November 11th, 2002

The Monday Morning "Weekend Fun With Explosives" Review: The Octagonal Raven

L. E. Modesitt, Jr is probably best known for his Recluce Saga fantasies. However, his SF has remained consistently interesting, driven by visions of sustainable futures where justice and peace are the keys to growth and happiness. These are books that move beyond the typical concerns of SF, dealing with the societies that may evolve after ours collapses iunder the weight of over-consumption and ecological disaster - and how these new societies deal with issues that threaten a new collapse.

The Octagonal Raven is, at heart, a conspiracy thriller. Centuries after the world rebuilds itself after a catastrophic ecological collapse, nanotechnology and genetic engineering have created a high standard of living, and minimal ecological impact. But all is not well in heaven. Someone has been trying to kill Daryn Alwyn, and he needs to find out just who and why. He's not a powerful man, having rejected his inheritance for a life as a starship pilot, and now works as a consultant to media companies. But his family is powerful, controlling the world's largest communications network. As attempts on his life mount up, Alwyn finds himself on the trail of a subtle coup, one that looks set to ultimately destabilise his society, turning it into a world rulled by a self-selected genetic elite. How can one man discover just what is going on, and how can he stop the conspiracy from succeeding and destroying the future? And how can he make a difference if he knows that his chosen path will result in the deaths of thousands?

Modesitt's futures are intriguing places: obviously descended from our Western secular worldview, but sufficiently different to give us a sense of culture shock as we read his books. This approach does make them difficult to enter, it'll take a 100 pages to get into a Modesitt novel, but then once you've grasped his detailed society, you can navigate your way around the story with ease. The Octagonal Raven uses a mix of flashback and current events to set the scene in the first half of the novel, dropping into a linear timeline in the second half. This technique helps grasp the mix of alien mystery and human darkness that drives the plot engine on and on to a complex ending. Modesitt is a master of the moral dilemma, of the shadings between light and dark that cloud our lives and drive us away from the hard choices that may have to made in order to preserve justice and peace.

This is an intriguing and (dare I say it) clever novel. Not as instantly gripping as it might be, the story builds to a satisfactory climax, while completing an ambitious world building exercise. If you've thought that Modesitt only wrote blockbuster fantasies, then this is a book that may well add his SF to your bookshelves.
  • Current Music
    Radio 4 - Today

Ten years ago on this day in history: 11/11

1992 - General Synod of the Church of England votes for the ordination of women in the UK.

1992 - Bobby Fischer won his re-match with Boris Spassky in Sveti Stefan, Yugoslavia.

1992 - Michael Moorcock book signing at Waterstones, Bath, UK. This event was attended by the Bath SF Group. It was also where I met marypcb, who I'd been exchanging email with all day, after she replied to a posting of mine in alt.callahans.

That was ten years ago today. On this day in history we're happily living in the East Putney Museum of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Comic Art, along with our four cats...
  • Current Music
    The Alan Parsons Project - I, Robot - I, Robot

More subtle electronica for green_amber

The first Boards Of Canada CD, the 6-track EP Hi Scores has just been re-released.

Like their later works, this is a selection of ambient soundscapes: slabs of pure electronica sliding like plate tectonics of sound, deep and glacial slow movements across the stereo picture. Six pieces that point the road to Music Has The Right To Children and Geogaddi.

Wonderful stuff. Intelligent music for that chill out moment.

And Twoism is due out on the 25th...
  • Current Music
    Boards Of Canada - Hi Scores - Turquoise Hexagon Sun