Skip to main content

Beyond the Aquila Rift (SF) - Alastair Reynolds ****

In an article I read recently, the author opined that would-be novelists shouldn't consider writing short stories as training for the craft of novel-writing, as the discipline is totally different. This is certainly true for most short stories - but, strangely, this collection by Alastair Reynolds (almost all on the long side as short stories go) is the exception that proves the rule. The majority of these pieces are, in effect, the seeds of novels.

Usually a short story will be a compact, self-sustained morsel of reading - a tiny delight, often with a twist in the tail.  These chunky pieces feel as if they could so easily be continued to fill out a full novel. It's not that they don't work standalone. This book isn't like reading a collection of opening chapter samples (thank goodness). The stories are satisfying as they stand - but cry out to be expanded. They're rather like the pilot episodes for TV shows.

I don't think this is a bad thing at all - there is some scintillating fiction here. But it did get a trifle overwhelming as the reader works through the 784 pages of this massive collection. I think I'd have preferred it had there been just a few of these pilot stories, and more snappy little true short stories. (There are a couple, but not many.) Real short stories may be limited in opportunity for character and world building, but they are miniature masterpieces when written well, and a lighter read than this collection proved to be.

Don't get me wrong. It's a great collection - it's just almost too much for one book, and when you're expecting the chocolate box delights of a short story collection, getting a meaty banquet can be overwhelming. Even so, there are at least half a dozen absolutely superb stories here and only one or two that don't quite make the grade. It's a remarkable collection. 

Paperback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …