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Book: “Fractal Noise” by Christopher Paolini
Publishing Info: Tor, May 2023
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat
Book Description: July 25th, 2234: The crew of the Adamura discovers the Anomaly.
On the seemingly uninhabited planet Talos VII:a circular pit, 50 kilometers wide.
Its curve not of nature, but design.
Now, a small team must land and journey on foot across the surface to learn who built the hole and why. But they all carry the burdens of lives carved out on disparate colonies in the cruel cold of space. For some the mission is the dream of the lifetime, for others a risk not worth taking, and for one it is a desperate attempt to find meaning in an uncaring universe. Each step they take toward the mysterious abyss is more punishing than the last.
And the ghosts of their past follow.
Review: I was aware that Christopher Paolini had written a science fiction novel in the last few years. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere on my monstrous Goodreads TBR list. But as is the case so often, once a bit of time has passed, it’s very hard for me to make room in my reading schedule to scour back through these past picks. Instead, I saw this new sci-fi novel coming out by him this spring and decided, ah, yes, here is where I will make up for missing the first one! So let’s see what’s in store!
A small crew, while out on a typical, exploratory mission, comes across something that confounds all explanation: a monstrously huge hole, dug on the surface of an uninhabited planet, and so perfectly circular that it cannot be natural. But with no signs of intelligent life, who or what created this hole and what is its purpose? Alex, a man running from his past, lands on the surface and sets out with a small team to cross the barren wasteland to reach the hole. But as they travel, the constant, resonating “boom” produced by the hole begins to test their sanity and their will.
Before I get into the review itself, I want to address what has happened on the Goodreads page for this book. It came out that the cover art chosen for this book was created using AI technology. In response, many reviewers took to Goodreads to protest this decision, and the loss of livelihood that it represented for illustrators, by review bombing this book with one star ratings. I think there is a very complicated, interesting, and unavoidable conversation to be had about how AI will impact many industries going forward, including this one. By no means do I feel that I have the answers to this. However, one thing I am firmly against is the cognitive dissonance displayed by review bombers tanking the ratings of a book, A WORK OF ART BY AN AUTHOR, to protest the decision of the publisher to forego supporting cover artists by using AI technology. There are places to have this conversation and protest this decision, but to destroy the rating for a book (again, created by an artist, the author) in the name of supporting artists…there’s just something supremely disjointed and misplaced about this. Obviously, Paolini is a big-name author, but I don’t think that should even have a place in the conversation. He’s still an artist who created a work of art and is now being trashed by readers for a decision a publisher made…all in the name of supporting artists. It’s unfortunate in every way and a shame to see. But on to the actual review…
I really enjoyed this book! As I said, I’ve haven’t read anything by Paolini since the “Inheritance Cycle” so many years ago. And while I enjoyed those, I also felt the writing itself lacked a bit of polish. But I can definitely see the improvements that time has played on Paolini’s style. Here, the writing felt confident and tidy, neatly weaving in and out between the events of Alex’s past and the building terror and dread that is his current situation. I also liked the exploration of grief, regret, and the mental barriers that we can create for ourselves. Alex’s journey is one largely of self-destruction and a search for meaning when he has begun to doubt that such a thing will ever exist for him again.
I also really liked the science fiction elements of this story. In many ways, this was a very restrained story, taking place largely on a barren planet with very few alien aspects. Instead, it very much reads as a survival story, with more and more things going wrong for the team and their struggles to continue on in the face of growing dangers. On top of this, the description of the corrosive effects on the mind that are the constant powerful winds the team must walk into and the ever-present, mind-numbing “booms” that are emitted from the hole are excellent. The increasing sense of doom is pervasive and very effective. I also will say that I’ve found that science fiction is a great release for my love of survival stories. With stories set in our own world, all too often I find myself bogged down on the details of survival stories and whether or not I find them believable. But science fiction? Who am I to say what is and isn’t possible? Honestly, it’s kind of a relief, since I really do enjoy survival stories and no one is more annoyed by my obsessive ways with these types of tales than me!
Overall, I thought the pacing was pretty good, but I do think it floundered a bit at the end. For all of the psychological build up, Alex’s experiences and reflections in the end all felt a bit too predictable and trite. I really like the general concept of the end, especially the reflections on the vast unknown that the hole represents, but it did feel a bit clumsy. And then it kind of just ended, which was also a bit jarring. But, still, I really enjoyed this one. I can’t speak to how similar or not this is to his first book, but I think this one will be enjoyable to most science fiction fans, especially those who enjoy survival stories and a slower, carefully paced story.
Rating 8: The brutal and harsh alien terrain perfectly parallels the mental and emotional journey of a protagonist who struggles with grief and finding meaning in a life full of wonder and tragedy.
Reader’s Advisory: Obnoxiously, “Fractal Noise” is mostly on Goodreads lists about AI art which, while an interesting conversation on its own…is not a useful list for readers actually looking for recommendations for similar reads. It is on 52 Book Club 2023: #32 Published By Macmillan.
4 thoughts on “Serena’s Review: “Fractal Noise””
This book was boring, didn’t resolve the core questions, and the setting is contorted to allow the author to explore the psychological aspects of the team. It is NOT about first contact.
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Well, to each their own, which is the joy of reading! I would argue that they do make first contact with something, the turtle creatures, though never understood, do constitute some sort of “being.” But I guess I was also using the term just to describe the sort of exploration, danger, and mystery that comes from a story taking place on a world that is completely known to the protagonists. I would also say that exploring the psychology of humanity is a HUGE staple of science fiction as a genre, so I wasn’t as bothered by the use of the planet itself to further this goal. But I understand that people will have different tolerances for such things. Thanks for reading! – S
Yes, exploring the psychology of humanity is a HUGE staple of SF. However, this book is marketed as a first contact novel and, while the turtles are something, the question of who (and why) built the circle was never answered. Thanks for setting up this site.
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Have you read Paolini’s other sci fi story? I haven’t, but I have heard that book is referenced in small ways. I wonder if there is any pay off or explanation in that novel that explains why this one left so many things unanswered about the circle. I guess I was ok with it remaining a mystery, but I get why that can also be frustrating for readers who want more payoff on the first contact front. Thanks for reading and commenting! Always love talking books with other fans! – S