Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Spheres of Influence" by Ryk E. Spoor

(cover image from

Spheres of Influence (2013) by Ryk E. Spoor is the sequel, though definitely not the conclusion, to his Grand Central Arena. I enjoyed the first book, though I had some problems with it, and I enjoyed this one even more.

Mostly, I think, that's because I knew what to expect this time. I mean, I already knew - and accepted - that the book wouldn't be entirely to my taste in fiction. So I wasn't disappointed. I knew what I was getting, so... I guess I felt free to enjoy the parts I did like.

Fiction, after all, is inherently subjective. My taste in fiction isn't necessarily yours, and I can't expect every author to write to my tastes. So, can I criticize a book for not being exactly what I want in fiction? Well,... what else is there? Besides, the parts I liked were very much to my taste. That's probably why I enjoyed the book, don't you think?

Grand Central Arena introduced us to an incredible artifact where every technological species in the galaxy - once it has discovered FTL flight - ends up. "Arena" is the right word for it, because species compete for influence, prestige, and power, and humanity is very much the new kid on the block and a huge underdog.

Now, I'm a sucker for aliens - the more the better - and I love the idea behind this series. It's ridiculously implausible, sure, but so what? I can accept pretty much anything as the premise in a science fiction novel, though I insist that the story follow along plausibly from there. If you can't, what are you doing reading science fiction? :)

Furthermore, I love seeing human beings standing up for other underdogs - alien underdogs - making friends where that's possible, and then kicking butt where arrogant butts really need to be kicked. It's great fun. Fantasy, sure. But it's still lots of fun.

Those things are very definitely to my taste. Superheroes are not, and neither are super-villains. (I never liked comic books much, even as a kid.) I criticized the characterization in the first book, and this one doubles-down on that. But it's probably more fair to say that it's just a matter of taste.

Spheres of Influence introduces a new character who's even more of a superhero than those in the first book. And it seems to introduce one or two new super-villains, too. Now, we see almost nothing of the latter characters, so I can't say much about them, so far. I'm not entirely happy at where that seems to be going. But we'll see.

The superheroes? Well, that's definitely not to my taste. But, as I say, I knew what I was getting into this time. So it didn't bother me. I just enjoyed the story (and I did enjoy the story).

Let me just add that I find it wildly implausible that people could create what are basically superheroes in the first place, but if we could do that, why couldn't alien species which are far, far more advanced than human beings?

And that point in the book where human politics took center stage? I would have been on the other side in that debate. It's not just that I don't want to read about superheroes, but I don't want even a superhero deciding everything for the human race, either. So in some respects, this book rubbed me the wrong way.

The remarkable thing is probably that I enjoyed it as much as I did. I didn't really take it seriously (but you don't take comic books seriously, either, do you?) and just had fun. I knew that parts of the book weren't going to be to my taste, so I didn't let it bother me.

Hmm,... I said I didn't take it seriously, but there is one theme in the book which has the potential to be thought-provoking, and that's the whole issue of living with AI. Can AI be people? And whatever your answer to that, can we live together in peace?

Maybe we'll see more of that in the next book, and maybe not. I wouldn't expect much but entertainment from this series. But it is entertaining, and I'll definitely be continuing with the story whenever the next volume is published.

Note: My other book reviews are here.


Sea Wasp (Ryk E. Spoor) said...

Wow, I completely missed this when you wrote it years back!

I don't know whether you've yet read the sequel to both (Challenges of the Deeps) but there is an explanation as to why other species can't create, or re-create, the Hyperion success -- and why humanity probably can't EITHER.

And yes, it's definitely a matter of taste. This is Golden Age Grand Scale Space Opera, in which supercompetent heroes face off against supercompetent, black-hearted villains for the most part, and if that's not your taste, you'll be fighting that all the way.

This makes your review far more complimentary to me than it might seem, because it means you had fun reading the book DESPITE it pushing a lot of your "don't like this" buttons. That's quite a compliment indeed. Thank you.

Bill Garthright said...

Thanks, Ryk. I haven't been reading, and certainly not blogging, as much as I used to, and I did miss the publication of the sequel to these books. I'll definitely check that out.