Monday, July 24, 2006

The State of the Art

I've been an avid SciFi nut for as long as I can remember. I've just finished Peter Hamilton's latest brick, "Judas Unchained", the final installment of the Commonwealth Saga, and it made me think. It's peculiar that with one or two rare exceptions, all worthwhile scifi written over the last 20 years or so appears to be British. Iain Banks. Neal Asher. Richard Morgan. Alastair Raynolds. Peter Hamilton - they all share that peculiar blend of truly imaginative space 'opera', ultra violence, believable hypertech, but with a strong political undercurrent, nearly always socialist. Canadian William Gibson arguably invented the genre, but since his earlier masterpieces he's shunned away from the harder stuff, concentrating on less elaborate, near future writing instead. American Greg Bear who certainly inspired Hamilton with the books Queen of Angels and Blood Music seems to have disappeared beyond the event horizon of his own black hole. I've found his latest books unreadable and dull.

So, without further ado, here's the Karma Police list of indispensible modern, British SciFi

Iain M. Banks - Excession

Banks' Culture universe is one of the most richly imagined, hugely entertaining and sometimes satirical. Excession is in my view the finest example, if nothing else for the ships' names alone.

Peter F. Hamilton - Night's Dawn Trilogy

A nightmare scenario, vivid universe building, extreme tech and mercurial characters makes this a must read. The 3000+ pages might put off occasional readers though.

Richard Morgan - Altered Carbon

Reads like a 'noir' thriller, with an unlikely antihero at its centre. A few other books feature Kovacs, but this is the best. The whole brain digital backup thing is similar to that proposed by Hamilton.

Richard Morgan - Market Forces

This one blew me away in its audacity, in a sort of Mad Max meets tomorrow's Financial Times kind of way.

Alastair Raynolds - Revelation Space

Hard SciFi of the finest pedigree, with all the right components - tech, space, digital warfare, alien artefacts. A remarkable debut.

Peter F. Hamilton - Commonwealth Saga (Pandora's Star, Judas Unchained)

A new universe of the same vast scope as his Night's Dawn works, but at the same time totally different. The man has a limitless imagination, it would seem. This universe is more benign, and humanity appears to have sorted itself out. Until..

Iain M. Banks - The Player of Games

Not for the squeamish. Another novel about the Marxist utopia 'The Culture'.


Chris Ayres said...

Man, are you bored...

I have to agree with your insights around Iain Banks though...

Andy G said...

Cheers Stef - good to have some Sci Fi recommendations. Although I did not get on with Alasdair Reynolds' Revelation Space. I think I did get through it in the end... just.

Agree: Iain Banks' stuff is generally great and his last one, The Algebraist really is fabulous. Phlebas is still my favourite though.