I adored this book, but I can easily see where a lot of readers wouldn't. 2312 is a triumph of worldbuilding over storytelling, but Robinson's everyth...moreI adored this book, but I can easily see where a lot of readers wouldn't. 2312 is a triumph of worldbuilding over storytelling, but Robinson's everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink worldbuilding (expanding on the milieu of his Mars trilogy) creates such a rich, detailed future that I didn't mind exploring it a little aimlessly at times. Unlike his Mars books, Robinson focuses on a smaller handful of protagonists and hangs the story on what first seems to be a standard genre adventure framework - solving the "whodunnit" of a terrorist attack on Mercury. Nothing is that simple, however, so anyone expecting a ticking clock adventure story ending, with Bruce Willis triumphant, is going to be disappointed.
Meanwhile, you get to spend time with people who walk just ahead of sunrise on Mercury (for fun), travel the solar system in hollowed-out asteroids designed to mimic extinct Earth ecosystems, surf a wave in Saturn's rings, play lawn-bowling with people who can't quite pass a Turing test, and cruise the canals of Manhattan.
Interesting note: I read this book while spending a month in East Africa, and Robinson's description of a balkanized, desperate, and struggling Earth really resonated with what I was seeing around me in present-day Tanzania, Zambia, and Kenya. The only real problem I had with the story was that in my mind's eye, the two main characters looked just like Amy Wong and Hermes from Futurama.(less)
Just what I needed after a seemingly endless string of fantasy and paranormal books - an old school, Analog style, hard-SF adventure with some great B...moreJust what I needed after a seemingly endless string of fantasy and paranormal books - an old school, Analog style, hard-SF adventure with some great Big Science concepts. The centerpiece are the titular dragons, life forms discovered in the accretion disk of SS Cygni, and the expedition/safari to bag one and bring it back. Along the way there's an interesting approach to wormhole-powered slower-than-light travel, and AI based on the personality of Ernest Hemingway, and an Earth future totally transformed by biotechnology.
As for the biotech, I don't quite buy that one aspect of Brotherton's world building. I'm sure there's a revolution of some sort coming down the road, and that given the option people would start modifying their own bodies in new and shocking ways, but some of the applications used in the book seem a little "jet-packy," if that makes sense. (Living creatures being used as beds and chairs, for instance.)
What makes the book kind of a slog through the middle section, though, are the dysfunctional characters. Flawed characters are always good for drama (and only extreme personalities would willingly volunteer for a 500-year mission) but Star Dragon's cast is so deeply messed up as to be completely unsympathetic for a big chunk of the book, and Brotherton seems to spend a lot of time writing from the point of view of the most detestable, least likable characters in the cast. The finale is suitably rousing, however, and most of the characters achieve some measure of redemption by the end.(less)
I've read lots of classic SF, but now, at last, I've found the missing link between Isaac Asimov and E.E. Smith, the transition stage between thoughtf...moreI've read lots of classic SF, but now, at last, I've found the missing link between Isaac Asimov and E.E. Smith, the transition stage between thoughtful, character driven science fiction and the Atomic! Age! of Super! Science! Van Vogt's prose is just far enough on the clunky side of pulp to make it jarring to modern ears, but the main thing that might hold a modern reader back from this book is that so many of the ideas Vogt introduces have since passed into the realm of cliche. If you put the book in its historical context, it becomes clear how much of a debt Van Vogt is owed.
Super-powered mutants fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them? Check. An oppressive totalitarian government that uses fear to control the populace? Check. A eugenics program aimed at creating the perfect super-being, destined to one day avenge his parents and come into his ultimate power? I could go on, and that's without even getting to the underground cities, hypnosis crystals, disintegration rays, conspiracies within conspiracies, and the secret colony on Mars.
What I enjoyed most in Slan is that, while there is a clear-cut protagonist, the sides of "right" and "wrong" are murky and indistinguishable right up to the very end - a far cry from the pulp adventures of the Lensmen or John Carter. My one complaint is that the hero, Jommy Cross, lacks anything like an equal or counterweight to play against. Still, it's a quick, enjoyable, Slam! Bang! and yet surprisingly thoughtful read.(less)
I've been reading Scalzi's blog for a while now, so I finally got around to one of his books to see what the fuss was about. A good one to start with,...moreI've been reading Scalzi's blog for a while now, so I finally got around to one of his books to see what the fuss was about. A good one to start with, too: Old Man's War is extremely readable, the kind of fun, rip-roaring SF adventure that no one else seems interested in writing nowadays. (Yes, I know there's a "New Space Opera" movement, but I think everyone else skips over the fun part in order to make their books more epic.)
The book draws inevitable comparisons to Starship Troopers since it follows pretty much the same formula, but with its own unique spin. I'd go further to say that it serves as a counterpoint to Heinlein, if not as an outright rebuttal. Scalzi addresses questions about the moral justification of war that Heinlein glosses over too easily. Also: less fascism.
Why not four stars? The book has an awful lot of infodumping and while that can be necessary in a start-of-series worldbuilding book, too much of the character interaction is there simply to explain things to the reader. Another problem is that Scalzi relies pretty heavily on coincidence to keep the story going toward the end: certain familiar characters just happen to be the only ones to survive a massacre, certain people just happen to bump into each other at the right time, and so on.
Shut up, Jared, it's just a book. Relax and enjoy Vol. 2.(less)
So much for the future. Forget space travel - in fact, forget traveling very far from your home, except by horse or sailboat. Anything else requires c...moreSo much for the future. Forget space travel - in fact, forget traveling very far from your home, except by horse or sailboat. Anything else requires cheap fuel, which probably won't be around for much longer. You can also give up on pizza night. When the cost of transporting food becomes as prohibitive as the cost of transporting anything else, we won't be eating much of anything that we can't grow in our own backyard. Oh, but wait... we don't have backyards any more since (in urban areas, at least) we paved over all our arable farmland to build subdivisions, shopping malls, industrial complexes, and parking lots.
Basically, we're screwed.
Terry Goodkind commented that people will believe something because a) they want it to be true, or b) they're afraid it might be true. I believe the future of The Windup Girl because it scares the crap out of me. In the 22nd century, energy is scarce and food is scarcer. "Calories" are now currency, and to make matters worse, a cabal of big-Agri companies, not satisfied with flooding the market with their patented, infertile crops, have released engineered plagues into the environment with the goal of wiping out any food source for which they don't own the monopoly.
With the help of a renegade gene-hacker, the Kingdom of Thailand has managed to keep out the plagues of the West and remain a viable nation, but its grip on independence is slipping due to corruption from within. Into this mix comes Emiko, a genetically-engineered New Person - a "windup" - one of a new species designed to not only live, but to thrive in a future altered beyond recognition from our own. The question is: will the windup girl and her like be able to survive the death throes of the original human race?(less)