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23 August 2015 @ 04:33 pm
Absorption by John Meaney  
At Eastercon in 2014 I found myself on a panel with John Meaney (on `How Smart is my Smartphone', or possibly `Why isn't my Smartphone smart?' - I can't quite remember) who was one of the guests of honour. I was pleasantly surprised to find he was a bit of a program verification and functional programming enthusiast on the quiet. It seemed only reasonable to buy one of his novels, therefore, which all seemed to be in series so I picked Absorption which is the first of the Ragnarok Trilogy.

I actually really enjoyed it, though I may have gone in with fairly low expectations since "the author seems like a nice guy" doesn't necessarily translate into deathless prose.

It's not very stand alone. As I understand it the trilogy has three main protagonists, Ulfr (a Viking), Gavriela (a jewish scientist in 1930s Europe) and Roger (A university student on the futuristic world of Fulgor - also a spy). This volume focused primarily on Roger and the events on Fulgor which were relatively self-contained, took place over a few weeks and came to a fairly clear climax, if not conclusion. However numerous other plots, not just those involving Ulfr and Gavriela, but also a handful of other characters were left hanging, no doubt to be concluded in later volumes. The overarching story that binds these characters together across time (and seems to involve Norse mythology, Quantum Mechanics and Wormhole Physics) was largely only hinted at.

I liked all three main characters and while they occasionally did stupid things, it was generally for good reason. Even with all the temporal jumping around, the story maintained a pretty good pace and I cared about what was happening on Fulgor. I also liked the ideas: the Pilots, the only people who can navigate through hyper mu-space; Quickglass, the flexible material that pervades Fulgor and out of which everything is built; the artificially "upraised" Luculenti (even if the code snippets we got, illustrating how they worked, were a little cheesy).

If the book has a flaw, it is in the details of the world-building though. Neither the futuristic societies of Fulgor or Roger's people (the Pilots) feel quite detailed enough, and the historical detail of both 1930s Switzerland and Germany and 9th century Scandinavia also feel a little sketched in. This is most noticeable with the supporting characters, many of whom are pretty two dimensional. Given its a pretty chunky book already, it is possibly excusable that the detail is light for characters like Roger and Gavriela's student friends who exist largely to demonstrate that the characters have a social life. But its a bit of a problem with more siginficant characters. Roger's mother, for instance, is present throughout major portions of the book but we learn virtually nothing about her beyond that she is a loving wife and mother. We don't even find out what she does with her time, she appears to be a Stay-at-home-Mum, but given Roger is now at University and she lives in a society where your house redesigns (and presumably cleans) itself, one assumes she has hobbies and interests. She is also a Pilot, like Roger and his father, but she apparently has no ship. Roger's father is vaguely shunned by the Pilots because it is (incorrectly) believed he has no ship, but his mother is not shunned so presumably she has a ship? or I don't know, I can think of details of the society which would explain their different treatment even though she has no ship, but I don't think its there in the text. If she has a ship then parts of the story (particularly her somewhat inevitable fridging) would have played out differently.

Still, despite a vague irritation that some of the details don't quite mesh or are glossed over too much. It was an enjoyable read. I even have vague plans to purchase the next two in the trilogy.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/167780.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on August 23rd, 2015 03:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the review. I will bear them in mind, although I already have stacks of unread books, and the last thing we need* are yet more books filling up the house.

*But one of the first things we want.
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on August 23rd, 2015 03:57 pm (UTC)
There's a reason its taken me over a year to get to this!!!

One of my current vague projects is trying to figure out how to fit more reading time into my life. I'd like to be getting through the to read pile faster, even if that inevitably means I will also fill it up faster.
wellinghallwellinghall on August 25th, 2015 07:54 pm (UTC)
I, too, have a similar aim.
louisedennislouisedennis on August 23rd, 2015 03:57 pm (UTC)
And maybe you should wait the year or two it will take me to get around to volumes 2 and 3 - see if I like the whole trilogy!
wellinghallwellinghall on August 25th, 2015 07:51 pm (UTC)
Good idea!