i have been gr friends with baby groot/bradley horner for a long time. long enough that he should know that i am of medium intelligence at BEST and that there are pretty clearly defined lines drawn around the things my brain can understand and the things that will pass through it as whole and unabsorbed as a buffalo nickel through a toddler. and yet he asked me to read this book, which is either very flattering or very cruel, depending on whether he thinks i have suddenly come to understand nanotech and space travel and virtual reality or whether he thinks i’ve still got some self-confidence that needs flattening. joke’s on him either way – i got none of those things.
as someone who is determined to channel my readers’ advisory training into an actual career (feel free to hire me!), it’s imperative that i explore genres outside of my comfort zone, and i actually enjoy the challenge of trying new things. but that doesn’t mean i always understand those things. science fiction and fantasy have always been my personal genre-hurdles. with fantasy, i struggle to keep all the unfamiliar bits straight – the invented names, topographies, social systems, rituals, languages, rivalries, and maps. oh god, the maps… with sci-fi, i just straight-up have no aptitude for science. biology, sure, i get you. genetics, you make sense. chemistry? i think we could hang if i took the time to get to know you better. but physics? cosmology? “quantum” followed by anything but “leap?” not in this brain, pal!
despite my repeated and very accurate assessments of my own limitations, people still overestimate my puny brain and assure me that i will totally be able to understand this book or that book, etc. and i keep falling for it. bird brian wanted me to read Blood Music by greg bear. i did. i did not get it. alfonso wanted me to read Midnight Tides by steven erikson. i did. i did not get it. brad wanted me to read this. i did. i did not get it.
if i’m feeling generous towards myself, i can write this one and the erikson off as people misunderstanding what is and is not a standalone book. you can lead a horse to water, or you can catapult it into the middle of a lake and see what happens.
despite what alfonso might tell you about you not needing to read the first four books in order to enjoy book five in the lengthy malazan book of the fallen series, whether you’re adhering to the malazan authors’ suggested reading order or the ultimate reading order suggested by members of the malazan empire forum series or the publishing date order, or whatever these ADDITIONAL reading orders are, ain’t none of them suggesting you start with book five. for a reason.
and it’s the same thing here. i’d be reading and trying to keep the worldbits straight in my head, but then i’d get to things like this,
”If we ever lose the eV, our very cells will be consumed by our nanotech, our bodies will be overrun by disease or sepsis, and even the plants growing between our buildings will die just as quickly because they’re just as augmented as us. Weren’t you just talking about water dominance? This is even worse. The eV and our need for it is absolutely everywhere thanks to our being overrun by the ábhar-cliste nanotech ever since the First Cryptocollapse. Do I need to even mention what it was used for?”
and i’m like YES PLEASE you need to mention it please!
because although this claims to be book one in a series, there are two books (Saul and Syzygy) that precede it, which would probably have gone a long way towards making me understand some of the concepts this book is pretty confident you either already know or don’t need to know, but which kept nagging at me because i wanted to know.
the good news is that it’s not all made-up stuff like “ábhar-cliste*,” “eV batteries” and “kilometers.” some of it is just a good old-fashioned coming-of-age story about a boy and a girl whose families are very opposed to the blossoming of their romance because of political differences of a magnitude befitting a space opera. and for the most part, i understood that – some of the politics is linked to historical situations covered here as a quickgloss and are probably more richly detailed in previous works, but star-crossed lovers do not actually involve astronomy, so at least i understood that part.
if you are smarter than i am, or if you have a better relationship with both science and science fiction, you probably won’t even be a little bit confused. i was so paranoid about missing something that i went back again and again, rereading big chunks hoping that some mental curtain would lift and i would suddenly understand all of the things. you are likely more confident and able to put unfamiliar things aside to reexamine later without getting bogged down.
i did try, but sometimes you try and you fail and bloop under the water anyway.
i appreciate the opportunity to read this, and i hope that someday neil degrasse tyson will come to my house in his little vest and explain how outer space works while spoon-feeding me chilled pudding cups.
thank you, mister horner, for your faith in my abilities. my shortcomings would apologize, but they are busy laughing at a rock that sort of looks like a butt.
*google informs me that ábhar-cliste is irish for “matter-clever.”