Two books, head to head. Both hard sci-fi. Both brilliantly written by super authors. Both nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award. Both explore the reaches of human expansion. Neither written for the casual reader. Get out your dictionaries, folks, and settle in for ring side seats to a no-holds-barred, cage match main event!
In this corner, book 1 weighing in at 640 pages, written out of California… Crusher!
And in this corner, book 2 weighing in at 470 pages of fine print, hailing from Great Britain… Bruiser!
Crusher: Drawn from an author with a Ph.D. in English, this is a sweeping scenic masterpiece set in a fully realized solar system completely colonized by humans. He’s meticulously detailed the nuances of various terraforming techniques, taking into account the unique circumstances around the inner planets, outer planets and multitudes of asteroids. And then the full descriptions of the hollowed out asteroids, each one simulating an individual biome of Earth as safe deposits for endangered animals, was nothing less than stunning. Stunning over and over again for hundreds and hundreds of pages.
Bruiser: This one, written by a mathematician with a Ph.D. in aeroengineering follows a washed out astronaut billionaire who funds his own venture into space to mine the asteroids and colonize the universe. Bruiser’s characters are all quick with math and the numbers move the story. This book was fast paced and all over the place. All the info dumps you could ever want with plenty of math, physics and philosophy behind it all. The info dumps generally lasted a paragraph or so inserted into dialogue with obvious take aways. I absolutely loved them, but then I like math, too. A decent working knowledge of scientific notation is required to contemplate the scales and expanses discussed in this novel, so I can see why it didn’t review so well on Goodreads.
Crusher: I found the main plot… flimsy. Almost as though the author invented his vision of the solar system then contrived a reason for a character to fly around and reveal the marvels of his imagination. Was so-and-so’s death natural or murder? Oh, yes, I guess it was natural—540 pages later. Cliché political turmoil—bad Earthlings wallowing in misery while space people have solved all problems. And every other plot and subplot detail had similar outcomes. Unfortunately I can’t even say the flimsy plot carried though the book. It disappeared for several hundred pages, replaced with more description and a benevolent revolution force down from above that had no consequences on anything.
Bruiser: This book had a well defined plot, ambitious and glorious. To spread humanity throughout the galaxy so that the species may survive into infinity. The main character drives his mission forward by bucking the system and building his rocket from leftover NASA technology. Later it’s revealed that he’s suffering from cancer, has no children, yet still wishes to leave behind a legacy. Despite the heavy subject matter, the author keeps the tone light. But the main character is shown that, despite his best efforts, humanity will eventually go extinct when the very protons of existence decay to nothing. In a subplot, mysteriously genius children gather to build secret devices to change the nature of nature… on a universal scale, one that could spawn a billion billion new intelligent species, but the cost for such ambition is the human race with the only solace that one day, hundreds of billions of years out, one of those species might become smart enough to put the pieces together. Whoa!!
Crusher: Effectively the main character did nothing. She (ostensibly for pronoun purposes) drifted back and forth, interacted with the various environments and showed the reader this solar system though her eyes, but that was it. As far as the plot, one character that got very little time on the page moved the plot along the most. The main character came along simply because she was the granddaughter of the original victim. She wasn’t pleasant, carried a cynical mood and seemed bored with her own existence. In discussions it was suggested the character was a commentary on living an unnaturally long life without needs. What would you become if you didn’t have to work and lived for 200 years or more? Very interesting concept, but nothing spoke to that topic and a resolution never offered. That left a miserable character. At one point she threatened to scream if she didn’t get her way. She betrays her friends and reveals a secret to her quantum computer on a whim who then talks to another one who comes up with the details of a plot in progress and the solution. When the main character decides to act on the solution the other quantum computer already alerted the appropriate authorities. At the end her only character arc came as she goes against her previous declarations and gets married. Oh, and she’s flexible which made her good in bed. I’ve got to say, this author wrote a weak gynandromorphic character.
Bruiser: Dashing, rich, astronaut, who wouldn’t want to be this character? Except for the cancer, but everything else seems fun. He flies by the seat of his pants in all situations, never giving in, extending his opportunity until something comes up. He makes snap decisions and lives with the consequences, even stealing uranium from Scotland, throwing a fictional U.S. Senator out the door and blasting into space while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is coming to arrest him and a psychopath is shooting at his ship. Sure the character is a trope, but it’s more fun than following a mope. One issue I had was in the beginning the main character followed the math, physics and philosophy while his ex-wife is the ignorant foil who needs explanation, though, she too, is quick with the math. At the end, after she dies and everything is being explained, he becomes the dullard who continuously asks for simpler explanations. I understand it had to be written that way if the author wanted to reach a greater audience than Ph.D. candidates in astrophysics, but the change in character was a little annoying.
Crusher: After the main plot disappeared and the author got elbows deep in a preachy tangent that encompassed three years of book time, the actual writing turned bad. I mean really bad. The author intruded on the story the entire time and everything, even the action scenes, were written very passively, but a one hundred page section must’ve been skipped by his editor. Cause and effect all wrong, repeated clauses, explanations of narration, purposeless exposition, rambling paragraphs that went nowhere, huge sections devoted to random incidences that had zero bearing on the plot. Oh, look, she’s disobeying for a good cause. What? Her grandmother’s death is still suspect, the person who killed thousands of people, destroyed an entire city and tried to murder millions more is still at large? Go play with the animals while we all wait.
Bruiser: It had a soggy middle bogged down in technobabble. The main character and his ex-wife are plunging themselves farther and farther into the infinite number of universes which proves to him that no intelligent life exists anywhere but Earth and illustrates the Big Bang, the Big Crunch and numerous other bizarre universes in various stages of development. It was a chance for the author to take his audience on a trip though grad-student level thought experiments. I found it long and tedious, but at least it served the plot.
Crusher: The entire book is predicated on a date. All the annoying extracts make this date seem important. The time line is working to this date and then… nothing happens. The supposed plot’s conclusion relies on one person’s weak evidence and a look, a knowing look, the main character received several years earlier. Sure the main character got the guy the job who witnessed the evidence, but that was coincidence. Case closed, we got the bad guys. Even the epilogue says nothing happened on or around that date. There was no point to the entire story. Everybody lived mopily ever after. He’s telling the story of a privileged, yet unremarkable person experiencing frustration and futility. The author set out to write in this fashion specifically to defy the common expectations of readers.
Bruiser: A time line also drives this story, but everybody dies in the end. I mean everybody. Earth is obliterated and humanity blasted extinct. The main character and his ex-wife even die twice. Actually the entire universe collapses into a nearly perfect vacuum. The entire time I was pulling for a happy ending, but the stakes were too high and it defied my expectations. But there was a reason, a conclusion with a purpose, and so I can accept the dreary end.
Both books taxed my vocabulary. Bruiser with sciency terms. Crusher with obscure words and references. I’m familiar with the sciency words and in my opinion they fit, they were genuine. Now, I like a robust vocabulary in a book, but some of the word choices in Crusher seemed eccentric. He used the name of a 1960s performance artist as a verb and then never showed a mutilating act of art. It seems he threw the name in to prove he knew who the real artist is. And now, the pet peeve—“Sure, why not?” used twice in the narrative and about three times in dialogue. All the rest of the author intrusion was bad enough, but to shrug at his readers and offer, “sure, why not?” as an explanation to a part of his story in the narrative I found contemptuous. The bland and mopy characters, the thin, disjointed plot, the pretentious vocabulary, the over description, the narcissistic tangents and the endless name dropping I thought condescending, but those three little words revealed to me an author who doesn’t care for his audience.
I waited months to read both these book. I had no plan on reading them consecutively and had no idea how similar they were until I finished Crusher and got well into Bruiser. Scored on a ten point must system, let’s go to the cards!
Round 1 Scenery: Crusher=10 Bruiser= 9
Round 2 Characters: Crusher= 8 Bruiser=10
Round 3 Plot: Crusher= 8 Bruiser=10
Round 4 Writing Style: Crusher= 9 Bruiser=10
Round 5 Cover Design: Crusher=10 Bruiser= 9
Round 6 Science: Crusher= 9 Bruiser=10
And the winner by 58 to 54… Bruiser!!
While I loved so much of the detail in Crusher, this was never actually a contest. In Bruiser, genius children ride a nuclear explosion to the Moon! That was the knock out, right there.