All First time SF writers are equal, but some are more equal than others.
John Clute, the author of Appleseed, is already highly respected in SF circles for his role as the editor of The Encyclopaedia of Science Ficton, and particularly as a knowlegable and insightful reviewer of the genre. As such, no doubt his novel will receive more critical attention than most first time SF works.
Appleseed is set in the distant future. It's a rollicking Space Opera set in an ancient, unimaginably advanced multi-species galactic empire which is in decay from the effects of data plague which kills systems, made minds and sophonts by destroying their memes, their data, the information which moves them. Told very simply, Appleseed is the story of "Stinky" Freer, a human, and his companion Minds on the good ship Tile Dance. They go to a place. They pick up a "package" which turns out to be an alien person, they flee from the bad guys, go to another place and fight a battle. In between there is some sightseeing, quite a lot of talk, and some sex.
What's exceptional and interesting about Appleseed is the setting and language. The setting is a post-Earth, posthuman, post "Spike" society, a universe which is so advanced that it's simplest technology might as well be magic to us poor benighted primitives. This setting is conveyed by Clute's skillful and clever use of language. Let me quote one of his passages:
Having no need for protection against vacuum, the aspects or Unfleshed - sigilla and eidolons and toons, tied entities and rogues, revenants in mirrorcam trance, caspars sucking up for love, freelance lifestory avatars on hire - floated everywhere, some propelled by rampacks, some (being immaterial) by the power of thought. They were innumerable. They congested the model of docking country in the holograph cube, glittering as flesh could not, for they were self illuminated, their eyes were red or yellow, body sigils flashing at every movement.
Yes. Indeed. And it goes on like that. For three hundred and thirty seven pages! Well, it's not quite that bad. Fairly early on your reviewer, being lazy, decided to treat the flow of unfamiliar words as poetry, or music, and on that level it is surprisingly satisfying. Clute has succeeded in describing the incomprehensible in incomprehensible terms. Which, as an excercise in art for art's sake is probably something worth doing.
Does it make a good SF novel? Well, yes and no. This novel most remineded me of Neuromancer, William Gibson's famous seminal novel which spawned a thousand imitators and virtually single handedly launched the Cyberpunk movement. It has the same mind numbing strangeness and blatently incomprehensible in-your-face up front expressiveness. Neuromancer was, in my opinion, a failure as a novel. It utterly failed to engage me, despite several sincere attempts to read the thing.
Appleseed shares some similar traits, but I think that it works better than Neuromancer did. The baroque verbal clutter was not entirely overwhelming and could often be safely ignored by the reader. There was a plot and some characters lurking under there somewhere if you were prepared to dig for them. Overall, to damn Clute with faint praise, this was a pretty good book.
Will it launch a thousand ships and rank the name of Clute up there with the immortal? I suspect not, but what would I know? Only time will tell. This book is an extremely sound first SF novel, however, and it establishes Clute as an author to watch. Personally I hope that he'll tone down the baroque expressionism and tone up the story in his forthcoming works, but that is entirely a matter of personal taste, I'm sure.
I liked this, what else is there that I can read?
I would recommend Neuromancer, by William Gibson, and the works of Vernor Vinge: True Names and other stories, A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky.
Is there anything like this in Wyvern's Library?
If you like Space Opera you could try my own story On Botany Station. Max C Montgomery's story Erin is worth a look too, and I have praised the work of E Hanna before this.
Know anyone else writing good hard SF in Wyverns? Email me, please!
Rating: 3 fairies
Author: John Clute