For some reason, I had Walter Jon Williams on my mental list of “worthy” authors — people who write books that you’d like to have read, and which you’d enjoy reading, but which you’d have to really get yourself motivated to tackle, and would spend most of a month slogging through. Based on the evidence of Walter Jon Williams’ Aristoi this is a blatant misrepresentation of Williams.
Aristoi is a remarkable book in a lot of ways. It’s a book about posthumans that’s not eye-rollingly trendy; it’s a book about highly artsy people that’s not eye-rollingly precious; it’s a book that plays textual formatting tricks without being eye-rollingly pretentious; and it’s a book that tells a rollicking galaxy-spanning fate-of-humanity adventure story without being eye-rollingly silly. The intersection of hard SF, literary SF, and space opera is a small, small space — but Aristoi is snuggled firmly in the center of it, carving out an enviable little niche. Aristoi is what Bujold would write if she were more imaginative, what Simmons would write if he had a sense of humor, and what Niven would write if he were less pulpy. It is, in short, damn fine SF in every way.
Now, the obligatory nit-pick: Lots of name-dropping references to philosophers, writers, and artists, every single one of which is historic to the author, even though these people belong to an artistically rich post-human civilization apparent millennia in the future. In all the planets of human space, in a culture which aims people toward the production of great cultural works, you’ve got nothing worth referring to since the late twentieth century? Nuh-unh!
But, like I say, that’s a nit-pick. Recommended highly for all fans of SF. I’m going to seek out Williams’ other work, now.