I read this one based on a recommendation in a book by Jo Walton, otherwise I'd have never heard of it. Nevertheless, it's the kind of thing I love: aI read this one based on a recommendation in a book by Jo Walton, otherwise I'd have never heard of it. Nevertheless, it's the kind of thing I love: a coming of age / slice of life story set on the moon, where the characters are a bunch of kids who grew up there and take everything for granted. There are big events going on for sure, such as an impending water supply crisis that concerns the main character's father, but it's all in the background. What the lead character, Matt Ronay, is mainly concerned about is what he's going to do with his life, how he can get off the Moon and into space, whether he and his friends can successfully take a clandestine train ride to a station on the Moon's far side, and how well his RPG character does in an ongoing game he and his friends have going.
This kind of thing, where there's no heroic quest or earth-shattering action climax, is what I think of as a kind of "anthropology of the future." Ford doesn't go easy on his readers, either. The kids all talk in a futuristic slang that has to be decoded; it's never directly explained, so getting your head around the language takes a bit of work in the opening. I almost said "the first few chapters" but that's another thing that makes this book something of a challenge - there are no chapters. There aren't even any "soft breaks" between scenes. One scene just blends into the next for the entire length of the book. It's neat in a "no one's ever done that before that I've read" way, but it also makes me scratch my head the same as Cormac McCarthy's lack of punctuation, making me wonder how the author got an editor to let him get away with it.
Still, if like the rest of us "slammers" (Earth residents who have a habit of slamming into walls in Lunar gravity), you'd fancy a vacation on the moon complete with train ride, I recommend picking this one up....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
Imagine if Arthur C. Clarke and John Scalzi wrote a book together. You'd come up with something like The Martian.
Man vs. Nature with Science in one haImagine if Arthur C. Clarke and John Scalzi wrote a book together. You'd come up with something like The Martian.
Man vs. Nature with Science in one hand and Snark in the other. The premise is simple but fraught with danger - not just for the hero but also for the audience. After all, one-man castaway stories run the risk of becoming dreadfully dull. Andy Weir sticks the landing, and manages to keep ramping up the difficulties for his stranded astronaut while allowing the protagonist enough victories to keep him (and the reader) from sliding into despair. I blew through this book in no time flat, but it never felt like mindless popcorn. Far from it: there was almost as much scientific meat in this book as in Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, only told from the point of view of a lonely astronaut with nothing but a crop of potatoes and hours of 70s television for company. The ending left me wanting an epilogue or two just as an excuse to stick around in the story for longer.
In fact, I loved this book enough to rant about it for a while:
This is a book that will restore your faith in science fiction. What's more, this book will renew your faith in Hard science fiction, the kind that's mostly been relegated to the pages of magazines like Analog while disappearing from bookstore shelves. Even better, because of the wit and humanity with which Weir writes while maintaining his strict commitment to gritty realism, I've at last got a hard-SF book that I'd feel comfortable, nay enthusiastic, about recommending to non-SF readers in general. I hope hope hope that with a movie in the works, Weir may have done for crunchy, real-science SF what Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven did for westerns - namely, letting mainstream culture take a genre seriously again.
The first thing this book brought to mind was David Brin's underappreciated noir-comedy masterpiece Kiln People, which also dealt with a future sociThe first thing this book brought to mind was David Brin's underappreciated noir-comedy masterpiece Kiln People, which also dealt with a future society skewed from our own by body-substitute technology. Brin's book was about people making short-term duplicates of themselves to take care of groceries, jobs, and other drudgeries (including murder), while in Lock In the purpose served by the robot stand-ins is far more vital and humanitarian - namely, providing bodies for people "locked in" by a debilitating virus. Scalzi's book is, of course, much shorter and to-the-point than Brin's, but I'm honestly not sure if that's a feature or a bug.
I came into Lock In having already read Scalzi's prequel short-story "Unlocked," which did most of the heavy lifting in terms of world-building and exploring all the social ramifications of the Haden virus on society - stuff I would usually prefer to have in the meat of the novel itself. Lock In jumps right to a crisis point for the Haden victims, and I'm not sure I would have understood all the ramifications from the cursory sketch of the story world Scalzi gives in the book if I hadn't already had the background.
The book itself is a fast-paced, action-packed mystery story that's very entertaining in all its twists, but it feels like it's over far too quickly. This is a book that demands sequels not because there are any plot threads left dangling, but because the author hasn't by any means explored his basic concept to its fullest. I think my overall opinion of the novel will increase beyond simple enjoyment of its bubblegum value if Scalzi comes back to this universe and digs a little deeper. If he doesn't, then I'm going to be pretty disappointed.
Quibble Corner: As in Old Man's War there is an overuse of coincidence to keep the plot going. The detective protagonist is not just a Haden's victim, but just happens to be the poster child of Haden's victims, just happens to run in the same social circles as the victims/suspects, and just happens to have rich parents and more personal resources than any other detective who might have been assigned to the case....more
Given the overwhelming prevalence of fantasy in YA lit, I’d personally love to see a swing towards some solid, future-looking SF. Having read a novelGiven the overwhelming prevalence of fantasy in YA lit, I’d personally love to see a swing towards some solid, future-looking SF. Having read a novel earlier this year that got it all wrong, it’s refreshing to come across a book that gets just about everything right. I can only hope this catches on as a genre again.
I’m not a Heinlein worshiper, but that’s clearly where Allen Steele draws his inspiration (as one would expect), even going so far as to almost quote him directly in a spot or two. However, Steele cribs from the good parts of Heinlein and doesn't get bogged down in baby-boomer nostalgia for the way the future used to be. The themes are all there – the hard science, the hard work, the young man learning personal responsibility – but updated for the 21st Century. I can’t imagine that any novel in Heinlein’s time would have used the U.S. as the antagonist, had a villain in a power-mad Vice President whose name just happens to be an anagram of “Sarah Palin,” or included a surprise Angry Birds reference for those paying attention. Steele doesn't blatantly leave any loose threads hanging around for a sequel, but he has reopened the door to a science-based future just waiting to be explored. ...more
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 everythI 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....more
Brin needs to write more. Two reasons: 1) He’s really good. 2) If it hadn’t been 10 years since his last novel came out (the outstanding, underappreciBrin needs to write more. Two reasons: 1) He’s really good. 2) If it hadn’t been 10 years since his last novel came out (the outstanding, underappreciated Kiln People) then the weight of expectations for this one wouldn’t have been so high. To make the portentousness worse, we’ve got Brin in full-on Message Mode, apparently trying to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle that was his 1990 novel Earth, to which Existence can be seen as a thematic (though not literal) sequel.
And yet, the man does not disappoint. In addition to being a truly epic novel, Existence is also a master-class in Futurology, and Brin gets to do this because as a futurist, he’s got a much better track record than most. He does the usual SF trick of extrapolating from present trends to guess where society is going, only he does it on a much broader scale than other authors. Plus, he spends a great deal of the novel examining the many, many failure modes possible for human civilization AND introduces what’s got to be the most original alien-contact scenario I’ve ever come across while positing multiple solutions to the Fermi Paradox and implying that, in the context of the book at least, many of them are true. After all, it’s a big galaxy out there. For comparison’s sake, I’d say that Existence falls midway in between the nihilistic doomsday scenarios of Pellegrino & Zebrowski’s The Killing Star and the optimistic, gung-ho, gosh-wow scientific discovery of James P. Hogan’s Giants Novels.
That’s a lot to swallow for one book, and that’s without even going into the smart flash mobs, emerging A.I.s, space battles, viral chain letters, and Neanderthals. What keeps it from getting bogged down is Brin’s refreshingly light voice and his ability to create sympathetic, interesting characters, each of whom brings a unique point of view to the proceedings. Unfortunately it’s clear that for this book at least, the characters only appear for as long as they’re needed to get across Brin’s Big Ideas, and then he discards them fairly casually. This differentiates it from Earth, which followed through much better on its character’s individual arcs. However, the argument could be made (and I would) that in Existence, the main character is in fact the human race itself.
Now write me some more space opera, please. Pretty please? ...more
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 BJust 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....more
I think this one set a record for the book that's been on my "currently reading" shelf the longest since I started tracking stuff on Goodreads. I've bI think this one set a record for the book that's been on my "currently reading" shelf the longest since I started tracking stuff on Goodreads. I've been dipping into this collection for about two years now whenever I was in the mood for a random short story. There's no unifying theme to this anthology other than it being a "greatest hits" of all the SF authors I've come to love over the last thirty years or so. It's taken me so long to get through that I can't honestly rate the individual stories, but standouts for me were "Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler and "The Children of Time" by Stephen Baxter. The opening story, "Air Raid" by John Varley, should be strangely familiar to connoisseurs of 80's B-movies. ...more
Back in the 80s when I was swimming through Asimov, Herbert, and Clarke, I distinctly remember picking A Fall of Moondust offFinally Got Around To...
Back in the 80s when I was swimming through Asimov, Herbert, and Clarke, I distinctly remember picking A Fall of Moondust off my high school library's shelf and reading the first page, then putting it back to save for later.
A Fall of Moondust might be the closest thing to a suspense thriller Arthur Clarke ever wrote. Due to a freak moonquake, the tourist bus/spacecraft Selene gets buried 15 meters below one of the lunar "seas" in a region of dust with bizarre, liquid-like properties. Parallel plots ensue focusing on the Selene's passengers and crew buried alive with limited air, the engineers on the surface desperately trying to locate and rescue them, and the news reporters vying for first dibs on the story (or tragedy) of the century.
A Fall of Moondust sits right on the cusp of the Golden Age of SF and the actual, legitimate Space Age. It retains the verve, gusto, and quaint 1950s characterizations of the former, but (especially because this is Clarke) the solid, real-world sensibilities of the latter. The science may be a little off regarding the properties of actual lunar dust, but for 1961 the speculation is mostly spot-on. While we may not have achieved permanent lunar bases and tourism yet, Clarke absolutely nails the importance of sensationalist news reporting in a world of easy global communication (which is not surprising given that Clarke is credited with the original idea for geostationary communication satellites).
Another author may have sacrificed some of the science in order to ramp up the human tension and make that the focus of the story, but that isn't Clarke's style. Nevertheless, his characters aren't merely science-spouting robots, and they aren't supermen either. Clarke recognizes that solving the problems brought on by human foibles would be just as important in this kind of disaster situation as it would be to solve the engineering problems, and he gives both aspects equal time.
I can imagine that if Alfred Hitchcock had ever decided to make a science fiction movie, he might have used something like this book as a place to start....more
Here's something you don't see much of any more - Social Science Fiction. The World Inside is a product of the era that also gave us Logan's Run and THere's something you don't see much of any more - Social Science Fiction. The World Inside is a product of the era that also gave us Logan's Run and THX-1138, and is something of the same ilk. Several centuries into the future, the human race has moved into giant monolithic city-buildings called "urbmons" that each house almost a million people. Society has made some rather extreme adaptations to living in such close confinement: every freedom is supressed except for one - sex - and on sex, the only restriction is that no one is allowed to say "no."
Silverberg posits an interesting situation and commits to it, exploring as many consequences of his idea as he can come up with. The book is structured into seven chapters that act as inter-connecting short stories, each focusing on a different inhabitant of Urbmon 116. It lacks a traditional plot structure, but Silverberg is going for the "literary" here, and it mostly works. The World Inside is a book that keeps you thinking.
As intriguing a vision of the future it presents, The World Inside is very much a product of its time. Published in 1971, it straddles the psychedelic '60s and the swinging '70s in a lot of its attitudes. So far as I can tell, there are no non-Euro-American characters, and while there's an awful lot of sex, women are relegated to a passive, domestic role with essentially no power. Whether those were deliberate choices by the author or just a 1960's blind spot, it's hard to say....more
Great. That's all I need right now. Another new writer I have to start following.
It's been a long time since I tried to swallow a 600 page book, and tGreat. That's all I need right now. Another new writer I have to start following.
It's been a long time since I tried to swallow a 600 page book, and the first thing that shocked me about Pushing Ice is how fast a read it is. It takes a standard Arthur Clarke style scenario - an alien object speeds out of the Solar System and a spaceship crew has to catch up, rendezvous, and study the artifact. In this case, however, the artifact snatches said spaceship crew and drags them along with it at relativistic speeds into the deep future.
What makes this book flow so well is that Reynolds balances the "wow, gee whiz" stuff with a good bit of human drama and well-developed characters. The main struggle isn't between humans and their environment (though there is that) or humans vs. aliens (though there's some of that too) but between two human characters who start off as best friends and end up as bitter enemies. Reynolds doesn't paint either as a hero or villain, and both make glaring mistakes and bad decisions as often as they do the right thing.
That said, the author is prone to a little repetition, and while his aliens are satisfyingly non-human, they fall too easily into white-hat, black-hat camps. Also, I'm not sure that the human crew would have really put up with their squabbling leaders for as long as they did without booting them both out of power and holding a general election. Nevertheless, Pushing Ice is a good, solid, mind bending, epic, hard-sf read. More, please!...more
This book is something of an odd duck. I could describe it as science fiction, even "hard" science fiction, but not in the sense that people normallyThis book is something of an odd duck. I could describe it as science fiction, even "hard" science fiction, but not in the sense that people normally use those words. Rather, this book is fiction about science, and how the scientific process works. The science in the book itself is barely science-fictional at all. Other than that, Bellwether is a screwball romantic comedy.
Connie Willis would return to this kind of sly humor later, and more successfully, in the fantastic To Say Nothing of the Dog, but you can see her warming up her comedic muscles in this earlier work. The characters are researchers in a confused, managed-by-acronyms, corporate lab farm, who delve into chaos theory, the root causes of hair-bobbing and other fads, and the group dynamics behavior of sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.
Despite all the humor and satire, there seems to be a dark thread of cynicism about the human race underlying the novel's theme. The moral of the story, if there is one, is that we're all sheep, all of us following the latest fads and trends right over the cliff, whether we realize it or not. Oh well, as Vonnegut said: So it goes....more
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 cSo 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?...more