space opera

A Second Read: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

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Upon hearing the sad news that Iain Banks will soon leave us, I picked up Consider Phlebas for a second read. I found the book just as enjoyable as the first time around, probably because it had been several years since I read it. I don’t read many books twice, and this one has its flaws, but it’s hard to find a more well-rounded piece of space opera. 
I don’t like Horza, the protagonist. He’s a reasonably honorable character, but too capable of killing without remorse. I do like the realistic portrayal of Horza. 
At the top of the list of Cool Things in this book for me is the Idirans, a tripedal religious-fundamentalist, galaxy-spanning military theocracy. Their anatomy/physiology is fascinating enough, but I cannot resist being drawn in by their throwback warrior culture. 
I’d wager Banks has spent some time between the covers of Thucydides’ classic The Peloponnesian War. I see the Culture as a fictional incarnation of ancient Athens with its internal freedoms and vast empire of tightly controlled states. The Idirans’ resemblance to ancient Sparta, a totalitarian state fighting against an all-consuming empire, is complete down to the Medjel race taking the place of the Helots of ancient Greece. I think the most excellent science fiction has roots in human history and politics, and the Culture novels are no exception.

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Kickass Space Opera, Anyone?

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J.D. Salinger is known to have said,“You think of the book you’d most like to be reading, and then you sit down and shamelessly write it.”
I think that is what James S.A. Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)must have been doing with LEVIATHAN WAKES because the world their characters inhabit is so beautifully, fully-realized.

What happens after humanity expands into the solar system, but before we reach the stars? Science doesn’t give much hope for a Star Trek-style ‘warp drive,’ but that’s not going to stop us from going after the mountains of valuable minerals floating around in our own solar system. LEVIATHAN WAKES explores a likely future in which this has been going on for a long time. Humanity has expanded out to the asteroid belt and the outer planets, established permanent settlements, and begun to physically adapt (one of the more amazing ideas in the book) to the new environment.

Space opera, especially of the military variety, is so often hard, sterile, and emotionless–all about hardware, revenge and flying debris. Though there is certainly plenty of that in this book, Corey doesn’t neglect the ‘opera’ side of the equation. That is to say, the characters’ emotions are present for duty. It’s not an overly sentimental book, but it is clear in every scene that these people want something. Some want to make their mark, some to make some money, and some want each other. It works, and it leaves me craving more.

This book is a seamless mashup of space opera, military sci-fi, horror, and detective noir. Now that I’ve read it, the book I’d most like to be reading is the second doorstop-sized book of the Expanse series, CALIBAN’s WAR. LEVIATHAN WAKES is the new standard in my mind for space opera.