Friday 23 November 2012

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen

Crafty Green Boyfriend recommended this book to me. We rarely read the same books, even when we choose science fiction, we read different types of science fiction. But he thought that I would be interested in the alternative technologies in this book. He was right too.

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen is set in Australia about two millenia into the future. The continent is ruled by war-like librarians. Nuclear winter is long in the past and the world has developed new technologies since then, but without fossil fuels and with electricity and steam engines being banned by all major religions, the technology has developed in interesting, labour intensive ways. Messages are sent long distances using beam-flash towers, trains are driven by wind power or by galleys of slaves and passenger volunteers, who have to put in a lot of hard work to get to their destination. Computers aren't even a memory in this culture and instead complicated mathematical calculations are performed by slaves in the Calculor - a huge hall full of rows of abacuses. There are smaller, mobile calculors that can be used on the battlefield.

And oh there are a lot of battles. Far too many for my taste. The opposing sides seem to take to the battlefield for no apparent reason and apart from the first extended battlefield scene that outlined the use of the battle calculor, I found these scenes tedious. Instead of all the constant fighting I wanted a bit more character development - John Glasken the maverick, serial seducer and unlikely hero is entertaining and feels like a real person, whereas I didn't get a feel for a lot of the other characters beyond their roles. That may be deliberate of course, but it didn't help in engaging me with certain parts of the story.

The comments above are about my tastes rather than about the quality of the book. It's totally fascinating if you're interested in technological solutions to possible futures, but really it's written for people with more of a taste for lots of battles.

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen published by TOR Science Fiction

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can learn more. 


Ms Sparrow said...

In my speculative-fiction writer's group, we have both kinds of stories. Like you, I find the ones with lots of battles tedious. I prefer the stories about people dealing with unique situations--like time travel, space travel and post-apocalypse worlds. Your review of "Souls in the Great Machine" sounded fascinating until you got to the war part. It's so disheartening to think that future of humanity is to be at war forever! There are other battles we must face.

RG said...

I think this title (and a bit of the book perhaps) is a takeoff on an older non-fiction work by Tracy Kidder - The Soul of a New Machine - which is about a project team producing a new computer.

I like some science fiction, but one of my beefs is that it so easy to get rather far-fetched sometimes. I think if a calculator made up of hundreds of humans was going have any chance of success, it would have been done long ago. Instead, easier, simpler, more efficient ways are found and the human effort diverted elsewhere.