My review of The Fractal Prince is now available at The Zone. It's a sequel to The Quantum Thief, which I reveiwed in 2010.
I’m beginning to worry that I am losing my edge. This is the second review in a row where I’ve cut a lot of negative commentary after I felt that it left a bad taste in a review that I wanted to feel largely positive. It’s an argument between the head and the heart that still feels unresolved. Intellectually I admire hugely what Rajaniemi’s doing. If more SF writers had his ambition and steel-eyed commitment to an individual vision, rather than pleasing SF fans, then I’d be a happy reader, and probably read a lot more SF.
Unfortunately, deep in my guts, I didn’t really enjoy this book.
I mention, rather politely, that Rajaniemi’s style is a little dry for me. Well, in earlier drafts I went further than that and called him out for being, in places, outright bad. There were many individual sentences in this book that had me scratching my head. I was more or less okay with the neologisms – they quickly reasserted themselves in my memories from The Quantum Thief – it was just the individual sentences that left me bamboozled.
‘She is used to the ship always being there, always offering warmth, ever since the day she made her.’ (p117)
Who made who in this sentence? When you stop and think about it, and in the context of what you know about the characters it’s clear, but the syntax makes you pause and read it again.
‘The flywheels of their needle guns of ornate brass let out a high-pitched whine as they aim at Tawaddud’s head.’ (p145)
Who’s aiming in that sentence? Syntax suggests it’s the whining flywheels, but I’m sure it’s the ‘Fast Ones’ mentioned several sentences before.
‘There is a new star in the sky. A guberniya is approaching Earth, one of the major Sobornost mega-structures, moving.’ (p272)
Well, I could go on for a while like this. I cut several hundred words from an earlier draft of the review, covering this and some other elements I wasn’t keen on, and left the criticisms a little broader and less strident.
I think this kind of criticism is hard to include in a review without it overwhelming other considerations simply because of the time it takes to make the case. I think it’s fair that the harsher the criticism, the higher the standard of proof required. The words I cut would probably have been a third or a quarter of the final review, and I felt that was disproportionate to the elements that I wanted to praise.
Having said that - Since finishing this review, I’ve gone off in search of what others have to say and Adam Roberts gets the balance on this about right inhis review in the Guardian. I guess that’s why he’s the pro and I’m the blogger.
I also made an allowance for the fact that I’m not a fan of this kind of oblique, stripped down style. I referred to this once or twice in the review, but it’s another topic that’s hard to clarify without appearing self-obsessed.
I’m not against heavily stylised writing of various sorts, but I do prefer things to be clear. I am old and tired a lot of the time and have neither time nor energy to fight with a book for the basics of plot, character and action. I guess I’m a George Orwell window panes kind of reader rather than the other kind, what ever it may be.
I didn’t really feel able to make a dispassionate argument about the style because while it’s a perfectly fine creative decision, I think it’s the wrong one pretty much all the time. For everything the breathless style added I wondered about all the things I lost along the way.
In another review I read online somewhere the reviewer compared it to John Clute’s Applesed, which struck me as about right. I much prefer this book to Appleseed, though!
And that’s the thing – I like this book. I kept getting glimpses of exciting future crime novel that this wants to be, and I’d love to read that novel. He got it exactly right in the Mars section of The Quantum Thief, and there’s every reason to believe he can do it again and there’s surely a string of great novels coming further down the pike.
I don’t want to stop anyone from reading it, and so I have to pitch my review accordingly. When I write a review I try and capture my overall feeling of a book, rather than just present a write up of my notes. That seems a better service to a reader than a kind of writers’ workshop critique that no one’s going to want to read anyway.
I’m not sure what my next review will be. It might not come out ‘til after Christmas, but I’m going to have a think about this deliberate claw blunting. I just come on here and complain about it anyway, having my cake and eating it too... but that’s just between us, right?