Nov 082012

Permanence, by Karl Schroeder

Synopsis: An orphaned girl living on an orbital habitat discovers a seemingly abandoned alien craft – an inter-solar trading vessel. She gathers interested parties to investigate it while attempting to keep her legal claim in the face of competing national interests.

Brief Book Review: A lot of very big ideas in this book, each of which could’ve been explored in an entire novel of its own. Unfortunately packing so many high-concept ideas in a single novel means none of them are explored very far, and the brief touch-and-go ends up being disappointing. The book is also seriously hindered by the author’s inability to write compelling realistic characters. I liked a lot of this book, but ultimately its flaws overwhelmed the story. Not recommended.

Club Review: For club reading, this book is probably worse than as a solitary read. If I had simply read this on my own I might have recommended it, but trying to discuss it in a group really brought out the problems. Every time you try to comment on a brilliant and compelling idea in the story you realize that there’s not much to say, because it was never really explored. It was mentioned, and then abandoned. Intelligent but non-sentient aliens make a brief appearance. To contrast, Blindsight uses its entire length to explore how non-sentient intelligence could arise. Now obviously no novel can rigorously explore every single cool idea from SF that it incorporates, but Permanence seemed to keep getting distracted and didn’t even say much about its pet central theme (which, I assume, is that value-drift is bad, but can be avoided by trade?). Many plot lines and secondary characters seemed to get the same treatment – a cool premise which is never delivered on. In the end there just wasn’t that much there to talk about. Not recommended.

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