I bought all three of these books at once, because they looked interesting, and then Equations of Life didn't quite wow me, so the other two spent most of the last two years sitting on a bookshelf while I read other things that seemed more pressing. It wasn't that Equations of Life was a bad book, but there are an awful lot of books out there, and I'm not going to get all the good ones read if I keep spending time on the not-bad ones. Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom would probably still be on the shelves getting ever more dusty had it not been for the fact that Morden just published a new book about Samuil Petrovich and got me wondering whether I should be giving it all a second look. And they're small books; it wasn't going to take me forever to finish them.
Aaaand, I'm still not wowed. I'll catch up on the fourth book to see what happens, but it could take a while to get there.
What's the problem? Well, the tyrannosaurus rex in the toilet cubicle is Samuil Petrovich, who is just a little bit too over the top to be convincing even as an ironic comment on heroes. I have grumbled in the past about Jack Reacher being every teenage boy's fantasy come true, but Petrovich makes Reacher look like something out of Kafka. He's an unstoppable hacker; well, OK. He's a genius who's sorted out all the stuff that stumped Einstein; now you're testing my credulousness just a bit. He's a fun-loving criminal; now you're just taking the piss. He's a street fighter who makes Omar look a little flabby and uncommitted; no, just, no. And the hot chicks just love him, despite the fact that he's fundamentally unemployable, swears at everyone and is heartily disliked by everyone who isn't a hot chick. OK, at THAT point, someone still has some teenage nerd issues to work their way through, preferably not on my time.
This didn't actually level out as the three books progressed; Petrovich moved from asshole saving one kidnap victim, to asshole saving a whole city, to asshole saving the whole city again to asshole saving the world. And saving the world's only functioning AI. And giving it limitless free energy. And having a positive harem of useful female sidekicks. If life actually worked that way, everyone would be trying to be an asshole. And since it sometimes seems to me that "everyone trying to be an asshole" would explain a lot of what I see around me, the last thing we all need is propaganda for that policy.
Which is a pity. Morden's got an interesting dystopia in his Metrozone, and he's not a bad writer; there are some nice little touches all the way through and there's never anything so clunky that you get dropped out of the moment to marvel at what just got past the editors. I have read much worse, and blogged about it too. I have written much worse. Simon Morden is a better writer than most of these blog posts. It all makes Petrovich more of a problem, not less.
Still. Once I was in the groove, I did stick with it this time. Petrovich's Russian swearing was kind of addictive; I was wondering if I'd found a semi-polite fix for my Irish habit of using swearwords the way other people use "umm" and "err". I could swear all day in Russian and not sound quite as barbarous as I do at the moment, though of course there is an argument that if you can arrange to swear in a sufficiently upper-class voice, you sound like a supremely confident alpha chimp and all the other chimps will be intimidated by your apparent exemption from society's rules about politeness. Surrounded as I often am by chimps in sore need of a better plan, I find that argument seductive.