Definitely recommended for fans of Remender's Fear Agent comics, or just lovers of pulpy, twisty SF in general. Black Science is basically a take on tDefinitely recommended for fans of Remender's Fear Agent comics, or just lovers of pulpy, twisty SF in general. Black Science is basically a take on the same idea as that old TV show Sliders, but with Remender's trademark black humor, cruelty to his characters, and all-around bloody-mindedness....more
Oh that was painful, but I finished it for my book club, and for science. And make no mistake: the science in this book is mind-bendingly excellent. ROh that was painful, but I finished it for my book club, and for science. And make no mistake: the science in this book is mind-bendingly excellent. Robert L. Forward's ideas (life on a neutron star, contact between cultures who exist at different time-scales, etc) are the kind of top-notch speculation that makes science fiction great.
But his writing is dreadful beyond belief.
I have never come across a writer in such desperate need of a co-author. Seriously, this book reads as if it were written by Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. Forward handles his aliens well enough, but when it comes to writing human beings he seems to understand that humans have these things called "personalities" but he isn't quite sure what they are or how they work. To be fair, many of the other greats of SF (Asimov, Clarke, Niven, etc.) aren't known for Hemingway-levels of depth in characterization, but at least their characters could probably pass a Turing test. I'm not sure that Forward's could. All of Forward's characters speak their thoughts aloud to themselves in stilted, perfectly grammatical monologues on a par with "Oh my. I seem to have fallen and I cannot get up." The man seems to have a disdain for using contractions the way some people are uncomfortable using profanity.
Urgh. How did this ever get past an editor? Like I said, what Forward needed was some other writer to use this draft as a plot outline and write in actual human touches for the humans, and this could have been a fantastic novel....more
There's a fine line between accurately depicting military life and fetishizing it, and while the first half of Orphanage felt to me like the latter, BThere's a fine line between accurately depicting military life and fetishizing it, and while the first half of Orphanage felt to me like the latter, Buettner dives straight into "War Is Hell" territory in the second half. If you're a fan of military SF who can't get enough of Robert Heinlein and has watched the boot camp segment of Full Metal Jacket more times than you can count, you will love this book and should run out and buy it right now.
As for me, while I always stop channel surfing for R. Lee Ermey, I don't dig the Heinlein and I don't get much out of military SF, so it was harder for me to gloss over some of the book's contrivances. The main character's a total washout who just happens to be friends with the world's top space pilot, and whose judge in juvie court just happens to be a Medal of Honor recipient who can pull strings for him whenever the plot requires; he just happens to stumble across the most intact alien artifact found in the war, becomes pals with the army's best gunner, falls in love with the best pilot, etc. etc.
I could gripe, but the book was honestly too engaging for all that to really get in the way of enjoying it. One could make the complaint that the author doesn't bring anything new to the military SF genre, or that his overarching conflict is a little too black and white, but you know what? If this book is your kind of thing, you're going to eat it up....more
I got the impression that Dan Simmons had a blast with this novella. It certainly doesn't have the depth of characterization you'd expect from his lonI got the impression that Dan Simmons had a blast with this novella. It certainly doesn't have the depth of characterization you'd expect from his longer works - the dramatis personae are clever sketches at best. They're basically just there as an audience eyepiece through which to view the barrage of big-idea, space opera, "sensawunda" high concepts Simmons throws at you, as if you were on a high-speed sightseeing tour of ancient, ultra-advanced, godlike civilizations.
That, and Shakespeare. As much as I love the Bard, I'm not sure I believe that his plays would carry as much weight as Simmons suggest once removed from any sense of cultural context (for example, performing them for non-humanoid aliens). But still, it's a fun conceit and a nice way to illustrate what value we tiny humans might offer when confronting the sheer scale of the universe and its denizens....more
2014 Reading Project: Finally Getting Around To... (Book 1)
So, my goal for 2014 is to clear off some of the books that have been sitting on my to-read2014 Reading Project: Finally Getting Around To... (Book 1)
So, my goal for 2014 is to clear off some of the books that have been sitting on my to-read shelf for what feels like forever. (My real world to-read shelf, that is, not my Goodreads list.) With that in mind, I chose to kick things off with the one that's been on the list since about 1979.
When I was a kid at Denham Springs Elementary, the tiny public library across the street had exactly three science fiction paperbacks: Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids, E.E. Smith's Spacehounds of IPC, and this one, Iceworld by Hal Clement. I eventually read the other two but never did crack this one, even though 4th-grade me found the idea of approaching Earth from an alien's point of view intriguing. For my "Finally Getting Around to" project, I even managed to track down a copy with the same cover that my old library had.
As a hook, it's fantastic: beings from a super-hot planet who find even Mercury chilly discover life on Earth and try to solve the mystery of what kind of beings could exist on a planet so cold that sulfur is a solid. Clement throws another twist in: the aliens who contact Earth aren't scientists or military, but drug dealers from a species for whom tobacco is even more addictive than it is for humans. One of their smugglers has been trading platinum for cigarettes with a family of Earthers for years, but he employs a science teacher named Sallman Ken (who's actually a narcotics agent) to discover a way to grow this "tobacco" substance offworld.
So basically, Ken spends the whole book trying to solve a mystery that isn't a mystery at all for anyone from Earth. Oddly, that makes the story work better than it would have otherwise - all of Ken's convoluted science experiments would have been awfully boring if the reader wasn't constantly itching to jump in over his shoulder and say "that blue stuff is water!" or something like that. The weird gyrations that Clement has his protagonist go through just to determine the elemental structure of Earth's atmosphere are particularly strange, since you'd think the aliens would have understood basic spectroscopy. (We've had it on Earth since the 1860s.)
That probably makes Iceworld sound like a boring technobabble book, but it's not. It's actually a fun, forgotten Golden Age gem about first contacts, misunderstandings, and plucky problem solving.
More than Trek or Star Wars, I've always been a hardcore Whovian. You'd think it wouldn't be an issue for me to enjoy a Who tie-in written by a hardcoMore than Trek or Star Wars, I've always been a hardcore Whovian. You'd think it wouldn't be an issue for me to enjoy a Who tie-in written by a hardcore SF star (such as this) but I did struggle through a big chunk of this book through no fault of the author. Harvest of Time is set during the Third Doctor/UNIT era of the series, which is much beloved by many Brits but is actually my personal least favorite period of the show. (Yes, I like Colin Baker more. Sue me.) Reynolds's story really takes off and the book comes together as a whole only when the Doctor and the Master get swept away to another planet in the far distant future - and that's usually how all Pertwee stories run for me.
But my, does Reynolds nail the Pertwee era of the series perfectly, with the mix of the alien and the mundane - heavy on the mundane - and the Brig, Jo, Benton & Yates taking almost as much precedence in the story as the Doctor himself. But this is Pertwee with a budget - exploding oil rigs, nuclear attacks, legions of robot crabs surging from the sea, and life-or-death battles at the End of Time.
You can also tell from this book that Reynolds really loves the Master, especially the Roger Delgado version who the author paints as the "Sean Connery" of Masters. I'd go so far as to say the Master is treated with far more depth and nuance than any other character, including the Doctor. The Doctor in this novel is only really interesting when considered in terms of his relationship with the Master. Since every other incarnation of the Master also has a cameo, it'd been nice if we could have got some actual dialog from some of them (a Delgado/Ainley team-up perhaps) but that might have overshadowed the title character far too much. It still says "Doctor Who" on the cover after all....more
"When I was your age, television was called books." Now we've come full circle to a book structured and released episodically like a television progra"When I was your age, television was called books." Now we've come full circle to a book structured and released episodically like a television program. The Human Division isn't a serial in the traditional sense of a novel broken up into chunks with cliffhangers. Instead, most of the chapters stand on their own as complete short stories while contributing to the whole. So did it work?
As for the story itself, I'm not going to say much. It's the fifth in the Old Man's War series (yes, I skipped ahead) and focuses on a team of diplomats who get handed the Colonial Union's messes to clean up on a regular basis. For story, character, and plot I'd only have given the book 4 stars, but it earns the extra mark for innovative concept and delivery.
As a librarian I've sat through many lectures from experts prognosticating the future of ebooks and how they will change the reading experience, but all those scenarios usually involve hashtags, hyperlinks, and the ability to electronically highlight your favorite passages (which for some reason all these ebook speculators think will be really important). With the chapter-a-week, 99c delivery method, Scalzi seems to have hit on something that keys in to how people actually enjoy entertainment.
I understand that most people still prefer to drink their fiction in one big gulp, but what Scalzi managed with this experiment was to create a sense of shared experience and community among all of us who were eagerly awaiting our weekly fix of Human Division while killing time for the new seasons of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones to start. I thought it was particularly hilarious how parts of the Internet briefly exploded when we all learned that *gasp* the book finishes on an end-of-season cliffhanger. How dare someone do in a novel what we've come to expect from every show on the boob tube!
Thank God and Tor, The Human Division was renewed for a second season....more
Sometimes nothing's as refreshing as a quick, pulpy SF adventure story about a band of space-faring scoundrels fighting for their lives on alien planeSometimes nothing's as refreshing as a quick, pulpy SF adventure story about a band of space-faring scoundrels fighting for their lives on alien planets. The Devil's Nebula delivers exactly that, without a trace of irony. It is what it is, and it's fun. The "weird space" tagline might lead you to think this book might fall into China Mieville / Jeff Vandermeer "new weird" territory, but it doesn't. It's more in the tradition of 50's/60's SF action, updated for the generation who watched the Alien movies in elementary school....more