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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Three Dissapointing Books: Juli Zeh, Kennedy Hudner and John Gywnne (reviews and comments by Liviu Suciu)

"The gripping international bestseller that fuses an ingenious detective tale with stunning, cinematic storytelling—and a provocative riff on quantum physics—from Germany’s foremost young literary talent.
A child is kidnapped but does not know it. One man dies, two physicists fight, and a senior constable falls in love. In the end, everything is different . . . yet exactly the same.” —Prologue

A rising star who has garnered some of Europe’s most important literary prizes, Juli Zeh has established herself as the new master of the philosophical thriller. With In Free Fall, she now takes us on a fast-paced ride through deadly rivalry and love’s infinite configurations.

Against the backdrop of Germany and Switzerland, two physicists begin a dangerous dance of distrust. Friends since their university days, when they were aspiring Nobel Prize candidates, they now interact in an atmosphere of tension, stoked by Oskar’s belief that Sebastian fell into mediocrity by having a family. 

When Sebastian’s son, Liam, is apparently kidnapped, their fragile friendship is further tested. Entrusted with uncovering the truth, Detective Superintendent Schilf discerns a web of blackmail, while at the same time the reality of his personal life falls into doubt. Unfolding in a series of razor-sharp scenes, In Free Fall is a riveting novel of ideas from a major new literary voice"

Dark Matter (UK title) / In Free Fall (US title) by Juli Zeh is a book that made waves and I kept an eye on it until I finally bought a copy a while ago.

It took me a while to read it as after the excellent beginning of which I even quoted a few lines in a recent post, the book started bogging down in pseudo-natural philosophy of the kind that was in vogue when the quantum reality started being understood 80 years ago and more recently in the 90's and the renaissance of this kind of pop-physics books.

I finally finished the book a day or so ago and Dark Matter was a little disappointing in the end; very clever and well written as the play of words and narrative power go, but it reads more like a puzzle than a novel; characters are flat and lifeless and the storyline is ultimately sterile.

The physics involved is very 1920-30's rather than modern - eg the many worlds interpretation in its modern Multiverse incarnation is something taken very seriously today not a fringe part of physics, while the physicist as "Einstein the all conqueror" is again a 20-30's image as today the hep groundbreaking papers have hundreds of authors and are obtained by tons of statistical analysis of very short life particle events while theories are a dime a dozen and most are "not even wrong"; now that wouldn't be an issue if the novel would have more external reality than the game it becomes after a while. Also its main conceit of word confusion that powers the action is a bit silly to be honest.

There was another thing I found disturbing but as a major spoiler I included it in spoiler brackets on Goodreads, though I will allude below to it.

Overall, Dark Matter is well written but artificial, so it usually would be a four star novel for me but I take away one extra star for its disturbing arguments about "the justifiable murder" of a stranger. 

As an addition, I would mention that so far I found all acclaimed literary novels written by non-scientists and who purport to use today's frontiers of science as main action drivers (eg Charles Yu, Lisa Goldstein...) very unsatisfactory and showing an essential lack of understanding of how science works, what science means and/or what it tells about humanity's place in the Universe or Multiverse... 

Better stick with Alastair Reynolds, Neal Stephenson or Greg Egan's awesome novels like Incandescence or The Orthogonal Trilogy which may have literary flaws true, but which present a realistic picture of this "greatest adventure" of the spirit and for which the quote below from The Eternal Flame is incomparably better than all the faux-philosophy of Dark Matter:

 "Onesto said, “Imagine the time, a dozen generations from now, when wave mechanics powers every machine and everyone takes it for granted. Do you really want them thinking that it fell from the sky, fully formed, when the truth is that they owe their good fortune to the most powerful engine of change in history: people arguing about science.”


"Intrigue. Betrayal. A devastating surprise attack and a frantic fight to survive.

Gritty warfare in space as four young officers respond to the alarm of war.

Four officer cadets in the Victorian Fleet meet in training camp. Emily, the young woman who dreams of becoming a Fleet historian, but discovers her real talents lay elsewhere. Grant, the arrogant son of Victoria’s most famous admiral. Hiram, the nervous but brilliant strategist, and Cookie, intent on joining the Fleet Marines. Together, they survive the trials and hardships of training to join the Fleet, unaware that that their home is about to be plunged into a maelstrom.

For three hundred years, the Kingdom of Victoria has enforced peace across the galaxy. But it has grown complacent, and its enemies are ready to strike. The Tilleke Empire and the Dominion of Unified Citizenry have been waiting a long time, and now is their chance. As their web draws closed around Victoria, the band of new officers find themselves on the last line of defense. They’ve been well trained – but will it be enough to save the kingdom?"

Alarm of War seemed to be an interesting Weberian series debut of which I read the sample and all the stuff - from wormholes to the interspersed meetings of the bad guys - was there, so I got the book but as I started reading it carefully, I stalled as the action became very pulpy.

I finally finished it recently and indeed after a very promising beginning, the novel becomes and stays to the partial cliffhanger end, very old style pulpy mil-sf. I turned fast the pages to see what happens but it was more of a duty thing to be able to say that I "read" the book as I did not really care that much about the action or the characters. There were some scenes with power - when Princess Anne appears or the ending sequence, but way, way too much B-grade sf I've read tons of in the 90's and I really have no interest in more.


"A black sun is rising … Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. 

The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. 

But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. 

High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust."

Somewhat unexpectedly I got a review copy of Malice by John Gwynne and I was quite excited and oh, what a let down as the book reads so juvenile and without any sophistication, but straight-out from the manual of how to write an epic fantasy for the pg 13 reader crowd. 

The beginning which has a bargain with the evil, sealed by blood obtained by cutting the throat of a prisoner and ended by the villain asking timidly "what do you want for your help?" and the big booboo answering ominously "I want you!" was ominous indeed but at least I still had some hopes.

Only to be completely dashed in the next few pages which are pure juvenile writing; I then skimmed the book just in case and came upon pearls like:

"I am a warrior Hal, not a nursemaid" 

Yuck... A drop and never to hear of this series again.

Note - these are comments based on a browse through of the book, not an end to end read, but life is too short for wasting even a fast read on it; Malice may actually be awesome in the pages I skipped but somehow I doubt it...


John said...

Disappointed about the John Gwynne debut,so i'm guessing you won't be finishing it ? Was it so bad ?

I'm so annoyed at the editor/publisher/agent making claims and comparing this to ASOIF.

Liviu said...

it is pg13 and something that was done 1000 times before especially in the 90's, while now it is done as YA.

I browsed through it enough and read pages here and there including the last 10 or so to know I have no interest - and I agree that i expected more but a few other people who were reading it before I got my copy noted its YA feel so I hoped it would have at least interesting content...

shaneo52 said...

Oh wow, The Big Gwynne was one I was looking out for since I think Mith pointed it out quite a few months ago on SFF World, that's too bad.

shaneo52 said...

That's too bad had hopes for this one Liviu

Liviu said...

there should be a few more reviews/impressions coming up for Malice as arcs have been making rounds, so who knows others may enjoy it; the YA vibe though seems to be universal.

As per comparisons with GRRM, well everyone does it today - even a straight-out YA title (which is not bad as such with better prose than malice) like The Cadet of Tildor has a blurb proclaiming : Tamora Pierce (noted YA author) meets GRRM...

shaneo52 said...

Hand it to hype. lol


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