Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Celestial Matters

Celestial MattersCelestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Commander Aias of the Celestial Ship Chandra's Tear is charged with heading up operation Sunthief, using a ship to steal a piece of the sun and drop it on the capital city of the Middle Kingdom, the enemy of the Delian League.

This is one of those books that's hard to classify. Can something be classified as hard sf if the science in question is that of the ancient Greeks and equally ancient Chinese? That's right. Celestial matters is part hard sf, part alternate history. The Delia League is a Greek Empire founded on the spurious science of the ancient Greeks, which works in this universe. Spontaneous Generation farms are used to create animals. Space is full of air. The humors govern the health of the body. The Delian League is at war with the Middle Kingdom, which is an equally large empire built upon Taoist science.

As you can tell, the world behind Celestial Matters is a very interesting one once you wrap your head around the science. That being said, while the story is good, the writing drags. It took me about seventy pages to be fully invested in the book. It's not a light read and the science takes a bit of getting used to.

Still, I recommend this to alternate history fans who are into the ridiculous and magical science of 2000 years ago.

Also on Goodreads


QuintessenceQuintessence by David Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a world where the Earth is flat and alchemy works, Alchemist Chistopher Sinclair and physician Stephen Parris leave their uncertain futures in England and flee to Horizon, a colony on the edge of the world. But even as they unravel the island's many wonders, can they truly escape the religious upheavals in England?

The Quintessance is part alternate history and part what I'm now calling alternate science. It takes place during the Age of Exploration, only in this world, the Earth is flat and the world is ruled by alchemical principles, and alchemist search for the Quintessence, the mysterious fifth element. It reminded me of Celestial Matters, another alternate history/alternate science tale.

The two leads, Sinclair and Parris, contrast each other nicely. Parris is a rational-thinking family man and Sinclair is a driven alchemist seeking to beat death. Parris's relationship with his family does a lot to flesh out his character. The wonders of the quintessence got me interested in the story before the gang ever left England, especially Catherine and the manticore.

Once they drew closer to Horizon and began encountering all sorts of magical creatures, the story took off to me, only to bog down once they reached the colony. While the experiments with the quintessence were interesting, not a lot happened until the mysterious earthquake and the bad guys showed up.

The bad guys were a bit of a problem. Parris' cousin Vaughan was almost unbelievable he was such a selfish douche and Tavera, late of the Spanish Inquisition (NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!), was practically twirling his mustache in villainous delight, although I actually found him the more believable of the pair. The best villains are the ones that think their actions are justified and Tavera certainly had that going for him. If the story had gone another way, I could easily see Sinclair playing the villainous role.

That's about all I have to say. Quintessence was an enjoyable read but I'm not wetting myself in anticipation for the sequel. 3.5 out of 5.

ALso on Goodreads