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

23848420

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

Advertisements

Movie Review: Ender’s Game, written and directed by Gavin Hood (Four Stars)

ender27s_game_poster

theater release poster

Movie Review: Ender’s Game, written and directed by Gavin Hood

Four Stars

“The way we win matters.”

Hard science fiction; hard message. Sometimes we become like what we hate, even as we seek to defend ourselves from it. At the same time, to defeat a foe, we must understand him; as our knowledge becomes complete, it gets complicated.

Based on the book of the same name by Orson Scott Card. I prefer the book; your mileage may vary. The movie ends looking beyond the end of the first book toward Ender’s quest for redemption.

Proclaimed by Variety as among the “Biggest Box Office Flops of 2013,” unlike popular popcorn burners like the Marvel movies, this takes reality seriously. It also understands that consequences are real and not always favorable. When you weaponize children, you abuse them. You abuse humanity.

 

Book Review: Of Treasons Born by J. L. Doty (Three Stars)

Book Review: Of Treasons Born (Treason Cycle) by J. L. Doty

Three Stars

“Victory was never sweet; it was merely a relief.”

Better than average pace opera. Hard science fiction. Run Silent Run Deep meets Starship Troopers.

“His emotions were all sharp edges and angry corners.”

Good feel of shipboard operations. Decimal time reminds the reader of the otherness of this era.

“Only when he got back to the edge of death did he feel alive.”

Quibbles: Like most faster-than-light or near light speed space writers, Doty forgets the impact of time dilation. It would next to impossible to synchronize so many actors and movements. “The best laid plans” can’t be synchronized. Twice uses “auspiciously” when he means “ostensibly.”

“For them it’s over. For us it goes on.”

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Five Stars)

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

Five Stars (provisional)

“Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we’re doing here.”

Great story; great storytelling. Starts where The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet stopped, but is not a sequel. It’s even better. Largely a different cast. A different story; a different kind of story. Reflective and introspective; action is de-emphasized. Parallel stories intertwine before coming together.

She “hung on tight, more grateful for that weird alien hug then she’d been for anything in a long time.”

That said, Chambers explores some universal philosophic questions in a hard, deep science fiction setting. The comparison with Asimov’s I, Robot stories is inevitable, and Chambers may be better. Certainly she’s taken advantage of Continue reading

Book Review: The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #2) by Liu Cixin

Four Stars

“It’s part of the plan.”

I struggled through the first hundred pages, thinking it’d be a shame to give up when I liked The Three-Body Problem so well. Slow pace and lots of references to the first book. Yes, I’ve read it, but I’ve slept since then. No clue who many of the players were or why I should care.

“It’s a wonder to be alive. If you don’t understand that, how can you search for anything deeper.”

Finally came into focus midway through. The pace accelerated and Liu swept me away again. Until the last hundred pages, I was still going to give it four stars, but the denouncement was great, if a lot more obvious to us than to the protagonist.

“I can’t see humanity. I can only see individuals.”

Speaking of obvious, once again Liu telegraphs his punches. It’s almost no spoiler to tell you what happens halfway through, but I’m not. Read it for yourself. Once again he explains the involved physics in excruciating detail. Lots of “as you know, Bob” data dumps.

“Thought control is everywhere in modern society.”

Love the references of psychohistory from Asimov’s Continue reading

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (Three Stars)

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Three Stars

(Spoilers Follow)

“If this doesn’t work we’re all dead anyway.”

The good news is this a rock-hard science fiction; the bad news is this a rock-hard science fiction. Readers of space operas and the various “Star” franchises may not connect. Folks who are starved for hard-core SF: here it is.

“It is only a certain type of mind that scorns what is known by all and treats secrets as jewels.”

What if the Moon exploded? What if debris would kill everyone on the surface of Earth in two years? How might mankind survive? That’s the set up. The rest is well-thought out and developed.

“I feel that I have been dropped into a sci-fi movie.”

That said, it’s overloaded with exposition and explanation. 881 pages is a clue. (Should have made it a series.) Stephenson assumes the reader knows nothing about orbital physics and sets about correcting the deficiency. Too much dialogue is aimed at the reader. Dreadfully boring.

“She finds ways to [seek power] and back fills a rationalization for it afterward.”

Though exhaustively researched and presented, the number of coincidences and lucky breaks pushes the credibility of that same hard-core SF readership. Hopelessly optimistic projection of Continue reading

Book Review: In the Blackness of Space by Robert D. Kuntz (Five Stars)

Book Review: In the Blackness of Space by Robert D. Kuntz

Five Stars out of Five

“To be an adult means you give up seeing yourself as a victim.”

An amazing hard science fiction outing which I compare to The Martian, also published in 2014. While the two books share many parallels, Blackness attracts the reader with a protagonist so flawed that just riding a car is a trauma. How he ends up on NASA’s first interstellar mission, that’s the first (and most obvious) of many plot turns. (Unfortunately, it is spoiled in the plot summary)

Without making spoilers, I can’t discuss the last half of the book at all. The big climax is well foreshadowed but a total surprise. Seriously, how do you sneak someone into space? I know, the whole world knew Chapman was taken up drugged and why, but seriously.

Blackness is not only good science fiction, it’s a good exploration of a person’s inner struggles and his eventual coming to faith. Some readers will disagree with the form of that inner journey, but it’s integral to the plot. Well told. Before I read it, I thought the title obvious, even trite, but in fact it too is integral to the story.

As I read Blackness I toyed with ratings of three or four stars. The climax garnered its fifth star, but I can tell you no more without spoiling the fun.

Nice cover art. (Look closely.)

Book Review: Incandescence by Greg Egan Five Stars

Book Review: Incandescence by Greg Egan

Five Stars out of Five

Oh, Yeah! This is what I’ve been looking for: hard science fiction which clamps on to you like a pit bull and won’t let go.

(There be spoilers here. Maybe)

In the far future (maybe) beings seek and interact with a culture of semi-sentient of arthropods (maybe) who have to progress from early Iron Age through the theory of something like relativity in a single generation … or die. Oh, and invent non-Euclidian geometry and calculus in the bargain. Unlikely? Who cares? It’s a great story. In fact, two great stories interwoven.

The drought of engaging, mind-hurting hard SF is over. For a little while.

Love the cover art.

Book Review: Faith by John Love (Three Stars)

Book Review: Faith by John Love

Three Stars out of Five

A science fiction tale melding hard science (mostly correct), with first (well, second) contact of a really weird kind, with a prolonged (almost book-long) space battle. Our protagonists are a bunch of loveable (well, not really) misfits who distrust even each other led by an ego-maniac (nothing new there) commander, who better come up with a plan that’s better than his ship, his crew and himself or civilization will be toast. The politics are yawners.

Some good action and introspection, but the egg-in-an-egg, worm Ouroboros ending kind of dulls the edge. If you can force yourself, don’t read the last chapter. It’s all philosophic and deep, but not so much fun and posits a rigidly deterministic universe with no free will.