alias_sqbr: the symbol pi on a pretty background (I like pi!)
[personal profile] alias_sqbr
A space opera novel I wanted to like more than I did. In terms of basics it was good, I breezed through it quickly and was engaged the whole way through. But I am left feeling a bit meh now I'm done.

The things people recommended it to me for: diversity, space opera, robots, and maths.

Diversity: indeed very good. Afaict the main cast are all what we would classify as East Asian with a general assumption of pansexuality, and it's not a big deal just there in the background of the actual plot.

Space Opera: Not too bad, lots of EPIC BATTLES and complex politics intercut with moments of small scale human connection etc. Undercut by the implausible worldbuilding and tendency towards black and white morality with a veneer of emotional complexity. I liked the main character a lot, she's a genuinely complex and well drawn character. EDIT: Actual the social worldbuilding was pretty good. A rigidly structured society that literally gains it's power from that structure is a pretty cool idea, and he made it believably human enough that you could understand why people went along with it despite how awful it could be.

Robots: Ok. The "nobody but the heroine is nice to them so they are extra nice to her" thing was a bit twee.

maths: Eh. The idea of weapons based on maths is always fun but I couldn't suspend my disbelief about the underlying premise: mathematical weapons which relied on a mixture of perfectly timed army formations and the local social structure, and produced effects like people turning into crystals in which you could see their memories. It was all close to ideas I have previously swallowed but combined into a unconvincing whole. Also there wasn't any physics, which I expect when you're applying maths to the physical world, I kept wondering how it related to quantum mechanics. Greg Egan can get away with with wars based on pure number theory but he shows his working. In this case I wasn't convinced there was any real working to show, just a bunch of cool sounding ideas cobbled together. (I mean this is my problem with most mathsy scifi, studying maths has left me with very high standards which is why I pretty much stopped reading the genre. But this book did not inspire me to start up again)

Overall the book was like a not quite right combination of Greg Egan, Anne Leckie, Vernor Vinge, and Iain M Banks. Considering those are some of my favourite authors it still managed to be quite entertaining but I kept thinking about how I'd seen similar ideas done better. Specifically, it wavered uncomfortably between the "yeah this violence is a bit morally suspect but isn't it compelling?" of the Culture Novels and the self rightous morality of the Imperial Radch books, and I ended up rolling my eyes a bit as "complex moral questions" lumbered towards me through piles of graphically described and implausible corpses.

EDIT: Comparing it to similar books I've read, I can't convince myself that the problem isn't largely that I simply don't like this kind of space opera as much as I used to. It's possible 20 something me would have adored it as much as the Egan/Vinge etc they were reading at the time.
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