A historian reads about the future

First of all, how fun is it to play with photo effects? This seemed like a good book to do this for–it feels all futuristic and neat to me.

Anyway, this is the third Alistair Reynolds book I’ve read, and they continue to be enjoyable, even if I only come back to one every couple of years. My college roommate gave me these a few years ago when I was in his wedding, and while he continues to read sci-fi voraciously, I have largely moved away from it for whatever reason (I think partly just because I read so many different things, rather than heavily in one genre–except history, of course). I do sometimes forget how complex and well-written these stories can be, which is fun to rediscover. But I was contemplating what I like so much about these kinds of books, and realized that in part it’s the interweaving of backstory. In this case, Reynolds is coming up with an invented history that spans billions of years and multiple galaxies. In particular here, though, his story concerns the repercussions of the Dawn Wars, which pitted multiple varieties of space-faring intelligent life against each other over millions of years, ultimately destroying each of their civilizations. The conflict gave rise (I think I missed exactly how) to the Inhibitors, tasked with monitoring and destroying advanced civilizations before they can wipe out other intelligent life or engage in a new total war with each other. In the story’s more immediate past, humans are the most recent species to advance to the stage that might compel Inhibitor action, and indeed have divided into several technologically differentiated factions competing for supremacy (they’ve long since left Earth, though the recent division has roots on Mars a few centuries previous). One faction has established a colony on Resurgam, a planet whose terraforming process has revealed the remains of an ancient civilization of avian-like beings who mysteriously disappeared–victims of the Inhibitors, as it turns out. So it’s a totally invented history, which is maybe why I think it’s so totally fun, and may explain why I have so much more tolerance for Neal Stephenson’s work than do many of my friends (I thought the first 200 pages of Anathem were totally well-spent). Anyway, I have two more Reynolds books on the shelf, so something to look forward to there.

I also recently knocked out Oliver Potzsch’s The Poisoned Pilgrim, the fourth book in his Hangman’s Daughter series. It’s historical fiction, which can be kind of fun, but which I also frequently find kind of clumsy. I really enjoyed the first book, but I’ve felt like subsequent efforts have become more heavy-handed (I can only see comments about the strange new magical fad of coffee so many times, or the comments about stubborn women, before I get really irritated). Not sure I’ll read another, but it’s been a good run.

I also just started Kostya Kennedy’s 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports (told you I was all over the place genre-wise). It’s baseball season, so what the heck.

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