The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on November 21, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett

I was disappointed in this book. It is part of a series known as The Long Earth, I wasn’t aware of that when I started the book. The premise is that there are a large number of parallel universes that can be stepped through, they are mostly similar with minor differences, mostly involving plants and animals. The plot involves an alien invasion in one of the parallel-Earths.

It felt like the world wasn’t thoroughly thought through. It is easy for people, either individuals with abilities or with devices, to step between the worlds. Yet, in a world, almost all thinking is normal within the world. Rather than build a house, then step into a parallel farm to work, they would build a normal farmstead. It would seem more interesting with four-dimensional dwellings and working environments.

The other problem was that the solution was just handed to the main characters. Someone showed up, this is how we solve it, and bang. There was a moral dilemma associated with the solution, but this, too, was solved to easily. And there wasn’t sufficient explanation about why it would actually work, muchh less discussion. Some of this could have been explained in the three earlier volumes that I haven’t read.

I would say that the series isn’t worth the time to read it, but I’d first like to have a discussion with someone who has read them.

The Lazarus War: Artefact by Jamie Sawyer

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on October 17, 2017 @ 10:21 am

The Lazarus War: Artefact by Jamie Sawyer

This story is told in first person, from the perspective of an elite soldier named Conrad Harris, he has earned the nickname Lazarus because he keeps coming back from death. The book examines the future of warfare, in this story, Conrad leads an elite team of sims. This team uses enhanced clones of themselves to go out on missions, they die and wake up again. The book looks like it’s going to examine this and its meaning to humanity, but doesn’t get there.

The writing is mostly plain. The author’s descriptions go from good and interesting to the kind of bland writing you want to race through. He uses only an occasional metaphor or similie, but it feels contrived.

The characters are one-dimensional. The author does use backstory to try and fill out Conrad’s life, but it doesn’t work. Often, the actions, and more so the dialog, of Conrad and his team feel more like amateurs playing soldier than elite soldiers. The descriptions of action on a ship during combat occasionally belie an ignorance of shipboard procedures.

If action and military sci-fi appeal to you, you will probably enjoy the book. I could not finish it.

The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

Filed under:Adventure,Mystery,Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on May 19, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

This books is a follow-on to Dream Park. In this, the Dream Park business is running a new simulation, an end-of-the world scenario with mythological connections. But things are going on behind the scenes. When a player dies before it should be possible, an investigation begins turning up murder and conspiracy – and a return character operating under an alias and with a hidden past.

The dream story is interesting. It was well-researched and involves some Inuit history and mythology, and we see the players drawn into an interesting culture.

However, I didn’t feel the story was as good as the previous one. The characters are a bit shallow, which is moderately typical for Niven. But the story is very creative, which is also typical. In the end, I didn’t feel as if everything was adequately explained, such as the code modifications which had to get around security and have a very good understanding of their technology. The mystery player seemed to be far to uninteresting in the end, she had a lot of potential and should have been more complex. With the weak ending and the lack of character development I can’t recommend this book.

Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on April 28, 2017 @ 3:09 pm

Bloodline by Claudia Gray

This is a story of Princess Leia’s political life. The New Republic is facing new threats from within, the Centrists, a political party wanting to increase control over the galaxy in the name of preserving peace, have created a new role of First Senator. This person has much increased power and my be one step away from another emperor.

In addition to the political issue, Leia is investigating an underground military buildup. But no one believes it is possible. With the help of a Centrist, Ransom Casterfo, they travel across the galaxy to try to find proof of the existence of this army.

I found Ransom to be an interesting and complex character. On his first meeting with Leia, he comes across as an Empire apologist. This created a lot of tension between them. Yet his complexities reveal another side to him which warrants sympathy.

I listed to the audio version of this book. I found January LaVoy to be a good reader, and Random House has done a good job in the production. They have provided good background sounds that really enhance the book experience.

even though neither the political situation nor the military situation reach resolution, the book has good characters and interesting situations. It calls for a sequel.

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, ships capable of faster-than-light travel.  The Heechee disappeared millions of years ago leaving, besides just their ships, valuable artifacts scattered about the universe. People risk their lives to find these artifacts on the possibility of achieving financial 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.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace