Thursday, August 5, 2010

Revelation Space, Hidden River

I finally finished Revelation Space, which I previously wrote about here.  It was a fun read, mostly because it gave me that mind-blowing feel that only science fiction can give, of a universe where all sorts of crazy things are possible.  As science becomes more and more esoteric, I think it becomes ever-harder to write this sort of sf correctly but still keep it comprehensible for the lay reader.  (Reynolds is already on pretty thin ice by the end, where he talks about space-like particles switching places with time-like particles inside the Schwarzchild radius; I've read enough physics books to know what he's talking about, but I'm sure most readers haven't.  The thing that saves him there, I think, is that it's a couple of not-so-important pages in a 580-page tome).

Reynolds also has all the problems of "classic" sf, particularly in his characterization, which is pretty flat. Looking at the amazon reviews, it seems that this aspect of his writing doesn't improve, while his imagination gets more decoupled from real science, which seems like a lose-lose situation to me, so I guess the search for great sf continues.

I don't know if Adrian McKinty originally planned for his Dead trilogy to be a trilogy, but in any case, he interrupted it after the first book to write Hidden River, and Hidden River offers an interesting comparison to Dead I Well May Be.  Before I start on that, I should make clear that Hidden River  is an impressive novel in its own right, and doesn't need to be coupled with Dead.

Both novels are about an intersection of Ireland and the US.  Hidden River spends much more time in Ireland than Dead (as well as a crucial bit of time in India), but its center of gravity is Denver. Alex, the hero of Hidden River seems to know a lot about US politics for a recent immigrant, down to the difference between Senators and Representatives, which bothered me a bit, but it does give McKinty space to poke fun at US politics from an outsider's perspective, and it's handled well.

Both books are very heavy on the foreshadowing, Hidden River even more than Dead. I must say that I found it annoying after a while; it's as if McKinty doesn't trust the reader to remember that John is going to die, that everything will go to hell in a hand-basket.  It seems McKinty may have decided the same thing, since the other two Dead books have this aspect much more under control.

I loved the ending of Hidden River, more than any of the Dead books.  It doesn't have the visceral satisfaction that they have with the violent denouements in each case, but its made up for in believability.  When characters get into a shooting-match against incredible odds, there's always a feeling of unreality when they emerge unscathed, no matter how skillfully the author orchestrates things.  By opting for a quieter ending, with much of the Mulhollands' downfall off-screen, McKinty leaves the focus on Alex's character arc, as well as closing on a more realistic note.

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