Narrative strategies

I just finished reading Charlie Stross’s next novel, Iron Sunrise, sequel to Hugo nominee Singularity Sky, and I think it’s a superior book to its predecessor in most every way. It’s interesting, engaging, brings more of the conceptual depth of his short fiction into play at novel length, while still preserving a lot of the fun and action that made the first book enjoyable. He also betrays a hand for young adult fiction – in his handling a plot strand involving a young teenager – that I honestly hadn’t particularly expected. I think one day, should he be interested, Stross could write a really terrific YA sf novel.

Now, I finished reading the book last night and, despite talking about it with my boss who told me I didn’t need to, I thought I’d take a look at the new C.J. Cherryh novel, Forge of Heaven. Why? Well, she’s written 50 or so novels and I must have read 40 of them, and I’ve really liked them for the most part, so I’m disposed to read her work. It also seemed to me interesting to see any links between the kind of space opera Stross is writing and the kind of space opera Cherryh is writing, nearly 30 years into her career, and there are a couple obvious differences. Cherryh is up to snuff with her technology and science, but she really buries it into the texture of her society, showing little interest in neat ideas and cool gadgets. Instead, she focusses on character and the story that grows out of character. Which is a good thing, in many ways. But…she does do one thing that strikes me as a dubious narrative strategy, despite having used it in two Hugo winning novels to date. She opens the book with 16 pages of reference material, the kind of historical stuff that usually lives in appendices, and for the first time in my experience, it really seemed to make the book drag. It’s picked up since, and I think it may be a lot better than Hammerfall (it’s immediate predecessor), but I don’t know if it’ll hook readers.

On another related point: is Cherryh the most important female space opera writer of the past quarter century? She doesn’t get the credit for it, but I can’t honestly thing of too many competitors for the title. Hmmm.