Having talked about what I love in sci-fi and how my history with the genre has mostly been through TV, I thought I would talk of some space opera books I have recently and what I think of them.
The three books are:
- Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (1987)
- The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (1988)
- Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds (2000)
They are all highly rated on Goodreads as you can see from the above links and all are regularly recommended as great examples of the space opera genre. So with that in mind some of what I’m about to say almost feels blasphemous.
I did not like Revelation Space, Consider Phlebas was okay but I did really enjoy The Player of Games.
Revelation Space failed the 100 page rule for me. The setting seemed to be very thought out and with a lot of depth to it, but the characters and story just weren’t doing it for me. Of the three main protagonists only one felt like they had any depth, the rest felt quite flat. The plot was moving at 100 pages but still didn’t seem to be fully into the main part of the story yet.
I also had a big problem with the amount of technobabble and (what felt to me) needless description in the book. Lots of new terms are thrown at you without context in many cases which I found confusing as I had no idea what they meant or if they were important enough. Some were explained further in but it felt like a lot was being dumped on the reader and not in a good way.
With the description, there was a section where two whole pages were devoted to describing the layout of a single spacecraft. Later chapters went over this again so it very much felt like it being explained for the sake of explaining it where the information could have been given to readers over many chapters in little snippets instead of one big section. Hitting sections like that slowed me down a lot, there was nothing about the story or characters for two whole pages it was just description.
Consider Phlebas I got through to the end. I definitely enjoyed it more than Revelation Space, the story flowed better and I was interested in it from the start. It was an interesting romp around part of the Culture universe and it was a nice introduction to the Minds, the benevolent AI that basically run humanity.
However the characters also felt a bit flat in this one, they lacked depth. The story also rambled at times; it seemed to be more interested in showing of all the interesting locations that had been created rather than moving the plot and story along. By the end it felt like a third to a half of the book could have been cut out with no adverse effect on the overall story and would have improved the pacing a lot.
It was a decent book for me, but almost put me off the rest of the Culture books as I was worried that many would be as rambling as this. Luckily I decided to give them one more try when I saw The Player of Games on sale and I’m very glad I did.
This is the kind of book I love. A strong story and character in a rich and believable setting that grabs your attention and holds it until the end. Every scene helped tell me more about the plot or the central character and both had more depth to them. I loved it and read it at every opportunity I had until I had finished it.
I feel like I’ve mostly talked about what I don’t like and not much about what I do, but talking about what turns me away from a story or what makes me put a book down I think is a good way to also say what drags me in and makes me fall into the story a book is trying to tell.
- Characters with depth – People are fascinating, and people drive stories forward. Characters with emotion, with believable motivations and goals, imperfect people with flaws as well as strengths give readers someone to get invested in. Someone to care about as the story goes along.
- A story that makes you turn the page – Every scene in a book should move the story forward or tell you something about one of the characters. Stories that go on huge side tracks that don’t add anything to the plot or help add more depth are unnecessary. There is a lot that can be done to add more to a book without irrelevant story arcs.
- Great world building as a setting not the focus – I love world building, god knows I’ve spent a lot of time on that over the years on various projects, but that should be done to create a believable setting. The reader does not need to have everytihng you have created explained to them nor should the story detour just to show it off. Good world building should be almost invisible as it adds believability and depth to a story, it should blend in.
- A story anyone can read – Making up new terms can be great and all, but readers need to know what is going on. I can’t help but feel that some science-fiction books are relying on readers prior knowledge of the genre to understand some of what is talked about, which just makes them hard for new readers to the genre to get into. Technical terms and made up words should be used sparingly. In most stories the characters will understand what is going on, so should the reader. Call a fork a fork.
So there we go, my thoughts on recent books I have read, and more elaboration on what I like in science-fiction stories. Hopefully this will give an indication of what I am aiming for with my own books.