Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Chocolate & Vanilla Books

There's a new shuttle mission about to launch to the ISS (STS-122). NASA has launched a new web site design that must be incredibly popular because it won't even load for me. Mars is getting closer every night. The Geminid meteor shower is coming soon. So much going on in space, and I don't have time to keep up with reading about it, let alone to write much about it.

But I have had quite a bit of airplane and hotel time, which for me is pretty much book time. My current book is Encounter with Tiber, a 1996 SF novel by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes. It's a near-future first contact story, among other things, and I'm mostly enjoying it. The narrative doesn't exactly flow, because it is interrupted by numerous asides on rocket engine specific impulse, base-8 arithmetic, radio astronomy, and myriad other special subjects. Of course it's not unusual in the "hard SF" genre to teach your readers what they need to know to understand your story, and who better to describe moon landings and EVA's than second-man-on-the-moon Dr. Buzz Aldrin? I'm interested in this stuff, so these digressions don't bother me, though if you read the Amazon reader reviews, you will find some one-star reviews written by people very much bothered by these detours in the story line.

I had a very different reaction to Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. This was one of those airport impulse buys, based on lots of positive review quotes in the book, and the fact that I generally like Gibson's work (starting with his 1984 classic Neuromancer). This one takes place in the present, and it's got "edgy" writing, but it's all about fashion, brands, totally uninteresting details, and totally unappealing characters. I forced myself to read 84 pages hoping that something interesting would start to emerge, but it was just bloody awful stuff. It's not SF but I don't care about that - I just wanted it to be about something I could care about.

A few Amazon reviewers agreed with me (a generous one-star-out-of-five), but the majority felt that it was a perceptive and wonderful novel about our modern wired society. To me it was just boring. I'm guessing that many of those 5-star reviewers would find all the space-related details in Encounter with Tiber just as boring as I found Pattern Recognition to be. That, as they say, is why they make chocolate and vanilla.

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