Finished both American Gods and Absolution Gap now; both very enjoyable for very different reasons, and very clever/dumb for others.
American Gods, Gaiman’s exploration of what it means to be America (not really an American, but the spirit of the country, kind of thing, only less wishy washy and crap than that – something more visceral), sees a war between the Old Gods and the New. The Old Gods being those from the Norse, Egyptian, Hindu, Amazon etc., Pantheons (there are about a thousand references I didn’t get through inadequate knowledge of different mythologies and faiths) and the new, predicatably, being Media (who at one point takes the form of the eponymous character in “I love Lucy” and offers Shadow, the human protagonist, “a flash of Lucy’s tits”), Technology and the like. The novel twists, turns, flips you upside down and carries you in a kind of bewildered haze, much as it does to Shadow, the book’s hero. Shadow (we learn no other name for him), fresh out of prison and recently broken to the news that his wife has been killed in a tragic car crash, finds himself adrift. Circumstance, fate, and scheming manipulation lead him to the mysterious Mr Wednesday – and chaos seems to break loose. Other than an occasionally wavering narrative structure (Gaiman likes his set pieces a bit much), the book is deeply entertaining and really quite moving at the end, even if an absence of any real faith in anything and a lack of experience of America and the American Dream made it difficult for me to fully appreciate, I got the sense there was something big there, something good.
Absolution Gap, the fourth in Alistair Reynolds’ Inhibitors series, is a brilliant hard-science fiction novel for the first 500 of its 550 pages. Reynolds completely loses the plot in the end; Deus ex Machina utterly ruins his careful and brilliant characterisation and plot development, and he concludes a series which could have gone on for another entire book in 50 disappointing pages. The plot of this series is, essentially, (and bear with the far-fetchedness, it is science fiction, after all), that a group of black cubic smart-robots (or something) called the Inhibitors, have detected humanity’s presence in the universe (through the actions of a particularly precocious human, Dan Sylveste, in an earlier book in the series) and have concluded that they are at the threshold of self-destruction. That is to say, they have reached a point of Spacefaring where it is inevitable that they will eventually turn all their technology on each other and lay waste to the universe. To that end, the inhibitors (or whoever created them) deemed that it would be necessary to blank the slate by “inhibiting” the further development of the species by the methodical elimination of every single human. Absolution Gap sees several of the protagonists from the earlier books in the series battle the inhibitors and find the only forces in the universe that can stop them. Lovable characters include Clavain, the “Butcher of Tharsis”, Scorpio, the man-pig warrior, Remontoire and Skade, Conjoiner “Spiders”, and Captain John Branningan, who’s sentience has been absorbed into the galactic cruiser (Lighthugger) the “Nostalgia for Infinity” following a nasty case of the Melding Plague. Apart from anything else, Reynolds has a great talent for spinning out memorable names.
Anyway, I’d recommend the former to anyone, and the latter to anyone who likes Sci-Fi and has read and enjoyed the (generally superior) preceding novels in the series.