Queen of Angels by Greg Bear

Vertigo

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In the not too distant future humanities first interstellar probe, controlled by an artificial intelligence that is just teetering on the precipice of self-awareness, is approaching Alpha Centauri after a 15 year flight. Meanwhile back on Earth a poet suddenly, with no apparent motive, kills 8 of his followers. This act launches three separate threads; one follows the police detective investigating the killing, one follows a psychiatrist investigating the mind of the poet/killer and one follows one of his followers who managed to escape his intended fate.

Despite the latter three threads having a common starting point there is virtually no link at all between them; the protagonists of each thread never meet up again and their actions have no effect at all outside their own thread. The only tenuous link between them and the first probe thread is a common theme of ‘self’; its meaning, origin and artificial generation. And it really is tenuous. Other authors have written books with multiple threads that have no connection other than some common visceral and/or philosophic themes; books like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or Roberto Bolano’s 2666 spring to mind and they handled these disparate threads in a manner that reinforced the central theme admirably. But I’m afraid Bear fails in this completely and the whole thing felt like three completely separate stories tangled up in each other and, sadly, not very good stories at that. The only thread that, for me, deserved any degree of acclaim was the interstellar probe one which could have worked very successfully as a stand-alone novella or short story.

Add to this Bear’s attempt to be a little experimental in his writing style which made the writing uncomfortable and difficult for this reader and more effort than was justified by any reward the book attempted to give. For example, for some reason he leaves out so many commas that I sometimes had to re-read passages several times to mentally put those commas back in and make sense of it. But this seemed to happen so randomly that at first I thought they might have been scanning errors, this being an older book and my edition being a digital one, but the almost complete absence of any other typos seems to suggest that is an unlikely explanation/excuse. Whatever, the result for me was that I was ready to quit after the first hundred pages and now wish I had. I persisted because I was intrigued by how those threads would come together but since they never did I was only disappointed.

The book took me ages to read because I simply had little inclination to return to it and ultimately did not reward my persistence. For me I’d have to sum Queen of Angels up as simply pretentious and I only gave it two stars instead of one for the probe thread which was an interesting take on the possibility of AIs achieving self-awareness.


2/5 stars
 

Rodders

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I tried to read this some time ago, but I really struggled and couldn't finish it. I remember having a lot of difficulties understanding the sland that certain parts were written in.
 

Vertigo

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I tried to read this some time ago, but I really struggled and couldn't finish it. I remember having a lot of difficulties understanding the sland that certain parts were written in.
Yeah there was slang and a lot of made up 'future' words with no explanation that you had to figure out purely from context; intensely annoying. I just found reading it to be an unrewarded effort. There are plenty of examples of authors deliberately making reading hard work and it can be justified and very rewarding, an example of this for me was Iain M Banks' Feersum Endjinn' which was hard work but I, at least, found it rewarding; this one, for me, was hard work, unjustified and unrewarding. :(
 

Vertigo

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I didn't finish Feersum Endjinn, either. ☺
That's why I said "I, at least." Feersum Endjinn does rather split views, even amongst staunch Banks fans. I suspect that readers of some of his weirder 'mainstream' work are more likely to like it. However I make the comparison as it is another example of a book that has essentially been made hard on the reader.
 
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