Movie Review: Ad Astra, directed by James Gray
“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 P.P. Corcoran
“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 (Lady Astronaut #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal
“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 (Bobiverse #3) by Dennis E. Taylor
“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
“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.
“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
theater release poster
Movie Review: Ender’s Game, written and directed by Gavin Hood
“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 (Treason Cycle) by J. L. Doty
“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 (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 (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #2) by Liu Cixin
“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