Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on November 9, 2014 @ 10:29 am

Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

This is another science fiction novel set in Known Space. It takes place in a fleet of Puppeteer worlds, this novel delves deeper into the Puppeteer society and psychology than any previous novel, at least that I’ve read.

The story involves a small band of Humans among the Puppeteers who take on the risky tasks that the Puppeteers shun. They uncover a dark secret that the Puppeteers have kept, and wonder where that information will lead.

Although the story is interesting, it has a different feel from the other stories set in Known Space. It is darker. It shows a darker side of Puppeteer involvement in Human affairs, although this has been suggested, it is now part of the story.

Some of the characters seemed poorly developed. A relationship developed between two main Humans, Kirsten and Omar. Although Kirsten had rebuffed Omar’s advances, there wasn’t an adequate explanation of her change of heart. Other than that, there wasn’t really any character development. There were social changes at the end of the story, but the characters didn’t seem to change.

Although I did enjoy the story, I feel that the character flaws will keep me from recommending it. There isn’t much character development in Niven’s stories in general, and the stories are good. Perhaps the co-author introduced them, but they are inadequate and I feel they detract from the story due to their inadequacy.

Scatterbrain by Larry Niven

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on May 4, 2014 @ 6:43 am

by Larry Niven

This is a collection of short stories, some good, some not. Several were excerpts from other books and were not meant to stand along. They felt like the chapters at the end of books that were to entice you into buying the next in a series. For this, I felt cheated.

As the title suggests, scaterbrain, there is no theme to the book. The stories are random and varied. Even the introduction, which fit the theme, was lacking and of no value, even as literature in my mind.

This is ok if you’re a Niven fan, otherwise skip it.

Brightness Reef by David Brin

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series,Uncategorized,Uplift — posted by Randolph on May 3, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

Brightness Reef by David Brin

This book takes place on an abandoned world intended to be natural and develop its own races, who would hopefully be available for uplift. A small population of each of six races, in turn, have landed small colonies on the world. Their intent is to devolve and be re-uplifted, and hopefully to avoid attention and possible punishment from the stellar community. Humans are one of the six.

These races have ancient antipathy for each other. And each brings unique skills and histories. They have overcome their differences, and their are pieces of culture of each that has worked its way into the others, yet they do maintain separate communities.

The story revolves around the arrival of a spaceship or renegade humans. Their intent is unknown, and seems sinister. They aren’t an official envoy, so they shouldn’t be here, either.

This story shows us a different side of each of the races, including the humans. It maintains its suspense on the invaders, and latent tension among the six races.

Unfortunately, this book mostly sets up the series and doesn’t resolve much of anything. The story is interesting, and a must read if you’re interested in the Uplift series.

Foundation’s Fear (Second Foundation Trilogy) by Gregory Benford

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series,Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on March 2, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

Foundation's Fear (Second Foundation Trilogy)
by Gregory Benford

This is the first of a trilogy billing itself as the second foundation trilogy based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Although a three-book set, each can stand on its own very well.

The author explores some elements left up in the air by Isaac Asimov, and fills with more current knowledge and philosophy, such as addressing why there are no non-humans in the galaxy.

Some of the topics he addresses include expanding on Dor, who she is and giving her a little background. Her character is expanded, and perhaps changed a bit, at least from what I may have imagined. In general, he adds a lot about computers and robotics that Asimov didn’t go into, or couldn’t because the technology wasn’t available. Philosophically, he approaches the topic of computer intelligence and what could constitute life. In this, Hari creates two simulated people, Voltaire and Jean of Arc, to help him understand society and to help further his psychohistory, Voltaire and Jean of Arc act as a yin and yang, who’s arguments are designed to answer questions. But they evolve their own desires and take on life beyond their programming.

I found the book difficult to work through at times, but still an interesting addition to the Asimov series. I believe those fond of the Asmiov trilogy will enjoy this and find it interesting. It adds background to the trilogy and brings it a little more into the present. Otherwise I don’t think it may not be worth the effort.

Science Fiction and Philosophy edited by S. Schneider

Filed under:Philosophy,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on December 4, 2013 @ 8:11 am

Science Fiction and Philosophy edited by S. Schneider

This is another of the popular culture and philosophy books, but not part of that series. Perhaps comparing it to that series is a mistake, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. Although similar at some levels, it didn’t have the same depth as the other series.

The book posits that science fiction is closely tied to philosophy. Science fiction often poses questions originally posed by philosophy. Sometimes these questions are raised directly, and other times they just form a foundation for a story. One of the strengths of this book is that is lists the stories most of the works are drawn from, this makes for easy reference and one can find the books for more information.

One interesting approach taken by this volume is that each section begins with a science fiction short story that exemplifies the topic of that section. It really helps bring home the point.

The book touches on topics such as machine intelligence, the possibility of super intelligence, what machine ethics might mean, personality and personhood, and time and the logic of time travel. Naturally, the book discussed Asimov’s laws of robotics, why they are insufficient, and what is needed in their place.

A couple of the topics didn’t touch much on philosophy. The authors used the opportunity to discuss their own research and goals. I found these of interest, but overall detracted from the book. They felt out of place and sometimes didn’t even discuss real philosophy.

Although I found the book enjoyable, I cannot recommend it either as science fiction nor as philosophy. I’m inclined to seek another book on the same topic for comparison, I feel a much better job could have been done.

Eureka: Substitution Method by Cris Ramsay

Filed under:Eureka,Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on November 12, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

Eureka: Substitution Method by Cris Ramsay

This book is based on the TV Series, Eureka. Set in a small Oregon town whose citizens are all descended from top scientists, and are all super-geniuses. And every day seems to encounter some disaster that threatens the world, or at least our comfort levels.

In this story, flowers, then people. and finally buildings start teleporting about. Sheriff Carter and Dr. Blake need to keep it quiet and avoid any military involvement. When a building teleports with its occupants, how do you keep them in the dark? They, and the rest of the crew of Eureka have to solve this problem quickly, and return the buildings to their proper locations before anyone becomes aware.

This isn’t hard science fiction, and has more than a few holes. But it is a fun and fast read, and it is true to the series. If you enjoy the series, this book fits in with the same color and pace.

The Uplift War by David Brin

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series,Uplift — posted by Randolph on July 15, 2013 @ 7:07 am

The Uplift War by David Brin

This is the third book in David Brin’s Uplift series. In this book, a Human-Chimp outpost faces invasion by a superior species, the Gubru. The Gubru are after the location of a lost battle fleet found by a dolphin ship (book 2). After discovering that the dolphin ship is lost to the humans, they try to salvage their invasion to find some gain. Their efforts are hampered by a Tymbrimi ambassador and his daughter.

The fight takes a bit of an underground war flair, the Gubru are an occupational force. Some of the Chimps play a major role, as David Brin uses the events to explore their social structure. He shows us some interesting personalities in these chimpanzees.

The book also explores the Tymbrimi, one of the Humans few allies in the galactic confederation of bizarre species. The Tymbrimi have an odd culture that places great value in practical jokes. They use this skill in support of the Human position in the occupation.

Generally, the book is good, but not strong. It should be read as part of the series, but would probably not stand well on its own.

Startide Rising by David Brin

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series,Uplift — posted by Randolph on May 11, 2013 @ 7:27 pm

Startide Rising by David Brin

This is the second book in David Brin’s Uplift Saga. It provides a good introduction to the aliens and galactic politics.

In this story, a small ship, crewed by dolphis, a few humans, and a chimp, stumble across a fleet of derelict starships from a lost race. The prize is valued by many species, and the Earthling crew has to struggle for survival as the powerful races fight over the right to capture them to learn the fleet’s location.

The characters are well developed, including a number of the bad guys who were interesting and creative. The personalities of the dolphins seemed appropriate and well though out. They have unique characteristics that makes them feel a bit alien yet very familiar to us.

There was one weak point that bothered me. One of the bad guys had to explain everything to a person he was about to kill. It felt a lot like a gimmick, ok, it was a gimmick. It was a message to the reader and a minor plot device. I expect better from good authors. This flaw did not really affect the reading in my opinion.

Overall the book moves at a good pace; the writing is good and the story inviting. The story has interesting politics and characters. It is a good read for anyone who mildly likes science fiction.

Heads by Greg Bear

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on March 5, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

Heads by Greg Bear

This books is about a political struggle. The science fictions setting provides the opportunity for unusual political forms, family businesses on the moon manage large sums of money, power, and political will. There is also a religious element which seems a thinly veiled form of Scientology. The plot poses a family unit’s struggle against the combined bureaucracy of the Moon and the Earth. Then there is a wildcard of the religious element, their role isn’t clear through most of the book.

The book opens as the family purchases some cryogenically preserved heads, some of which are recent ancestors of Marco, who is responsible for the family’s financial transactions. His sister, Rho, and her husband have made the purchase with the intent of reading the minds of these heads without restoring them through the use of new technology.

It is difficult to go into more details without giving the plot secrets away. The book is short and wall written. It is a good story, not great.

Sundiver by David Brin

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series,Uplift — posted by Randolph on February 25, 2013 @ 10:07 am

Sundiver by David Brin

David Brin has a degree in astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in space science from UCSD. He writes hard science fiction, and has won 2 Hugos (Startide Rising 1984, The Uplift War 1987) and 1 Nebula award (Startide Rising). Half of his books are part of the Uplift series for which he is famous.

Sundiver is the first in the Uplift series. It introduces us to the concept of the uplift, which is where a senior species with space travel selects a primitive race. Then through training and genetics, helps that species advance to the point of space travel. That species then owes service to the senior.

In Sundiver, the self-uplifting humans work with a team of aliens to dive into the Sun to explore a new sentient species unknown to the galaxy. The first dive ended in disaster, and a subsequent trip has problems that suggest sabotage. The story has intrigue and borders on being a mystery, except that the reader does not have sufficient backstory information to attempt a solution and must follow the story line.

The book sets up some interesting politics and potential for further stories, evidenced by the large number of books in the series. We are introduced to a new Earth with restrictions on travel, some odd cultural subgroups, and alien zones. Since humanity is self-uplifted, there is some resentment among other species who owe debts for having space travel and being part of a galactic community. We only experience a few aliens, they are unique and well thought out.

I had difficulty understanding the main character, Jacob Demwa. His character was not well defined for me, maybe I missed something. The book opened with him working with some sentient dolphins, when he was invited to join an expedition to study the solar chromosphere. It wasn’t clear why this character was important to the project. In spite of this weakness, the story is well told, the technology is interesting, and the pace is very good.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace