Archive for the ‘books’ Category
I just read Aaron Grossman’s novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, and I heartily recommend it as an amusing summer read. It would be perfect for a long trip (sorry I didn’t write this post in time for everyone going to OLS). It’s set in a world where super-powers exist, and interleaves first person chapters narrated by Doctor Impossible (a super-villian, “The Smartest Man in The World”) and Fatale (a rookie superhero, “The Next Generation of Warfare”).
Grossman strikes a nice balance by taking everything seriously enough to capture what’s great about superhero comics, while slipping in enough sly jokes to keep things light. For example, the book starts with Doctor Impossible in jail, and it turns out that the authorities have decided he’s not an evil genius–he just suffers from Malign Hypercognition Disorder.
I read quite a bit of SF, but Iâ€™m not really a â€œfan,â€ in the sense that Iâ€™ve never been to a Worldcon or cast a vote for the Hugos. However, I just belatedly looked at the 2006 Hugo nominees, and I was really surprised to see John Scalziâ€™s Old Manâ€™s War is one of the finalists for best novel.
I happened to read this book when it appeared on the new books shelf of my library, and I found an amusing enough bit of literary junk food. But the thought â€œHey! This is the best novel of the year!â€ never crossed my mind.
Iâ€™m not offended by the militarism of the book, as some people were â€“ heck, I was fine with it when Seaton destroyed the whole Chloran galaxy in Skylark DuQuesne. Iâ€™m just appalled by the mediocrity of Scalziâ€™s book, now that itâ€™s a Hugo nominee. The writing and characterization are adequate at best, and letâ€™s just say that the plot has been done before. And the science is not good â€“ this is SF at the Star Trek level. The aliens are basically people in makeup, and the technology is just souped up versions of present day stuff â€“ apparently there have been no revolutions after the cell phone in this universe.
Wars with alien species on distant planets seem a lot like 20th century wars, which is pretty far fetched given that even war in the 21st century is not much like 20th century wars. Just as an example, letâ€™s say you had advanced nanotech and you wanted to use it militarily. What would you do? Create a smart mist that turns enemy forces into gray goo? Nah, in Scalziâ€™s world they just make rifles that manufacture bullets on the fly â€“ and theyâ€™re not even nanotech bullets that do something cool like subvert the enemy forces they hit, theyâ€™re just plain old bullets.
I mean really: quality SF should make futuristic stuff seem futuristic. I really got a kick out of the line â€œSimply grasping how such weapons were in some way disadvantageous to something loosely analagous to an enemy would have required such a comprehensive remapping of the human mind that it would be pointless calling it human anymoreâ€ in Alastair Reynoldsâ€™s Absolution Gap. Scalziâ€™s future just seems like the 1990s with starships and aliens added. (BTW, if you want to read a good space opera, with a nicely twisty plot, interesting ideas, and even decent characters, I recommend starting with Reynoldsâ€™s Revelation Space)
Maybe the explanation is that this is a weak year and Scalziâ€™s book really is the fifth best book. But I donâ€™t buy it. John C. Wrightâ€™s very strong Orphans of Chaos was eligible. Even Karl Schroederâ€™s somewhat unsatisfying Lady of Mazes seems much more like a Hugo nominee (although it shouldnâ€™t win).
I guess Iâ€™m left wondering what the Hugo voters saw in Scalziâ€™s book that I donâ€™t.