Good light reading. A "mercenary" (closer to a private investigator) is asked to look into a man's disappearance on a planet with a government suppres...moreGood light reading. A "mercenary" (closer to a private investigator) is asked to look into a man's disappearance on a planet with a government suppressing dissenters. The journey to find the man is more of an adventure - it doesn't have the feel of a detective solving a mystery. Some amusing aspects.(less)
The main story - new crew member on the starship Intrepid learns it's risky to be a "redshirt" and tries to change that - provides plenty of laughs. T...moreThe main story - new crew member on the starship Intrepid learns it's risky to be a "redshirt" and tries to change that - provides plenty of laughs. The wording at least at times is on the pulp-ish side, but that may be intentional, referring to bad TV SF the story pokes fun at. However, after the starship crew story ends, the book continues with separate "epilogues" for three non-crew characters. These are of an entirely different style and feel from the main story. The "epilogues" may appeal to more character-oriented readers.
If the book had just had the crew story without the pulp-ish instances, I'd have given it a higher rating. It's not "great literature". It's not even as good at humor SF as Hitchhiker's Guide, but it's plenty amusing.(less)
The author was trained and worked as a physicist, but for many years has been working in software, the internet and fiction.
This is not a novel - it i...moreThe author was trained and worked as a physicist, but for many years has been working in software, the internet and fiction.
This is not a novel - it is a short book with three stories. While these are truly stories, they also seem to be showcases to present some far-flung science speculation. These speculations tend to appear towards the end of each story, so they are not explored at length.
1. End Of The World
The first story is "End Of The World". The characters are personnel located at a secondary base on Mars. The bases are more of a scientific nature, as opposed to a space colony intended to establish human towns on Mars. The story opens with the Mars bases learning a full-scale nuclear war has occurred on Earth. It appears that the planet will suffer from "nuclear winter". All those on Mars must assume that everyone they knew back on Earth is dead or will die, and the Mars bases must consider themselves the remains of the human race.
Most of those at the secondary base leave to go back to the primary base. Liam remains behind, although as the highest ranking military officer he is the presumptive leader of humanity. He has a fixation on investigating some anomalies he recently noticed on satellite sensor scans of the Martian surface on the other side of a ridge of mountains. Teresa, a woman physicist, has decided to join him. She looks over the sensor data. She informs him it shows an area where gravitational and electromagnetic readings go to zero in a way that is simply impossible.
They travel to the site, and find some signs of artifacts. They discover there seems to be a region with an atmosphere beneath a layer of ice. They go down to explore... Soon the situation shifts drastically and we are presented with something quite different. (No, this is not your average lost Martian / alien race story.)
You may or may not find the switch from the first 80 - 90% of the story to the concluding section to be a wrenching change. It is certainly a change that would not be easy to discuss here without being a spoiler.
It's an interesting story, but perhaps in hindsight the journey to get to the conclusion may seem longer than necessary. Or perhaps it is simply that much of the story does not carry over in a certain sense to the conclusion. But you may still enjoy the journey.
This story is about 60 pages.
The story revolves around a solar neutrino detector experiment a mile beneath the surface in Montana.
Jack gets woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call from the lab. Melanie has found some oddities in the neutrino data. Jack looks it over and, after trying to explain it away in other ways, it occurs to him that an aspect of the pattern of neutrino flavors reminds him of Morse Code. However, they're not too sure of their Morse Code, or a physical explanation for the neutrino effects. After all, the neutrinos are coming from the Sun - what could be influencing neutrinos coming out of the Sun?
They go to see Barry, an old college buddy of Jack's. Barry is in theoretical physics. He suggests an explanation based on one interpretation of quantum physics. His explanation has a strange effect on Melanie, which is only clarified later.
The concept is a speculation down the avenue of one interpretation of quantum physics. This is territory that many readers will find stimulating. Some readers may be uneasy with such areas of quantum physics. It can be strange territory.
Although the story is not about the supernatural or time travel, the basic plot will probably also strike a chord with those who enjoy those kinds of stories.
This story is about 20 pages.
3. One Way Ticket
Joshua takes an interstellar trip on a spaceship piloted by "spacers". Spacers are descendents of Earth humans who had traveled to the stars long ago. (I'll call these "spacers" and any other Earth-derived people as "human".) The spacers have intervened at times to prevent human extinction from wars. They refuse to give humans interstellar technology, but allow a limited number of humans to ride on spacer starships.
Joshua is an anthropologist traveling to study the only other known intelligent species. The ship travels to the edge of the solar system at relativistic speeds, then does FTL travel by some means that is supposed to be related to quantum tunneling.
When Joshua arrives at the other planet, he finds the natives are presented as being very simple-minded. Humans have basically taken over the planet and made the natives into servants / slaves. The humans express a deeply prejudiced view of the natives. Joshua tries to take a more open, unbiased view of the natives (as would be appropriate for an anthropologist). He soon finds the natives are more sophisticated than he was lead to believe.
The conditions of the natives lead to a confrontation with Joshua, the spacer pilot and a native on one side and the human settlement authorities on the other. At this point, a highly advanced starship appears near the planet. We are told these are higher-dimensional beings that have an extraordinary relationship with the natives. They say our 3 dimensional space is embedded in a universe with more dimensions, which is their realm...
In effect, the story has three parts. First, we’re introduced to the division of Earthlings into “spacers” and “humans” – an idea that goes back a few decades. Next, we see the prejudiced, exploitative relationship between humans and aliens. While that’s not a brand new idea, there’s probably room to explore that further. Third, we have the brief introduction of the higher-dimensional beings. It’s not an absolutely new idea either, but perhaps the least dealt with in serious SF. To my tastes, this part was too short to have a satisfying exploration of the ideas.
This story is about 50 pages.
Do you like stories that sort of finish with a “punch line” or “surprise ending”, explaining the story in the context of scientific idea? Or do you prefer stories that leave more room to spend more time with those ideas? Your preference may influence your reaction to this book.
The first half of the first story is available as a free download from:
Please note: The Goodreads description referring to Tau Ceti IV does not belong with Brute Orbits.
This isn't really a novel in the usual sense. Starti...morePlease note: The Goodreads description referring to Tau Ceti IV does not belong with Brute Orbits.
This isn't really a novel in the usual sense. Starting with the premise that Earth uses mined-out asteroids as prisons sent on long orbits around the Sun, a lot of the book is Zebrowski reciting a future history mixed with his social views on crime, justice, the causes of law-breaking and of [legal] socailly-harmful actions of elites, and the social structures related to these matters. While there is quite a bit of future history narrative, there are also bits and pieces of stories of some of the prisoners on the various asteroid prisons.
These narratives and story fragments lead the reader up to a time when historians investigate the asteroids. In that sense, the book shows us progression rather than just fragments and presentation of social theory. If a reader is interested in the ideas and provocation of thought, it can be worthwile. It may not work as well for someone seeking literature in a true novel format.
The book won the 1999 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. So, it's unusual format shouldn't be taken to mean it should be avoided.
Kept my interest, but more of a spy novel. There's a definite SF aspect, but not always so prominent. (I've never read that many spy novels, but it ga...moreKept my interest, but more of a spy novel. There's a definite SF aspect, but not always so prominent. (I've never read that many spy novels, but it gave me a real feel that this was spy fiction style. I'm not sure whether that was McAuley's writing or the audiobook's narrator.) Some food for thought on quantum theory's Many World's view and universes with diverging histories - but McAuley's version is a bit different than traditional Many Worlds theory. (less)
Decent adventure story. Not as much puzzle solving as I expected from van Rijn. Interesting idea on an alien species spying on humans. But my recollec...moreDecent adventure story. Not as much puzzle solving as I expected from van Rijn. Interesting idea on an alien species spying on humans. But my recollection of it is already getting fuzzy after just a few weeks, so it doesn't seem as if it's that memorable.(less)
Mixed feelings. Something kept me reading it. It's a relatively long book (560 pages). It does get into AI a bit, but I wouldn't say it's 560 pages wo...moreMixed feelings. Something kept me reading it. It's a relatively long book (560 pages). It does get into AI a bit, but I wouldn't say it's 560 pages worth of thought-provoking. It doesn't have the kinds of action / activity that would make you say the pace kept you reading. It's certainly not what you'd call an "inspiring" story of the success of space colonization. There are hints along the way of something to be learned later, but I don't think it does this in a way to satisfy readers of SF mysteries / puzzles. The story is more of a guy who doesn't do well in interpersonal relations wandering Mars and not building much of a life there - here and there running across some hints the colony isn't what it's publicly presented as. Partly, this gives an idea of what the dark side of commercially-run space exploration may be. (less)