/ [Slant], Greg Bear

Tor, 1997, 349 pages, C$34.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-85517-6

Greg Bear is a very uneven writer. At his best, he’s able to produce stories like Blood Music, The Forge of God, Eon and the exceptional Moving Mars. As his worst, he gets taken with disillusions of literary grandeur and turns out stuff like most of Eternity, Strength of Stones and the incredibly boring Queen of Angels, all of whom manage to fumble clever premises by molasses-like plotting, cypher-characters and obscure prose. With / [Slant], Bear has added another miss to his collection.

Well, I’d better qualify this statement. Queen of Angels did not amaze me, despite the fact that some critics hailed it as one of the best SF novels ever. Cool ideas, interesting stuff, but it was still mind-numbingly boring. Slant is the sequel to Queen of Angels.

(A word or two about the title: somewhere buried into the copyright page, we find the following doozy: “The title consists solely of the slant sign.”)

Slant picks up a four years after the events of Queen of Angels. Despite the quadruple whammies of Self-Sentient Machine Intelligence, the Binary Millenium, explorations of the Country of the Mind and possibly intelligent extra-terrestrial life, the world of 2052 hasn’t changed very much from the previous volume. Most of the prequel’s protagonists are a step down from where they were previously. Policewoman Mary Choy has moved to Seattle. Psychologist Martin Burke has a private practice and doesn’t meddle with the Country of the Mind anymore: nobody does.

Meanwhile, a man named Jack Giffey is mounting a raid on a modern-day pyramid. A porn star/occasional prostitute has a disturbing encounter with a paying customer. A middle-aged man has seemingly lost his wife’s affection. Other stuff happens.

For a good hundred-fifty pages, nothing is brought together. Then, we get ominous hints of something like an impending collapse of the collective unconscious. (Unfortunately, nothing like that happens..)

By the time all characters, events and subplots come to an end inside the said modern-day pyramid, we’re ingested a bit of philosophy, met a few characters and seen a future that’s quite plausible.

It still doesn’t mean that it wasn’t boring.

To be fair, there are a few good quotes and a few equally good ideas here and there in /. There is an unusual emphasis on the theme of male/female relations (there goes / again), treated quite maturely. The characters are effectively (re-)introduced and we get the idea that we could have had a fairly good story with them. The first fifty pages are even quite good, mostly because at this point all possibilities are still open. Unfortunately, Bear settles for a pedestrian walk through the future and we, the readers, suffer through it all.

Slant doesn’t even have the memorable bits from the first volume, so it’s very probable that it’ll disappear from the SF conscience in very short time. A pretty weak cover by Jim Burns also doesn’t help. The interior design is quirky, perhaps a bit too much.

Upon reading books like /, there is always the doubt that the author may be too smart for us, that we’re just too dull, too immature to “get” what he’s talking about. It is probably the case with both of those books, but the ultimate recommendation stands: If you’re in the market for a readable, fast and fun read, steer clear of /.

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