This started out slow, flirted with hokey (space vampires!), but then ended up quite good. Probably 3 1/2 stars, but we'll round up.
My biggest problemThis started out slow, flirted with hokey (space vampires!), but then ended up quite good. Probably 3 1/2 stars, but we'll round up.
My biggest problem with the beginning is that it's a very similar setup to Zelazny's This Immortal, but doesn't pull it off nearly as well. Which is... what? Praising with faint criticism? It's a high bar, so not quite hitting it is not exactly the worst thing ever. But it quickly diverges, and gets interesting in it's own right....more
We don't really seem to be adding anything new in these later books. Geary still angsting about hero-worship. A strange relationship with Rione. PolitWe don't really seem to be adding anything new in these later books. Geary still angsting about hero-worship. A strange relationship with Rione. Politics among fleet captains. Spaceships smash each other up.
The space battles are sort of cool, but - and I wouldn't even notice this in a book that had much of anything going for it _besides_ the space battles - they don't really see to make much sense. The ships seem to be subject to Newtonian physics, because we worry about things like how closely they can turn at certain speeds, and being able to catch someone in a long chase who has a speed advantage. But at the same time, it all seems to get thrown out the window once the ships get close; the ships suddenly duck through each other, turn around, and duck back at top speed, with no thought for momentum and acceleration. This is the kind of nit-picky attention-to-realism that you'd easily excuse an author for violating... if there was anything else much going on in these books besides gritty "realistic" space combat. But since that's all we really get here, it's kind of grating when he gets that wrong too.
Also getting a little tired of him re-explaining things about his world that you got from the first two books - like the changes in fleet tactics from the last 100 years. I am aware that there is a fine line between expecting your readers to remember every last detail from book-to-book when they are released a year or more apart, and placating readers like me, who get to come back and binge-read them all in a row, but he hasn't quite hit the mark, to my mind. I keep running into one of these sections, saying to myself "ug; this again" and skipping forward a page or so rather than have to read it again....more
What this book does well: capture the voice of the characters, making them fun to read about.
What this book does not do well: tell a story.
What we havWhat this book does well: capture the voice of the characters, making them fun to read about.
What this book does not do well: tell a story.
What we have here is basically the leftover chapters from The Last Colony. (Though not literally, apparently; he describes going back to write them in the afterword.) It is snippets of Zoe's life, from her perspective, at various points while the story of that book is going on. Which is kind of a problem; it reads like a connection of loosely-related vignettes, and requires knowledge of The Last Colony to make it hang together. That's not a _terrible_ thing, per-se - most of the readers of this book probably _have_ read the previous one - but it breaks the narrative up in weird ways. It's like reading only the even-numbered chapters of a book, then going back and reading the odd ones; yes, you get the whole story in the end, but the experience is lessened by the presentation. And the attempts Scalzi makes to tie the little storylets together by reminding you about what was happening in the previous book don't really help. They're slightly annoying, repeating obvious things you already know, but still not enough to make the book stand on its own.
I quite enjoyed reading this. Zoe is an interesting character, portrayed well, and with a wry humour that appeals to me (it made me laugh out loud while having surgery, which the doctor said was a first...) But the individual pieces, while well-crafted, don't seem to add up to a coherent whole....more
This review is kind of for both this and the previous novel Old Man's War, which I read together with this one and don't think I reviewed separately -This review is kind of for both this and the previous novel Old Man's War, which I read together with this one and don't think I reviewed separately - they're going to end up somewhat muddled.
Good science fiction asks questions, and then speculates about the answers. One of the most interesting questions it ever asks is "What does it mean to be human?" I think Scalzi explores this question in the middle of an adventure tale without, crucially, bogging down in philosophy and losing the adventure. What if you take a human's personality and transplant it into a human-like body? Is it still human? What if you construct one of those superficially human-like bodies, based on human, engineered, and alien genetics, and allow it to develop a personality of its own? Is _that_ human? Now what if that body doesn't even look human, and lives in the depths of space? How much of humanity is biology, and how much social structure and upbringing? How much is brain and how much memory? Its the old nature-vs-nurture chestnut, and if you think it has a simple black-and-white answer... well Scalzi - or at least his book - doesn't agree with you.
I liked these because of the balance between probing these questions and a good ole-fashioned bug hunt. There are some minor weird inconsistencies in the technology (why is a standard marine's body a catatonic vegetable until a personality is implanted in it, but a special forces body - which seems to be essentially the same thing, but which never has a personality implanted - develops it's own personality?) but you can mostly just wave those away by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. Overall, I enjoyed these quite a lot....more
Big-scale military space opera. I enjoyed this a fair bit, because I like that sort of thing, but didn't think this was exceptionally well or badly wrBig-scale military space opera. I enjoyed this a fair bit, because I like that sort of thing, but didn't think this was exceptionally well or badly written. The beginning was a bit abrupt - would have liked a little backstory before getting dropped in the action. I also laughed myself silly at the scene where a bunch of hardened military professionals, who live in a universe with interstellar travel and no known intelligent alien races, glance at a computer in a mothballed enemy base and say: "They wiped the hard drives? Space Aliens!".
(For the record, when I cleaned up an old home computer for disposal this weekend, I wiped the drive because it was the easiest way to clean it up. No aliens were involved.)
But the fleet battles are intricate and interesting and well-described, and the book rollocks along. Light but fun....more
Weird historical note; this was written in 1999, 15 years ago. After the advent, but before the ubiquity, of cellphones on modern society. These peoplWeird historical note; this was written in 1999, 15 years ago. After the advent, but before the ubiquity, of cellphones on modern society. These people fly around on FTL spaceships, and apparently don't have phones! Would've solved a couple of their problems _way_ easier... ...more
Enjoyed this; working my way through the series again, though I think this was the last one, last time I went through.
Solid 3d characters. InterestingEnjoyed this; working my way through the series again, though I think this was the last one, last time I went through.
Solid 3d characters. Interesting world. Action and politics. My one problem with this book is that the central conceit, around which everything else is based, feels so contrived. Brun, who we like from previous books, is the rich girl taking classes at the elite military academy - without enlisting - to try and gain some real world skills. And we like that about her... but she's still a dilettante. She doesn't get what she wants at one point and throws a major spoiled-brat temper tantrum. Esmay, who we also like from previous books, walked away from a privileged life to devote herself to the military. She's taking two sets of classes, so she's overworked and stressed, so when Brun drops the tantrum - including calling Esmay herself a "cold fish", and more-or-less lying to say that she's slept with Esmay's boyfriend - Esmay tells her she's behaving like a spoiled brat, and should grow up. Which she is, and should.
After which incident everyone in the book, including a lot of Esmay's friends, treat her like she has tortured kittens in public. People make comments like "Wow; I'm glad _I'm_ not your enemy." She gets threatened with discharge from the military for goodness sake. And this isn't one person's reaction, its the universal reaction of every single person who sees the video of the confrontation (which gets out.) It was weird. I actually went back and re-read the section describing the confrontation again, because I was sure I must have missed something. Nope; she pretty much tells the kid behaving like a spoiled brat that she's behaving like a spoiled brat. And for this, everyone brands her as the Flanders Pigeon Murderer, and tries to drum her out of the corps. Its possible their society has different rules, and what she said really was quite awful to them, but we don't really get that from the book. Later, circumstances and backstabbing machinations make everyone's reaction worse, but it just rang a bit hollow because I knew they'd all seen the video of the actual confrontation, which really wasn't bad at all.
However, despite my grumbling, it doesn't take much away from a good tale. It'd be like not liking Lord of the Rings because you thought Sauron putting so much of his power in the ring was silly; all right, maybe the premise feels weak, but the story is good. We get Moon's usual touch for gritty realism informing forensics and battles and rescues in space, with an interesting cast and a deep, well-fleshed-out world.
A word of warning; there are some scenes and topics in this book I found disturbing. Not graphic, nor gratuitous, but skin-crawling all the same. Kidnapping, rape, and slavery all make an appearance. ...more
There is an excellent story back here somewhere... but I don't think these books really tell it.
Detail of battle. Flashback to vague explanation for wThere is an excellent story back here somewhere... but I don't think these books really tell it.
Detail of battle. Flashback to vague explanation for why battle is happening in the first place. Conversation with a main character where we see that their personality has changed, rapidly and inexplicably, since the last time we checked in with them. Rinse. Repeat.
All of the character development appears to happen offscreen, between chapters. This is the story of the fall of a hero to become the universe's most famous villain. This is birth of Darth Vader stuff - it should be the easiest thing in the world to make this riveting, but it isn't. We've got no sense of Horus as having a personality in the first place, so when he suddenly laughs off the temptations of Chaos and says (effectively) "I'm not going Evil because of your feeble attempts to turn me; I'm going Evil just because I feel like it" he just sounds like a pouty little kid having a temper tantrum. And then leads everyone along a merry path to utter destruction after that not because he is clever, but because they've all been genetically engineered to follow him unquestioningly. It was going to take a significant amount of dancing to get me to buy these guys as the ultimate warriors of the 40th century when their idea of high-tech hardware is infantry in body armour who like to punch stuff, and their idea of tactics appears to be limited to "Charge!", but I was willing to write that off if I at least got some interesting characters; I didn't....more
I liked these. Much better quality than you might expect from one of these massive-universe collaborations, and it actually explains a few of the thinI liked these. Much better quality than you might expect from one of these massive-universe collaborations, and it actually explains a few of the things that don't make much sense in the movies, in a way that doesn't feel too retconny. Some of our old friends are a little static, but Zahn introduces new characters that are interesting and fun. I particularly like Thrawn; in a universe that previously has pretty much been all about the Force and Evil Hooded Badguys Who Kick Puppies For Fun, a character that is smart and insightful and focused on winning not cruelty, but has no ability with the Force at all, is a far more interesting baddie....more
The rough plot is a bit hackneyed space-opera; freedom-loving democratic science-based culture at war with jackbooted totalitarian warrior-based cultuThe rough plot is a bit hackneyed space-opera; freedom-loving democratic science-based culture at war with jackbooted totalitarian warrior-based culture. Man and woman fighting on opposite sides meet in trying circumstances, struggle together, and fall in love.
What makes this better than that sounds at first blush is that it gains some depth from there. The characters are deep enough that they don't just throw over everything else they believe in for love. The warmongers turn out to be embroiled in byzantine political infighting. The democratic society ends up a little fascist out of fear, and entangled in its own bureaucracy. In the end, while I still don't get why some people are comparing this series to really epic mind-blowing sci-fi like Banks or Stross, I really quite enjoyed it....more
I've been avoiding Bujold - unfairly, as it turns out, because I had her mixed up with Melanie Rawn in mIts good... but it feels a bit like a prequel.
I've been avoiding Bujold - unfairly, as it turns out, because I had her mixed up with Melanie Rawn in my head for some reason. So I was surprised to keep reading such good reviews for her stuff, but finally let it convince me to give it a try despite my prejudice. I'm glad I did, because this was a fun little story. It feels like space opera (and I've shelved it as such) but thats more in the size of the universe that it depicts. It lacks the galaxy-spanning consequences that usually go with that genre, and I think that makes it a better book than it would be if she had reached for that epic scale. Its more personal, and the story of the genetically-engineered "quaddies" is more central and real that way.
So why do I say it feels like a prequel? It doesn't really feel like it resolves. There is a climax, but it feels more like the end of a chapter than the end of a story. I'm wary of any series that runs into 15(!) books, but I'll definitely check out the next one at least.
One comment; Nebula for Best Novel in 88? Really? I mean, it's a cute story and an interesting world, with some nice touches of engineering realism. I really did quite enjoy it. But Left Hand of Darkness it aint. Must have been a slow year......more
I've read quite a few of McDevitt's books lately, and for the most part I have liked them, but he does somethiOk, so I quite enjoyed this book, but...
I've read quite a few of McDevitt's books lately, and for the most part I have liked them, but he does something so consistently that its starting to bug me. Namely, he makes huge sweeping assumptions about supposedly alien cultures based on little or no evidence (that he tells us about, anyways.) Omega has this great scene where a human is sneaking around on an alien planet, having just seen this particular species for the very first time, and he says something to the effect of "they were singing and dancing and having a great time." How the heck does our hero know that what they're doing is singing and not arguing? How does he know what they're doing is dancing and not playing a game, or a mating ritual, or something actually _alien_ with no analog in human culture? Much the less judge if they're enjoying themselves or not? And it doesn't come across as his characters doing it either; its always done in a third-person voice, and yet not fully omniscient either. It would be easy enough to say something like "The aliens were jigging about on first one leg and then the other, screeching all the while. Jack couldn't be sure, but it looked for all the world like they were singing and dancing and enjoying themselves hugely."
Also, I don't mind when SF writers make up some physics. That's why its called science _fiction_. So if your ships go faster than light with some hand-waving and no real explanation thats fine with me. But the word "science" is in there too - if you're going to include detailed descriptions of things any high school physics student would get right? Try to have them not contradict natural law? In Omega we get a somewhat belabored description of a weathermaking device powered by a helicopter parked underneath - and blowing air up - an enormous chimney. We go into some detail about how said helicopter has to be tied _down_ and is straining _upwards_ against its anchorings. If its pushing air up, then its pushing the helicopter down; Uncle Isaac says it must be so.
If these sound like relatively minor nitpicks about details not central to the plot... its because they are. Its a fun book. But its precisely because they're not central to the plot that they would be so easy to get right without changing anything else. And there are more like this; enough of them pile up and it breaks the immersion, making it harder to appreciate the otherwise fun story he's spinning....more
I really quite enjoyed this one too, but some of the basic facts that the plot rests upon don't bear too much examination.
McDevitt tells us in this onI really quite enjoyed this one too, but some of the basic facts that the plot rests upon don't bear too much examination.
McDevitt tells us in this one that there are about a thousand FTL ships in the entire human culture. He also tells us that the population of Earth is up to about 12 billion, and that there is at least one other over-industrialised and over-populated world amongst the known worlds. And we get the impression at least that there are quite a few of these settled worlds. Which, even with conservative estimates for populations, makes owning an FTL ship about the equivalent to their being a grand total of 300 internal combustion engines on earth today, and you owning a private car. Its by no means impossible. Its even justifiable, given that the main characters were instrumental to the (re)discovery of the FTL drive that they're using. But what is impossible is that noone really remarks on it, and most folks don't seem to recognise our heroes. If you were rich and eccentric enough to own one of the 300 internal combustion engines on earth for a private car that mostly sat around idle, I assure you that _everyone_ would know who you were. All of which would just be a trivially miscalculated detail if it weren't for the fact that the entire plot of the book relies on this scarcity of FTL (in a way which I wont explain, to avoid spoilers.)
Then there's the fact that they keep going on about how there is almost no crime in the world, yet crimes happen to the main characters almost daily, apparently. If there were a dozen robberies a year in New York, and 3 of them happened to the same guy, and then he got robbed _again_ a couple of years later, I'm thinking someone would sit up and take a bit of notice. Its nice that McDevitt believes that we have a future in which crime becomes more-or-less unthinkable, but human nature obviously hasn't changed _that_ much or it wouldn't keep happening to the main characters, which makes you wonder why it doesn't happen more often to other people too...
All of which is really nitpicking; as I said at the beginning, I really enjoyed this. Again, the historical tale is really the more interesting, along with the questions it makes you ask....more