came to appreciate him.  I realize I am gushing but it is a rarity to find a book that reminds you of what you are incapable of as a writer. Gushing, good Bowie-lord, I seem to have slip into Dune level freak-out worship.  

But is Dune level accolades of merit really worthy, especially since I have only read the first two in the full catalog of 10 (TEN)?  Yes, yes it is. What kind of blog would this be if I kept my opinions to myself, waiting to deem a read awesome until the research was finished? An honest review, true, but boring I tell you, boring and frankly an impossibility for me as I really do live by the old adage "cart before the horse", finding it effective as long as I keep my cart moving. I know, half of the time I too, have no idea what I am going on about.   

Let us step back slightly and look into what the Culture is or more that what it is not.  It is not for the faint of heart, let's give "this Science Fiction thing" a try, kind of series. This is a full in your face, love it or hate it Science Fiction, world-building, space operatic, centuries of history and story- telling series. Banks presents the universe in which the Culture presides through individual arcs that jump by hundreds of years in the Culture's history which together creates a panorama of the universe.  As a reader, you are completely engaged in each book for what it is, a stand-alone story that appears to depict an angle that you, as the reader thinks is the source to defining the norms to this universe.  In fact, as you progress past Consider Phlebas, the story of war through the eyes of one man, into The Player of Games, your perceptions have been put on its head, and you have to start over,  gathering new pieces to the quickly expanding and expansive story that is the Culture.  

These are brilliant, hard-core SF, encapsulating all that this genre can offer and enters into the canon of SF that should be categorized literature.  Yes, yes I did go that far.