Monday, June 23, 2014

This Doesn't Bode Well. But it Tropes Nicely.

I’m eight pages into “The Long Earth” by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and can already tick the following off the long list of science fiction clichés:

Displaced protragonists.
Socially-anachronistic displaced protagonists.
Multi-dimensional planetismals.
Technobabble meant to explain the multi-dimensional planetismals.
The absent-minded professor spouting the technobabble and other little tid-bits meant to advertise hey, Absent-Minded Professor.
Comically disguised superintelligence.
A shadowy pseudo-corporation bent on taking advantage of the multi-dimensional planetismals.

I will continue to read, because TERRY PRATCHETT. Who wouldn’t continue reading? But I’m leery. Co-authoring. That typically doesn’t bode well. Sure, Stephen Baxter also brags in the liner notes that he co-write a book with Arthur C. Clarke. But so has Gentry Lee. Remember Rama II? If you like turning down the volume on Clarke’s typical with wondering awe jaws-agape science fiction with a Michael Crichton let’s-inch-up-the-terror killfest, then you probably do remember Rama II.

You have to expect a certain amount of trope and cliché from any novel, but sci-fi is a genre that unfortunately lends to them more readily (second only to fantasy). Some of the tropes and clichés are handled quite well, while others, well, are there because they’re expected, not because they’re artfully done.

I suspect, unfortunately, that this book will be much of the latter.

Good sci-fi is about the IDEA – Clarke’s 2001 was about extraterrestrial intelligence forming, and then re-contacting, life on Earth; Azimov’s Bicentennial Man was about artificial intelligence becoming self-aware; Chevalier’s Cyborg Harpies trilogies was apparently about an android that discovers feelings. And I love the IDEA behind sci-fi. Character is secondary to the IDEA – note the complete interchangeability of the characters in Rendezvous with Rama, totally overshadowed by the IDEA.

Sci-fi doesn’t need quirky characters – or if it does it’s for window-dressing. But the curtains shouldn’t conceal the IDEA. We’ll see what happens with the IDEA here.

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