Book Review: His Master’s Voice by Stanisław Lem (three stars)

Book Review: His Master’s Voice by Stanisław Lem (three stars)

‘What is taking place is a certain play of forces perfectly indifferent to man.’ 

Excellent short story hidden among the philosophic musings of protagonist and narrator as Lem’s hand puppet. Like most character-driven novels, starts slow. Extremely slow.

‘In the course of my work … I began to suspect that the “letter from the stars” was, for us who attempted to decipher it, a kind of psychological association test, a particularly complex Rorschach test.’ 

Skip both prefaces. Prepare to wade through pages of self-referential bloviation. The story starts in Chapter Five.

‘From the moment I landed on the roof, through all the meetings and conversations, the feeling never left me that I was playing a scientist in a grade-B movie.’

More an alternate history of post-World War Two America than genuine historical fiction. I liked it, but your mileage may vary.

“One who puts a digital tape in a player piano is making a mistake, and it is entirely possible that we have taken precisely such a mistake for success.”

Book Review: The Coming by Joe Haldeman (Three Star)


Book Review: The Coming by Joe Haldeman

(Three Star)

“If you took all of the energy that all of the world produces in one year, and put it all into a space drive … we couldn’t make a golf ball go that fast. If it’s an invasion, we’ve had it Perdido.”

Not-too-distant-future first-contact story. First published in 2000. Focus is on the reaction and interaction of players in Gainesville, Florida. Multilanguage vocabulary.

“But in more than twenty years of analysis, we haven’t gotten any clear semantic content from the three suspect sources. This one is as plain as a slap in the face.” “And as aggressive?”
“That’s not clear. If they were attacking us, why announce that they were on their way? Why not just sneak up?” “On the other hand, if their intent is benevolent, why don’t they say more than ‘ready or not, here we come’?”

Heavy handed, as are most Haldeman stories, but better than his average. A pornographic subplot unrelated to the plot cost him a star. Haldeman apparently flunked anatomy and physiology 101. Humor lurks just beneath the surface.

“There were the usual riots in the usual countries, controlled by the usual methods, which provoked the usual responses. But even the most coolheaded and rational looked toward Christmas and the New Year, and wondered if there would be a January, after the first of the month.”

Daisy-chain point of view shifts changes characters without losing the reader. Several timeline inconsistencies. Several huge unanswered questions, at least one of which potentially undoes the whole story. (If I tell, it’s spoil things horribly.) Plot gaps diminish the fun, but fun it is.

We use administrative procedures long before we resort to supernatural weapons.” “You once told me there was no such thing as ‘supernatural.’ If something happened, it was part of Allah’s design, and therefore natural.” “Touché.”


Book Review: Way Station by Clifford D. Simak (Three Stars)

Book Review: Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Three Stars

“Our horizons are so far, and we see so little of them.”

Not quite a first contact story but close enough. The story starts so slowly I almost gave up, but it’s a full, rich tale once it gathers momentum. Almost four stars.

“As if he were a man who had walked away from his own humanity?”

Written in 1963, this story reflects the uncertainty and fear of that time. (How many of you remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? Vietnam?) Current Americans can hardly imagine the barely suppressed hysteria of many people living then. Without understanding that context, the immediacy of the story is dulled.

“A man must belong to something. The galaxy was too big a place for a being to stand naked and alone.”

Awarding winning science fiction of the different era. SF/F has different tropes and de rigueur topics now. The sixties were all about the coming Armageddon.

“It doesn’t matter much what any of us are, just so we get along with one another.”

Book Review: The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Five Stars out of Five

“Every era puts invisible shackles on those who lived in it, and I can but dance in my chains.”

Outstanding. The best hard science fiction I’ve read this year. Liu wrote it eight years ago in China, but the story translates—literally and figuratively—very well. Great world building and historical/cultural tie-ins to this world. Plenty of math and science to geek out on, yet many historical and value hooks as well. “By the time you’re my age, you’ll realize that everything you once thought mattered so much turns out to matter very little.”

Spoiler: a very different kind of first contact story. I love it. “Anything sufficiently weird must be fishy.”

Quibbles: The translation was transparent except for a few word choices. First, I believe what was translated as “evolutionary” problem solving was more correctly called Heuristic problem solving. “Entropy” is used referring to information density; it really relates to disorder or, if anything, information loss. Finally, Liu sets the clock ticking early in the story, but—even though the time ran out—gave no indication what it signified. (Other than the Trisolarans were messing with our minds.)

Not that beauty contests like the Hugo awards mean anything (especially this year), but glad to see it won one.

“But for the universe outside the solar system, we should be ever vigilant, and ready to attribute the worst of intentions to any Other that might exist in space.”