Well for a blog that is supposed to be multi-genre and focused on epic, this is completely the wrong book to start that off with. Its bad timing partially, but going into this I knew that epic isn't a genre so much as a trait shared by many genres. Epic action, epic horror, epic survival, epic romance...any one of those could be featured here. So trying to pick out which ones will fly with the theme and which one's will fall is a challenge (and then there are the books which I know won't be epic, but which I want to read and review anyway; maybe a separate account for them)
So what I've decided to do is give my reviews (from now on) an epic rating and a general rating and see how that works.
So....on with the review.
The plot begins with the funeral of the protagonist's grandmother, Alex, a 190 year old woman who was a charismatic scientist, researcher, leader and pillar of the solar system's community.
We're introduced to Swan Er Hong, our protagonist, an artist who formerly designed 'terrariums', hollowed out asteroids used for transport, agriculture, livestock, vacations, and the housing of wildlife no longer sustainable on Earth (which has been flooded due to greenhouse effect; agenda much?). She's also a resident of Terminator a city on Mercury which rolls along a track to stay in the habitable shadowed side of the planet while the other side is routinely baked. On one level, I can relate to Swan; she's fiercely independent, impulsive, and she doesn't like being like everyone else. Despite that I didn't really care for her as a character, even though I'm often similar.
Robinson is quite thorough with his character development, something that tends to lack in many things I read these days. He doesn't stop with just the main protagonist either. For example, the book features an inspector whom I continually pictured being a miniature Hercule Poirot (there is a sort of class of people in the novel referred to as smalls). Robinson's descriptions of the surroundings, the various planets and cities that the book visits, are likewise very verbose and the imagery evocations all of this brought me were a joy to read.
Swan is soon set off on a meandering journey that includes stops all over the solar system in places like Venus, Mars, Titan (a moon of Saturn) and, of course, Earth. This is unfortunately where things go bad. You see there's precious little to do with the overarching conspiracy plot for long periods of time, spanning many chapters in between the interesting parts. In between this stuff whats going on? Well she's flying around on terrarium through space poaching animals, trekking through an underground utility cavern beneath the surface of Mercury with her pal Warham, and re-populating Earth with animals from those terrariums in space. Now some of this might sound interesting, I mean I get it, caverns on Mercury? Cool, I guess. But Robinson turns things that should have been 3 or 4 pages at most into 15 or 20 page chapters sometimes. ***** this man has an indelible grasp on boring.
Near the end, the conspiracy plot picks up finally, but he still manages to make it boring (there is barely even a hint of action within this book) and when the conspiracy is finally unearthed and figured out, it turns out to be pretty damn lame for a futuristic sci-fi novel.
He does introduce some interesting ideas. The idea of hollowing out asteroids for travel and agriculture and whatnot is creative and I don't think I've ever heard of it before. At one point he even discusses a 'sexliner'. Its a terrarium for well, you get the idea, (designed to look like a caribean resort, no less). I wanna see that happen in the future. The idea of a moving city that has to stay in the shade is pretty neat too. While we're at it, Robinson also seems to have a thing for making up new gender lines and sexual identities many of which sound weird and interesting (unfortunately, most of them are not discussed within the book). The list includes feminine, masculine, androgynous, gynandromorphous, hermaphrodite, ambisexual, bisexual, intersex, neuter, eunuch, nonsexual, undifferentiated, gay, lesbian, queer, invert, homosexual, polymorphous, poly, labile, berdache, hijra and two-spirit.
General rating: ***1/2
EPIC: 1/2 (if that)