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Friday, June 08, 2007

Ze books I am reading.

It's been a while since I have posted about which books I am reading.

Not much new, in fact, I haven't had the time to finish Dr Tatiana's (now a TV series!)yet, which is OK for casual reading since it's made of short letters. It usually makes my cess-pit-stops (can I say this on a blog?) more interesting.

And, to celebrate the start of my Mechelen-2-Turnhout daily commuting, I have started reading Stephen Baxter's Exultant. A book settled 28000 years in the future, in the Xeelee sequence as one of his fctitious universe is known. I previously read Timelike Infinity:

Set thousands of years in the future (5407AD), the human race has been conquered by the Qax, a truly alien turbulent-liquid form of life, who now rule over the few star systems of human space - adopting processes from human history to effectively oppress the resentful race. Humans have encountered a few other races, including the astoundingly advanced Xeelee, and been conquered once before - by the Squeem - but successfully recovered.

A human-built device, the Interface project, returns to the solar system after 1,500 years. The project, towed by the spaceship Cauchy, returns a wormhole gate, appearing to offer time travel due to the time 'difference' between the exits of the wormhole (relativistic time dilation), with one end having remained in the solar system and the other traveling at near lightspeed for a century. The Qax had destroyed the solar system gate, but a lashed-up human ship (a great chunk of soil including Stonehenge, crewed by a group called the Friends of Wigner) passes through the returning gate, traveling back to the unconquered humanity of 1,500 years ago.

I also read Ring, previously, where the Xeelee sequence kind of come to an end, at least in this universe. I did skip Flux, since, even if the premise of the book looks cool, with microscopic humans transcribed on a neutron star's surface used as weapon against the Xeelee Ring, it doesn't strike me as enough interesting to build a whole book out of it. May be I'll recover it later.

But let's get back to Exultant. Humankind has been at war with the all-powerful Xeelee, princes of the creation, for the past 25000 years, and the conquest of the galaxy has stalled all around the Galaxy core for some 3 thousand years or so. The part I've read until now is all about the struggle of few humans to find a new way to hit the Xeelee, exploiting a time-travel computing machine able to overcome the computing power which is apparently the Xeelee's single greatest advantage over humans. And here, in my humble opinion, start the problems. I can imagine a war lasting 28 thousand years. I can understand that the whole society gets restructured and forced by this prolonged state of war, as so many resources are devoted to destructive means and not to improving humankind's condition. Still, the world depicted by baxter seems to me grossly unrealistic - their technology seems to be pretty advanced, yet their fundamental science seems to be still stuck at our times. Also, I really can't believe that in 25 thousand years of FTL fighting, nobody else ever thought about the FTL-CPU. Mah... The lost technologies seems to be lost forever, as in the ability of humans of 20000 years before to create exotic matter and wormholes. It would be like us complaining that nobody today knows how to make a decent spearhead out of a piece of rock. For sure I don't right now, but if I needed one, I'd learn how to - in fact I know how hard is to get obsidian's arrowheads since I did try this when I was a teenager. The character in the book seems to be dumb, compared to today's humans.

Also, if the Xeelee are so powerful, how come that we managed to get hold of the whole galaxy, just with stolen technology? And how come that our competition hasn't spurred the Xeelee to improve their own technology? I really can't envisage a 3 thousand years long stalemate, not without at least an attempt to armistice. And if the xeelee really think of us as vermins, why on hell they didn't sterilise Earth before we took off to the stars? Mah...

Other than that, the book offer the usual assortment of nice characters, albeit stereotyped and not as well developed as those from, for example, Peter F Hamilton books, whos story doesn't push that far in the future, but certainly looks more realistic.

In general, I probably resent Baxter incredibly pessimistic view of aliens. I mean, I am no Star Trek fan, for sure, but really can't imagine that the Xeelee would not ask for other races help rather than trying to accomplish what they're up to on their own. And I really can't believe that an alien race would subjugate us just because they can, wiping out our ecosystem - I mean, one thing is to decimate human, this could also be OK. But if I were an alien, I would make sure that I kept as much as I can of Earth biology base intact, if nothing else 'cause some strange compound may turn out to be useful to me.

Even worst is the way humans treat their home planet. Ok that the Squeem, then the Qax made a mess out of it. Ok that most of their ancient knowledge has been lost, after thousand of years of occupation. But seriously, do you really think that we would drill down to the core of Earth to get Iron out of a deep gravity weel when so much of it is available for the grab in countless asteroids all around this system and other that we can easily accesswith our mighty spaceships? Please Stephen, be serious and check your economics.

All in all, I still like it enough to push until the end, hopefully it'll get better.

(edit: why is it so easy to review a book, and so hard to write my goddamn papers?)

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