Tag Archives: science fiction

THE QUANTUM THIEF by Hannu Rajaniemi

After finishing The Quantum Thief, the freshman outing from Finnish SF author Hannu Rajaniemi, I sat in classic fashion in my office, next to a big open window. As I stared off into space the sun set and the moon rose high into the night sky, leaves turned orange and fell from the trees, my children grew old and all of my friends died.

In short, it was a book I felt torn over. Is Rajaniemi a promising yet fledgling first time author, still finding his footing, or is he a brilliant chess master, always five steps ahead of the rest of us? The answer may be that he is, in fact, both.

At its core, The Quantum Thief is really noir dressed up in sci-fi clothing. It centers around master thief Jean Le Flambeur, who’s been locked away inside the Dilemma Prison, a virtual jail in which he’s forced to play deadly games against thousands of copies of himself. Jean’s eventually rescued by a mysterious women named Mieli and her sentient spacecraft, Perhonen. After an action-packed escape from Le Flambeur’s post-human jailers, we’re whisked away to the walking Martian city of Oubliette… and that’s when things get silly.

The book is without a doubt one of the most unique science fiction stories to come along in recent memory. And if that sounds a little ambiguous, it’s because The Quantum Thief can be an ambiguous book. To their credit, authors like Alastair Reynolds or Peter F. Hamilton don’t feel the need to explain every detail about the worlds they’ve created, instead leaving the readers to fill in the gaps for themselves. Rajaniemi definitely falls into that category, but sometimes the lack of explanation can be a double-edged sword. Things go a little too far when the worlds and technology described come across as TOO alien.

Where things become muddled here is when plot details pass you by because you were too busy trying to figure out exactly what gevulot is, or the difference between the Sobornost and the Zoku. More than once I found myself having to go back because I was still trying to sort out the details.

And it’s really those small details that much of the story loses itself in. The plot itself is fairly simplistic. It’s the window dressing that at times can make it seem so foreign and daunting. Rajaniemi’s characters lack a basic humanity which the reader can grab onto as they navigate their way through the world he’s created. Ironically, it’s the detective charged with catching Le Flambeur, and not Le Flambeur himself (who receives star billing in the just about everything you’ll read about the book) who comes across as the most human, and definitely the most interesting of the story’s motley crew. This is a complaint that’s begun cropping up in other reviews, and for everything Rajaniemi’s gotten right, it’s a reminder that he’s still new at this.

As the novel nears its end, the various plot threads come together surprisingly fast, and before you know it it’s all over. It’s a simple climax for characters that live in such a complicated world, and I would have liked to have seen Rajaniemi spend a little more time on it.

In all honesty, a lot of these problems passed me by as I was reading the book. Despite it’s shortcomings, and there are a few, The Quantum Thief is a lot of fun. The details we get about the world’s history are few, but more than enough to draw you in and keep you engaged. It’s obvious that Rajaniemi has got the worldbuilding down, if not the emotional heft.

Rajaniemi has created an incredibly rich and textured world, and while I’d never want to be spoon-fed mountains of exposition, I’d like to see the universe he’s writing in fleshed out a little more. Myself and others may have that wish granted, as the end of the book sets up a sequel, and I believe Rajaniemi’s spoken of a possible trilogy. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Quantum Thief won’t drop in the States until May 2011, but you can preorder the book from amazon.co.uk right now.


FLOOD by Stephen Baxter

In his latest outing, Stephen Baxter’s reeled things in a bit. Instead of the vast blackness of space and all the wonders hidden in it, he brings us to a drowning Earth and gives us ringside seats to a civilization that’s slowly drowning with it.

Flood begins in 2016. Four hostages have just been released by a group of Christian fundamentalists at war with the Spanish government. The four hostages – former Air Force Captain Lily Brooke, British military man Piers Michaelmas, NASA scientist Gary Boyle and Helen Gray – have been released just in time to witness a world at a turning point in its history, as sea levels around the world have begun inexplicably to rise. So far the damage has been relatively minor, but things are slowly getting worse. Before long, millions must be evacuated from Australia. London and New York City are covered by the rising waters. Millions of refugees flee as the last remaining governments go to war over the high ground. And still, the waters are rising.

It’s interesting to measure Baxter’s book against something like, say, Waterworld, that explains away a drowned Earth with a single line of dialogue. “The polar ice caps have melted, covering the Earth with water.” Baxter, by contrast, goes into sometimes chilling detail, giving us a much more realistic portrayal of the lengths people go through to survive the end of civilization. While the rich sink (zing!) their money into grand projects like floating cities and gigantic luxury liners, waves and waves of poor refugees take to the open road. Thousands, millions, heading further inland as the coasts are flooded, then flooded again. On the other side of the world, China and Russia go to war over Central Asia. Word of this spreads slowly, as communication systems all over the world are set back more than a hundred years.

While the science behind some of Baxter’s other books may have you scratching your head, Flood is surprisingly easy to understand. It’s discovered that the ocean’s rise is being caused by giant underground reservoirs that have ruptured and are now spewing their contents into the sea. It’s been hypothesized that this is actually a possible scenario, and that possibility really sucks you into the story.

If you’re a newcomer to Baxter’s work, this is probably a good book to start off with. As said, the science behind the science fiction is easy enough for anyone to understand. And the disaster story, which lies at the heart of Flood, is one we’re all fascinated with. There are a few things some might have problems with. The lack of character development being the biggest (although that’s less of a problem here than it is in Baxter’s other work). There are a few stock characters Baxter tends to reuse. The most prominent in Flood being Nathan Lammockson, the billionaire businessman who arranges for the four hostages to be released in the beginning of the novel. Baxter’s books almost always feature technology that’s years ahead of anything we’ve ever seen, so there’s got to be some rich eccentric who’s looking for an excuse to grease the wheels. Stuff like this may bother some, but it’s a minor quibble and fans of Baxter and the genre will probably consider it par for the course.

Flood is a lot of fun, and a novel that makes you ask how you were able to get through it so quickly. The fact that Baxter chose to bring things back down to Earth lends a certain humanity to the story that some of his others may find a bit lacking. You’ll be hooked all the way through to the book’s last line, which segues perfectly into the second part of Baxter’s duology, Ark. Recommended for both vets and newbies.

The Lost Supper

Is it ripping-off Battlestar Galactica? Absolutely. Am I completely gaybones over it? You betcha. Click for a larger version!

“You are not in Kansas anymore. You are on Pandora.”

It’s here. The movie we’ve been told is going to redefine motion pictures forever. The movie that’s going to rock our faces off. Well, I have been rocked, although my face has been left intact. Make of that what you will.

For me, Avatar kind of flew in under the radar. I heard a few things at Comic-Con, mostly about this movie James Cameron had spent years and piles of money on that wasn’t creating as much buzz as people were hoping it would. After that, it disappeared again. Every now and then I would read a story about someone who had seen the movie. Someone who’s brother’s sister’s ex-boyfriend had been a production assistant, and although they hadn’t seen the entire movie they felt more than qualified to say that Avatar would be the biggest piece of sh*t ever committed to film and may God help James Cameron’s soul. So, I did what every good fanboy should do in similar situations: I lowered my expectations. Of course I’d be there opening day. If the movie was great, well, great. If not, I still have Sherlock Holmes to look forward to.

Does Avatar live up to all the hype? Yes and no. The special effects are without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. Like The Matrix before it, it’s set the bar at a new high, although I don’t think we’ll be forced to endure the hundred bad rip-offs the way we were after the world discovered Bullet Time. Still, James Cameron has brought us all a giant step closer to the day when pictures and video will no longer be admissible as court evidence. When I can use Photoshop and Cameron’s fancy new 3D cameras to make it look like it was my brother who knocked off that Piggly Wiggly, you know we’re all in trouble.

But special effects aside, there’s nothing revolutionary about Avatar. The movie’s plot is far from original. Man is sent into hostile territory to fight against savage natives, and in the process comes to empathize with and consider himself one of them. A lot of the movie’s dialogue borders on cringe-worthy (You are not in Kansas anymore!). Also, Michelle Rodriguez is in the movie, and I think audiences are still trying to figure out whether she’s an actress or not.

Now, saying that there’s nothing revolutionary about Avatar doesn’t mean that the movie wasn’t awesome. I think in that in attempting to tell the greatest story ever told, James Cameron gave us one of the most solid sci-fi action films we’ve seen in the last decade. At a hefty two hours and forty minutes, you never once feel like the story’s dragging. Much of the first hour is spent setting things up, explaining who everyone is and what they’re doing on Pandora in the first place. But what might seem slow in the beginning is all paid off later in the film, and leaves you with plenty of those, “Oooooohh. I get it” moments.

The actors, small ensemble that they are, have real chemistry. After watching him stumble around in Terminator: Salvation, I think there might be hope yet for Sam Worthington. While he and the other main characters all spend more than half the movie rendered in CGI, I was surprised at how they were able to make me connect to a bunch of 7-foot tall zebra people. Actually, I was surprised at how emotional the movie was overall. I’m not spoiling anything when I say that Avatar’s climax centers on a battle royal between Giovanni Rabisi, the space marines and the Na’vi, and the lead-up and payoff to all that really sucks you in. I don’t want to say that there were parts of the film where I had to swallow back a lump in my throat, so I won’t.

If I could describe the movie in a word, it would be balanced. Avatar really is a movie that has it all, that perfect blend of emotion and action. And while the core of Cameron’s story doesn’t take us anywhere new, everything else is so well put together that it more than makes up for it. The humans, the Na’vi, and their battle over Pandora is so visually stunning and fleshed-out that you can’t help but be sucked in by it. Avatar is definitely a standout in a year that really hasn’t had a clear winner. The movie isn’t perfect, but it isn’t too far off.

la partida empieza y termina en cuatro

Enjoy, because this is all the new Lost you’re going to get for the next two months.

V kicks off tomorrow

ABC’s remake of the classic sci-fi miniseries begins tomorrow, so you’ve got an important decision to make: Will you instead watch So You Think You Can Dance, or The Biggest Loser? I keeed, I keeed. I’m sure the show is going to be great. Well, scratch that. I’m not sure, actually. Every time I see that promo with Muse playing in the background I ask myself what exactly it is that ABC wants the show to be. Do they want something gritty and realistic, a show about people who slowly come to realize that these aliens are planning on taking over the planet, or do they want…a music video…for Muse. Add that to the fact that the show is going to take a months-long break after airing only the first four episodes, and I start feeling sad.

But of course I’ll be watching. And when the show is wildly successful I’ll put up with its seven-month long breaks in between seasons, and the questions that it won’t answer until its last couple of episodes. Why do I keep dating the same girl?

NBC to Heroes: “Goodnight sweet prince.”

Sources at NBC have told sci-fi site Airlock Alpha that execs may be looking to put the kibosh on Heroes, maybe as early as the end of this season.

“There isn’t much happening with this show in terms of audience, and giving it a ‘final chapter’ feel is something the network is considering to help allow the show to go out with a bang,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

While Heroes started out strong in its first season, its story has since turned into one giant clusterf**k and the show can never seem to decide exactly what it wants to do with itself. Is Sylar a good guy or a bad guy? Should we give Suresh mutant powers or not? Should everyone be able to swap powers so we can up the big explosion and cool factors? All important questions, but one thing is for sure: Future Hiro will comes back in time to tell someone that the world is in trouble…and only the Heroes can save it!

For now, you can file this under “Rumors.” You can also file it under, “It’s About Time.” “Everytime Ali Larter Tries Acting Sexy I Want To Punch Myself In The Privates,” would also be acceptable.