2001: A Space Odyssey, Alastair Reynolds, Arthur C. Clarke, Blog, Blogging, Fiction, Google, Iain M. Banks, Journal, Literature, Peter F. Hamilton, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

Journal: Google Hangouts discussion with Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds

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This evening I watched a Google Hangouts discussion with three science fiction authors I have now known for a long time, though only one in fact that I am highly familiar with in terms of their actual writing. Names within genres are always thrown around, and if you spend any sort of time in the SF genre you will soon enough come across these three: Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, and Alastair Reynolds.

It is wonderful when you get three giants of any kind together (and these three are certainly giants within the SF genre) and so much fun, as opposed to dryness, is the result. Here are three forward-thinking visionaries of a genre of writing that has always been at the cutting edge. As Reynolds points out, the term gas giants that we use for the likes of Jupiter and Saturn, were born in the SF novel, not the laboratory or science paper.

I was interested by Banks touching on the question of storing one’s mind in an artificial substrate (much like we see in his Culture novels) in order to scratch at immortality, and admitting that for him, at least, half-joking (but only half), it is simply a question of vanity. We all want to feel that something outlives us, even if it is not the same consciousness that transfers to the mind-storing device — which, to me at least, it would blatantly not be, but that is for the philosophers to argue over.

For Banks, who is very sadly no longer with us, he wanted to believe that his work would outlast him, something I suppose that is common enough to all authors: the desire to leave a legacy, a body of work. As Banks points out, two people are required to make a child, but it only takes one person to create through the process of writing.

Reynolds compares SF in its written, or prose, form to hard drugs. There is nothing else that can bring about quite the same effect on him that good prose can, not even for the most part increasingly dazzling television. Interestingly he makes one exception, or at least goes as far as to name one in the moment, that being 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interesting because of all the sci-fi I’ve ever watched, 2001 is the only one (at least that I can think of now as I’m writing this) that carriers with it a quality of the very best and most accomplished written SF prose. Granted, it was written by Arthur C. Clarke, but still it is quite a rare accomplishment. It retains something of the spirit of literature, brought forth in the medium of film (with such powerful appreciation for both mediums, making it a masterpiece of modern SF).

Although I have yet to read much by Hamilton (I did years ago begin one of his sizable SF books, but misplaced it as I was traveling in China at the time), he is someone I intend to get round to eventually. Certainly as a fan of the genre, it would be impossible to skip him. Plus he’s a fellow Brit, and I think Brits produce some of the best SF writing around. He may not have made any stand out comments that come back to me right at this moment, but I paid close attention to everything he said in response to the Google host and questions from readers.

Speaking of readers, it is a reader who has been invited to ask a question that makes the point of how wonderful it is that our modern technology can allow for such social exchanges as this one here taking place on Google Hangouts, where the limits of physical distance are powerless. He himself was in Australia (could have been Spain, there were several readers invited with questions via webcam), the host was in California at Google’s home turf, and the three authors were seated in Google’s London offices.

I look forward to a future where giants like this can come together over a quality video link-up (as provided by the likes of the Hangouts service) and have a bit of fun, banter, and genuinely passionate discussion on the field of SF (or any other, for that matter). Sometimes I think we are halfway to living in the books they describe. And that’s a very cool thing indeed.

Be sure to check out the video for yourself if you’re a fan of either Banks, Hamilton or Reynolds, or the genre at large.

Alastair Reynolds, Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, Blog, Blogging, Excession, Fiction, Iain M. Banks, Inversions, Journal, Matter, Reading, Revelation Space, Science Fiction, State of the Art, Writing

Journal: Can Alastair Reynolds fill the black hole left by Iain M. Banks?


Science fiction books by Alastair Reynolds, including Revelation Space, which I am currently reading. Photo by blog.patrickrothfuss.com.

I woke up fairly early, around 8 a.m., and wasn’t in the mood to immediately continue reading Revelation Space, a sci-fi I started yesterday after finishing Ancillary Justice.

Instead, after a few minutes of lingering around the dim house, having just opened the shutters to allow in what early morning light was available, I stepped out into the garden and found one area, towards the back near the vegetable patch where several varieties of vegetables grow, already enjoying quite a bit of sunlight.

After perhaps 10 minutes in the garden, in both the bright and shaded areas, I returned inside. I may well have had my morning coffee at around that time, and probably opened up Flipboard or the Guardian news app. I don’t think I was yet ready to delve into Revelation Space by that point.

We drove out to a pizzeria nearby for lunch, and then dropped off some bottles at a recycling bank on the way home. We planned to take a walk through a nearby woods on account of the good weather, but decided first to come home, and then I made plans to mow the lawn instead, which in the end I didn’t do as the rain started, dampening the grass, something that would cause problems for the blades of the petrol lawnmower.

We are going to London in two days time. That is at least something unexpected. Tickets by train were extortionate — too bad, as we were going to make an enjoyable rail trip out of it, changing in Paris for the Eurostar — so we instead are going by plane with Swiss Air into Heathrow.

Issues around the talk of the town of late — the Scottish referendum that didn’t go through — has been a constant talking — and for my mum, reading — point over the last week. And it’s not just the Brits, as the world media has followed it all very closely. Even the Russians couldn’t keep quiet, calling foul at the first opportunity.

As to Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds, it is a style of sci-fi (space opera) that I think, for me, could replace the black hole left by the late Iain M. Banks when he so unexpectedly left the world last year, leaving behind, no doubt, a treasure trove of ideas, books that could have been but now will never be, set in his utopian universe of the Culture. I am enjoying Reynold’s style, storytelling and themes more than I did Ann Leckie’s acclaimed Ancillary Justice.

I find Reynold’s concept of the Chasm City (he also penned a sequel by this name, hence the bold and italics) very intriguing, as well as his Prometheus-esque dig on an alien planet unraveling long-lost secrets that wiped out the former planet dwellers 900,000 years ago, as well as the understated, minimal, yet powerful and evoking scenes on a long-transit star ship on which all the passengers but one are in ‘reefersleep’.

Don’t let me down, Reynolds. I’m counting on you. I do still have Excession by Banks to enjoy — supposedly one of his best, from what I’ve read and based on reviews over on Amazon — but after that I will have read almost everything in his Culture universe (almost, I still have his short stories in State of the Art and Matter, which is only very loosely Culture, plus Inversions which, again, is only so very loosely tied into that universe, disappointingly on both counts).

Alastair Reynolds, Currently Reading, Literature, Revelation Space, Science Fiction

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Reading status: Currently reading


Blurb: Nine hundred thousand years ago, something wiped out the Amarantin. For the human colonists now settling the Amarantin homeworld Resurgam, it’s of little more than academic interest, even after the discovery of a long-hidden, almost perfect Amarantin city and a colossal statue of a wingest Amarantin. For brilliant but ruthloess scientist Dan Sylveste, it’s more than merelty intellectual curiosity – and he will stop at nothing to get at the truth. Even if the truth costs him everything. But the Amarantin were wiped out for a reason, and that danger is closer and greater than even Syveste imagines…

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, Finished reading, Literature, Science Fiction

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Reading status: Finished

The record-breaking debut novel that won every major science fiction award in 2014, Ancillary Justice is the story of a warship trapped in a human body and her search for revenge. Ann Leckie is the first author to win the Arthur C. Clarke, the Nebula and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in the same year.

They made me kill thousands, but I only have one target now.

The Radch are conquerors to be feared – resist and they’ll turn you into a ‘corpse soldier’ – one of an army of dead prisoners animated by a warship’s AI mind. Whole planets are conquered by their own people.

The colossal warship called The Justice of Toren has been destroyed – but one ship-possessed soldier has escaped the devastation. Used to controlling thousands of hands, thousands of mouths, The Justice now has only two hands, and one mouth with which to tell her tale.

But one fragile, human body might just be enough to take revenge against those who destroyed her.

Finished reading, Iain M. Banks, Literature, Look To Windward, Science Fiction

Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks

Reading status: Finished


Blurb: After a harrowing battle flashback, the scene shifts to one of the Culture’s wonderfully landscaped, ring-shaped artificial worlds called Orbitals. A ghastly light is awaited in the sky from distant suns detonated in the war of Consider Phlebas eight centuries earlier; an occasion for sombre festivity, pyrotechnics, and a memorial symphony from exiled alien composer Ziller. Meanwhile another tortured member of Ziller’s race–aggressors and victims in that more recent civil war–arrives on a mission whose dreadful nature emerges through fragments of slowly returning memory. Elsewhere, in the exuberantly imagined airsphere home of floating “behemothaurs” almost too huge to imagine, the clue to what’s happening falls belatedly into inexperienced hands…

Father Goriot, Fiction, Finished reading, Honoré de Balzac, Literature

Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

Reading status: Finished


Blurb: This is the tragic story of a father whose obsessive love for his two daughters leads to his financial and personal ruin. It is set against the background of a whole society driven by social ambition and lust for money. The detailed descriptions of both affluence and squalor in the Paris of 1819 are an integral part of the drama played out by a wide range of characters, including the sinister but fascinating Vautrin. Unquestionably one of Balzac’s finest novels, Pére Goriot still has the power to move the modern reader.

Fiction, Finished reading, In Search of Lost Time, Literature, Marcel Proust

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

Reading status: Finished


Blurb: Swann’s Way is one of the preeminent novels of childhood-a sensitive boy’s impressions of his family and neighbors, all brought dazzlingly back to life years later by the famous taste of a madeleine. It also enfolds the short novel Swann’s Love, an incomparable study of sexual jealousy, which becomes a crucial part of the vast, unfolding structure of In Search of Lost Time. The first volume of the book that established Proust as one of the finest voices of the modern age-satirical, skeptical, confiding, and endlessly varied in his response to the human condition-Swann’s Way also stands on its own as a perfect rendering of a life in art, of the past re-created through memory.