I have, contrary to my expectations, actually managed to finish two books since Ingrid was born. Finding time to blog, however, is harder: I can read while I’m eating breakfast, or putting Ingrid to bed, and I’ve even managed to read a few pages while breastfeeding, but neither of those settings is suitable for blogging. (Typing requires more hands than reading. And the presence of a computer.)

Time for a futile attempt to catch up again. From the backlog, two novels by Tony Daniel: Metaplanetary and Superluminal.

Metaplanetary was a lucky random pick from Forbidden Planet several years ago. It appears to be part of a trilogy (in true SF tradition), or perhaps an even longer series, although the cover doesn’t make that clear – in fact the cover doesn’t even mention this fact. But it was also very readable on its own. I re-read it now that Superluminal, the follow-up that II’ve been waiting so long for, came out in pocket format; part 3 is yet to appear.

The books are about a future where mankind has invented faster-than-light communication and computing, which in turn enables artificial intelligence. Mankind has colonised the entire solar system, and the inner solar system has been linked into a vast network of cables, lifts and connections. It’s a world of flow – of people, information and energy.

All of this is now falling under the rule of a megalomaniacal tyrant. The first book deals with the beginning of the troubles, and how they lead to a civil war within the solar system; the second one is all about the war.

But the civil war is, in a way, just an excuse, a framework to hang a story from. It is not a book about war – it is a book that explores a fantastical yet believable world. It is a combination of fabulously inventive ideas on a vast scale, and an immense amount of detail. There are artificial intelligences, as mentioned, but also Large Arrays of Personalities, and semi-intelligent nanotech life. And spaceships, and tunnels of organic goo going from planet to planet, and so on.

And while the world is based on technical / scientific advances, the book focuses on the effect of those advances on people and society. What would a mixed society of biological and digital humans be like? Would they segregate into enclaves, or mix freely? Would one oppress the other, or look down on the other? What would it be like to have nanotech particles absolutely everywhere – including inside everybody?

But Metaplanetary is not just full of good ideas: there is also an entertaining and well-told story, with plenty of suspense and lots of strong characters. In fact there are a number of storylines, and it is often unclear how they are related – although that did not bother me much, as they were all very readable on their own.

Somewhat confusingly, much of the technology isn’t explained until later, which made the initial chapters a bit hard to follow and understand. Another weakness was the way the story lines are left hanging at the end of the book, to be picked up in Superluminal.

I found Superluminal less engaging than Metaplanetary. Perhaps because it was more linear and focused on a narrower story – that of the war? (Although I have to say it was an interesting and very different war, with planet-scale battles involving sentient spaceships etc.) Or maybe because it is the middle of a story, with neither a real beginning nor a real end.

I do hope that the conclusion is published soon – it would give me a reason to reread these two books yet again.