Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Ouroboros Wave: A Book Review...

I was a big sci-fi geek as a kid.

My dad was an electrical engineer who fed me a constant stream of "kid friendly" sci-fi authors (Norton, Heinlein, Asimov, etc.) when I was young.  Despite having a significant impact on how I think today in terms of my beliefs regarding a whole host of issues, I ceased being an "active" fan of sci-fi novels a long time ago.  While I would always stop by the "new" sci-fi section of my local bookstores and peruse the offerings, I cannot remember the last time I actually read, let alone bought, a real sci-fi novel (I don't classify Lovecraft as sci-fi, though some of his tales surely qualify).

That changed this past week.

Out shopping for books for my family's Christmas gifts I made my usual stop by the sci-fi section and ran across the above book.  Its black and white cover differentiated it from the usual flying Ferrari through the pink clouds of some far off, lush planet.  Then I saw the author's name--Jyouji Hayashi, and the fact that this was an English translation of his Japanese work...hmmm...not the typical American or Western sci-fi drivel?  Tell me more.

Reading the synopsis on the back cover sealed the deal as it divulged that the content didn't surround some far off time or some farcical premise.

So what about the actual book?

Well, first off it is not a novel.  It is a 250+ page collection of six separate and loosely connected novellas.  Each one of the six take place along a timeline that spans the years 2123 to 2171, progressing chronologically as the book moves forward.  Some characters reappear from novella to novella, some don't, but there are plenty of touchstones contained within each section so that you always know you are inside the universe Hayashi has created.

The topic of the novellas surrounds mankind's push into the outer solar system, the evolution of societies and how they differentiate from one another once "land" beyond Earth becomes inhabited and human/AI reactions to potential discovery of intelligent life beyond our own.

Whether its the result of the translation or is true to the author, the book is extremely readable and retains the reader's interest from beginning to end as each page brings new revelations.  Definitely a book for the "harder" sci-fi fans, there are lengthy discussions of artificial intelligence, black holes, gravity waves and other more advanced concepts but discussions don't devolve into scientific lectures, remaining at a level sufficient to educate but not confuse the reader.

Characters are also not forgotten amidst the science as while most remain fairly superficial in their portrayal, they are not cardboard cutouts--its just that when the science and overarching analysis of that science is the focus, the bit character players are merely a medium through which to describe various events and not the focus itself.

Hayashi has a host of novels to his name in Japan with The Ouroboros Wave being the first of his works to be translated into English and whose previous topics encompassed military fiction, fantasy and sci-fi.  This is hands down the best (if a bit uneven with the initial novellas in the collection being significantly stronger than the ending ones) sci-fi book I have read in a loooooong time.

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