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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Focus on 3 older SF titles: David Zindell, A. A. Attanasio and Richard Garfinkle (by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: Looking through the list of notable sf titles from 1987-2011 that I have posted a few days ago, I decided to highlight three books that are less well known than the more famous novels from the list, but have some following and cannot really be called obscure either. 

Looking for example at the number of Goodreads ratings, the best known books from the list are in the 10-30k range, with a bunch in the high k's and the one pure mainstream by Kazuo Ishiguro, with a popular movie adaption to boot, having over 90k ratings. 

Actually, I was a little surprised that Hyperion was second beating by a few hundred ratings, my expected second, Cloud Atlas, in the 26k+ range, while the usual sfnal suspects (Banks, Morgan, Reynolds, Hamilton...) clock as mentioned. 

The three titles below have from under 100 to a little more than 300 ratings justifying my claim above.

Two of them, Neverness by David Zindell (1988) and The Last Legends of Earth by A. A. Attanasio (1990 and recently reissued) are just masterpieces of sf; pure "mind blowing sense of wonder", great style and superb characters, especially in Neverness which excels at large than life ones, from Mallory to Soli, while The Last Legends has a lyrical intensity that balances well its sweep.

Neverness has been followed by a trilogy, "Requiem for Homo Sapiens", which I quite liked too and thought it was a sf highlight to be read and enjoyed for a long time, but I also thought it never reached the height of the original novel. 

The Last Legends of Earth is billed as the 4th part of the "Radix" tetralogy but it is quite independent of the rest, none of which really excited me that much.

In addition, I want to highlight Celestial Matters by Ricard Garfinkle, which is a novel that takes place in an alt-Earth where the Ptolemaic physics is "true". Greek science and philosophy against Far Eastern Taoism, for control of the world, universe and all, the book is standard sfnal adventure in many ways and lacks the sweep and grandeur of Neverness or the lyrical intensity of The Last Legends of Earth, but it is quite original - at least at novel length - and the implications of the laws of physics of its universe are thought out quite well to be worth remembering across time.


"The universe of Neverness is intriguingly complex. filled with extraordinary beings. There are the Alaloi, who have chosen to return to the Neanderthal state, the Order of Pilots which reworks the laws of time and physics to catapult its members through dense regions of 'thickspace', the Solid State Entity, a vast brain made up of moon-sized biocomputers, and the Ieldra, a legendary race of aliens that seeded the galaxy aeons ago with its DNA and so began the evolutionary cycle. 

Against this rich backdrop unfolds the story of young, headstrong Mallory Ringess, a novitiate of the Order of Pilots. Against all odds he has penetrated the Solid State Entity - and made a stunning discovery. A discovery that could unlock the secret of immortality hidden among the Alaloi."


 "Seven billion years from now, long after Earth has been shattered by its exploding sun, an alien being regenerates lost humanity. The Rimstalker intends humans as bait for the marauding, spiderlike zotl, remorseless predators that feed on the pain and suffering of intelligent life-forms. In the Chalco-Doror system - itself a vast machine created by the Rimstalker - the reborn children of Earth build mighty civilizations, worship terrifying gods, and choose sides for the titanic final battle.

A gripping tale of struggle against alien control, a mind-bending excursion through the mysteries of time and death, a cosmic epic of creation and destruction, this grand and challenging visit to strange new worlds is both a towering epic of survival - and an intimate story of human love."


 "A thousand years after Alexander the Great, the Greek Empire has expanded over the world with the help of advanced technology. Its plans for Total Domination of the entire planet will be complete once the war with the empire of the middle kingdom has been won.

The scientist Aias, commander of the celestial ship Chandra's Tear, prepares to embark on a secret mission to the sun, to steal a piece of the purest elemental fire. This ultimate piece of celestial matter will form the basis for a weapon capable of decisively ending the war with the Taoists of the Far East.


David H. said...

I haven't read the Attanasio, but damn, do I love the Neverness books! I think it's also tied up with the fact that it took me so long to find the other books (I read Broken God first, then Neverness, and then it took me forever to find The Wild & War in Heaven). So great, though.

I thought the Garfinkle was so clever and good, too.

Liviu said...

I read Neverness from the library originally (and much later found a copy) but I bought all 3 Requiem books on publication - I remember even today how excited I was when Broken God appeared, while War in Heaven appeared in a time of personal turmoil and while its quite dark content fit well with that, I still associate it with those times...

Same with Garfinkle (bought and read on publication), while Last Legends was a chance find at the library and then I got a copy; took me a while to find the other 3 Radix books btw but none really excited me that much (I remember here using an inter-library loan for the first time more or less to get one of them...)

Blue Gargantua said...

Thanks for recommending Last Legends. I'm just about finished and man is this a good book. It will almost certainly be one of my best reads this year.

Liviu said...

Thank you for the comment! I am glad you have enjoyed the book.

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