Book Review: Echoes of Earth by Sean Williams and Shane Dixs (three stars)

Book Review: Echoes of Earth (The Orphans Trilogy #1) by Sean Williams and Shane Dixs (three stars)

“Aliens on one side, spies on the other. That’s not much of a choice. I’m glad it’s you and not me who has to make it.”

A different sort of first contact fiction. Well done. Everyone seems broken and at odds, then things get worse.

“You are aware of the need for caution in the face of new technology. If you follow our guidance, you will be safe.” As the psychologist said to the laboratory rat, he thought.

Hard science fiction of a most speculative sort. Gratuitous profanity. Religion-based profanity doesn’t ring true so far in the future. Talk about your apocalypse.

‘If, as the [redacted] had suggested, there were hostile races out there, looking for victims, it would be dangerous to announce one’s presence quite so readily as Earth had once done.’

Begins a series but manages a satisfying conclusion to this book.

‘Not even the promise of immortality could take the sting out of getting older.’ 

Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish and Greg Bear (four stars)

Book Review: A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge #4) by James Blish and Greg Bear (four stars)

Almost all knowledge, after all, fell into that category. It was either perfectly simple once you understood it, or else it fell apart into fiction.

Published in 1958, this novel is simultaneous outdated and relevant. First contact of a non-Trekkian kind demands deeper introspection. A good read.

“This is not a question of information. It is a question of whether or not the information can be used. If it cannot, then limitless information is of no help.”

Folks under thirty may have trouble identifying with a Jesuit scientist or politicians of the 50s. The absence of integrated circuits and microcomputer-based information transfer is striking.

It was right and proper to pity children, but Ruiz-Sanchez was beginning to believe that adults generally deserve any misfortune that they get.

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (four stars)

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (four stars)

“I was alone all along, but now I am truly alone. The sole living human within several light-years, at least. What do I do now?”

I love first contact stories. I especially love first contact stories which do not involve the aliens (or us) trying to eat or exterminate each other. This is one of those better kind of stories. Told with the simple, linear style Weir is famous for.

“You three are going to Tau Ceti. The rest of us are going to hell. More accurately, hell is coming to us.”

The story hinges on not one, but three superbeings/materials. That’s okay, but pushes the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.

“Well, you’re not alone anymore, buddy. Neither of us are.”

More technical quibbles here than with The Martian, which is a pretty low bar. They detract from the flow of the story, and we expect better from Weir. “CO2 spectral emissions are 4.26 and 18.31 microns. But Astrophage are only 10 microns across, so it couldn’t really interact with light that had a larger wavelength.” Weir should know wavelength is the distance between wave crests, not the amplitude of the waves. “Soyuz capsules are launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is at a high latitude. The safest landing locations are at that same latitude.” Not so. “The chopper took me to Travis Air Force Base, about 60 miles north of the city.” Not so. “Apparently, the entire Hail Mary is at that 40 percent pressure. Good design.” Bad design, since it must be 100% oxygen. Both the USA and the USSR killed astronauts because of that. “Evolution can be insanely effective when you leave it alone for a few billion years.” No, it specializes so completely that the population can’t deal with change. Also, several “As you know, Bob,” dialogues.

“Not all Eridians willing to die for others.” “Not all humans either.” “You and me are good people.” “Yeah. I suppose we are.”

Book Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (three stars)

Book Review: A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine (three stars)

Let’s see if interested means “would like me safely dead,” as usual.

Continues Martine’s inventive space opera with allies one can’t trust adding first contact with an unknowable foe. Multiple points of view intrigue and baffle unwary readers. As with A Memory Called Empire, the improbable outcome everyone expects morphs into the impossible outcome no one desires. Well done.

“Who wouldn’t want to be involved in a first-contact scenario?”
“Nearly everyone who has ever been near an alien.”

New characters mix with holdovers from Memory to expand the horizons of the story. The stakes are appropriately higher.

“If he does it … and he’s right, and he lives—then he’ll have achieved a kind of first-contact negotiation no Teixcalaanlitzlim has ever managed.” “… Are you jealous?” “I’m not brave enough to be jealous.”

Lost at least a star for one gratuitous, graphic sex scene. Unnecessary to either plot or character development, it cheapens the story into rank pornography. The scene in question could have stopped after the initial kiss and ruminations by the point of view character then restarted in next chapter’s post-coital tangle of limbs with no loss. Overuse of the f-word too.

She didn’t exactly want him to be careful. Didn’t want, herself, to be careful. Only to win. She wished she knew what winning would look like.

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

‘The sea never forgives you.’

Hard science fiction from the dawn of the space age. (First published in 1958) Anderson engages even modern readers with deep characterization and realistic plotting. Plenty of interpersonal conflict, but it’s reality which threatens.

‘Do you expect any trouble?’ ‘One is never certain. The great human mistake is to anticipate. The totally relaxed and unexpectant man is the one prepared for whatever may happen: he does not have to get out of an inappropriate posture before he can react.’

The technical gaffs are less noticeable than many more recent SF stories, though the appearance of a slide rule may give many contemporary readers pause.

‘That is one way to destroy yourself … hoping. You must accept the worst, because there is always more of the worst than the best in this universe.’

English spelling and punctuation.

‘One sin which is punished with unfailing certainty, and must therefore be the deadliest sin in all time. Stupidity.’

Book Review: Discovery of the Saiph (Saiph #1) by Pp Corcoran (Four Stars)


Book Review: Discovery of the Saiph (Saiph #1) by P.P. Corcoran

(Four Stars)

“Your overriding priority is not the discovery of new life; it is the preservation of life on Earth. If, for whatever reason, something does not seem right to you, Captain, you turn tail and head for home.”

Excellent hard science fiction. A not-too-implausible future of mankind discovering we’re not alone and someone else would like to be alone–even if it requires annihilating everyone else. Despite covering an expanse of time and territory, Corcoran develops the personalities of key players to give them depth, even if it is stereotypical.

“The logistics behind establishing a colony are massive, never mind the expense.”

Lots of contacts with previously unknown peoples. Disappointing that first being-to-being contact always occurs Continue reading

Movie Review: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Four Stars)


Movie Review: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve

(Four Stars)

There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.

Excellent hard science fiction. Despite that–and several Academy Award nominations and a Nebula and Hugo Awards–it was ignored at the box office. Probably because it was too cerebral.

Everything you do in there, I have to explain to a room full of men whose first and last question is, “How can this be used against us?” So you’re going to have to give me more than that.

Amy Adams makes the movie. She has the best part, best lines, and despite having only one glamour scene looks believable through it all. Whitaker and Renner stumble through their parts.

“Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

There’s also a spiritual parable quality to Arrival which can’t be ignored. Let each make of it as he or she will.

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it.”


Book Review: Solar Express by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Four Stars)


Book Review: Solar Express by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Four Stars

“Too many people get too passionate about too little, and not excited about what matters.”

First contact, sort of. Good, hard science fiction. The type that encourages the reader to reflect on the science, rather than the fiction. Don’t reflect too long, however because there are a few technical groaners. (see quibbles) Wanted to give it five because it’s so good, but between Modesitt’s pontificating and the orbital dynamics, couldn’t. Gets an “A” for effort.

“Human beings talk about sharing knowledge while doing their best to hide it or get it first.”

Both protagonists are well-drawn, engaging people, who have different backgrounds and interest, but who from a chance meeting end up making both a scientific breakthrough and a chance to save mankind as well as themselves.

“Truth is a judgment placed on the facts, not the facts themselves. True scientists try to avoid using the word ‘truth.’”

Quibbles: Way too easy. Decides to intercept Continue reading

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“Genius may have its limits but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

Extraordinary writing. A rich blend of science fiction with philosophic inquiry. The casts (there are two stories, tangentially connected) are deeply and realistically developed to clash, promote, love and hate one another. A first-contact story of the best kind. Humor.

“None of you will ever know what it was like and I promise you: you don’t want to know.”

Folded timeline irritates at first, but is gradually revealed to be Continue reading

Book Review: Invasion by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (Three Stars)

Book Review: Invasion (Alien Invasion #1) by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

Three Stars

“There were powers in the universe that found [our] force and aggression not just laughable but unworthy of notice.”

Don’t read the blurb; it’s a synopsis of most of the book. Oddly, the titular invasion occurs off stage. In fact, this is mostly a dystopia about the panic between the sighting of inbound aliens (species, powers and intentions unknown) and the actual first contact.

“Good men and bad men looked the same from the road, especially considering how thin the line between them had become.”

Good story telling, if linear and episodic. The characters are vividly, if incredibly, drawn. Hard to picture an arrogant business mogul who does–and believes in–yoga. Thankful the token non-white is not black.

“Somewhere around your twenty-second birthday, teenagers started sounding like melodramatic idiots no matter what they did.”

Quibbles: Will the “Sears Tower” still be thought of by that outdated name in 2050-2060? Will teens then use antiquated (now) expressions like “bun in the oven” and “knocked up”? There’s no need for a sign on the border between Iowa and Nebraska because there’s a mile plus wide river (the Missouri) between them.

“If you peered close enough, everything was nothing; if you pulled back far enough, nothing somehow became everything.”

The ending is either great hook to the next (of seven projected) stories or a dirty trick, or both. They told us, “The End is only the Beginning.” Still, it cost them a star because it felt hokey and pasted on.

“It won’t last.” “But nothing lasts.”