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Rapture: Book Three of the Bel Dame Apocrypha
Rapture: Book Three of the Bel Dame Apocrypha
by Kameron Hurley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.39
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but doesn't live up to Infidel's high standards, October 16, 2012
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Nyx is a protagonist who could've easily failed. A world-weary warrior, devastatingly competent, despised by most, and yet possessed of a certain soft side - it's been done before. Hurley pulls it off, in part by intelligently showing the effect that Nyx has on those around her. God's War is a good novel with unique, bugged out world-building, tense action, and some memorable characters. Infidel is a great novel, depicting the harrowing reunion of Nyx with her old crew, delivering more visceral violence, and asking some almost unanswerable ethical questions. Rapture is less effective than its two predecessors. Hurley has confessed that plotting is a weakness, but this is most apparent in Rapture, which sees Nyx extorted out of retirement to bring in another bounty.

The world-building has always been part of the appeal for me. Umayma, with its hostile environments, diversely grotesque insects, and constant warfare, is fascinating. Hurley has been accused of accidentally racist cultural appropriation, but I see her depiction of a centuries-long holy war between quasi-Muslims as being critical of religion in general, instead of targeting one group. As further revealed in Rapture, some nations in Umayma seem more Christian in nature, yet are just as dysfunctional. And the religious don't have a monopoly on violence - Nyx, an atheist, kills as much as anyone. Anyway, the world-building continues to shine in Rapture. As Nyx travels north, we gain access to the bizarre edges of Umayma, where blood-eating sand dominates the landscape and local potentates ride ant-driven chariots. We learn more about Umayma's history, and why it's turned out so bizarre. Wisely, Hurley continues to be economical in her approach to world-building, refusing to infodump and/or answer every question.

As previously mentioned, Rapture's plot is far from perfect. Nyx, living peacefully out in the Middle of Nowhere, is called out of retirement to track down an old employer/enemy. Her home country, Nasheen, is set to implode, now that the seemingly everlasting war is over. Personally, I'm somewhat wary of travelogues, and a large chunk of the book involves Nyx and crew trekking northward. As a character, Nyx is as good as ever, but it feels a bit as if we're treading over old ground. The handling of her relationships with others isn't really different from what we had in Infidel, where the interpersonal drama was more compelling. In particular, the handling of Nyx/Rhys will they/won't they is a little too familiar. Like in the previous books, the plot's resolution involves the revelation of political conspiracy. The problem is that we spend most of the book on a standard adventure, and when the plot winds down, all the intrigue is thrown at us in incomplete infodumps. The situation in Nasheen, bubbling on the verge of chaos with the war over and the vets home, should've been explored in greater detail throughout the novel.

Then we have Inaya, who's journeyed from meek self-loathing girl to confident, over-powered woman leading a shape-shifter's rebellion. In Rapture, there's a period where her story seems a little stagnant. She's stuck in one place, and Hurley doesn't give her anything terribly interesting to do. Inaya wants her rebellion to focus on peaceful tactics, and her enemies within the organization want to resort to violence. This is a conflict with potential, but many of Inaya's chapters are spent away from it.

Some will inevitably complain about the book's final pages, but I rather liked them. The end seemed appropriate in light of everything that had transpired. Ultimately, Rapture is an enjoyable book which continues the tradition of its predecessors. There's conflicted anti-heroes, unique world-building, politics, religion, and mystery. It's too bad that the plot is less inventive and less exciting than in God's War and Infidel, but Rapture is still a good book. Hurley's fans will enjoy it.


The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture)
The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture)
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.67
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spectacular entry. Banks hasn't lost it., October 2, 2012
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"Is it true your body was covered in over a hundred penises?"
"No. I think the most I ever had was about sixty, but that was slightly too many. I settled on fifty-three as the maximum. Even then it was very difficult maintaining an erection in all of them at the same time, even with four hearts."

Iain M. Banks's latest Culture novel is representative of almost everything that has made the series so great. There's enlightened interference, hedonism, spectacular setpieces, diversely characterized Minds, space battle, black humor, and outlandish foolishness (see the above quote). The book, like Surface Detail and Matter, is packed with detail from Banks's imagination, yet avoids the pacing and bloat issues that those two books suffered from.

The Culture, for those who don't know, is a post-scarcity civilization which features in many of Banks's sci-fi novels. One of its most notable features are its Minds, wildly powerful AIs with colorful names such as Smile, Tolerantly and Pressure Drop.

Similar to Excession, it's the Minds who take center stage. The Gzilt, an advanced humanoid civilization which almost joined the Culture way back when, are about to sublime. To sublime is to enter a sort of transcendent existence in another dimension, where the scope of your understanding and enjoyment can expand to levels unthinkable in the `Real." 23 days before the Gzilt's big day, an alien ship arrives bearing a somewhat controversial secret. The ship is destroyed, and ever curious Culture Minds opt to tackle the crisis. Vyr Cossont, a somewhat irreverent and obsessive artist on a `life-task' to master the nearly unplayable `Hydrogen Sonata,' finds herself on a mission to meet up with QiRia, the Oldest Man in the Culture, who may be able to shed some light on the aforementioned secret.

In Excession, an elite group of Culture Minds collaborated to deal with a potentially galaxy threatening event. Here, the Minds are amusingly aware that their mission could end up completely pointless, yet they interfere anyway. The word `matter' is somewhat of a buzzword in this novel (ironically, it's probably used more than in Matter). Does the Culture's interference matter? Does the Truth matter? Does it matter whether or not we're in a simulation? Do civilizations matter? Does anything matter? Different characters, from a previously sublimed Mind to QiRia himself, offer interesting perspectives. The result is that Banks provides some thought provoking commentary on the nature of meaning in an ancient galaxy populated by thousands of civilizations only minor blips in the scale of history.

But it's not all philosophy. This is a very fun book, from the setpieces to the humor. The Minds are as funny and witty as ever. I don't want to describe any of the more remarkable settings, as to do so would lessen the impact of reading about them for the first time. Banks's imagination is in full force here, and once again he delivers on a satisfying climax which takes place against a wonderfully weird background.

The characters are satisfying, even if none are as great as Zakalwe in Use of Weapons. It's the Minds, notably Caconym and Mistake Not..., as well as QiRia, who stand out as great creations. Cossont is an interesting figure with a compelling backstory, but her role as a protagonist becomes less important when the Culture Minds really start to drive the action. Banstegeyn, an antagonist, doesn't achieve the heights of villainry that Veppers of Surface Detail does, but in some ways he's a more compelling, if less cool, character, more prone to guilt and self-doubt. There's also an android whose continued delusion that they're in a simulation provides some funny moments.

The plot wraps up nicely, reflecting many of the book's themes. The Hydrogen Sonata really delivered on what I want in a Culture novel: a compelling story, richly written Minds, sense of wonder settings, big idea themes, and some laugh out loud moments.

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