Monday, June 28, 2010

The Hormone Jungle

Robert Reed

A lot better than the title, cover and side-blurb would lead one to expect, since these seem oriented to make it seem a sub-Heinlein Heinleinesque story of male virility and adventure. In fact, what’s produced here is in fact a worthwhile story and engaging science fiction. However I didn't like this nearly as much as most of the Reed I've read, most of the characterization didn't seem as good, and while I was caught up in some interesting situations I didn't feel very connected to the plot. It’s there, it works reasonably well on its own terms, but it doesn’t seem to connect enough to a true sense of relevance. By the end, in particular, I felt less a sense of climax than a desire for a score-card to look through and seen where the different sides had ended up.

What does work great is the setting, showing a real grasp of scale and casual mind-blowing viewpoint. A well developed solar system, two trillion people, casual use of an artificial afterlife and transhumanism, creative variety of societal conditions. It’s a future that’s smartly enough framed not to be definite, to contain a strong measure of variety and flux along with its unifying structures. The general tone of the future is a kind of faintly baroque grandeur of scale, a picture of society effective enough at carving out new territories off planet to give expression to many contradictory groups and subcultures.

This book more than most of Reed reminded me of Vance, partly because sexuality did play a focus, but on the whole I find Reed's worlds more solid and inventive if not with nearly the same brilliance of detail. The actual story is a bit lacking for this one, but in the end it still has a level of creativity and plausibility that can’t be found in many other writers.

Worse than: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
Better than: Friday by Robert A. Heinlein

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