So, what with one thing and another — mostly comments here, also various posts here and there around the book blogosphere — I have picked up a good handful of books this month so far.
The one that wound up at the top of the pile is THE GOLDEN AGE by John Wright — thinking of the discussion about utopias. I have actually started reading it. In fact, I got 60% of the way through it and had to call my brother and ask, “So, this has a happy ending, right? Right?” Because at the moment the protagonist has been backed into a pretty dreadful corner. I’ll have more to say about it later, no doubt, but take a look at just the prologue to get a taste of this universe:
THE GOLDEN AGE by John C Wright
It was a time of masquerade.
It was the eve of the High Transcendence, an event solemn and significant that it could be held but once every thousand years, and folk of every name and iteration, phenotype, composition, consciousness, and neuroform, from every school and era, had come to celebrate its coming, to welcome the transfiguration, and to prepare.
Spendor, feast, and ceremony filled the many months before the great event itself. Energy shapes living in the north polar magnetosphere of the sun and Cold Dukes from the Kuiper belts beyond Neptune had gathered to Old Earth, or sent their representations through the mentality, and celebrants had come from every world and moon in the solar system, from every station, sail, habitat, and crystal-magnetic latticework.
No human or posthuman race of the Golden Oecumene was absent from these festivities. Fictional as well as actual personalities were invited. Composition-assisted reconstructions of dead or deleted paladins and sages, magnates and philosophers, walked by night the boulevards of the Aurelian palace-city, arm-in-arm with extrapolated demigoddesses from imagined superhuman futures or languid-eyed lamia from morbid unrealized alternatives, and strolled or danced amid the monuments and energy sculptures, fountains, dream fixtures, and phantasms, all beneath a silver, city-covered moon, larger than the moon past ages had known.
And here and there, shining like stars on the active channels of the mentality, were recidivists who had returned from high transhuman states of mind, bringing back with them thought-shapes or mathematical constructions inexpressible in human words, haunted by memories of what the last Transcendence had accomplished, feverish with dreams of what the next might hold.
It was a time of cheer.
And yet, even in such golden days, there were those who would not be satisfied.
How about that? Also, here are tiny snippets from the beginnings of the other books I have most recently picked up. A lot of them . . . in fact all of them . . . look, on the surface, more approachable than THE GOLDEN AGE.
THE PLAYER OF GAMES by Iain Banks
This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game. The man is a game-player called “Gurgeh.” The story starts with a battle that is not a battle, and ends with a game that is not a game.
Me? I’ll tell you about me later.
This is how the story begins.
Dust drifted with each footstep. He limped across the desert, following the suited figure in front. The gun was quiet in his hands. They must be nearly there; the noise of distant surf boomed through the helmet soundfield. They were approaching a tall dune, from which they ought to be able to see the coast. Somehow he had survived; he had not expected to.
It was bright and hot and dry outside, but inside the suit he was shielded from the sun and the baking air; cossetted and cool. One edge of the helmet visor was dark, where it had taken a hit, and the right leg flexed awkwardly, also damaged, making him limp, but otherwise he’d been lucky. The last time they’d been attacked had been a kilometer back, and now they were nearly out of range.
Then the flight of missiles cleared the nearest ridge in a glittering arc. He saw them late because of the damaged visor. He thought the missiles had already started firing, but it was only the sunlight reflecting on their sleek bodies. The flight dipped and swung together, like a flock of birds.
CORSAIR by James Cambias
Captain Black the Space Pirate sat on a king-sized hotel bed in Thailand and watched for his next prize. The names on his real passport was David Schwartz, but it was Captain Black the Space Pirate who had five fan sites on the Web and at least as many highly secure law enforcement sites devoted to tracking him. He was the absolute gold-anodized titanium pinnacle of the techno-badass pyramid. He was twenty-eight years old.
On his laptop screen he saw a tiny bright dot rising above Mare Smythii on the Moon: a booster carrying four tons of helium-3. A treasure ship worth two billion Swiss francs on the spot market. It was a Westinghouse cargo from the Japanese-Indian-American base at Babcock Crater, on course for the Palmyra Atoll drop zone. “Ship ho, me hearties!” David whooped.
His pirate ship lurked at the L1 libration point, balanced between Earth and Moon. Officially it was a “Lunar resource satellite,” which was true in its own way, and the owner of record was a perfectly legal company incorporated in Eritrea. David uplinked to it through a commercial antenna farm in Northern Australia and set up a burn that would match speeds with the helium payload just after it finished climbing up from the Moon and began falling toward the Earth.
Having done that, Captain Jack the Space Pirate went out for lunch.
“Next of Kin” by Dan Wells
I died again last night.
His name was Billy Chapman, found in a snowbank in the streetlight shadow of a parking garage, and when I drank his memories, his death became mine. I remembered stumbling out of the bar, into the biting cold, through a thick haze of booze; I remembered slipping on the ice and the sudden, sharp pain. I remembered all thirty-five years of Billy’s life: his job and his boss and his car that didn’t work and his wife Rosie.
Oh, Rosie. He loved her more than anything in the world, and with his memories, now so did I. And neither of us would ever see him again.
SWORD by Amy Bai
Merry we’ll meet till the tides they all turn
then dance with the blades as the shadows return
Children skipped and sang an old nursery rhyme in the parched air of the late afternoon. Their shadows fell strange in the slanting light. In the shadow of an oak thick with age, a girl crouched glumly on her heels, drawing aimless lines in the dirt with a battered practice sword. She was noble, this girl, a scion of the great House of Cowynall, whose oak it was: the oak and a great deal more. The silver locket at her breast declared it even if her patched dress did not.
Sing we a new song, for sadness and woe,
kings and queens all shall the darkest road know –
The children, passing under one another’s linked arms, stared at her and interrupted themselves with whispers. The girl never spared them a glance. Only someone who knew her very well would have marked the way her gaze held them always in its periphery, how her face tightened when a gust carried their words across the yard.
Raise shall the earth and the heavens shall fall,
fire can guard from what water can call…
It was the most senseless thing she had ever heard. Why couldn’t they sing “Skip to the River” or some other silly rhyme?
There you go. Interesting mix, isn’t it?
3 thoughts on “Recent acquisitions:”
I tried THE GOLDEN AGE several times, but kept bouncing off it (sorry, Craig). I’m looking forward to your take on PLAYER OF GAMES. The first Banks I tried was USE OF WEAPONS, which a lot of people raved about on Usenet back in the day. In retrospect, it was probably the wrong Culture novel for me to start with, since it’s apparently one of the darker ones. I thought it was very well done, and I absolutely would have nominated it for a Hugo if I’d been nominating then, but I never felt the urge to read anything else by Banks. Still, I keep thinking I should give his work another try, since he was obviously amazingly talented.
Mike and I both liked CORSAIR a lot. Mike ripped through it in less than a day. It took me a while to get into it, since I wasn’t crazy about spending time in “Captain Black’s” head at first. However, once the plot picked up speed, it was definitely a compelling story.
Actually, one of the main things I thought about in the first part of THE GOLDEN AGE was how easy it would be to bounce off it — though mostly by imagining a reader who wasn’t already a pretty well-read SF fan trying to get into it. Wright throws you right into the deep end, no question.
Also, on second thought it really isn’t accurate to think of it as a utopia, since a major theme of the work is how the Golden Age — wonderful though it is — is ultimately unsatisfactory. But the wonderfulness is a major point, too, and I do think it’s an interesting counterpoint with The Culture.
And yes, the breadth of your reading is certainly interesting.
I still haven’t managed to go on with THE GOLDEN AGE. But I did like it once I got into it.