Book Review: To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers (Four Stars)

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Book Review: To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

(Four Stars)

“It’s difficult to assign value to discovery when you haven’t sorted out the parameters of reality yet.”

Exquisitely good hard science fiction solidifying Becky Chambers as among the best in that genre today. Unfortunately marred by advocacy and technical errors. Despite that, it’s a great story. Maybe 4.5 stars.

“To properly survey a place, you need boots on the ground. You need human intuition. You need eyes that can tell when something that looks like a rock might be more than a rock.”

While I agree that definitive science is best done by a human observer, effective and more efficient observation at long range Continue reading

Book Review: Tau Zero by Poul Anderson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

(Four Stars)

“Nature is turning too alien for that. In honesty, I agree that our chances look poor. But I don’t think they are zero, either.”

Excellent hard Science Fiction based on a 1967 short story. Lots of science (some overcome by later science), well told. On the other hand, it is HARD SF: Anderson felt compelled to insert a formula for Tau at one point because he couldn’t explain a concept. (Many readers won’t understand the formula, let alone what it signifies.)

Leonora Christine spent most of a year getting within one percent of light velocity. The time aboard was about the same, because the value of tau only began to drop sharply when she was quite near c. During that initial period, she covered half a light-year of space, approximately five trillion kilometers.”

Modern science fiction writers could take lessons from Anderson. Melded into the gripping, but dry tale of exploration gone wrong are a variety of humans with a variety of reactions. The 1960s culture will seem like fantasy to current readers. (Spoiler: sex (very discrete, off stage) solves almost everything.)

“Your trouble is, you think a combination of acrophobia, sensory deprivation, and nervous strain is a metaphysical crisis. Myself, I don’t despise our lobsterish instinct to survive. I’m glad we have one.”

Anderson ignored black holes and radiation. Either would have killed his crew, if not his story. His “hydromagnetic forces” approximate gravity but allow him to bend it to his will. “Otherwise the Doppler effect might present us with more gamma radiation than our material shielding can handle.” He doesn’t identify that shielding but, where they go, even several meters of lead would not suffice.  And, “We might pass through a star at our current velocity and not be harmed. We can scarcely pass through the primordial nucleon. My personal suggestion is that we cultivate serenity.”

“Did you ever read Moby Dick?” she whispered. “That’s us. We’ve pursued the White Whale. To the end of time. And now … that question.  What is man, that he should outlive his God?”

#SFFpit

Movie Review: Ad Astra, directed by James Gray (Three Stars)

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Movie Review: Ad Astra, directed by James Gray

(Three Stars)

“We’re all we’ve got.”

Continues the trend of high concept, hard science fiction what-you-see-is-what-you-get movies. As opposed to space opera—mentioning no names, but Star is prominent in their titles. Special effects are well done. Sub-plots for the sake of sub-plots, which make no sense and slow the already glacial pace. Three stars is a gift.

“He could only see what was not there and missed what was right in front of him.”

Brad Pitt is well-cast as an emotionally-frozen protagonist. Tommy Lee Jones shows more acting in minutes on screen than Pitt in over an hour.

“I can rely on those closest to me and I will share their burdens and they will share mine.”

Quibbles: Several incidents pad the movie to add violence and tension but were complete non sequiturs. Pirates on the Moon? Where do they live? Where their air and water come from? Deep space research lab? Why not orbiting in a La Grange point? Baboons kill a dozen people, but the facility looks pristine. The scale of Neptune and its rings is totally wrong. Why didn’t he tether his craft?

“I will live and love.”

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

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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

Book Review: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Because I’m a professional, I actually made it to the gravity toilet in the centrifugal ring before I threw up.”

Hard science fiction with a heart. Kowal melds hard physics and space flight procedures with realistic conflicts of identity and personality. Even better than The Calculating Stars. She never lets the reader forget that this tale is set in the 50s and 60s, not the 60s and 70s. Huge, but often subtle difference.

“This’ll be the only time that Apartheid works in our favor.” At my puzzled glance, she shrugged. “You don’t know? We’re on the separate-but-equal ship.”

Many appropriate SF similes and metaphors. “Like the difference between a slide rule and a kitten.” “As if we were trying to make an ablative grief shield of our bodies.”

“What’s going to kill us next?”

Lots of quibbles, but only to the hardcore hard SF fans; they rarely detract from the story. One, a violation of Newton’s first Law of Motion, was probably committed Continue reading

Book Review: All These Worlds by Dennis E. Taylor (Four Stars)

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Book Review: All These Worlds (Bobiverse #3) by Dennis E. Taylor

Four Stars

“Can we go back to being pondscum? Life was so much easier.”

An ambitious project, well done. A satisfying end to the series. None too soon, as the story degenerated toward being a soap opera rather than a space opera. The android bodies, multiple threads, and repetition distracted.

“Don’t make the common mistake of thinking your opponent stupid just because they don’t see things your way.”

The narrative point of view changed often, but Taylor clearly identifies whom, where, and when we are. I still had to take notes to keep things straight

“Who wants to do their whole life doing chores?”

Taylor melds the optimistic and pessimistic views of space exploration. We will find folks who need our help, who want to compete with us, and who will eat us. Be careful Continue reading

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Three Stars

“I have a plan.” “A plan? Your plans are … uh … should I hide somewhere?”

The good news is that Andy Weir is not a one hit wonder; he writes gripping, realistic science fiction. The bad news is his reliance on profanity to express his characters. (Cost him a star.) Good plotting, good foreshadowing. The usual superabundance of happy coincidences and good luck

“People trust a reliable criminal more readily than a shady businessman.”

Jasmine is a totally unsympathetic character. If anything she’s pathetic. Given choices, she will always take the more self-centered and antisocial. It’s hard to like her, but she has grit and standards. A wet, shivering, but rabid pit bull puppy.

“I only forgave you because I thought I was going to die.”

Quibbles: Pressurized oxygen pipe on the moon’s surface? “We don’t have weather.” But you do have meteorites. “I might have been on the run my whole life, but I wasn’t willing to go without email.” (Will email exist in 10 years, let alone 60 or 70?)

“When does your victimhood expire?”

Weir understands economics better than some Nobel laureates I could name.

“Building a civilization is ugly, Jasmine. But the alternative is no civilization at all.”

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

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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

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

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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.”