back to article Echopraxia scores 'diamond cutter' on the sci-fi hardness scale

There’s hard sci-fi and then there’s the likes of Peter Watts’ Echopraxia, a book that should come with its own scientific reference library to aid reading. Usually, being a fan of science-heavy writing and having a smattering of real-world knowledge is enough to unlock a hard sci-fi world – you just kind of lean back and let …

  1. Thecowking

    I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

    It's not like you need to understand the maths behins QCD to follow that reference. If you've done any reading involving snipers, bathtub draining myths or weather patterns, you'll be well acquainted with it.

    Still, this has piqued my interest and I might just indulge in a new book for the bank holiday weekend now.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

      The article's author has proven the point* of hard sci-fi - he looked up something he didn't understand and now has a basic grasp of it.

      This is why sci-fi readers are reported as having a larger vocabulary than the general non Sci-fi reading public. When I was younger and read sci-fi it meant looking up a lot of stuff, now - not so much.

      I've also found it interesting that non Sci-fi readers scoff at it because it's all about the science etc. when in my experience the best Sci-fi is about the people and the interactions between them, and the quality of the writing. The technology is usually the pre-text, plot device or backdrop to the real stuff - it's just more interesting because it creates a more diverse world in which people can interact.

      ymmv of course :)

      *or I should say 'one of' the points

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

        I'd be amazed that anyone who reads El Reg is unaware of coriolis forces. As mentioned above - plughole mythology, long distance rocketry or artillery, one look at a weather map - coriolis effects are everywhere.

        With regard to science fiction - I like Analog's definition: if you take the science out and the story still works, it wasn't science fiction. Space opera is fun, but rarely science fiction; trolls and fairies are definitely not - and neither is most of the extruded science fiction product tied in with TV series.

        1. Thecowking
          Thumb Up

          Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

          Just found out the earlier book in this series is under 2 quid for the kindle.

          So that's the weekend sorted then :)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

            $10 in US and $13 in Canada for ebook version, makes you wonder if they actually want to sell them.

    2. Spleen

      Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

      It's not so much the concept that is difficult to understand but the wilfully obscure way the text refers to it as if its a person. If you weren't aware that there is such a thing as the "Coriolis effect" you might wonder who is Coriolis and why he is turning things into curveballs.

      Although only a small part of the text is quoted so perhaps it doesn't come across that way in the full book.

    3. Fink-Nottle

      Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

      Just because the reviewer is unfamiliar with science, it doesn't follow that the novel is 'exclusionary'.

    4. Graham Marsden
      Coat

      Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

      Remember that Babylon 5 had a baseball field, which meant that *every* ball would be a curve ball...!

      1. Uffish
        Headmaster

        Re: Babylon 5

        On Earth the path of every ball thrown is a still a curve, which means that a 'curve ball' is one that deviates from the standard curve, which means that on Babylon 5...

      2. Oninoshiko

        Re: I don't think the coriolis effect is that hard science

        I want to address a couple of comments here, and come to the defense of the reviewer.

        1) in the excerpts the reviewer shows, it doesn't say "coriolis effect," it just says "Coriolis." The context clues of many of these sentences do look like they are a name, not a force of nature. Even knowing what I was reading about, I find that kind of jarring.

        2) most people aren't that familiar with science. Science fiction is already a small genre (once you exclude fantasy anyway), made smaller still when you limit yourself to hard scifi. I would describe most hard scifi as exclusionary, because it's outside of what the average reader can (or is willing to take the effort to) follow.

        (FTR, I think I'll have to pick these up at my local bookseller)

  2. Gary Bickford

    Why don't media include source links?

    This is just a general comment - I've often wondered why online media rarely if ever include links to source material or topical material. Quite often I would like to know more about the topic, and it would be nice to have what librarians sometimes call a 'pathfinder' - like a bibliography - which might just be some of the public sources that the article's author used.

    In this case, links to the author's web page, or (heaven forfend the capitalism!) to one or more book sellers or book reviewers or something, would be both useful and (in the case of a link to a book seller) a potential revenue source. Of course, one has to be careful about that, to avoid becoming yet-another-shill, posting articles in part or wholly as paid linkbait. So is this a subtle grey area thing, or better to just remain black-and-white, no links to avoid any issues?

    1. Pete 2

      Re: Why don't media include source links?

      > In this case, links to the author's web page, or (heaven forfend the capitalism!) to one or more book sellers

      I'm sure a wild stab in the dark will see you arriving at the site of an online bookstore that sells this.

      (after a wild stab of my own: apparently it's on pre-order for the next few days)

      Personally, I'm about to tuck in to Ancillary Justice

      1. Ashton Black

        Re: Why don't media include source links?

        Ooooo. That Ancillary Justice looks very interesting. *yoink* :-)

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: That Ancillary Justice looks very interesting

          Well worth reading. It's just won a Hugo as well.

          1. JonP
            Coat

            Re: That Ancillary Justice looks very interesting

            Well worth reading. It's just won a Hugo as well.

            That's what she said.

        2. Pet Peeve

          Re: Why don't media include source links?

          It is - I was already a fan of Leckie's before she started writing, from her time on Escape Pod. It's quite a thing for a debut novel to win the hugo, and well deserved.

  3. FeersumEndjinn
    Go

    WooHoo!

    Very excited about this. Blindsight was excellent and very different.

  4. ben edrich
    Paris Hilton

    "There was really only one sort of program for which foreknowledge of the outcome didn’t diminish the point of the exercise, and Brüks had never been able to find any religious orders that described God as a porn addict."

    Well, this made me laugh, at least.

  5. mr_belowski

    Ancillary Justice? Just finished it, don't bother

    1. breakfast

      I thought it was good but... not quite as good as I wanted it to be and I can't put my finger on why.

    2. abortnow

      I greatly enjoyed Ancillary Justice.

      One man's meat ...

  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    This weirdly sounds like a Greg Egan story.

    We have come some way from the olden "Foundation" fare.

    Currently into Jeff Vandermeer's "Southern Reach" trilogy which is more like "Roadside Picnic meets Lovecraft", and rather fantastic. But it's pretty good nevertheless.

    1. BlueGreen

      @ Destroy All Monsters

      Word. And this "more a serious, albeit fascinating, treatise on what exactly a person is if their memories, perceptions and abilities are all as malleable as the way they wear their hair"

      is *exactly* up greg egan's thing, and egan does it very well (mostly anyway). I wish he was better known.

      1. Cpt Blue Bear

        Re: @ Destroy All Monsters and BlueGreen

        "more a serious, albeit fascinating, treatise on what exactly a person is if their memories, perceptions and abilities are all as malleable as the way they wear their hair"

        Three words for you, well, two and letter actually: Phillip K Dick.

  7. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    "the tone is rather unremittingly despondent"

    The standard joke is that if you're finding your joie de vivre too much to handle, read something by Peter Watts.

    1. John Gamble

      Re: "the tone is rather unremittingly despondent"

      The exact quote

      "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts."

      —James Nicoll

      is on Peter Watts' website.

    2. Fehu
      Happy

      Re: "the tone is rather unremittingly despondent"

      Perhaps, you're simply noting a measure of maturity in the writer. There comes a time in all our lives, if we live long enough, that we realize that life as humans live it is not all that great. Young men of color are being executed in America for jaywalking; people in several parts of the world are being beheaded for various and sundry reasons; and horrible diseases keep popping up to make us suffer and die in huge numbers. All the while rich people break laws with impunity and rarely have to suffer more than a small fine. On top of that, there's the nagging understanding that even under the best of circumstances a large number of us will be dead in 20 to 30 years no matter what we do and you see that outside of young adult fiction and Hollywood there really are very few "happy" endings. So, maybe Mr. Watts is just being realistic. Have a nice weekend!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You have piqued my interest. I shall purchase a copy.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't think the author really understands the Coriolis Effect

    Disclaimer: I haven't read the book but the Coriolis effect, as described in the quoted excerpts, doesn't make sense.

    The Coriolis effect operates in the plane of rotation and on the basis that the spacecraft is rotating to simulate gravity (because if you've already got artificial gravity then rotating the ship is pointless and just makes things difficult for yourself) then the Coriolis Effect will only be a real problem to any jugglers on board i.e. in the perceived up-down axis.

    In the first quote, where something is thrown 'across the compartment' , the effect of rotation wouldn't turn it into a curveball; it would still follow a straight path _across_ the compartment, but instead would just appear to fall or rise at a different rate, depending on the direction in which it was thrown.

    The second quote makes a bit more sense because Liana is dropping i.e. moving across the plane of rotation, but even then the result of the Coriolis effect would be to make anything fixed to the ship, such as a ladder she might be descending, just appear to move sideways relative to her; perhaps it's just a bad choice of words but 'fending off Coriolis' suggests she's being pushed or pulled against something when what she'd really need to do would be to hold on against the apparent sideways drift.

    1. Justicesays

      Re: I don't think the author really understands the Coriolis Effect

      "In the first quote, where something is thrown 'across the compartment' , the effect of rotation wouldn't turn it into a curveball; it would still follow a straight path _across_ the compartment, but instead would just appear to fall or rise at a different rate, depending on the direction in which it was thrown."

      Only if you are reading "across the compartment" as "exactly perpendicular to the axis of rotation", which is unlikely to be the case.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the examples given and the mention of vampires and zombies this can no way be classed as a hard science fiction book. It sounds much more like fantasy with a little science thrown in.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      @ Ivan4

      I think you missed in the first part of the article it describes the Vampires as a type of augmentation and the Zombies as an engineered earlier version of man.

      I will get the book but will look for Blindsight first.

      Amnogst my current favourites are two Brits Peter Hamilton and Alistair Reynolds good sci-fi space opera, Reynolds was a physicist before he quit to concentrate on writing and Hamilton just writes excellent stories with a British flavour.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, fail

    The Coriolis stuff doesn't fit my definition of hard sci-fi so much as it fits my definition of masturbatory self-aggrandisement.

    If an author is dropping stuff into the text without narrative or literary reason, we have just landed on Planet Onan. If the author is exploring what scientific advances might exist and what the effect on humans might be, -- say, a space elevator or genuinely intelligent AI-- we are in hard sci-fi, and I'm prepared to reach for my dictionary to get it.

    1. Jes.e

      Re: Sorry, fail

      "The Coriolis stuff doesn't fit my definition of hard sci-fi so much as it fits my definition of masturbatory self-aggrandisement."

      I must respectfully disagree.

      This is not a masturbatory exercise. It's a little extra for the savvy reader.

      Much like all the computer technical stuff dropped like cookie crumbs in Charlie Stross Laundry Files universe. (I mention Charlie because it was from his blog I first heard about Peter Watts in the discussion forums.)

      Most normal readers won't even realize that the history of computers are even there in his novels. They are reading fantasy as far as they are concerned.

      Time was, back in the early years of Science Fiction, rockets had to be explained to the audience. In fact there was a general misapprehension (even among engineers) that rockets would not work in space, as space was a vacuum and the rocket engine had nothing to push against.

      In fact there was even when this was overcome, there was the belief that a rocket could not travel faster than it's exhaust.

      Sounds silly, but by the time of Clark and Heinlein this had mostly been rectified through education of the readers of the past and how rockets work no longer has to be explained in detail. Now the writers can focus on refinements like Hoffman orbits vs alternatives. e.g. Moving comets for water supply.. etc.

      ..Of course what DOES need to be explained is why (Hollywood) film makers create stuff so hopelessly ignorant as a rule; that for example, I was driven to walk^H^H^H^Hrun out of Armageddon early due to the massive brain damage I was incurring shown by sitting in the audience. And this was *with* NASA working in an advisory capacity to the directors during the films creation.

      The film even premiered at NASA in Houston where Bruce Willas failed to appear as promised. (Maybe HE was insulted by it when he saw early versions.)

      I wish I could have been there to film the expression on the really wonderful NASA folks as they watched this piece of.. (nevermind) and show that all over the world to demonstrate how brainless the media producers of Sci-Fi product of my homeland are.

      Of course.. the movie scene has only gotten worse since then.

      Sigh. I shouldn't complain.

      The main goal of any Hollywood film is to get butts in seats.

      ...

      We don't bother telling folks how rockets work now.

      We shouldn't need to tell folks about the coriolis force unless it is germane to the story. Interested readers can trivially go to the Internet and research it for themselves.

      In fact, if you go to the Wikipedia page for Blindsight, you will find that the author released it under Creative Commons and you can get it as a ebook for free if you wish.

      The author even does what is common in hard SF. He provides a very long treatise at the end which describes where the ideas he used in his novel came from. Along with references and links!!

      Very impressive!

      Thanks for the heads up about his new novel Register.. I will be purchasing that immediately (along with Blindsight.)

  12. ecofeco Silver badge

    James C. Wright

    James C. Wright covered most of these concepts with the Golden Age series along with AI's (old, new and super) and the geo-solar poltics of the various modified splinter human species as well as everyone being immersed in virtual space 24/7.

    I had to read that series twice to pick up all the nuances.

    Sounds like they had more action as well.

  13. cdjtsl

    It's not unreasonable to assume the Coriolis effect is common knowledge...

    ...given that a whole episode of the Simpsons was based on it (Bart vs Australia). It wasn't exactly a science lesson but it's enough for people to get that this is some kind of physical phenomenon. And given the context in which it is used in the quoted text I reckon most people are going to be able to deduce what the author is trying to describe. Even if they aren't Simpsons fans.

    1. Cpt Blue Bear

      Re: It's not unreasonable to assume the Coriolis effect is common knowledge...

      I tried to read one of Wright's later novels but just couldn't get past the long political soliloquies. It was like a more coherent Ann Rand on uppers, or Terry Brooks at his worst. Except that Wright produces far better prose than Brooks' turgid rubbish. A pity, 'cause he seemed to have some interesting ideas even if they weren't terribly original (see Asimov, Clarke, Pournelle, Niven, et al). At least he seemed to be trying

  14. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Piddling stuff...

    Read Blish if you want detailed accuracy.

    He goes into the maths of warp drives with Blackett-Dirac equations , explains sodium carbide poisoning of ice IV under Jupiter-surface conditions using a skeletal formula, and has authentic invocation seals and characters in his black magic scenes....

  15. Wombling_Free
    Boffin

    Speak for yourself.

    When someone at work stated, with vehemence, that there are always 180deg in a triangle I pointed out that holds true only an a flat plan in Euclidean space.

    Are there any readers of El Reg that are NOT aware of what the Coriolis effect is?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      No longer, no. Indeed, I wanted to take this occasion to mention a little accident with the airlock earlier today...

  16. Trollslayer Silver badge

    Buzzwords

    I've read books where someone keeps throwing things in to sound knowledgeable then put the book down.The Coriolis effect is always there so why would people be thinking about it like that?

  17. frobnicate
    Trollface

    It's nice to see

    that this generation of sci-fi authors continues to read simpler of S. Lem's texts. Watts, for example, producing novel after novel based on "Fiasco".

  18. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Not where I would expect a book review

    but very enjoyable, particularly because of the the involvement by readers here.

    Many thanks El Reg!

    I have ordered Ancillary Justice - if you don't try you never know if you like it.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <quote>Where Blindsight is a highly intellectual story with a philosophical bent, Echopraxia is a philosophical discourse with a smattering of plot points - still brilliant but heavy work.</quote>

    Sounds like crap then. :(

    btw - is there a page showing the markup available in posts here? Couldn't find one anywhere.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019