Rapid Fire Book Reviews: Reality Dysfunction Part 2, Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Titan

I have a few book reviews on the back burner, but I realized that I don’t really feel like posting a full article on each of them. So I’m going to roll them into a single post like I did once before. I’m posting these book reviews here for several reasons:

  1. I love to read, and this blog is basically about thins I love so it would be silly not to include it
  2. I’m always looking for good book recommendations, and every time I post a book review I get “if you liked this, you should check out that” type of responses in the comments which makes me happy
  3. I know some of you folks don’t read fiction on a principle, but I keep hoping that if I expose you to these good (or bad) SF titles you might be tempted to pick one up at some point

So yeah. Those are my reasons. Now, on to the reviews.

Reality Dysfunction Part 2: Expansion

If you have been following this blog for some time, you might remember my rather positive review of the first part of the book. It was not the greatest piece of literature I have read, but it was somewhat original and interesting. Alphast warned me that it does not get any better than that, and he was right. Hamilton has some good ideas and opens up some very interesting plot lines but he often fails to capitalize on them. It almost seems that his universe would actually be more interesting without the possessed who are overpowered to the point of being boring.

For example, I really enjoyed the idea of a colonist group on a maiden world being subverted from within by a former cultist serving his “jail” term as a forced laborer. Quinn Dexter was over the top evil, but the idea was quite good – this clash between group of idealist searching for a better life and cynical, hardened criminals who were nevertheless ensnared by charismatic demagogue. Of course shit hits the fan, possessed appear and the planet becomes some kind of dream-like realm full of phantasmagorical beasts, buildings that don’t exist and armies of mounted bulletproof knights who can shoot energy beams out of their eyes.

Joshua Calvert graduates from an endearing underdog to a walking paragon of perfection. It is really hard to root for a guy who can’t do no wrong, gets the girl every time and is exceedingly cocky about it too. Most of the characters are flat, one dimensional and stereotypical like that. Calvert couldn’t be more awesome if he tried, while Dexter is so fucked up and evil, that even the souls of legendary psychopathic murderers, villains and baby killers of previous centuries are scared and repulsed by him. The plot develops at a glacial pace. Which is actually quite an accomplishment considering Hamiltons fast paced narrative. I noticed for example that he very much likes to go on tangents and introduce new characters which he will then follow for for 20 or so pages, describing their experiences in painstaking detail only to have them die or be possessed at the end never to be heard from again. Then he turns around and glosses over crucial plot points – such as a visit to the alien village. What should have been a major development becomes just one of the few stops during a crazy escape sequence, with hordes of angry enemies chasing the heroes.

There are two more books left in this series, but I actually didn’t even bother picking any of them up.

Divine Invasion

Divine Invasion is technically the second book in the theologically themed trilogy of Philip K Dick, that starts with VALIS. It is not a sequel or continuation however. It does not even take place in the same universe for that matter. It is by far the most Science Fiction themed of the three books. Unlike the other two it includes space travel, powerful AI, paranoid totalitarian nation states and etc. Of course it also contains Yah – a god (or the God, depending on how you look at it) who was banished from Earth, but tries to reclaim it by being born as a human child. Sadly, the child suffers severe brain damage, and forgets his true nature until he meets a mysterious girl that helps him to remember. Of course all of this might actually be a bad hallucination experienced by a guy who is sleeping in a cryogenic fugue waiting for a spleen replacement. Dick dives into mystical gnosticism, muses about the nature of divinity and faith itself and never really bothers telling readers what is real and what is imagined or hallucinated. It’s trippy, thought provoking and awesome. You should read it.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

This is the third book in the series started by VALIS but just like the previous two it stands alone, sharing no characters or plot elements with the other two. In fact, the book is not even Science Ficton. If you go to a book store, you will of course find it in the SF section among other Philip K. Dick books but it is not really where it belongs, because it contains exactly zero fictional elements. It is a story about life, death, coping with loss and about irrationality in face of a tragedy. It follows Angel Archer, a young woman who is a friend to a popular, Episcopalian bishop, and a wife to his son. When her husband commits suicide it puts both the bishop and his mistress on a downward spiral that eventually leads to their deaths. A fate that Angel sees coming but is powerless to stop. It’s a story about guilt, religious zeal, faith, fate and insanity. It is the examination of the thin line that divides rationality from pathological irrationality, and how easy it is to cross it.

It is the most coherent, down to earth and possibly the best written out of the three books. The plot unravels slowly, and the story is contemplative and philosophical. It will not blow your mind the way VALIS and Divine Invasion did. It does not feature shocking plot twists or crazy revelations. It’s just a damn good book.

Titan

I picked up Titan by John Varley along side Reality Dysfunction and Startide Rising because it was in the same batch of reviews I have read. It starts of as hard SF but quickly devolves into almost a Fantasy story as the group of astronauts explores gigantic alien made habitat that is orbiting Jupiter. This artificial satellite turns out to be inhabited by many intelligent races such as friendly centaurs and aggressive winged “angels” that seem to be at war with each other for reasons neither side seems to understand. Neither of these races seems to posses the technology required to build the structure or even maintain it – though most seem to worship or at least venerate some sort of mysterious god-like entity that seems to at the hub of the station. Since the astronauts crash landed on the station losing their ship, contacting this entity or at least reaching the control center of the station may be the only hope for their rescue.

It is a decent read, with some pretty good ideas. Varley is pretty good at describing his wacky alien world an its inhabitants, though the friendly singing centaurs with two sets of genitals were a bit jarring. The ending is a bit underwhelming too. The author spends a lot of time building up to this final reveal, which turns out to be a classic wizard of Oz scenario. Then everyone sits down, drinks some tea and listens to plot exposition that explains how the habitat really works.

Titan is for the most part a decent SF/Fantasy adventure novel. It is not ground breaking or mind shattering in any way. But it is a decent read. I think I enjoyed it a bit more than Reality Dysfunction sequel. Unlike Hamilton, Varley does try to give his character some psychological depth and make them quirky, conflicted and interesting. Supposedly the saga gets better in the later books, as he describes even weirder sections of the alien habitat and its effects on the newly arrived human inhabitants. I might pick up the next volume at some point just to see if he goes anywhere with the ideas he established in the first one.

As usual, book recommendations are greatly appreciated.

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5 Responses to Rapid Fire Book Reviews: Reality Dysfunction Part 2, Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Titan

  1. Hexren GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Just read ‘Acacia: Book One: The War With the Mein’ by David Anthony Durham quite liked it. It isn’t sf though but fantasy.

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  2. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t already recommend Anathem, by Neal Stephenson, in one of my previous comments. If I did, please forgive me, and if you haven’t bought the book, please run and buy it. It is science fiction, yes, although it is not that relevant. Let’s say that the action takes place in an alternative universe on a planet looking a lot like Earth, but that’s where similarities stop. The use of language, ideas, philosophical and political original creations is baffling in this book. And yet, the author hints all the time at the fact that this is only a fable conveying a message. I said a lot of action, and I meant it: people who read only the first three chapters might be forgiven to think I am totally gone nuts, because nothing at all seems to happen in these first chapters. But after that, the story begins to take on pace and keep on accelerating until… well, I’ll let you read that.

    One word of warning though: it is not easy to read at all. The fact that the author pretty much invented an apart “language” and several philosophy sets just for the book (and the sake of the argument) make this 800+ pages novel a very hard one to follow. But it’s plain awesomeness. And the jargon he invented is so good that I caught myself use some of his word creations in English conversations… ;-) Pure pleasure.

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Hexren:

    What is it about though? I know I could google it, but it is always interesting to hear a recommendation from someone who liked a book. Not to mention that it is much less likely to run into a blatant spoiler this way. :)

    @ Alphast:

    When you say he invented his own language is it like A Clockwork Orange or Riddley Walker type thing?

    I tried to read the former a long time ago, but I remember that the faux Russian vocab was tripping up all sorts of internal reference errors for someone with a Slavic heritage. Riddley Walker on the other hand reads like Youtube comments. No, seriously – go check out the few pages available on Amazon. It is like reading “The Internet”.

    But yeah, it sounds interesting. I will definitely check it out, as long as it is readable. I don’t mind books that have extensive jargon or invented languages. :)

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  4. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Well, I am not familiar with any of these two. But Stephenson is a linguist and writes in beautiful English. His words are either coming from the English language, but twisted in weird ways, or from Latin or Greek. Simply said, these words look perfectly normal, they are either used with a completely different meaning and etymology (usually conveniently provided by the narrator) or are different words which sound completely English but don’t actually exist. But the author is clever enough to chose words that may well have existed, provided the evolution of language had been different… which is only one of the numerous “what if” which are all over the book.

    The best example is the title: Anathem. It normally means exclusion, of course, but not in the book. In the book, he twisted it to mean a chant (which the word could actually mean) by twisting it with the word Anthem which has the same Greek root. And of course he makes it a ceremony of being sent out of a convent. Which convents are called “Maths”. Because monks (called “fras” in the book) are actually not religious persons but scientists and/or philosophers. And so on, and so on…

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  5. Hexren GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @ Luke Maciak:

    Kingdom is overthrown by an emeny banished generations ago, the king manages to send his children into hiding before dying.

    The story is about how the children try to win back the kingdom years later.

    The World seemed, to me like an interesting variant of a standard fantasy setting.

    :)

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