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Ninebelow
ninebelow
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February 2013
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Ninebelow [userpic]
Learning The World

coalescent closed his review of Ken MacLeod's Learning The World by saying:

It accurately announces a novel characterised by unpretentious sophistication, subtlety and wit—a novel that is a joy to read, and that may be Macleod’s most satisfying work to date.
I have to say I found this novel as deeply unsatisfying as his Engines Of Light trilogy, and for much the same reasons. In his response immortalradical said:
However tightly structured, gently written, and carefully plotted this novel is, it is the literary equivalent of a renovation that adds a dado rail to a room and pretends to have entirely transformed it.
Is it really tightly structured at all though? MacLeod is the man responsible for re-structuring Iain M. Banks' Use Of Weapons and hence giving us one of the best SF novels of the Nineties. Increasingly he seems to have given up on such carefully plotting, hopelessly overloading the front of his novels and then frantically trying to catch up with his conclusion. There is lots of nice world building - both on the alien planet and in the colony ship - at the beginning of the novel. To sustain this, to tell two in-depth stories about believeable people in two complex societies, would require much more space than is available. This results in a preposterously compressed second half where characterisation takes very much a back seat. This is particularly bad when, as in the colony ship sections, it is coupled with MacLeod's unhealthy love of revolution. The fracturing of the colony ship is so ridiculous it is hard not to read it as a cautionary tale of the danger of libertarians in space but I'm sure this is not the way MacLeod intented it.

So, all in all it is another disappointing novel from MacLeod. His style is highly readable and I don't find his wordplay over powering but I do find them increasingly messy. In the end I agree with Dan:
Learning The World is ultimately an old-fashioned pulp story with added emotional intelligence. In that sense, it’s an entertaining, nicely written update of something we might have read in a dog-eared Amazing anthology. I have no problem with this—it’s kind of fun. I enjoyed the book on this surface level—it’s an easy read, a bit of fluffy amusement.
BSFA Tally: 1/5

Comments

1. Wronghead!
2. I hope the March meeting doesn't just end up as you three replaying arguments you had on LJ ahead of time. I'd quite like to go in not knowing in advance what the conclusion's going to be. Just sayin'.
3. I'm pretty sure there are only five novels on the BSFA shortlist.

I'd quite like to go in not knowing in advance what the conclusion's going to be.

One person commenting on this journal commissioned a review of one of the panel books from a member of the panel. Hint: it wasn't me.

I'm pretty sure there are only five novels on the BSFA shortlist.

One less to read!

One person commenting on this journal commissioned a review of one of the panel books from a member of the panel.

... three months before the shortlist was announced. :p

One less to read!

Or, you could be conscientious and read the Clarke nominees as well, for comparison purposes.

2. I hope the March meeting doesn't just end up as you three replaying arguments you had on LJ ahead of time. I'd quite like to go in not knowing in advance what the conclusion's going to be. Just sayin'.

Yeah, I was thinking about this - given that my views on LtW in particular and Air a bit are well known by some, I was thinking it was worth being careful. Having said that, we're not Clarke judges and I see no reason to be sekrit about our opinions, particularly as the point of the panel is going to be to encourage debate from the floor filtered through the panel, rather than simply us holding court.

But you don't want me to talk for a paragraph or two about 9Tail Fox later today, do you? ;)

The only question I have is whether 9Tail Fox any better than Stamping Butterflies?

Personally speaking, I'd be ok with knowing which ones you think suck and which ones you think don't, especially since I'm not really expecting you to like any of them, but I'd save most of the why for the panel itself. After all, you don't want to give me too much of a chance to prepare my counter-arguments, do you? :p

Whoa whoa whoooaaaaaa there, hoss.

You're going to be debating your wrongheaded views on literature with actual words and shit? I thought it was going to be mud-wrestling. I'm not coming now.

Is it really tightly structured at all though?

Not really, no (hence the equiovacal construction of my sentence). But in the interests of giving Niall's argument at least some credit, I assumed some of what he said was in any way defensible. :P

Good to see the plan is going to, er, plan so far.

The Righthead Brigade is out in force today. Good, innit?

The daughter of time is truth, my friend.

If this is available to borrow, might I swap it for Vellum? :)

I've just read Newton's Wake and want to find out if MacLeod gets better or worse. There was indeed impressive world-building, but the set up in the first half was so damn slow that I had to force myself to continue. Characterisation was a bit meh, and the second half was exhilarating but rushed. So, er, for much the same reasons you didn't like LTW. Is it worth the effort?

Newton's Wake = Macleod for dummies.

If this is available to borrow, might I swap it for Vellum? :)

It's Niall's so you'd have to ask him. Are you actually telling me you've read Vellum? I'm impressed, I thought I wouldn't see it back for five years.

PS I rate MacLeod's The Stone Canal if you've not tread that.

It's Niall's so you'd have to ask him.

As long as he's not going to scribble in it in crayon, or something.

PS I rate MacLeod's The Stone Canal

Well, we agree about that one, at least.

Are you actually telling me you've read Vellum? I'm impressed, I thought I wouldn't see it back for five years.

Er, not yet, but I fancy my chances with the MacLeod if only to be able to participate in its takedown discussion at the BSFA AGM.

I've already read The Stone Canal and I still think that it's his best book. Which reminds me that I need to read the third and fourth book in that series at some point.