Two books I read recently:
Consider Phlebas is the first of Iain M. Banks “Culture” novels. The story is told from the the point of view of an outsider – someone working for the enemies of the Culture. He is a “Changer”, what we more commonly call a “shape-shifter”. His mission is to find a missing AI or “Mind” before the Culture finds it and he has adventures with pirates and various other interesting characters along the way. I was delighted when I realized that Banks has borrowed Larry Niven’s grandest idea, the Ringworld. Banks’ “orbitals” are smaller than the Ringworld but still huge and I want to go on a nice long vacation on one.
It’s a very interesting book and I will definitely read more in this series. At first it’s tempting to try to find political parallels in the real world. You have a technological society in which freedom is very important versus a theocracy. But after reading the whole thing I feel that to look at it this way is to greatly reduce a broadly interesting fictional universe. Here is the author’s long essay about the Culture, which I confess I have not read in its entirety.
I finished Vernor Vinge’s The Witling this morning. I bought both of these books in paperback to facilitate sharing. I love my Kindle but real paper books are much easier to share with the other members of my family who are all science fiction fans. I was disappointed that The Witling is very short – only 220 pages – but for this story it is an appropriate length. It is a simple, old-fashioned planetary adventure/romance. The author could have drawn it out more, added more detail, and I would have enjoyed it at least as much but as it is it’s a quick very enjoyable read that is missing nothing.
Two people, an archeologist and a space pilot are stranded on Giri, a planet with a feudal society in which most people have the ability to teleport. Those few people who do not have this ability are called “witlings” and are considered seriously handicapped and are generally looked down upon. Pelio, the crown prince of one of the nations on Giri is a witling, an embarrassment to his family and his country. The pilot, Yoninne, is described as having a “squat, slab-like body” but to the short, thick Girians she is tall and exotic. Pelio falls in love with her and helps the two reach a distant telemetry station where they can call for help. Of course there are many complications to make things interesting, including enemies who want to kill them and food that is poisonous to the stranded pair.
This book is fun and satisfying. If you’ve ever complained that “they don’t write ‘em like they used to,” you need to read it.