Sunday, April 13, 2014

"A Talent for War" - Jack McDevitt

'Literary Science Fiction is sooo boring!'

There's just a little truth in this proposition, especially if your internal dials have been set by John Ringo. But relentless, shoot-em-up action palls after the second or third volume in the series and you begin to hanker after more intelligent, considered writing, which challenges you to reflect rather than just react.

"A Talent for War" indeed rewards thought. The plot is intricate, unveiled through back-story by unreliable narrators. Here's a summary from the Wikipedia article.
"A Talent for War is a science fiction and mystery novel by Jack McDevitt, the story of a search by Alex Benedict, the protagonist, to discover the nature of a mysterious project Alex's uncle had been working on at the time of his death. This investigation leads deep into the history of a war between human civilization and a neighboring alien civilization and challenges the foundation mythos of the current human government."
Critic John Clute observed that the author "wrestles valiantly with the task he has set himself: that of imposing an essentially contemplative structure upon conventions designed for violent action. He comes, at times, close to success."

The story consciously revisits the epic struggle of King Leonidas and the 300 at Thermopylae. I enjoyed it a lot and therefore decided to get the next in the series, "Polaris".

A novel of similar style is the intriguing "A Bridge of Years" by Robert Charles Wilson.

I also finished up the second of the Sprawl trilogy, "Count Zero" by William Gibson - another novel with complex plotting and a deeply-imagined hinterland. Naturally I now have to hand the final volume, "Mona Lisa Overdrive".