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The White Abacus Paperback – March, 1997

2.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Winner of more than one Ditmar Award (Australia's highest honor for science fiction), Damien Broderick has been doing SF, criticism, and academic research for many years. The White Abacus doubtless introduces him to more people outside of the Commonwealth.

To use the phrase "Hamlet in space" to describe The White Abacus is not a criticism; the book is a Shakespearean tour de force set far in the future. "Hu" (humans) are scientifically sophisticated, but emotionally immature. "Ai" (artificial intelligence) are rational and peace-loving, though more politically developed than most hu know. In most of the universe, hu and ai live together in harmony, but not in the Asteroid Belt of humanity's home solar system. An isolationist movement there left the pioneers extremely religious and dead set against using the "hex gates" that enable instantaneous travel between planets. Life on Psyche in the Belt remains a serious business, for humans only--no ai allowed.

Psyche's young prince Telmah (try reading it backwards) is sent to Earth to study, and there befriends an ai being named Ratio who has been painfully separated from the Gestell, a unified state of the ai. Telmah and his friends spend their days studying, romping, and playing at sophisticated games. Back at home, his uncle Feng allegedly murders Telmah's father, marries the widowed mother, and usurps the Directorship. Determined to avenge his father, Telmah returns home to confront Uncle Feng. The faithful Ratio accompanies him, but unbeknownst to Telmah, Ratio has another motive besides friendship--a secret assignment from the Gestell.

Sound familiar? A fast-moving, updated version of the Hamlet tale, The White Abacus offers comedy, space opera, literary puzzles, and not a few surprises. --Bonnie Bouman

From Kirkus Reviews

Arriving too late for a full review, Broderick's latest science fiction venture (Striped Holes, 1988, not reviewed, etc.) leaps two thousand years into the future where ``hu'' (humans) and ``ai'' (self-willed robots) mingle freely on Earth (and are narrated in the past tense). The hu of asteroid Psyche (no ai need apply), led by Orwen Lord Cima, are barbaric but energy-rich, thanks to their white-holelike Metric Defect (and are narrated in the present tense). When Orwen's son, Telmah, visits Earth, the ai Conclave orders Ratio, a newborn Gamemaster, to befriend him- -Psyche's impending power struggle requires careful handling. A yarn that's too assured of its own cleverness and significance--such as the ho-hum gender-neutral honorifics and the pronouns Broderick invents and invites us to share--but, still, impressive and thoughtful. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Avon Books (P) (March 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380785595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380785599
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,566,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
William Shakespeare's HAMLET is said to have been based on an older play, possibly by Tomas Kyd; the older play may have been taken directly from Danish legend or from some other intermediary source. Great stories thrive in new times and places.
THE WHITE ABACUS gives a thoroughly enjoyable answer to the question of what Shakespeare might have done with HAMLET's plot and characters, given the chance to transport them to a time when minds are connected through the Gestell and hex-gates allow instantaneous access to any point in the galaxy. For our characters, we find in this far-future setting a wide range of body-types to choose from, including the casque-headed, artistically sensitive ai; the macho-anachronistic hu who believe that their soul resides in their vermiform appendices; and the Genetics who take on a surprising array of organic forms. Mind-boggling future technologies, some inherited from science fiction forbears and others newly invented, play their critical part throughout the book.
The book preserves HAMLET's immortal elements of power-lust, murder, betrayal, madness, and revenge, while adding some fascinating plot twists of its own. The tale is told with language as startlingly delightful as Shakespeare's: narrative that paints incredibly detailed sensory images and is at the same time brilliantly comical; and dialogue that is at times hilarious, at other times thought provoking. To fully appreciate certain humorous references, the reader must have some knowledge of classical science fiction, as well as classics in general.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Luddites in space. You would think that people that work in an asteroid belt wouldn't be anti-technology, but there you have it.

However, this particular part of society is definitely in the 'if you have to take me apart to get there I don't want to go' camp.

One of the leaders decides to cause a bit of trouble, and it is up to the protagonists, both human and machine, to stop him.
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Format: Paperback
A whimsical science fiction from Australia; a pleasant read, which nonetheless does not attain philosophical profundity and high drama it apparently strives for. The fact that the story is a reworking of HAMLET needs not be a drawback, and in fact the author does manage to bring some amusing twists to the familiar elements of the Shakespearean tragedy, turning it into a comedy of manners disguised as a space opera. Unfortunately, after around Chapter 3, the plot gets into a hyperdrive, spouting conspiracies and Cosmic Issues everywhere like fungi, the characters either get hilariously psychotic (most of human personages) or turgid and boring (the ÒaiÓ characters, most of them acting like a bunch of sullen C3POs), and the whimsy grows steadily grating. Believe me, by the time you encounter a spacecraft piloted by a giant chicken (I am not kidding!) who insists on being called Captain Arthur C. Chicken, some of you would want to throw towels into the ring. Lower your expectations, expect an eloquently told yarn with little emotional stake and an average STAR TREK-episode level of brain labor, and you will have fun.
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By A Customer on August 7, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Soap Opera in space complete with the usual kings, queens and universal bores. UGH
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