by Joan D. Vinge
So, back in the days when I went to bookstores to buy books, I was browsing through the sci-fi fantasy section. I was in that section because there was no horror section at this particular bookstore and I didn't feel like mucking through the "literature" section hoping to end up with what I wanted. So, I went to my fall back genre.
You know how they say don't judge a book by it's cover? Yeah, I judge. I judge a lot. And this cover was calling out me to me. I absolutely bought it because I thought that guy was hot. Bonus points for looking kinda Shadowrunny.
When people ask about my influences (and I'm talking about the future here-- so far I'm just a short story writer, no one's really interested in asking me things yet), this is one of the books I always mention. Even though it's not remotely in my primary genre. There are so many things I love about it.
I think Cat, the main character was my first fictional love. Sure, I had crushes on other characters, but Cat was such a complex character. He felt alive and real. There are so many main characters that do everything right and, if they don't, it's for drama or because the plot needed them to mess up. But Cat is kind of a screw-up. And Vinge allows him to be that. He gets things wrong, he gets embarrassed about it, and the plot veers off its path to follow him.
I think that's amazing.
And Cat isn't the only one. All of the characters feel real. Even the bad guys get to be human beings with feelings and wants. No one is cackling in the dark, happy about all of the bad things they're about to do. That's makes them even more terrifying.
Now, part of that is because Vinge is incredibly good at exploiting the character gimmick. Cat is a telepath, so we occasionally get to into the minds of those around him. It's easy to see the humanity in someone when know what they're thinking and why.
I love the plot. This is where I would maybe try to explain it, but you can go click on that link and read the description yourself. Besides, I'm not sure I could really do it. It's... man, it's big and vast and has some really cool stuff. The good parts are also the bad, though. It's so big that I sometimes wonder if I really know what's going on. But then I think maybe it doesn't matter. I like the way I've interpreted things and I love the conversations it's started with other people that read it.
The book is long. Depending on how you feel about that, this is good or bad. I don't tend to want to get into really long things, especially these days, but I liked everything so much that I didn't care.
And, something I didn't realize until after reading it, it is actually the second in a series. However, I never once felt lost. I've given it to other people and they've also said that it stands on its own just fine. But, if you like it, I definitely do recommend getting Psion (the first one) and Dreamfall (the third).
So, in short, I love this book. If you're looking for horror, this isn't it. But it's some damn good character driven science fiction.