Monday, November 17, 2014

The Causal Angel, a review...

The past two weeks have been less productive than I would have liked. My Josephine (more on that name) is giving my imagination too much to process. Most of its creative power is going to the current situation. The only silver lining is that these experiences will fuel the fiction that will become Tommy and Me, which I'm working on after The Wizards...

The Wizard of Santa Monica is coming along though. It's not the pace I would like, nor is it the quality I would like. However, if there is one thing I am proud of it's that I'm an excellent revisionist.

***

"The enemy is death." That is an idea that resonates throughout the novel. It is interesting that while the characters certainly are "alive", theirs is not the kind of living that we would identify with here in our century. This novel does a good job of bringing otherworldly science and our own theoretical physics into one sphere that is not very understandable!

However, if you can get past that, then the confusing science creates a mesh of world-building that seems almost mystical.






Overview:

Author: Hannu Rajaniemi
Genre: Science Fiction

Premise: The legendary thief, Jean LeFlambeur and a young Matjek Chen must overcome numerous obstacles to rescue Mieli from the Zoku and prevent the Sobornost and the villainous All-Defector from finding the Kaminari Jewel (which grants certain individuals the power to change the universe).



What didn't work for me:

This novel could have done more philosophically. The Causal Angel is a very thin book, compared to the other two, so I thought it had space to muse on certain philosophical issues. The main question of identity is never really delved into.

Really, when you exist alongside other copies of you, what are the consequences for your identity? Are you still you if there are fifty of you walking around and more of you can be created? If the Self becomes digitized, is it still 'Self' or 'Community' since the information that makes up 'Self' is no longer unique? Is your humanity just a collection of quantum states that can be copied and recopied? And what about the question of Nature vs. Nurture when there are multiple copies of you that are you, but with new and unique life experiences to shape them?

All of that could have been looked into. Rajaniemi plays with some ideas and the plot occasionally wanders into that territory, but for the most part it is left untouched.

A consequence of not truly exploring this issue is that it made the ending feel like a cheat. I won't say what the ending is, but it leaves open the possibility of more Jean LeFlambeur stories, though I'm not sure if I can invest in the character if a new copy can continue on with the series...

It's a shame.


What worked for me:

Everything else worked for me. Some of my favorite elements were these:

There is this tease in the beginning where young Matjek Chen reads the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia and complains that everyone dies. So, I thought, they are all going to die by the end of the book. But that's part of the playfulness of the story: If you can self replicate or be 'saved' like videogame progress, can you truly die? And what's more, young Matjek Chen is horrified at his older version's infamous accomplishments and by the fact that he will become that when he's older. But will he become the very thing that horrifies him as a child? Who knows. This is a digitized human.

The world, as always, is a pleasure to explore. This time the action takes place in a number of environments like deep space and several planets, like Saturn. Though the focus of the world-building is spread apart, you never truly feel like you've been cheated. There is enough here to give a satisfying setting for the story and plenty of room for it to grow (oh, vast amounts!).

The Kaminari Jewel is an element of the book that truly belongs in a Fantasy novel. Yet, the author manages to keep it in the realm of theoretical physics and quantum mechanics. Unless you study the things the author has studied (and understood it), the science will be confusing. This was a negative point in the last review, but this time it works to the novel's advantage. The jewel itself is a pseudo-magical artifact that grants unimaginable power. The mystical texture comes from the confusion the reader will likely experience when the narrator explains the science behind the jewel.

Here, I also wanted to note that the storytelling is a Science Fiction take on the old way of telling stories, the serials of old where the main character did not have to develop permanently, only as long as the adventure lasted. Rajaniemi adds a twist. His main character learns things, but he is just a copy of a Prime version. Each new copy (for future adventures I'm guessing) will start from scratch without the benefit of the previous version's experiences. Whether or not the Prime learns from his copies is left a mystery.


Overall:

This possibly could have been a longer work with more of the great things that made the previous two installments memorable.

It did feel a little light in content, but that helped since the science fiction exposition can drain you substantially if you read it for long periods of time.

If you're a hardcore Science Fiction fan and have an Engineering degree or have studied physics, etc., then you will get more out of this than most readers who have not. I'm almost tempted to read about this stuff even more just to see how that layers the story.




LC