I’ve recently been consumed by books. There is always something around to read and often 4 or 5 books will be in progress strewn about the house and office. But lately there have been a string of absolutely wonderful novels to keep me entertained and thinking.

Darwin’s Radio and Darwin’s Children, by Greg Bear.
The Stars my Destination, by Alfred Bester
Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr.

Continue on to read my much longer than anticipated comments on them …

Darwin’s Radio and Darwin’s Children, by Greg Bear.

Bear is often mentioned as part of a group of “new” SF authors and I picked up Darwin’s Children on a clearance table. It had just peaked my interest when I realiizd it was the 2nd part of something, but decided to forge ahead anyway. The story didn’t suffer, and it was interesting reading the first book with an eye towards the storyline of the second.

One of my main criteria for good science fiction (Bear prefers “speculative fiction” I believe, but these novels are definately hard SF) is the strength of the core idea. Like Asimov’s concept of psychohsitory in his foundation novels, or Clarke’s ideas of evolution and racial memory in Childhood’s End, a great concept can almost make a book by itself.

These books have a core idea that absolutely grabbed me. It was interesting from a technological or scientific perspective, but even moreso from a societal one. The idea of how technology affects society fascinates me, in reality and fiction.

On top of that it doesn’t hurt to have good characters and great writing. It had been quite some time since I felt so invested in fictional people. And Greg Bear appears to be a writer in every sense of the word. That impression is from the book, as well as a brief introduction he wrote for his anthology of short stories. If you’re at all interested in the craft of writing you should check it that introduction.

The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester.

I picked this up from a “staff recommends” display at Bookmans. It’s yielded a few great reads, and definately scored on this one.

Like the Darwin books, it introduces a fascinating new idea with big societal implications. But the book is quite plainly an action novel, one that keeps up the pace and pulls you in.

What intrigued me about the book initially is that it was written in 1956. The introduction, by Neal Gaiman, notes how most sci fi becomes extremely stale very quickly. His claim was dead on. Short of references to a negro girl, and lumping lesbians in with examples of scum of the earth, the novel doesn’t really feel dated.

Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr.

I picked up The Alienist, by the same author, again from the Bookman’s staff recommends table. It’s not typically a genre that appeals to me, but I like history, and I like fiction, therefore I would like historical fiction right? I haven’t tested the theory on other books, but it certainly held true for this one and even more for Angel of Darkness.

The story isn’t very remarkable for its ideas (although it has some high points) but it’s a thoroughly engrossing story. At one point near the end I actually shouted “Yes!” when the story took an unexpected but pleasant turn.