Alastair Reynolds, Pushing Ice

I'll never find this to be definitively my genre, space opera, but I'm pleased to have finally read something definitively belonging to said genre so I can make sense of the term. As it turns out I'd read a few things from it before, but I hadn't heard the term until recently, so I hadn't gone to look it up. Even the most casual browser of this blog sees the patterns in my reading - environment, poetry, local fiction, nonfiction (usually memoir that has something to do with either environmental or social justice).

Making it highly logical, then, that I'd go read me some space opera.

Alastair Reynolds, according to the Times blurb on the cover of Pushing Ice, is a "mastersinger of the space opera." I don't know about that, since it's far from clear to me quite what Ian Cadman of the Times meant by that appellation, coined for a previous Reynolds novel entitled Redemption Ark, but this novel is, as they say, a ripping yarn. (Or as the back cover puts it, "a deep space adventure story with a scope as big as the Galaxy itself." I'm quietly pleased there wasn't an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence - good sense for that sort of thing, the Brits.) Grand gestures, grand feuds, grand crises successfully negotiated, grand themes very easily summarized, a small group of idiosyncratic core characters: yeah, it actually could make a decent opera.

As much as I enjoyed it, though, it's not at all why I read. I admire real opera as well, but it's not something I'm keen to see. It worries me that I may be more wedded to realism than I'd like, but that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Admittedly I'm a neanderthal who can't get past the idea of singing throughout one's real life, ie can't suspend my disbelief enough to accept the genre's founding assumptions, but with theatre I'm usually seduced by the actors, and in opera I just can't connect. With this novel, similarly, I tired of the plot eddies and of the narrative logic, and I found myself wishing hard for a little quiet time with one or more of the characters. I didn't want comic relief, just relief from the pressure of narrative, but it's not the kind of genre where I'm going to get that.

Science fiction, in its many modes, is a real pleasure for me, but I don't find it as rewarding as my usuals. A nice diversion, though, as the semester gets rolling!


Anonymous said…
I've only read one novel by Alastair Reynolds- 'Revelation Space', and I had a similar desire at times for the unremitting drive of the narrative to hold up for a minute. But I wonder whether you've got a rather narrow conception of science-fiction qua genre when you say that it's not as rewarding as many of your other diversions.

As I see it then Atwood, Ballard and Vonnegut have all written science-fiction and you get a fair amount of characterisation in their novels. Isn't 'Girlfriend in a Coma' also science-fiction, and I take it that counts as a book you do or would find rewarding given your enjoyment of Coupland.

There's a fairly common tendency for people to be scornful of science-fiction (not something I think you do in the post I hasten to add), but I think often the object of the scorn is bad science-fiction, in which case the claim that sci-fi is deserving of scorn becomes rather tautological.
richard said…
Oh, I don't agree that I have a narrow view of science fiction when I say it's not as rewarding for me as my usual reading - I did say "[s]cience fiction, in its many modes."

There's plenty of science fiction that I like better than plenty of poetry, Canadian fiction, or environmental nonfiction, but on balance, I'd choose one of the other modes. There's not much nuance in the ways I'm thinking of these classifications!

It's like saying I prefer TV to the movies - extremely broad strokes, but not necessarily wrong (or meaningless) for being so.
Anonymous said…
Ah, good, sounds like we're in agreement.

Reading your original post back I see that much of the criticism is with space-opera specifically, and I must say that I'm harder pushed to think of a single example of what one might class as a literary novel from that sub-genre.

I guess I'd also class the Reynolds' book I read as hard sci-fi, and much of the pleasure I get from reading such books is not the sort of please I get from reading regular fiction, but rather the pleasure is in the ideas that are on display. Perhaps in the way one might enjoy a Borges short story, although Reynolds is a far cry from Borges, and certainly the latter has a literary style to his writing that is absent from the former's.

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