Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Accelerando" falls apart; have we not seen the "Light"?, by Sarah Keliher

There is a certain type of book review I detest—the smug, snide review, in which the reviewer demonstrates his own cleverness by ripping apart the book. I have always thought this evolved from our generation’s chronic pose of ironic detachment, which made it un-hip for us to admit we actually liked anything. If I read something and really, really hated it, I avoided reviewing it.
Part of this reluctance stems from cowardice. Book reviewers face the feudal dilemma of patronage, as too many bad reviews might mean less free books in the future.

All this aside, what happens when a really dreadful book makes it big, even get nominated for some fancy awards? Don’t I have the responsibility to say something? If I can convince the three people reading this to spare themselves the agony, shouldn’t I? All of these questions were brought to mind by Charles Stross’ latest novel, Accelerando (Ace). I had other, more book-related questions too, of course. Like, how did this get nominated for a Hugo? Did every other book published this year completely suck? Did any of these people read the (very) similar yet vastly superior Light (Spectra), by M. John Harrison? (If you’re reading this, indignant, because you read and liked Accelerando, run right now and find a copy of Light. Go.)

I’m not going to try to be snidely witty here.

Here’s what wrong with the book:
The characters are cardboardy and unbelievable. Stross is certainly clever, and his ideas are interesting. That’s not enough to propel an ‘inter-generational saga’ or whatever crap the jacket blurb described.
The aforementioned interesting ideas are mostly confined to massive infodumps at the end of each chapter, set apart from the story in bold, off-set font, rather than worked into the narrative in any sort of coherent fashion. I would rather Stross have written a very long article, or an essay, than to have waded through the skeletal ‘novel’ gracelessly tacked around his asides.
And while Stross is capable of being very funny, the humor in Accelerando is heavy-handed. In the future, for instance, people are still making jokes about Nigerian email scams. It lacks the effortless wit that made Singularity Sky (Ace) such a delight. It was hard to force myself to finish reading it, and I have to admit that I skimmed the last thirty or so pages.

In summation: read something else.

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