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Singularity Sky 416

Posted by timothy
from the good-name-for-daughter dept.
Indomitus writes "I used to read tons of science fiction, nothing but for long stretches. Then I grew up and realized that most science fiction sucked. I look back on the time spent reading anything by Piers Anthony and know I'm going to be wishing I had those hours back when I'm older. Writers like Charlie Stross are the reason I know most SF sucks, because he does it so well. He fills this somewhat slim book with more ideas than any 10 other books from the section his work inhabits at the bookstore." Read on for the rest.
Singularity Sky
author Charles Stross
pages 313
publisher Berkley Pub Group
rating 9.9
reviewer Matt Grommes
ISBN 0441010725
summary A semi-sentient space travelling information gatherer called The Festival comes to a backward planet and instigates 1000 years of technological change in a month. The rulers of the world are not too happy and will use any means they have to stop the Festival, even if it means incurring the wrath of the super-AI that watches over the universe.

The main idea of the story, that a semi-sentient information-gathering alien system called the Festival comes to a backward farming planet and begins granting wishes -- in the form of advanced technology -- in exchange for stories and information, is only the seedbed for the larger exploration of the societally backward planetary system and what happens when the revolution you hoped to lead finally comes and it doesn't need you.

As a lifelong reader of science fiction, I hate that most SF is just as backward-looking as most Fantasy. Part of the problem with recent SF work is that we've come to a point in science where a lot of what made science fiction new has been done and what's coming is almost impossible to imagine, which I'll get to in a second. Space exploration can still be exciting but most new space stuff has been infected with the Star Trek Syndrome, as I call it, where everyone is boring and has no flaws, and the status quo rules. People just don't look to space exploration as exciting in real life so that translates to the SF work that people do. Real life science is changing so fast that it leaves even science fiction people in the dust. The result is the rise of 'Fantasy with robots and aliens' and 'Space Opera,' two facets of SF that seem to be dominating the landscape. Even Neal Stephenson, who was at the forefront of real technological future SF with The Diamond Age and Snow Crash has gone backward with Quicksilver and to a lesser extent Cryptonomicon.

The issue is The Singularity. This is Vernor Vinge's idea that technological progress proceeds at an exponential rate until there is a complete break with what came before. The End Of History, as people call it. This comes with the creation of a human-level AI that quickly proceeds past human-level, the invention of Upload technology that will allow us to live in computer systems and artificial bodies, something of that nature that we can't imagine. The problem with writing futuristic work in the time before a Singularity is that you can't see beyond it. Everything is different, so much so that all we can hope for is the fire up our imaginations to the point where we can begin to think in new ways.

One of the main goals of science fiction as I see it is to prepare us for the future. You can't hope to cope with the future if you've never been innoculated with new ideas. Singularity Sky is one of the first post-Singularity novels I've read that takes the idea seriously and examines it, allowing us to open our minds to the vast possibilities. Stross doesn't shy away from it like so many others. He uses the Festival's coming to show the speed of the change that comes with a technological Singularity and what happens to people in the aftermath. He also shows a culture trying desperately to hang on to old ways and the futility of doing that in the face of such rapid change.

There are problems with the book, mostly in the perennial bugbear of science-fiction, character development, but the rush of ideas glossed over that for me. This is only Mr. Stross's second book, I believe, the first being a collection of short stories called Toast: And Other Rusted Futures, that is high on my Must Read list. Charles Stross is a name that you will hopefully hear a lot more from in the coming years. His imagination is up there with the best and brightest and with his work as an accelerant my mind can't help but burn with new ideas. I hope more science fiction writers see this book and decide to move forward to meet him.


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Singularity Sky

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  • by CanSpice (300894) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:03PM (#8342601) Homepage
    Writers like Charlie Stross are the reason I know most SF sucks, because he does it so well.
    So you're saying he's good at writing SF that sucks?
    • I think he means it like Jackie Chan movies... when you examine the plot, acting, dialogue, pacing, makeup and costumes, they are terrible. It's just that the stunts/kung-fu aspect is so cool, that you really enjoy the movie.

      Not surprisingly, this works for porn as well.
    • Re:Does it so well? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 (716938)
      Sturgeon's Law as in Theodore Sturgeon, author and editor of Sci Fi of "The Golden Age" and the period just after that, said it best when staring at the Slush pile (the unsolisited manuscripts) on his desk: "90% of everything is Crud!"
    • Re:Does it so well? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by saden1 (581102)
      I want to know if he is Charlie Stross with all the Amazon.com self-reviewing [slashdot.org] that has been going.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @04:25PM (#8343756)
      I look back on the time spent reading anything by Piers Anthony and know I'm going to be wishing I had those hours back when I'm older.

      Don't live in the past. If you enjoyed the books at the time you were reading them, they fulfilled their purpose. What else exactly would you have done if someone had convinced you that you'd dislike them later? Probably nothing nearly as much fun as the reading you actually did.

    • Re:Does it so well? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by GCP (122438)
      So you're saying he's good at writing SF that sucks?

      The whole industry is.

      What we need is today's equivalent of a "2001" (though we can do without the incomprehensible plot).

      By that I mean SF that makes a serious attempt at creating a plausible future about a generation ahead that puts so much effort into the details that the more you know about the subject matter, the more impressed you are. An intriguing, thought-provoking and informative preview of a world that well-informed people consider so well t
      • Re:Does it so well? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by T3kno (51315)
        Kind of like LOTR in space? That question is slightly tounge in cheek, but that is also exactly what I have been craving. An imersive, embracing, extremely detailed SCI-FI "sub-genre", for lack of a better term.
  • by dragondm (30289) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:04PM (#8342621) Homepage
    I thought it was good.

    You got to love a book that starts with it raining telephones.
    • Where are the telephone sanitizers? Or have they all been carted off elsewhere already? If so, it's only a matter of time before they're all wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from an unexpectedly dirty telephone.
  • by YukioMishima (205721) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:05PM (#8342632)
    Play nice with Piers Anthony. While Anthony's sci-fi books are definitely space opera, without his work, I would never have become the sci-fi reader I am today. His "Bio of a Space Tyrant" series was my first glimpse into some of the ideas that would germinate into a lifelong love of science fiction. He's an enthusiastic writer, and really does interact well with his fans, as evidenced by the fan correspondence he includes at the end of his books. Finally, at least it's reading and it's fun - I think the tradeoff for my hours is well worth it.
    • I don't have any use for most of Anthony's work, but his Incarnations of Immortality series was generally high-quality.
      • I especially like his Apprentice Adept series.
      • On a Pale Horse is a wonder. If this is the sort of thing that Mr. Anthony is capable of I certainly wish he'd produce more of it.

        With each further volume however he "progressed" more and more toward his standard goofey fantasy style, which is fine for a book or two of light reading, but that's about it. It gets old, in a hurry.

        So, while in essence I agree with you, I nonetheless found the series as a whole dissapointing.

        KFG
        • Hmm. I do agree that On a Pale Horse is best, but I don't think there's a clear downward trend later. It's more bumpy than a simple slide.

          The one about Time is forgettable but inoffensive; however, Fate is quite good. War is slightly bad, Nature's a bit above mediocre. "For Love of Evil", in my book, is almost as good as "On a Pale Horse" though.

          There was no seventh novel in the series. I refuse to acknowledge its existence.
          • I think the series could have been summed up as "On a Pale Horse" followed by "Beating a Dead Horse..." Like many authors, Anthony couldn't just let a good book stand on its own, he had to follow up with sequel after sequel after sequel...

            Personally, I liked his Tarot books as well, though.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Piers Anthony -- SF's most prolific typist.
    • by dmaxwell (43234) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:42PM (#8343172)
      Piers Anthony will never see another dime from me. He wrote in one his newsletters last year that he can't see "why some people get so outraged about protections on digital works". He often claims to hate tyranny and love personal liberty but is completely unable to see the connection those things have to DRM.

      I had an email back and forth with him and he brushed off as completely unimportant:

      Forced format changes
      Locking independents out of the market
      Forced choice of platforms
      Retroactive changes of licensing terms
      Rewriting history
      Every other thing about DRM that is problematic.

      Oh and he completely doesn't get that what one clever human can do another clever human can undo which ultimately makes the so-called benefits of DRM moot.

      He seems to think that DRM is his only hope of getting paid in the future. I got the distinct impression that to him Disney and the *IAA are completely reasonable aggrieved souls. For all of his professed love of liberty and justice, he comes off like Jack Valenti when it comes to his wallet. His works emphasize his dislike of censorship. He hasn't seen anything yet and he has no idea that he is now an advocate of censorship. If he likes DRM then he'll have to like everything that comes with it.

      This is fine. I won't misappropriate his stuff online but I won't fund him anymore.
      • by cardshark2001 (444650) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:08PM (#8344408)
        Piers Anthony will never see another dime from me. He wrote in one his newsletters last year that he can't see "why some people get so outraged about protections on digital works". He often claims to hate tyranny and love personal liberty but is completely unable to see the connection those things have to DRM.

        What's that got to do with whether you enjoy his fiction? It's like the Seinfeld where Elaine refuses to eat at Poppy's pizza place because he's against abortion.

        Hell, I like some of L Ron Hubbard's stuff, and we all know what a psycho he was (he invented scientology, in case you didn't know).

        The fact that he was even willing to discuss stuff with you is pretty impressive, even if you disagree. You may have no idea what other authors feel about your pet political issues, because they never interact with the public. Piers should be punished because he does interact with his fans?

        • by dmaxwell (43234) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:19PM (#8344547)
          It is because I find his position in context to be utterly offensive. Yes, he answers his own email. Yes he'll even discuss his own views. I'm not "punishing" him because he interacts with his fans. I'm "punishing" him for rank hypocrasy.

          His favoring of DRM is completely counter to everything he claims to stand for. I also try to avoid funding DRM advocates on general principle. I'll grant that is difficult these days but I will boycott the more obvious ways of giving Disney money for instance.

          I'll even still read his stuff but only if I can pick it legitimately without funding him. I'm thinking of things like libraries and used bookshops.
          • I'm "punishing" him for rank hypocrasy.

            It's your right of course, and I agree with you on Disney, for more than just their DRM stance. The ironic thing with Piers is just that you would never know what his position was unless he had taken the time out of his day to answer your missives. Your sort of attitude is probably one reason many authors don't go to the trouble. They're bound to offend some people with whatever views they hold.

            As far as DRM goes, I think you're putting the cart in front of the hor

      • This is the problem with advances in technology that transcend the common man's ability to adapt. There are a few, a precious few who are ready and willing to advance themselves to the point of transhumanity. The rest of the race is not only unwilling, the entire conversation scares the holy bejesus out of them, and the last thing they want is a few folks receiving virtual godhood in their presense... ergo, ignorance, bgotry, and stupid fear (by the way one must also acknowlege not all that fear is stupid.)
  • by Mukaikubo (724906) <gtg430b@prism.ga ... h.edu minus city> on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:06PM (#8342650) Journal
    Reviewer needs to get off his high horse. It's fine that you experienced a loss of faith or whatever the smeg changed for you, but don't insult the rest of us who still like the sci-fi you sneer at (ooohhh, space operas, how amusingly plebeian- give me a break).
    • Shhhhhhhh, I liked the Zahn Starwars books.

      -
    • by (trb001) (224998) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:25PM (#8342957) Homepage
      Agreed. While I would never give out an award for the writing in the Xanth series, it was creative and entertaining. Not every movie will receive an Oscar, but that doesn't mean that they aren't great in their own respect. Let me guess, you think heavy metal is 'lots of noise and stuff' too?

      --trb
    • Come now, there's no need to let your feelings be hurt ... by a book review.

      But still I agree with you, partly: badmouthing is not needed to contrast praise.
    • by OmniGeek (72743) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:36PM (#8343101)
      Yes, much SF is junk (like much of Zelazny and Farmer, and I *thoroughly enjoy* their work); that shouldn't surprise anyone. (Harlequin romances, anyone? Junk is all over literature, and SF is no exception.) Of course, "junk" here has a wildly variable and subjective meaning.

      As far as space opera, I just finished David Weber's "Path of the Fury", and while it doesn't stand up there with Lois McMaster Bujold or C.J. Cherryh, or Weber's other works (comes off somewhat as though put together out of spare parts to turn a buck), it was a great way to spend a 6-hour airplane ride. Best thing I could have done with the time.

      I've spent many an otherwise-wasted hour reading good and bad SF, and I cannot honestly say I regret ANY of it, even *shudder* half of Battlefield Earth (as a research project in "Gods below, surely the book wasn't THAT bad, the filmmaker musta taken liberties... Gaah, he didn't, it was, it was!"). Consider the alternatives, like Harlequin romances, USA Today, and broadcast TV. Even bad written fiction is better than most TV, and it lets us exercise our imaginations instead of rotting our minds.

  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:06PM (#8342656)
    It is easy to knock the guy if you think he is 100% Xanth. However, this is the same guy responsible for "Macroscope" (Nebula award nomination). The Cluster/Tarot series is also a worthy effort, with imaginative aliens that beat Niven's creations. There is also "OX", a decent attempt to make a novel around John Conway's "Game of Life".
    • In addition to some of the best short stories ever written, compiled into his "Anthanology"
    • Yes, Macroscope - one of my all-time favorite SF novels. P.A.'s existance is justified by this work.
    • > It is easy to knock the guy if you think he is 100% Xanth

      Funny you should say that. I read and loved 'OX' and rushed out to read 'Orn' and 'Omnivore'. I couldn't believe so many amazing ideas packed into one story.

      Then, looking for more from this amazing writer, I read a Xanth novel. Oh well, anyone can make a mistake. Then I read another Xanth novel. I haven't touched Piers Anthony since. Stupid stories and characters who's sole reason for being in the book is to make a bad pun. What a waste of my t
      • I read a Xanth novel. Oh well, anyone can make a mistake.

        If you say that, then you don't realize that PA was parodying the entire Wizard of OZ/Land of OZ series of books, with an adult twist.

        • > If you say that, then you don't realize that PA was parodying the entire Wizard of OZ/Land of OZ series of books, with an adult twist.

          No, I "get it". It still sucked.
      • Since I didn't know if the next Piers Anthony novel I pick up will be crap or excellent I gave up on him

        Anthony writes on three levels: at the bottom, there is Xanth. At the middle, there is Incarnations of Immortality. At the top, there is Macroscope and Chthon. He's been doing through all his career.

        If you enjoy OX/Orn/Omnivore, you might like "Kirlian Quest". Yes, it is the 3rd book of a trilogy, but I read it first myself and had no problem from that.
  • Cool! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes (679165)
    I'm always on the lookout for something different in the SF world. This review appears well done enough by not being all rosy, and instead focuses both on the pluses and minuses of the work. It has convinced me to at least look at the work for myself.
    Thanks!
  • Not off topic, but meta topic. Rarely do I get to see an interesting slashdot posting as it first appears. A moment of spare comments that allow me to post and comment. Unfortunately I have no interest to comment on this particular article -- but instead comment upon the peculiar way in which Slashdot articles resonate. Comments are a pyramid on slashdot. The earliest posters receive guaranteed exposure to meta-moderation. As the life of the posting grows, new comers, no matter how relevant their co
    • While I agree with you in theory, you do realize that just because you haven't modified the default settings at the top of this page, others do set the page to "newest" on top. I like to customize it. I think people use most of their mod points on the newest story, so the old comments aren't read as much. You could stop wasting your time actually working and just visit the site more often. :)

      -
    • I just did some moderating and I noticed that most of the posts that caught my attention (aka visible, not collapsed) were already pegged out at 5. Such filtering helps when viewing the site, but it discourages moderators from culling through the dregs to find diamonds.

  • While agree much of his latest work is hogwash, in particular I really enoyedc the Battle Circle series. The characterization was weak, but the narration was quite good, IMO. Just saying, if you've never read any Piers Anthony, don't get the wrong impression from this. Some is good stuff.
  • by waif69 (322360) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:08PM (#8342690) Journal
    I know that you were writing a review of a book, not written by Heinlein, but the comment that most SciFi sucks, IMHO is going overboard. OK, perhaps 30% is lousy, and that might go even higher if you compare everyone to the standards that Heinlein and Clark and Asimov had set.

    Obviously I have a lot of respect for the authors stated above, since they all have stong scientific backgrounds and truly understand the human condition. I just had to respond, don't hate me for message.
    • by bbsguru (586178) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:20PM (#8342891) Homepage Journal
      Not all SF is classic literature?

      Pshaw! next you'll try to tell us that not all reality television is real, or that pro Wrestling isn't a sport.

      Most of everything is not the Best of anything. Get a clue. It's reading the rest that makes the best such a treasure.

      And lay off Piers Anthony. He ain't Heinlein or Asimov, but neither is William Gibson. Nobody is. That's why Heinlein and Asimov are important.

  • I look back on the time spent reading anything by Piers Anthony and know I'm going to be wishing I had those hours back when I'm older.

    Groan.[embarrassed shudder]
    Proust and Joyce? No, don't have the time. I'm reading another Xanth book, thank you.

    I'll be skulking over there, for now.

  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:09PM (#8342712) Homepage
    and you thought the patent office was busy and overwhelmed now
  • by Euphonious Coward (189818) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:09PM (#8342716)
    I just finished the worst book I have read in years -- "Chindi" by Jack McDermitt. It's awful from the very first line: "The Benjamin ... was at the extreme limit of its survey territory ..." Each chapter is worse than the last, each deft touch reveals it as the more tawdry. Chapters start with quotes from great but somehow sophomoric works of the 23rd century. The ship's captain is gorgeous but unfulfilled. Every character is bored with his or her life and life's work, desperate to relieve the tedium. Reading it was like watching a train wreck. Recommended, sort of.
    • Have you read his other books? He seemed to do best when he was writing Sci-Fi mystery, but pretty much all of his books are very dry reads. I'd almost go as far as to say they're painful to read. I think the only reason I keep reading them is because he throws out enough intrigue to keep you interested after reflection.

      I've sort of developed a "take it in small quantities" approach to his writing.
    • He can't write endings. He's got the idea thing down pat, and many of his characters are interesting. (A Talent For War and The Hercules Text are good examples, and much better books than Chindi)

      But he can't write an ending to save his life. His books just sort of peter out, or end so abruptly you're left going WTF? Destiny Road is a great example of the latter: major plot points are still being resolved on the 3rd to last page. Stephenson, for all that's he's loved here, is another like that. I love

  • try again (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lambent (234167) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:10PM (#8342727)
    The whole "magic is indistinguishable ..." bit, as well as 'uploading' yourself into a computer, as well as 'let's see what happens when old fashioned cultures collide with new cultures' is all old hat. Already been done many times before.

    This is nothing new. The man you extol as being a fresh creative force for the beleagured sci-fi genre is doing the same thing every author has done for the bast 80 years.
    • Thank you. (Score:5, Amen)

      Also, it would have been helpful if the reviewer named another author or novel that he felt stood the test of time. That would give us a data point so that we could have some idea if we could trust his judgment of fresh creative force.
    • Try Permutation City by Greg Egan, Everyone in Silico by Jim Munroe [nomediakings.org] or Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect by Roger Williams [kuro5hin.org].

      MOPI is even available as a free text at the website. And these are just the three excellent examples that spring to mind, I know I've read at least a dozen other decent explorations of this unimaginable future.
      • by dsplat (73054) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:55PM (#8343318)
        I don't get the impression from what I've read of Vinge that he views the singularity as a discontinuity. The problem is that we understand progress and innovation based on models of their first and second derivatives that simply won't apply beyond the singularity.

        An interesting point to consider is that singularities have happened to humanity before, but on a greater time scale. Speech made it possible to convey information from one individual to another abstractly. Writing made it possible to convey information across distances and time. Each of these advances changed the nature of what is required for humans to acquire skills and knowledge and push beyond the boundaries of what is already known.
  • Try branching out.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by bravehamster (44836) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:11PM (#8342746) Homepage Journal
    If you think that the majority of scifi sucks these days, you aren't looking very hard. Try Iain M. Banks, anything of his, and then look me in the eye and tell me scifi sucks. Ditto for Stephen Baxter, or David Brin, or Greg Bear or Gregory Benford. Hmm...that's a lot of B's....

    • by Mukaikubo (724906) <gtg430b@prism.ga ... h.edu minus city> on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:14PM (#8342792) Journal
      The joke in the fandom community is that they're the "Killer Bees".

      Baxter earned my unending adulation for whatever part of "The Light of Other Days" he contributed with Clarke, and "Manifold: Time" sealed the deal. Favorite writer of the 1990s for me.
    • by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:26PM (#8342982) Journal
      Try Iain M. Banks, anything of his, and then look me in the eye and tell me scifi sucks. Ditto for Stephen Baxter, or David Brin, or Greg Bear or Gregory Benford. Hmm...that's a lot of B's....

      That's also a lot of men. Try Octavia Butler.
    • Ditto for Stephen Baxter

      Ugh. Mainfold: Time was so damned depressing that I've vowed never to read another book by him. It started off so good too. "Man will get to space, even if he has to do it illegally." Then it degraded into franken-squids, everyone dies, and the Universe ends. Exactly how is this an entertaining read?

    • by Damek (515688) <adam@da m e k.org> on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:55PM (#8343327) Homepage
      or Ken MacLeod or Alastair Reynolds or Kim Stanley Robinson or Octavia Butler or... there are so many (and they don't all have last names starting with B :)
  • by Mr2cents (323101) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:11PM (#8342747)
    Or is it general SF bashing? Most SF sucks, I hate this, I hate that, that is boring, ...
    The fact is: most x suck, where x can be anything you like (TV programs, /. stories, people, hookers, ...). Get over it and stay on topic next time.
  • by Call Me Black Cloud (616282) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:12PM (#8342759)

    ...you'll look back on your Slashdot submission and realize what a pretentious uptight snob you were, and you'll wish you had the time back you spend shunning things that were actually entertaining.

    Based on your review, I'll take Anthony over Stross:

    There are problems with the book, mostly in the perennial bugbear of science-fiction, character development, but the rush of ideas glossed over that for me.

    I'm sorry, I prefer a few good ideas and good characters versus poor characters and many ideas.
  • A Colder War (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HeghmoH (13204) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:14PM (#8342788) Homepage Journal
    If anybody is interested in seeing a glimpse of what this author can produce, his short story "A Colder War" is available online for free at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/colderwar.ht m [infinityplus.co.uk].

    This story is one of the best I've ever read, and it's the only work of fiction I have ever encountered, on paper or on the screen, that actually managed to give me nightmares. Go read it if you haven't!
  • Piers Anthony (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nicophonica (660859) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:17PM (#8342839)
    I do have one good thing to say about Pierce Anthony. I was reading him one day and suddenly a little thought balloon formed over my head which read: "This is crap." I threw the book down in disgust and learned a valuable lesson: it's not a moral failing to give up on a bad book. Quite the opposite, it a sin to reward a horrible writer by plowing threw dreck just to finish it.
  • Double edged sword (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:18PM (#8342850) Homepage Journal
    Sci-Fi has always been a bit difficult for me. I love the ideas of building new technology, visiting new worlds, and finding out new things about the Universe. Above all though, it still should be entertaining.

    Unfortunately, most Sci-Fi writers fall into two categories:

    1. Taking the "human condition" to the extreme. Futures where sex is the only thing driving humanity. Of course, they're so much more advanced than us because everyone has sex with everyone.

    I hate to break it to the authors, but this sort of society would quickly degrade due to a lack of scientific focus. Not to mention that human feelings on the subject are actually pretty immutable. (No matter what anyone says.)

    One way or another, these books are no more entertaining than a porno flick.

    2. Fantasy dressed up as Sci-Fi. I personally don't like Fantasy books all that much. But these books make it that much worse. Most of them have space travel as a background to get to a fantasy-like world. After that, forget about the Sci-Fi.

    Once on the fantasy world, the laws of physics no longer apply. There aren't even social-political issues to work out. There's just some big quest for something. Or a, "look at how much better they are than humans." Blech.

    Personally, I thought Heinlen's juveniles were the best examples of Sci-Fi. Rocket Ship Galileo, The Rolling Stones, and Time for the Stars inspired those of us who wanted to some day reach the stars. Which is amusing since so many of his adult books fell into the categories above.

    Here's what I'd like to see: Someone should write a series of books on what space would be like if we developed nuclear engines. (Orion, NERVA, GCNR, M2P2, NSWR, etc.) Build a grand story around the concepts and push the public to make it happen. We always see space as far in the future. It doesn't have to be!

    An even better bit of Sci-Fi would be a television movie showing the conflicts of developing the first nuclear launch methods. The struggle between the pro and anti nuclear groups. Showing how far people are willing to go for their beliefs. And the results of finally reaching the stars.

    • by Mukaikubo (724906) <gtg430b@prism.ga ... h.edu minus city> on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:31PM (#8343041) Journal
      Although it doesn't involve nuclear engines, I'd recommend the Firestar series by... um... Flynn. (I can't get to a search engine or Amazon, so working off memory- if Flynn fails, search for Firestar).

      It's about, in extremely broad terms, how mankind goes from more or less current state to one where space travel is accepted as routine, unremarkable, and cheap, there's several large space stations in orbit, et cetera et cetera... basically, every space geek's dream of what could happen in the next 50 years.

      For the love of God, though, stop after Rogue Star, the second book. The last two are a dramatic dropoff in quality.
    • Someone should write a series of books on what space would be like if we developed nuclear engines.

      Day 1: Set out on trip to nearest star (not counting Sun).

      Year 1: Still on course.

      Decade 1: Still on course.

      Century 1: Dead, but ship still on course.

    • 1. Taking the "human condition" to the extreme. Futures where sex is the only thing driving humanity. Of course, they're so much more advanced than us because everyone has sex with everyone.

      There are lots of books about Europe.

      m-
    • by Sloppy (14984) *

      Futures where sex is the only thing driving humanity. Of course, they're so much more advanced than us because everyone has sex with everyone.

      ..
      human feelings on the subject are actually pretty immutable.

      Human feelings are mutable, because humans are mutable. I mean, if we're talking about Science Fiction, is altering humanity (e.g. genetic manipulation, cybernetic surgery, psychological brainwashing, etc) really that hard to swallow?

      No, when it comes to human feelings in Science Fiction, I think jus

    • by ChaosDiscord (4913)

      Unfortunately, most Sci-Fi writers fall into two categories:

      Two categories that I suspect you would define as crap. Always remember, 90% of everything is crap. [jargon.net]

      Taking the "human condition" to the extreme.

      It's a common technique in fiction to try and distill down something "pure" about humanity, to reveal things hidden by day-to-day life. Typically this is done by creating an unusual setting to eliminate reader's preconceived notions. You might do this by trapping children on an island [gerenser.com], sending someo [jaffebros.com]

    • >An even better bit of Sci-Fi would be a television movie showing the conflicts of developing the first nuclear launch methods

      Heinlein's "Destination Moon" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042393/) had this as a plot element. 1950.

  • by deego (587575) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:19PM (#8342877)
    I have "singularity sky" but haven't read most of it.

    BTW, here's my list of other novels with the singularity theme, many of them online. Each link below contains link to many others...Let me know of other I missed. My favorite remains MOPI:
    MOPI [kuro5hin.org]

    link [gnufans.net]

    link [sl4.org]

    link [msn.com]

    link [nanotech-now.com]

    link [unizh.ch]

    link [aleph.se]

    link [singularityawareness.com]

    link [antipope.org]

    link [netspace.net.au]

    Thelamenessfilter wants mroe comments per line Thelamenessfilter wants mroe comments per line
    Thelamenessfilter wants mroe comments per line
    Thelamenessfilter wants mroe comments per line
    Thelamenessfilter wants mroe comments per line
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:21PM (#8342906)
    If you're unhappy with the state of SF, perhaps you've just been reading the wrong SF. I am not yet nearly so ready to consign away the entire field (with the exception of a few remaining choice nuggets) as you sound to be. This may well be an excellent book, however there remain more worthwhile books and authors out there to read that I've already discovered (and don't yet have time for) for me to believe SF is a dying field.

    And as another person who has also read a great deal of Mr. Piers Anthony Jacob's works, he entertains well, and often slips in useful observations on life. (A certain RAH was also known for that once upon a time.) He entertained you well once, or you wouldn't have kept reading him.

    To want those hours back now (or someday) is to say that time spent reading is not time well spent. I respectfully disagree, although time spent writing is even better time spent. What else would you have done during that time really that would have been better for you now? Split your time between reading the Encyclopedia Britannica and running cross-country to improve your health? I think not!

    And if P.A. Jacob no longer meets your reading needs, it is not because he has changed, but rather you have. This is not a bad thing for either you -- or him.

    Regardless, you have succeeded in interesting me in this book, and I'll add it to my list as well. However your reasoning behind it seems less than universal.

    And consider reading some authors who only publish on the Internet. Some ideas are too leading edge to sell to editors and publishers. That's how I found this sig line.

    Peace!

  • by emptybody (12341) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:22PM (#8342913) Homepage Journal
    Sorry sir, you lost me.

    Your introduction slams other authors for no aparent good reason. If you are reviewing a book you can easily say it is better or worse, in your opinion, than some other works.

    It is not necessary to drag in some other persons works and knock them down.
    • Your introduction slams other authors for no aparent good reason. If you are reviewing a book you can easily say it is better or worse, in your opinion, than some other works.

      I completely disagree. Having a reviewer state up front who they think rocks or sucks, let's you "calibrate" the review to your own tastes.

      I totally agree with the reviewer about Piers Anthony, and so that makes me think that I will probably agree with him about the rest of his review. (of course, there are those who who will consid
  • Piers Anthony (Score:4, Insightful)

    by truffle (37924) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:33PM (#8343070) Homepage
    While much of what Piers Anthony has written is crap, he has written several books which I would personally consider good science fiction:

    * Macroscope
    * The Apprentice Adept (books 1-3 only)
    * Incarnations of Imortality (books 1-4 only)

    I'm omiting from this list books that were entertaining but not really good, and books that are clearly fantasy and not sci fi. Of this list only Macroscope is what I'd call pure sci fi, containing no fantasy elements, but it was really quite good, one of his first.

    Most of his sci fi is really quite tollerable and an enjoyable read. When in doubt skim the first chapter, and if the word panties is mentioned skip the book.

    I did of course also quite like his lighter fluffier stuff, it was a staple of my reading from ages 12-17 when I bought anything he wrote.
  • by Tim Ward (514198) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:39PM (#8343140) Homepage
    Grew up and realised that:

    most science fiction sucked

    Yes, of course.

    May I refer you to Sturgeon's Revelation [catb.org].
  • by rumblin'rabbit (711865) on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:41PM (#8343157) Journal
    Yeah, you're right. Most science fiction sucks. I have about 1000 SF books in my basement from my youth, and I find that few of them are readable now.

    My main problem is not the stories themselves, but the quality of the writing. That many of them are written for 14 year olds doesn't help (although this in itself doesn't make it poor writing).

    We need SF book for adults, for people who have actually become somewhat literate in their dotage. I know they're out there, because I own a few.

  • Author website (Score:5, Informative)

    by charlie (1328) <`gro.epopitna' `ta' `eilrahc'> on Friday February 20, 2004 @03:54PM (#8343304) Homepage Journal

    Hi there.

    If you want to read more of my stuff, there are some (older) stories on my fiction pages [antipope.org].

    If you want to know when the sequel, "Iron Sunrise", is due out (and the other books I've got coming), see my books FAQ [antipope.org].

    And there is of course the obligatory weblog, but because it's CGI-mediated and my server's decidedly on the elderly side I'm not going to post the URL here. (If you want it badly enough and you're clueful you'll find it :)

  • by StefanJ (88986) on Friday February 20, 2004 @04:37PM (#8343905) Homepage Journal
    This review had barely a thing to say about the book.

    Other than avoiding the Sci-Fi Comfort Food syndrome, how was it? Was it well based? Were the characters interesting and believable? Was the technology well worked out, or just wish-fulfillment stuff?

    While I agree with much of the reviewers ranting, I was really disappointed in this piece as a review.

    Stefan "More about the Singularity here! [wholeearth.com]" Jones

  • Try reading (Score:3, Informative)

    by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Friday February 20, 2004 @04:56PM (#8344218)
    "Permutation City" by Greg Egan.

    The year is around 2054 and rudimentary AI's are here. People have been digitized, but only run at the maximum allowed then at 1/17 time ratio.

    The book deals with spam filters (baneysian and adaptive ai - if the spam filter acts as you, is it really avoiding what you want?), AI, duplication of the mind, evolution, government.. There's some pretty heavy theory in this book.

    What I can tell is it's mainly sold in Australia and UK as mine's pried only as such. I got my copy at a 1/2 priced book store here in Indiana.
  • by DavidBrown (177261) on Friday February 20, 2004 @10:31PM (#8346943) Journal
    It's quite fascinating. I saw the article on /., and decided to read it. But most of the comments that have been highly moderated (forgive me, but I cruise at filter +2) are comments either attacking or defending Piers Anthony instead of discussing Singularity Sky and the talents of Charlie Stross.

    Why did this happen?

    It happened because the submitter, timothy, decided to attack Piers Anthony in his post as a target of opportunity, and the /. staff decided to let it in (assuming timothy isn't on the /. staff himself - I wouldn't know).

    Why was this attack posted? If timothy had submitted a post entitled "Piers Anthony Sucks" it wouldn't have been accepted by /. editors.

    At this point it seems that nobody cares about Stross's novel, which is a shame.

    For these reasons, I think that the /. staff should consider this story to be an example of a failure of editing, and should consider the idea that it's better to leave the personal attacks /. readers instead of posters and editors.

    • People discuss what interests them. I don't know anything about Charlie Stross, and I'm almost certainly not going to read his work. (My own interest in SciFi books ran its natural course back in my early teen years.)

      I don't care about Piers Anthony either, and indeed, I don't care to rate him good or bad, precisely because I don't care.

      I DO however, care about the same issue you care about; I find social patterns completely fascinating. Hence my commenting on your comment.

      People discuss that which fa

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