threemonkeys: (Waxlion)
[livejournal.com profile] lobelet, Robin and I got into the Wild Food Challenge last night when we tried out the offerings of Chow in Petone. The main was a really excellent venison and taro red curry. It really filled the mouth with flavour. This is something you get when you manage to trigger all the major taste senses (sweet, salt, sour etc) in a good balance. Hitting these is laying down the base of the sensation and then the complex subtleties come into play with the chemicals that trigger your olfactory sense. This got me thinking about the notion that you can look at writing in a similar sort of way. You can try to hit the basic elements - plot, characterisation, world building, imagery and so forth. You don't have to attempt all of them all the time, but a good balance of them creates depth and completeness to a work.

I was specifically thinking of this balance of basic factors in relation to Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, which I read over last weekend. The thing is, it is a work where the main plot line and the world building are really well done. Like Revelation Space, it is a BDO (Big Dumb* Object) story and the plot revolves around tracking and understanding the object(s) in question. It was well done enough to keep me well absorbed in the action right through the book. The problem is that Reynolds must have felt the need to fill out the book with some character action so he dropped a big blob of interpersonal conflict in there to fill in the gaps without upsetting the primary plot. The thing is, it isn't very good. It is more soap opera than space opera and is just grafted on without being integral to the BDO based action at all. The characters are not at all convincing as real humans. In fact, I would say that the two alien races which make an appearance were more human than the humans.

There is another irritation with this book. Nowhere on the covers does it mention that this is part of a series. But about 100 pages out from the end I got that sinking feeling that means you know that there is not enough space left in the book to wrap things up properly. Sure enough, there was a big climax at the end, but there were a lot of loose ends as well which are clearly there just for the purpose of generating a sequel. With the sequels to Revelation Space, once the action left the BDO, the quality dropped off in a big way.

It all leaves... - well you can figure the obvious pun for yourselves.

* Dumb in the sense of "does not communicate" - Big Dumb Object is a term used for this type of story by The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by Clute & Nicholls.

Noir Opera

May. 3rd, 2006 04:21 pm
threemonkeys: (Waxlion)
Paris 1959 - an American private detective investigates a possible murder of a young woman while the police ignore things. The man hiring the detective dies and the detective's partner becomes the main suspect. In the meantime the detective falls in love with with the woman claiming to be the sister of the first murder victim.

Yep, you are spot on, it is a space opera :-) - Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. Yes there are also spacecraft, nanotechnology, post-spike civilisation, space battles, wormholes, strange alien artefacts - you get the idea. What isn't there is time travel. So what you have is an interesting way of combining noir and space opera.

The noir side of it does not quite ring true compared to the real thing. Maybe it is the contrived situation, but I suspect that it is simply that Reynolds is not really familiar with the style. But he is familiar with space opera. In fact I would say that this is his best space opera since Revelation Space, perhaps even better. Certainly the story is easier to follow and hence the book is easier to read. So just when I was getting ready to stop reading Reynolds because his books were steadily getting worse he comes up with something pretty good. Leaving his familiar universe and trying something new seems to have done the trick.

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