A long way to getting to the point

This is not a space opera, and I need people to stop categorising it as such.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Chambers, Becky

ISBN-10: 1473619815

As titles and book covers go, it looks like a good read. I picked it up as it was recommended and was the only one on the list I could find for sale in Cork City. I bought it used from Vibes & Scribes. The blurb isn’t promising. It doesn’t give you anything new to enjoy. Essentially you could pick the plot up and plop it into a fantasy setting, and it’d work. This is why I don’t believe this book is Science Fiction but is instead just a book set in space.

In a round-a-bout way, Space Opera is partnered with High Fantasy. A story should encompass a threat to the world, not just the main character. In a Space Opera, the idea is big. It’s not just a motley band in space doing space things. It’s about an overly dramatic series of events affecting many people.

In this book, that isn’t the case. The point I decided to “DNF” the book I hadn’t even gotten to the story, which is my second issue with the book.

It reads like fan fiction—massive exposition and a lot of lecturing. When I meet someone for the first time, I don’t start at the top of their head and describe every point to myself on the way down. Likewise, I didn’t read a Wikipedia entry on their clothes choice, ethnicity, and why evolution gave them four ears.

So, if I were to remove the ample descriptions and the chunks of text better suited for the appendices, I would have DNF’d at the end of the first chapter instead.

It’s Year 8 English Language, and I’m sat alphabetically between a Pratt and a Reilly. We are learning about Similes and why they are essential in writing. “It helps the reader understand what the text is showing them by comparing it to something they are familiar with.” Said Mrs Peers. “It can be used poetically or as a metaphor.” Look, I was 12, and this was for the SATs and not some academic research paper.

My point is. A simile is meant to help me understand what is going on. Chambers, however, overuses them. Which is why I say it reads like fan fiction. Nowadays, I do not need to know what a small shuttle docking against a giant spaceship looks like. We might not have faster-than-light travel, but we are a space-faring species. However, I probably need a simile for a giant sea creature suckling a baby. I have provided the quote below.

“The deepod moved alongside the Wayfarer like some sort of aquatic animal swimming up to suckle at its mother.” p.15

It was an uninspiring read, which didn’t move me forward with each page. It didn’t start with a bang or get to the story. I had no love for any of the characters, despite being introduced to them like the opening credits of a 1970s sitcom. I’d give it a miss, but if Young Adult “read in the airport before your flight” books are your thing, with same-length sentences which march along like the steps of an escalator to nowhere, knock yourself out; it’s free on Kindle Unlimited.

The in grim darkness of the far future there is redundancy

I like Warhammer 40k. I like minis. I enjoy painting them. I like watching other people paint minis. And I like the lore of the world. So, as a science fiction fan, I decided to read the books. I asked a community I am part of to recommend some good reads. So here I am, 30 minutes into an eight-hour book, questioning my decision.

I have read military science fiction before, but it went poorly. It was so long ago that it seems unfair of me to review it now. But, safe to say, I’ve never read a good military sci-fi.

Cadian Blood by Aaron Dembski-Bowden tells of the plague of Nurgle settling in on a shrine world called Kathur (“I know some of these words”; I hear you say). I know my lore and am familiar with what’s happening, so jumping into this read was free of exposition. This book is Dembski-Bowden’s first novel and is (apparently) a Black Library classic. If that is the case, it doesn’t speak well of the other books on my list.

“The sky had burned for weeks. Literally, it burned. The fires of the fortress cities choked the heavens from horizon to horizon. Amongst the flames of the burning cities […].”

We are establishing here a place which is on fire. I understand the drama Dembski-Bowden is trying to portray, but the man needed an editor in 2009. It was at that quote I stopped listening. But it also reminded me of another quote I laughed at previously:

“Vertain was unshaven. As if he had spent so much time hiding within his Sentinal cockpit, he had not had the opportunity to shave in a week. This wasn’t too far from the truth.”

Before this quote, the character talked about walking through a destroyed city. Immediately after this quote, he radios his comrades. I don’t know when I needed to know about his 5 o’clock shadow. There wasn’t any direction to indicate he had touched his face or that the stubble interfered with a headset. Learning about his stubble didn’t move the story on. Was Dembski-Bowden trying a bit of show-don’t-tell? I might have done something like “… his stubble rasped under his gloves as he thought about a response …”

The story that wants to be told here is a good one. I know this because so many YouTubers who dabble in the lore of Warhammer can tell these stories well. The audiobook is thirty quid, but the book is only 6.99. Certainly not worth it. I have a few more books on the list which are more recent, and I am hoping that the writing has improved. The stories are fantastic; they need to be told better.

Post-Scarcity and Sarcastic Suitcases

Banks was not my first science fiction author. But he is now the one I scream at people as a recommendation. His Culture series changed my life. We always had the books, as my husband is the ultimate science fiction fan. And he was heartbroken when he learned of Iain M. Banks' death in 2013.

“Iain M Banks (16 February 1954 – 9 June 2013) was born in Fife and was educated at Stirling University, where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. […] He is acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation: The Guardian called him “the standard by which the rest of SF is judged” and the New York Times-bestselling William Gibson described Banks as a “phenomenon”.“ Iain Banks dot net / About

I broke into the series with the audiobooks. Audiobooks suit me better as I get older (shut up, my brain says I’m 28, but every other part of me is 38). I am a child of Radio 4 dramas and Sunday night story-time. It’s no surprise that I enjoy a good dramatised audiobook. Peter Kenny narrates the Culture series, a narrator I would walk through fire for.

The Culture series is listed as a ten-book series; however, only nine are complete novels. Some print Culture books can be used in self-defence or as yoga blocks.

The series introduces a post-scarcity society (of the same name)—which is the dream. The series deals with the interactions between The Culture and other underdeveloped and less forward-thinking civilisations. Though sometimes not immediately apparent, there is always a pie in which The Culture has its finger. The stand-out reason for my enjoyment of the series is the lack of lecturing. Modern Sci-Fi-Lite always has a point to be made, some very obvious social commentary as if you were a clown being hit in the face with a pie. I am looking at you, Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

Banks doesn’t sort people into houses and doesn’t present each character as if Banks is reading out their Top Trumps card. Why is this important to me? Because social commentary works best when it catches you out. I read these books, enjoy them, and then realise what they’re trying to say. Therefore making me question myself; why did I enjoy them? It isn’t a black-and-white judgement of humanity. We’re not talking about (again) Young Adult writing, which cookie-cuts out a villain for you as if they used TVTropes as a writing aide.

The Culture series is the definition of a Space Opera. There are big ideas, significant events, and prominent characters. The least of which are the AIs.

So, go on and get stuck in. Make up your mind about your favourites. Iain M. Banks has created a world you can get lost in for a few months.

Each book is wildly different, and I only re-read certain books. My top rated in the series are:

  • The Player of Games – ISBN 1-85723-146-5
  • Excession – ISBN 1-85723-394-8
  • Look To Windward – ISBN 1-85723-969-5
  • The Hydrogen Sonata – ISBN 978-0356501505