The Art of Darkness

More Author Recommendations

April 29th, 2010 by Cobwebs

Following on the heels of the author recommendation I did for Tim Powers, I dug up reviews of two other science fiction authors that might also interest thriller/horror fans. These were both written a couple of years ago, so both authors have published more novels in the interim, including the first book in Morgan’s fantasy series, The Steel Remains, and Simmons’ appealingly gothy Drood.

Incidentally, if you’ve got your own suggestions for spooky SF-type writers, let us know in the comments!

Dan Simmons:

Simmons has done quite a bit of work in the horror genre (Summer of Night, Song of Kali), and his science fiction is tinged with a lot of cringe-inducing imagery. However, his descriptions are amazingly rich and detailed, and his characters seem like real people instead of coatracks to hang ideas on (a complaint I always have about Asimov).

Books to look for include:

  • Hyperion – A group of “pilgrims,” all with dark secrets, travel toward a mysterious, ancient, and deadly shrine on an alien world. Written in the style of The Canterbury Tales, each traveler has his or her own chapter, and they all tell their tales in a distinct voice. Simmons explores some of the things that humans might become, and some of the dangers that may await them in the future.
  • The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion (the sequels) – None of these are as powerful as Hyperion, but they’re all worth reading. The Fall of Hyperion ties up, more or less, the loose ends from the first book, but it has a tacked-on feeling to it, as though Simmons hadn’t really intended to write a sequel. The two Endymion books explore characters in the same universe, whose fates are related to the goings-on in the Hyperion novels, but the ties are fairly loose.
  • Prayers to Broken Stones – A collection of short stories (including one which became a chapter in Hyperion) covering topics as diverse as the familial implications of returning from the dead, a combat theme park in Vietnam, and psychic vampires, Simmons really shines with short stories.
  • Ilium and Olympos – Three planets (Earth, Mars, and Jupiter), two major literary themes (The Iliad and The Tempest), loads of AIs, cyborgs, hypersentient thingummies, and a couple of confused humans. I haven’t read these two yet, but I’ve had endless paragraphs quoted at me by my husband, whose judgment I trust in such matters.

Richard Morgan:

Richard Morgan–whom Shadow and I met at WorldCon, and who looks like a less-lived-in Fred Ward–sold his debut novel on his first try, it was a bestseller, and its movie rights were optioned for $1 million. That, right there, should be enough to make you want to punch him in the nose. Unfortunately, that might discourage him from writing more books, and that would be a shame.

Morgan has published four books, three of which–Altered Carbon (his debut novel), Broken Angels, and Woken Furies–are set in the same milieu. The other one, Market Forces, is a big ol’ hint that he’s got some anti-globalism leanings, based as it is around the idea of taking “corporate ninja” literally.

The Altered Carbon series is based on two main premises: 1) All humans are fitted with “stacks”–little widgets that sit at the top of your spine and keep a constant backup of your entire personality. Trading bodies is as easy as swapping your stack into a new “sleeve.” 2) There are relics of a very advanced, long-vanished race (commonly called “Martians,” because some of their artifacts were found on Mars) on some worlds that humans have colonized.

The protagonist is Takeshi Kovacs, a retired ultra-elite soldier. In Altered Carbon Kovacs is working as a private investigator. He’s hired by a very rich client to find out why he (the client) committed suicide. The rich can afford to have their stacks backed up remotely on a periodic basis, and after the client blew his head off (and obliterated his stack) his backup was re-sleeved into a cloned body. The story is a wonderful exploration into what “stack technology” would actually mean for humans. If you lose your original body, you might (if you’re poor) use a cheap synthetic substitute or simply exist in a mainframe. There are “designer bodies” for the rich. Catholics (which by now are just a weird remnant sect) refuse to be re-sleeved once they’ve died since they believe they’re going to heaven. It’s a very, very cool idea, and the changes wrought upon human society and human thought processes seem realistic and well-rendered.

Although the Martians are mentioned in Carbon, Broken Angels explores them in some depth. This time Kovacs is a soldier-for-hire, and the war is not going well. A big chunk of the book centers around the discovery of an ancient Martian spaceship in orbit around the planet he’s on, and a portal on the surface that opens right next to the ship. It also hints at something that seems to be overlooked in a lot of SF involving highly-advanced alien relics: Just because one advanced race has vanished, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other, similarly-sophisticated races out there…and they could squish humanity like a bug. Morgan portrays the humans learning to use these artifacts sort of like children playing at being adults; they don’t really understand how or why the things work, and they may not even be able to. (That’s another thing I liked–it’s made very clear that the Martian brains were so different than human brains that no human can really grasp the Martian thought process.)

There are all kinds of neat throwaway details in the books that hint at a rich milieu behind the scenes: The bodies that Kovacs and his team of soldiers are using at the beginning of Angels contain some wolf DNA, giving them a strong sense of pack loyalty. “Deceased” family members–those who can’t afford another sleeve–can be “spun up” into a rental sleeve for important family events such as weddings. And AIs have the ability to buy out their contracts and work independently (such as The Hendrix, an automated AI hotel with the personality of Jimi Hendrix).

We signed up for Morgan’s author kaffeeklatsch at WorldCon. (It was Shadow, me, and 8 Brits who assumed we were also British because we didn’t speak. Know what? The British don’t like Americans.) He told us that he had been given an advance to write some ungodly number of “dark fantasy” novels, so I’m not sure when he’ll get back to science fiction. I’ll check out his fantasy stuff–unlike Shadow, I don’t burst into flame upon contact with fantasy novels–but I’ll definitely be looking forward to more SF.

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