Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Filed under:Adventure,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on April 15, 2017 @ 3:06 pm

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

This story tells about exploration, about the fear and wonder of it. It is told in first person, and we deal with his anxieties, passions and fears. The protagonist, Robinette “Bob” Broadhead, won a lottery, enough to got to Gateway and become a prospector. Gateway is an asteroid with Heechee ships, the Heechee disappeared millions of years ago leaving valuable artifacts. People risk their lives to find these artifacts on the potential of achieving independence.

There are only a few key characters besides the main character, most of these have very little development. The exceptions are Gelle-Klara Moynlin, Dane Metchnikov who are important to Bob and are key to his character development and his psychosis.

The author does a good job of describing life in a low-gravity asteroid, I found the descriptions interesting and insightful, although I think he missed a point or two. 🙂 Moving a heavy object would be very difficult, it may not have weight, but it’s inertia would be greater than the friction you would have with the floor. It recurred during the fight scene, it seems like it would be very difficult to maintain footing while struggling with someone. The problem did not detract from the book.

The story unravels along with a parallel path in the future where Bob is seeing a robot shrink, Sigfrid. These sessions provide a harbinger of events to come, but they aren’t very clear. At first, they seemed unimportant, but they help develop both Bob’s character and build to the climax. I found Sigfrid very interesting, even though a very flat character. Bob’s actions later in the book reinforce that Sigrid isn’t an individual, but he seems to walk a line between human and robot.

There are also one-page entries that help build an image of life on Gateway. These include classified ads, personal communications, rule and contracts.

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable and difficult to put down. There is something looming around the corner that needs resolving. The final revelation is unique and thought-provoking.

Tales of the Jedi by Tom Veitch

Filed under:Adventure,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on March 31, 2017 @ 4:05 pm

Tales of the Jedi by Tom Veitch

This is a small collection of short stories about the Jedi Knights in the age before the movies. These are stories of adventure of young jedi facing their first conflicts. I listened to the audio version of the book.

Unfortunately, the dialog is pretty bad. The characterization of the young Jedi is weak and poorly written. The author explains thing to the reader by using ignorance, often in the jedi, who do know know some of the basics in how the force works. I suspect the reader knows far more than the young jedi.

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish by Douglas Adams

Filed under:Humor,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on February 13, 2017 @ 10:13 am

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish by Douglas Adams

The fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series was a bit disappointing. That is not to say it was bad, but it didn’t seem to hold up to the previous books. Arthur is on the Earth 2, about 8 years after the destruction of the original version. The book was disappointing to me because the plot was weaker and many of the characters weren’t as interesting as in the series.

Arthur falls in love with a girl, that seems to be a major plot point, but doesn’t develop. The girl’s reactions didn’t seem reasonable to me at times.

Another plot point is discovering why the dolphins have disappeared. But this point is just dropped in favor of another plot point – discovering god’s final message.

On the positive side, Adams displays his peculiar brand of humor quite well. Each turn of events is pretty much unexpected and often funny.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on September 15, 2016 @ 8:44 am

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book is riveting from page its first lines, “Log Entry: Sol 6. I’m pretty much fucked.” Mark Watney, a botanist and one of the first humans to walk on Mars, has just discovered he’s stranded on Mars with no hope of survival. Then he addresses each problem one-by-one. There is a lot of action, Mark goes through a variety of emotions as he faces problem after problem, then proceeds to look for a solution.

The book has strong, believable characters. The science and engineering are very solid. You can sense the amount of NASA training he’s experienced and the preparation for this mission.

The book also tells the story of people on Earth and the other five astronauts en route back home. Each thread is well-told and just as gripping.  Many times, I could feel the NASA experience, having worked at JSC early in my career.  It felt very natural.  Toward the end of the book, the tension and sequence of preparations for the Mars liftoff reminded me of the many launches in the 60s.

The story also has a human dimension, where many people go to extraordinary means to help an individual. The world becomes captivated in Mark’s fate, and nations go to action to make things happen.

The book is awesome, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it.  I’ve restrained myself from seeing the movie, now it is a high priority for me!

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on August 29, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

This novel is about an exploration of an alien civilization and its death. The book opens at an archaeological dig on an alien world uncovering evidence of an alien civilization and its demise. The book, sort of, follows this exploration into space and artifacts.

Alastair Reynolds is a scientist, and has stated that the technologies in his stories are conceivable with our current understanding of science. So space travel is sub-light speeds with people in hibernation, who face elapsed-time differences with the people they know. In spite of this, he does introduce a number of odd, strange and even peculiar technologies and associated problems.

From a hard science fiction perspective, this is an interesting story. However, that’s where it ends. The characters are a bit flat with weak dialog, and weak prose. There is no character growth, and the story seemed to drag on in the middle.

The characters themselves are rather odd and include a virtual character. Much of the book involves mistrust between the different characters as they try to guess each others motives. This went on too long without showing much evolution. I felt it had the making of a good political struggle, but it didn’t pan out.

I did find the end somewhat compelling, but it didn’t make up for the weaknesses. It is a good read for those interested in the hard science, but others will be disappointed.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on June 6, 2016 @ 8:49 pm

Seveneves  by Neal Stephenson

This is a disaster book, about the destruction and rebirth of the Earth. In this story, the Moon breaks up from an unknown cause, the parts continue to fracture and fall onto the Earth until the Earth is deluged by fragment impacts causing the atmosphere to heat up and much of the surface to become molten.

The book is in three parts. In the first, the disaster is looming and people are trying to prepare for survival of the race or preparing for their own end. The second part sees the destruction of the Earth, the numbers in space are dwindling in their effort to survive both natural disasters and each other. The final part is the re-terraforming and resettlement of Earth, discovery of people who sheltered themselves on the Earth, and new political struggles.

Seeing the impending doom, humanity unites and elects to send select people into space, each country is to select two candidates to send. There is some conflict, and there are extreme reactions to them, but thing generally go too smoothly.

In space there is a lot of struggling to survive. The science is good, and the reader will pick up some basic orbital mechanics and physics on the way. One billionaire manages to ride his own rocket into space. But rather than a burden, he flies out to collect a comet for fuel – and meets his own disaster when the reactor that fuels his ship leaks. One politician resembling Hillary Clinton, uses her influence to get into space, then turns the space colonies into a political battleground. I found her character to be foolish and unlikable, I admit that don’t care for real politics in my fiction. She is one of the last surviving women, the seven Eves, who are to repopulate the human race. Without surviving men, they use parthenogenesis to repopulate and ‘improve’ their progeny. Each Eve is permitted one improvement in her offspring.

The third part of the book involves finding survivors on the Earth’s surface. The world has already been terraformed. We learn that each of the eves have created seven races of humans, with both physical and mental differences. Their differences reflect the personality of the Eve that sired their race.

Conflict comes when they encounter the survivors, who claim the surface of the world as their domain. These people lived deep in caves with massive provisions to get them through the apocalypse. Politics leads to battle and eventually compromise. You see the beginnings of politics as normal in all their relationships.

I had a number of issues with the story. Early in the book, it seemed people were too accepting of their fates. You didn’t see people becoming extremely religious, no survivalists, no people looting to get the most they can for their personal last days. They may have been unimportant to the story, but it seems like it should have been mentioned. There was only one instance of resistance to the policy of getting people into space, even that required an organized nation to mount. This just isn’t my view of a world-wide disaster that has no hope of survival.

Other issues such as, people who have lived in space for 5000 years have no problems adapting to gravity, when our astronauts have trouble after a matter of months. Would they even be interested in going someplace they’ve never been?

People who lived underground had no problems adapting to the sunlight. They had lighting, but it wouldn’t be close to the same. I suspect they would have lowered the lighting levels over time as they continued to adapt.

Generally, the third part of the book felt like a different book from the first two. It had too much content that was nothing more than descriptions of neat new technologies. a little of it was valuable to the story later on, but I glossed over most of it. The book is already too long for its value, taking most of this out would have helped.

I also have to wonder why the seven races didn’t interbreed. With the enlarged gene pool, it would have enhanced humanity and brought the genetic advantages to all humans. But it wouldn’t have made as interesting of a story.

The ‘white sky’ should have been darker, more eclipse-like as small fragments cast massive shadows over the earth similar to the rings of Saturn. I don’t see a couple of years being sufficient to have fragments in polar orbits, so the sky coverage wouldn’t have been complete. This would have made the poles have glowing arcs around them at night.

The books name refers to the fact that there are seven women, or Eves, that plan to repopulate the human race. It is also a palindrome, which made me think about the destruction and rebirth of the Earth and of the human population. The seven Eves being the pivotal point and the low point of the population.

Overall, the books is enjoyable. It is one of the more interesting disaster books that I’ve read, but I can’t recommend it that highly due to the issues I’ve raised.

Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams by Gareth Roberts

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on November 20, 2015 @ 10:39 am

Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams by Gareth Roberts

This book started as a script for TV written by Douglas Adams. The script does not follow what we think of as Doctor Who cannon. Production did start on an episode (or movie?) but (apparently) not completed. Gareth Roberts took the script and expanded it into a book.

The book is an adventure story, it seems to be based on the Tom Baker version of The Doctor, but it isn’t explicitly stated. It does have a good feel of Doctor Who, the deviations are pretty obvious and appear early, and it is easy to get past them and enjoy the story. The flavor of Douglas Adams is obvious, especially toward the end of the book.

The characters are interesting, although the relationship between the two primary human characters felt contrived. The plot is interesting and has enough twists to keep the interest up.

Reality Check by David Brin

Filed under:Science Fiction,Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on May 3, 2015 @ 8:32 pm

Reality Check by David Brin

A rather dull, short story. It didn’t have time to develop anything of interest.

Legacy by Greg Bear

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on April 1, 2015 @ 7:43 pm

Legacy by Greg Bear

The plot is the exploration of the relationship between a small human society and a new life form. The author seems to have envisioned a new idea for a new life form and used the book as a device to explore it. That said, the book is enjoyable.

Olmy is sent by the Hexamon to spy on the humans on Lamarckia, a planet with a unique life form that was to be left alone. As soon as he arrives, the focus turns to an exploration of the life, itself.

There is almost nothing that is really explored. Although Olmy sets out on a travel, which did not seem to fit with his mission, almost everything we learn about the life is provided by other characters. As the story progresses, the reader encounters characters more and more knowledgable.

Another plot line involves the relation of two factions on the planet. We open with outright warring, and eventually learn the underlying history behind the war, and the people leading it. We also learn a little about the cultures involved in this war. Personally, I found this more interesting than the life exploration.

Besides Lamarkia, referring to the planet and the Lamarkian-style evolution that seems to predominate its life forms, the author has thrown in references to mythologies. Other than just names dropped, there isn’t really a clue that there is a reference. I suspect I missed most of them, if there were more than a couple.

Early on, the book dragged. I really couldn’t identify with any of the characters in the book, the main character seemed to make some very odd decisions. The book really picked up in the second half. If the first half were just a little better, I would rate the book much better.

1632 by Eric Flint

Filed under:History,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on February 8, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

1632 by Eric Flint

This book tells the story of a West Virginia mining town being transported into the year 1632. The story is about the clash of cultures, mostly in how the locals react to the American philosophy and technology.

The Americans immediately decide to impose democratic and egalitarian philosophies on the locals, who take to it rapidly.

This should make for a great story. But there are many shortcomings.

First, the writing is fairly weak. The author has no idea how to tell a backstory. I almost gave up on the book within the first 20 pages. For example, when he introduced one of the characters early in the book, he provides a decent description, then provides the backstory in a short paragraph:

"So, Doc. Did the judge give you a choice? Between the Army and the Marines, I mean."

Most of that was never explained in the book.

Often, when describing an action, he’ll switch between describing events in process and describing them after the fact. It is somewhat unsettling, and would be more interesting if he stuck with the present.

His segues often consist of a comment by one of the characters that is extremely out of place. A lot of the dialog feels awkward or forced.

The locals are far too accepting of the Americans and the Americans are far too ready to come to consensus in their decisions. There is almost no internal conflict. Their skill set is far too broad for a mining town and they seem to figure things out too quickly. Some of the characters are a bit over the top.

Generally, all conflicts in the book are resolved within a few pages, except for military conflicts which can carry out for a while. He misses numerous opportunities to have issues build tension and develop characters. He introduces major characters in the book who take on backstage roles. Some could have been major characters providing a lot of tension and interest.

The pacing of the book is fairly fast. It is more of an action book than science fiction. But the pacing doesn’t vary enough. Almost the entire book runs at this same pace.

On the positive side, the pacing is good, not too fast, and the story is interesting.

The history is good. This is an interesting and pivotal time in history, one we should know more about. With the inquisitions going across Europe and the thirty-years war, there is a lot to be involved in. These are some of the events that led people to cross the Atlantic for the Americas, now the Americas have come to Europe.

I did enjoy the book, but was sorely disappointed because it could easily have been so much more. If you enjoy alternate history and can put up with the weak writing style, you will probably enjoy this book.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace