Oct. 23rd, 2014

cahn: (Default)
4/5. Oh FINE. Everyone who told me what an awesome book this was -- you were right. I loved it very much. It reminds me a lot of old-school 60's-70's SF, you know, the LeGuin-Delany-Brunner-etc. era where half of the fun is being thrown into an alien (sometimes literally, sometimes not) environment and trying to figure out the rules of the culture and environment (in addition to the normal-book rules of trying to figure out the plot and/or the characters). Gosh, I love that kind of book. It's no wonder it won the Hugo. I would have voted for it too. (Especially given the alternatives... I think Stross can be an entertaining writer, but please. And Wheel of Time? Really??) It doesn't attain John M. Ford levels of obscurity through occasional helpful explanatory infodumps by the narrator, which I was rather grateful for, as I don't feel up to Ford-level puzzling at this point (but which I could imagine wishing for did I feel more up to it). I also did not find the writing especially pyrotechnic (as opposed to Le Guin, Delany, or Brunner, for example) -- this is a good, solid book, but I don't know that it'll come out as one of the field's classics. We'll have to see how the sequels turn out. But it did squarely hit a lot of my buttons of AI/sentience/identity/hard-SF.

The interesting thing was that I kept thinking about Fullmetal Alchemist while reading it, for rather obvious reasons -- AJ and FMA both deal with empire and genocide as major themes. I think I would have liked this book more had I read it before FMA, because FMA's treatment is so powerful. I was also about to say that AJ falls neatly into many of the holes that FMA avoids, but I think it's not quite as simple as that -- Breq is a murkier, less human (intentionally) character than Roy Mustang, and her motivations are not as clear, even to herself, which changes the calculus of reaction a lot. In fact, culturally -- given that Amestris has been a military dictatorship since forever -- should Mustang and the Elric brothers even be able to think about the kinds of ideas that they do? (I suppose the answer is that the Amestris dictatorship doesn't bother to culturally suppress the people in the way the Radch culture naturally limits them.) So... yeah. Very interesting to think about.

Another interesting reaction I had was to the famous gender-indiscrimination of the main character. I found that it bothered me that she thought of / referred to everyone as female, whereas I don't think I would have noticed or been bothered nearly as much if she'd referred to everyone as male. This... disturbs me. So for that alone it was worth reading!

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