Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Sep 11 11:14:05 EDT 1991

Raymond's Reviews #144

%T Queen of Angels
%A Greg Bear
%I Questor
%D March 1991
%O paperback, US$4.95
%P 418
%G ISBN 0-446-36130-5

I missed Queen of Angels when it first came out because the cheapskates who float the Questar line don't kite their paperback releases to their review list. Foo. I read it over the 1991 Worldcon, and...

Queen of Angels is a big, ambitious, spottily brilliant novel that doesn't quite come off. There is some marvellous idea content in this baby, especially in the parts that touch on human depth psychology and AI.

One throwaway passage connecting individuation with semiotic processing struck me as so powerful and original and thought-provoking that I had to drop the book to think about it for twenty minutes and expect to be ruminating on it for months). This is the kind of stimulation I read SF for. In fact, I'm going to indulge myself and reproduce it here:

The individual differentiates itself from its world and its social group when it is able to observe all their elements as manipulable signs. In any individual, cultured or not, "consciousness" develops when all the portions of its mind agree on the nature and meaning of their various "message characters." This integration results in a persona, an "overseer" of the mental agreement --- the conscious personality.

--- Martin Burke, The Country Of The Mind (2043-2044)

Bear succeeds in convincing me, at a level of detail no other author has managed, that his character Martin Burke truly understands the structure and development of personality in ways as far beyond today's psychology in precision and power as quantum physics is beyond Aristotle. I am vastly impressed by this.

There is even some poetry of remarkable authenticity and power in the book; the piece that begins "God shot up with me last night" in chapter 26 is particularly remarkable, as is the quatrain that begins 23.

Unfortunately, Bear tried for too many kinds of novelty at once. The good poetry is overbalanced by reams of turgid, babbling awful poetry. His attempts at stream-of-consciousness prose are painfully, embarrassingly bad --- masses of overelaborate compound sentences with all the commas stripped out and a bad case of adjectivitis. The book also has serious structural problems (too many subplots with too few logical connections between them) and an ending that seems both abrupt and weak.

Finally, there's just too much stuffed between the nova-burst insights that seems derivative; the houngans from Gibson's Count Zero, the mindscape sequences from Zelazny's He Who Shapes and elsewhere.

Is the result Hugo-quality? On balance, I'd say no. Is it worth a read? Most definitely. Most authors never even reach this high; even the wreck of Bear's ambitions holds more magnificence than most run-of-the-mill "successes".

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Sep 11 11:14:05 EDT 1991

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>