Rereadability

Having just read three novels, I’ve come up with a theory about the quality of books. Namely, if a book withstands rereading at least once, it’s probably good. Additionally, if a book that reads well initially does not lend itself to rereading, it may not be as good as your initial impressions gave it.

I say this because the rereadability of the three novels I bought (Metaplanetary, Flashforward and The Light of Other Days) correlates very well with their actual quality. I found all three relatively entertaining while I read them, although Metaplanetary held my attention the best, followed by Flashforward. However, I discovered that I physically could not reread Flashforward. I had no favorite sections, and it struck me that for a large portion of the novel, nothing actually happened.

I could reread sections of The Light of Other Days, but it wore off after a while due to the blandness of the setting. Two weeks after I bought Metaplanetary, I still reread passages every so often; true, it’s perhaps 50% longer than the other two books, but my time spent rereading it doesn’t scale. Not only does a lot happen in it, but it’s also interesting. My past experience with good books agrees with all of this – the books I reread tend to be of a decent quality.

Of course, this doesn’t always apply. I can think of a few great books which I simply don’t feel like rereading, and I can think of a few average books which, for whatever reason, I continually reread.

Lobsters

I’m in the middle of reading Lobsters by Charlie Stross and while it’s very enjoying (a kind of superpowered MacLeod without the communism – okay, that doesn’t make any sense, but still) I can’t help but think – does anyone actually talk like this?

“I work for the betterment of everybody, not just some narrowly defined national interest, Pam. It’s the agalmic future. You’re still locked into a pre-singularity economic model that thinks in terms of scarcity. Resource allocation isn’t a problem any more – it’s going to be over within a decade. The cosmos is flat in all directions, and we can borrow as much bandwidth as we need from the first universal bank of entropy!” etc etc.

I have no real problem with this, since it is fiction after all, but sometimes he gets carried away with his neologisms and invents words that could mean something, but I’m damned if I know what they do. Like ‘metacortex’. I’m sure this isn’t a real anatomical or functional term.

(I just read a bit more and have seen ‘metacortex’ in a more enlightening context. But it’s still weird.)

Colder War

A Colder War – a highly fun SF novelette set in the Cold War about nuclear bombers, interplanetary gateways and Cthulu. Great fiction for free!

The Years of Rice and Salt

Finished The Years of Rice and Salt. As usual, it’s up to Kim Stanley Robinson’s high standards. I’m not going to review the book here, as Salon has already got an excellent review. What I want to do is to talk about my impressions of the book.

Firstly, it’s not for everyone, and it is something of a departure from KSR’s usual SF-ish novels, at least from a superficial viewpoint. There are parts of the novel which seem a little neglected or even unbelievable (e.g. it really would not have been possible for the black death to have wiped out 99% of Europe, anthrax or no anthrax). And KSR still has his usual vice of utopianism (though we do love him for it) which shows itself in the last few chapters and bogs the novel down in long, dense political discussions which can get frankly boring.

Now that I’ve summarised pretty much everything that I didn’t like about the book, I hope you realise that if that’s all that was wrong, the rest must be pretty damn good. It is. KSR is at his best writing short stories and looking at the development of characters in changing circumstances, and this is what the novel is all about. Some readers will find the concept of reincarnating main characters to be unacceptably foreign, but I put this down to an lack of familiarity with non-western literature. I read one review which said, “This is nothing like a Turtledove novel!” (another alternate history writer). Well, of course not! If it was, what would be the point of writing it?

KSR makes his books very accessible; while he doesn’t shy away from using whatever language he wants to express himself, he doesn’t use long words just to show off his vocabulary. This is a typical KSR trait, and readers of his work will spot a whole load of his other (good) characteristics.

Anyway, I recommend that you read the Salon review to find out what the novel is about, and if you find it even mildly intriguing, go and buy the book. You’ll learn a hell of a lot about Islamic, Indian and Chinese culture, and you’ll have a great time reading it.