This retreads a lot of ground from book one. From the set up/misunderstanding that nearly sets off a war, to the missing girl, to the big science projThis retreads a lot of ground from book one. From the set up/misunderstanding that nearly sets off a war, to the missing girl, to the big science project gone wrong. Holden is still kinda tedious, and there's a lot of boring faff about whether he's become too trigger-happy.
There's also a lot of process description - tasks set out in extreme detail for no other reason than to describe them.
Women are basically playing the moral conscience of this universe, but Avasarala and Bobbie are at least highly entertaining moral consciences. Could do with more of them, less of Holden....more
While the narrator of this volume is a little lacking in pep and charisma, the content is pretty darn fascinating.
You'll learn a lot of new words andWhile the narrator of this volume is a little lacking in pep and charisma, the content is pretty darn fascinating.
You'll learn a lot of new words and terms as well, like 'scurf' and 'fecal popcorn'. A good bit of practical space research for those interested in more than just the engineering megastructures....more
This is a rough book to start, opening in the midst of a battle that serves to establish the conditions of the Empire our POV character Cheris serves.This is a rough book to start, opening in the midst of a battle that serves to establish the conditions of the Empire our POV character Cheris serves. The army runs on conditioning that makes orders almost impossible to disobey, and the Empire is ruled by a hive mind that throws lives away almost casually, its rule and weapons powered by a combination of mathematics, symbolism, and religious adherence to the Calendar. There's a LOT being thrown at the reader during this opening battle, but it does serve to establish how outright horrible battles are in this universe (where reality-twisting storms braid the soldiers into unlovely corpses), and also that Cheris is excellent at maths-on-the-go, and a little more able to step outside strict adherence to the Calendar to use 'heretical' forms.
She's a useful, adaptive mind, in other words, for all she's conditioned to absolute obedience, and the political game-players think she's just what they need to crack the seemingly unsolvable problem of an impenetrable rebelling fortress. Cheris' proposed solution - to pull a homicidal general out of virtual cold storage - shifts the focus to the relationship between obedient mind and murderous mind, and thoroughly kept my attention right to the end.
It's a good, strong book. I'll be interested to see where the next story goes....more
Polar City Blues holds up very well for SF first published in 1990. Of course, I'm inclined to like tales mixing psychics, aliens, and murder mysteriePolar City Blues holds up very well for SF first published in 1990. Of course, I'm inclined to like tales mixing psychics, aliens, and murder mysteries. Kerr has built a universe which deliberately 'others' Caucasians, which succeeds reasonably well.
If I had a negative, it would be the use of 'crazies' as one of the obstacles. Oh, and the multiple links to old Earth culture in this far future. There's no reason sports like baseball wouldn't survive interplanetary dispersal, but that in particular makes this feel like a very American future.
It's always fascinating to see what people envisage future tech to be like in books written before smartphones. There's a few places where difficulties could be overcome if people could just text and email each other, but otherwise the belt-comm was pretty good.
Waking up from cryosleep on a semi-abandoned ship, and trying to work out what the heck is going on is a situation fraught with potential. When you haWaking up from cryosleep on a semi-abandoned ship, and trying to work out what the heck is going on is a situation fraught with potential. When you have three new military graduates and a highly suspicious admiral who might or might not be a spy, you definitely have a plot with lots of hooks.
'Admiral' starts out very strong, although it sadly peters out into a mainly action-focused conclusion. Not uninteresting at the very end, but not a story that lives up to, say, a Vorkosigan novel. The characters also weren't very imaginative (view spoiler)[and plainly had never seen the old Earth movie Aliens - which I'm presuming this story was a deliberate homage to, since it was just full of paralells - up to and including all the colonists off having a town meeting. (hide spoiler)].
Not bad with the female characters, although there's a definite impression that the one person who matters to the story is our nameless POV, and the rest are just transients to his larger tale.
Will consider picking at the next in the series, but not an absolute must....more
Action-packed military SF that took me two months to get through. There's nothing particularly bad in this story, but I kept picking it up less and leAction-packed military SF that took me two months to get through. There's nothing particularly bad in this story, but I kept picking it up less and less and then went into a two-month non-reading stint (busy writing) until I finally finished it.
It's a very Heinlein-esque story, but lacks any kind of layer. The POV character has minimal-to-no inner life and so "Terms of Enlistment" simply reads as a detailed description of military training, some combat, until a 'series plot' starts up in the last five chapters.
The Earth in this story is basically a dystopia. Earth and (up to a hundred) human colonies are divided between a US-centric side and a Russian/Chinese side (no explanation for why). There appears to be frequent fighting between the two, but the US-centric side seems to control Earth and indulges in punitive put-down-the-natives actions. The US is also dominated by ghettos, and our POV character is basically clawing his way out of a ghetto via a military career.
One of the things that really stood out to me is that the protagonist tells us all this, but never reflects on any of it (beyond some self-justification about him being okay killing people). (view spoiler)[Even when there's a conspiracy-rich situation where his squad is ambushed by clearly prepared and oddly well-armed civilians having themselves a riot, he notes the oddness of this...and then the story never revisits that point. (hide spoiler)]
In other words, as a "this happened next" story, it's a reasonable story, and it's good on convincing military detail. But don't read it if you're looking for any thought, or emotion, theme or philosophy. If it's there, I didn't spot it.
[Reasonable representation of women, but note that none of the 'big bosses' were female.]...more
With a very strong narrative pull-through, this reads like a mash-up of (view spoiler)[Prometheus, Resident Evil, and Rendezvous with Rama (hide spoilWith a very strong narrative pull-through, this reads like a mash-up of (view spoiler)[Prometheus, Resident Evil, and Rendezvous with Rama (hide spoiler)] - the stuff that happens isn't anything new, but it gets you wanting to find out what happens next. It works very well as a mystery, where one of our protagonists meets an abandoned spaceship and a set-up, and the other starts tracking down a missing girl, and their two paths intersect because (as we know from the outset), the girl was on that spaceship.
There were some things that fell flat for me. I always have a mild issue with the concept of planetary governments - or, at least, Earth achieving a planetary government in the next couple of hundred years. And, while the book frequently gives us fragments of cultural diversity, mentions of ethnicities, fragments of a broad range of musics and foods - it gives a very strong impression of an entire Solar System that has become the USA, absorbed everyone else, and is now differentiating into planetary sub-cultures.
I struggle to believe in that level of (view spoiler)[Raccoon Corporation-level (hide spoiler)] corporate evil, and none of the major players seem all that interested or competent at investigating anything, leaving it to our "rag-tag band of misfits" to be all right place wrong time all over the joint.
The main characters are Captain Kirk and Sam Spade (pretty much that broadly drawn), though I enjoyed them for that. Holden's righteousness in the face of things you do to not die made a subsequent falling out feel a little manufactured. (view spoiler)[And I found the "Wesker" of the story's argument of "we need to fight back against the evil aliens from two billion years ago and we can't have the million deaths I've thrown into my science project be in vain" to be particularly ludicrous (hide spoiler)].
In terms of female characters, this is one of those stories where women are definitely there and doing stuff - popping up as ship captains and so forth - but they don't drive the plot. All the major players/decision-makers are men. The two major female characters are the "gutsy victim" who serves as a motivator/fixation for Miller the detective (in a kind of creepy way), and "love interest second in command" who serves to occasionally kick Holden's preconceptions, but not actually have a driving narrative of her own outside the romance. For a very large portion of the second half of the novel, she is the only woman who speaks, at all.
Still, a very strong narrative hook. I may well continue with the series some time....more
I first encountered this story (somewhat converted) as the 1996 videogame, "Rama". My primary memory of the game is doing base 8 maths. Lots of maths.I first encountered this story (somewhat converted) as the 1996 videogame, "Rama". My primary memory of the game is doing base 8 maths. Lots of maths. Pieces of scribbled-on paper everywhere. Brain melting out of ear.
Still, kind of fun.
The audiobook of Rendezvous with Rama is preceded by an introduction by Robert J. Sawyer who talks about it being a giant classic of the genre. We then switch to a narrator who keeps to a plodding pace (rather as if he was reading a maths textbook). [He doesn't do too bad a job at an Australian accent when he remembers, though.]
The hook of the story is mystery+science. A great big cylinder hurtles through the Sol system, and a ship is sent to investigate what the heck it is. It's all exploration and discovery, with a tiny bit of danger, and Fun with Science of the technically, this kind of ship is possible, theoretically, this could be done stamp. A big old sensawunda trip along Science Avenue.
In his introduction, Sawyer sets reader expectation by saying the Clarke wasn't really interested in _people_ rather than _humans_, but there's still some social worldbuilding going on. The main character has two wives (so far as I can tell there's a concept of "different planet, different marriage" being entirely acceptable). There's also two men who have the same wife. The women in both these arrangements don't get a voice themselves, but they seem to be just home taking care of the kids, and occasionally sending mildly nagging letters.
There are three women who get to speak in the story. First, an archeologist (the only female scientist depicted) whose main contribution seems to be to provide a man an opportunity to explain something. Next, a female crew member with sailing experience who is of an adventurous nature. And the main female character, the ship doctor (woman as healer), who is introduced with a description of how distracting her breasts are in low gravity, and closes out the book in bed with the (twice-married) captain. Still, she's competent at her job in between being there for sex.
The main bit of worldbuilding that distracted me were the 'simps' - uplifted chimpanzees used as janitorial staff in a "happy to be slaves" kind of way that's really not very comfortable to read.
Anyway (filtered through the audiobook narration) this is interesting for the exploration and science-possible aspects, but has a fairly flat ending and isn't something I'd be inclined to re-read....more
Larklight takes many historical notions about space and runs with them. Instead of vacuum we have aether - a breathable if thin atmosphere between plaLarklight takes many historical notions about space and runs with them. Instead of vacuum we have aether - a breathable if thin atmosphere between planets. The moon is populated by mushrooms, Mars by rust-coloured elves, and the great storm of Jupiter is a thinking being. Colonies are firmly established on Mars, the Moon and (once) Venus, and interplanetary travel a matter of alchemic engines.
There is endless amount of adventure in this middle-grade story, told by Art, and with excerpts from his sister Myrtle's diary. Art and Myrtle have grown up with their father in Larklight, a historical property of their (lost) mother's, suspended like a house-shaped satellite somewhere out beyond the orbit of the moon. It's an isolated existence...until the spiders come.
As an adventure, I enjoyed this a lot, although the story is clearly and definitively aimed at young boys and I suspect a few young girls would have felt alienated by the depiction of quite reasonable Art, and snobbish, bossy, racist, speciesish, fainting and downright ungrateful Myrtle. [Myrtle does improve, but she's starting from a serious negative and has a long long way to go.]
The book is also incredibly soaked in Colonialism, and though we a few times see the negative bits of the great glorious British Empire and interplanetary colonies, on the whole we are reading a story very much written from the viewpoint of someone who thinks conquering planets and their inhabitants is a good thing.
Clearly the author is making the characters a product of their time, but I kept wincing when Art cheerfully cries "huzzah!" while relating instances of the valiant British invaders conquering this, that and the other. Even though part of the story is an 'aliens (and people of colour) are people too' tale, it's still framed within "and we support this glorious Empire that has subjugated them". It's an attitude I wouldn't be surprised to find in books written at the beginning of last century, but when it's this century I would expect a trifle more deconstruction, with the characters coming to question the Empire they're serving....more
I'm a geek, but I don't have much in the way of science nerd cred. I did well in biology at school, but wasn't allHard Science MacGyver Has Spacesuit
I'm a geek, but I don't have much in the way of science nerd cred. I did well in biology at school, but wasn't all that interested in the rest of the sciences, and so only have a layman's understanding of things like relative velocity, and would certainly not know where to start in getting hydrogen out of water.
But I like problem-solving in a general kind of way, and The Martian sounded like it would be full of a lot of things I enjoy: kind of an updated Have Spacesuit Will Travel, with a better overall treatment of women, and – instead of the earnest, honest and modest Kip – more a MacGyver + wisecracks dropped in a Man vs Environment plot.
And that's pretty much exactly what I got, except not quite in the way I expected.
The plot itself is entirely unsurprising, and is one that's going to work for people who like science or problem-solving or both. Mark Watney, botanist and engineer, is stuck on Mars with no way to communicate and a rapidly dwindling supply of food. Getting him back to Earth involves enormous technical difficulties, and these are addressed as a series of problems solved through logic, sheer ingenuity, and a healthy sprinkling of both good and bad luck. I'd probably have trimmed the book by about a quarter to a third by removing the more technical explanations – but then, I'm not quite the science-loving core audience. It still worked on the problem-solving level for me, and it's one of those situations – person stuck in almost-certainly-fatal situation while the world watches – that is ripe for moments of victory.
The treatment of women was not quite what I hoped for, but overall it's not terrible. There's a handful of women, and the mission commander is female. Women are repeatedly shown as competent (but rarely shown being the person who comes up with science solutions). I found it tiresome that both the female NASA scientist and the second female astronaut started crying during the story. Most problematic was NASA's ball-breaking press secretary. I really struggled to believe that NASA would ever hire a science-ignorant stereotypical "I bet you nerds couldn't get laid in high school" person to be their public face.
But the thing that bugged me repeatedly in this story was Watney himself.
The story tells us that one of the reasons Watney was chosen for the mission is because his sense of humour makes him a tension-breaker and he gets along well with everyone. Now, Kip was tremendously earnest, and MacGyver was a fairly restrained fellow who went around exercising his strong sense of justice using duct tape, string and whatever else came to hand. [These days, he'd probably be labelled a SJW or a White Knight.]
Watney is the class clown. His jokes are a combination of dead-pan deliveries and puerile cracks. Crude, gendered, brimming with "Boobies!" and "That's what she said!". Often still funny, but I think I would have found this guy wearisome on a long, long space flight.
Watney also lacks of any sense of wonder. There are no mentions of sunsets on Mars, of moments of unexpected awe and beauty. I mean, yeah, Mars is not going to be the prettiest of planets, but I'm not sure this botanist would even stop to smell Martian roses. He doesn't seem all that interested in scientific research either - just problem-solving - even though he complains a lot of boredom and having run through the rather small supply of entertainment brought along by his fellow astronauts. He doesn't seem to have brought any entertainment of his own along - indeed, other than him having middle-aged parents, I know bugger-all about Watney's non-work interests by the end of this book other than he doesn't like disco.
I can't speak to the correctness of any of the science, though I did wonder whether dust storms would make sunset and dawn more vivid and colourful. And rather doubted that new dads would be high on the list of people NASA consider a good idea to send on Mars missions.
So, an entertaining story, but not for me one I'd revisit.
The narrator of the audiobook was skilled (though bad at female voices). At first I didn't think him a good voice fit for Watney, but I changed my mind as I got a better idea of Watney's personality. By the end, he reminded me of nothing so much as Dennis Leary, gleefully singing at the top of his lungs: "I'm an asshole!"...more
Aliens is my favourite movie. The series itself is what I think of as 'accidentally feminist' (the role of Ripley was written for a man) and when AlieAliens is my favourite movie. The series itself is what I think of as 'accidentally feminist' (the role of Ripley was written for a man) and when Alien proved a success, the script for a main female character immediately took us to a motherhood plot.
But still, I really like this movie, and when someone mentioned this novelisation, written from an early draft of the script, I couldn't resist.
Hard to imagine I'd be spoiling anyone here, but if you somehow haven't yet seen Aliens, stop reading, go watch it.
There are few differences from the movie release – mostly scenes tightened, dialogue just a little snappier, excess explanation cut. There are a couple of bigger differences, though, and the major one is the scene where Gorman is knocked out following the disaster at the atmosphere conversion facility. In this book, instead of this simple act, he is stabbed by an attacking alien's tail, which contains a paralysing stinger. This provides a practical explanation for how the aliens manage to transport the colonists around alive.
Other divergences are found in the final fight with the queen, where instead of Ripley deliberately overriding the outer airlock, it's eaten through by acid. And when Ripley heads into the atmosphere processor after Newt, she briefly encounters Burke, alive, already feeling alien movement within. She gives him a grenade.
The one thing that really stood out for me, however, was the introduction of the female marines. There's three women (and eight men) and Foster doesn't actually introduce them all (Crowe is only mentioned when he dies, I think). But quite a few of the characters (even the ones who have very small roles) get thorough snapshots. This is the intro for Spunkmeyer (the male dropship pilot):
"PFC Spunkmeyer was the dropship crew chief the man responsible along with Pilot-Corporal Ferro for safely conveying his colleagues to the surface of whichever world they happened to be visiting, and then taking them off again in one piece. In a hurry if necessary. He rubbed at his eyes and groaned as he blinked at the hypersleep chamber. 'I'm getting too old for this.' No one paid any attention to this comment, since it was well known (or at least widely rumoured) that Spunkmeyer had enlisted when underage. However, nobody joked about his maturity or lack of it when they were plummeting towards the surface of a new world in the PFC-directed dropship."
That's also the whole of Ferro's introduction, even though she has far more screentime. We later get a mention of her being diminutive and having a flat muscular stomach, but other than flying the ship, that's all we get to know of Ferro.
Dietrich is the medic (and first to be taken by the aliens). The whole of her introduction is "This from Corporal Dietrich, who was arguably the prettiest of the group except when she opened her mouth."
And then there's Vazquez, one of the most memorable characters, and owner of her own TV Trope (Vazquez always dies). Her introduction:
"PFC Vasquez just stared as she walked past. Ripley had received warmer inspections from robots. The other smartgun operator didn't blink, didn't smile. Black hair, blacker eyes, thin lips. Attractive if she'd make half an effort.
It required a special talent; a unique combination of strength, mental ability, and reflexes, to operate a smartgun. Ripley waited for the woman to say something. She didn't open her mouth as she passed by. Every one of the troopers looked tough. Drake and Vasquez looked tough and mean."
In other words, the men introduced have histories and competencies, while even Vasquez is described primarily in terms of appearance and attractiveness.
Aliens (and this novelisation), to fall back on the old cliché, is a product of its time. Heck, in the far-flung future Vasquez is still a reason to make an illegal alien joke. [And her nickname is apparently the Gamin Assassin. (Gamin?!) ] I think the saddest thing is that, even with the issues noted here, it still manages to treat women with more respect than half the science fiction released today. ...more
One of Norton's strongest SF books, Sargasso of Space puts us firmly on the side of the 'little guy' independent trader, the Solar Queen, aiming to maOne of Norton's strongest SF books, Sargasso of Space puts us firmly on the side of the 'little guy' independent trader, the Solar Queen, aiming to make a profit within the rules, up against the bottomless pockets of the large trading combines.
With an excellent combination of comradeship, mystery and adventure, this is a quick and engrossing read. The only mar is the usual issue with Norton's early work - women don't exist....more
This is a high-paced story with some interesting characters, and I'll probably keep reading it. If only for Izabel.
It is, however, a pretty grimdark uThis is a high-paced story with some interesting characters, and I'll probably keep reading it. If only for Izabel.
It is, however, a pretty grimdark universe, with lots of excessive tits out (occasional penis out, but by no means balanced).
And it's one of those stories where (though it has a lot of female characters, and a theoretically kickass main female character) the real prime movers of the plot are all male/better at stuff than their counterpart females.
(view spoiler)[ By end of volume 2 I'd noted: - Main female character. Violent and cynical, but on my count rescued or placed in helpless situations far more than her counterpart. Also both less...sensible and less dangerous than her husband. - Baby/narrator. - Adjuncts/assistants/background soldiers. - Random victims and background tits. - Bad people. - Hostile mum-in-law. - Less competent bounty hunter/lover of main male bounty hunter. Motivation for revenge plot. - Back home pregnant wife of male prince. Implied hostage. [And society clearly positions male as more desired.] - Lying cat (used as hostage, needs rescue in separate incident). - Molested six year old slave. - Woman scorned. - Ghost of dead teen (the best character, but, well, dead). (hide spoiler)]
So, a good story, but just one of those ones that kept pinging me with how the scale kept balancing out. And slut-shaming is apparently alive and well in the far-flung future....more
Another of Norton's "outcast finds a place/himself" stories, this one focuses around the orphan Joktar, working as a gaming dealer, who suddenly findsAnother of Norton's "outcast finds a place/himself" stories, this one focuses around the orphan Joktar, working as a gaming dealer, who suddenly finds himself the subject of far too much attention.
I'd call this book dystopic, if any of the characters showed any sign of thinking this was a 'good' future, but instead I guess this would simply be a very unattractive future, where anyone who doesn't have a 'proper' job is vulnerable to impress gangs and sold off to colony worlds as slaves. Norton's galactic civilisations are often quite bleak in this way. Good for some - and horrible for others.
It's an enjoyable enough survivalist type story, with some unusual points about the type of reaction humanity (or parts of it) might have to alien races. Also noteable, as many of the early Nortons are, for being almost entirely bereft of women. Only one appears 'on page', and only as a passerby. Not one woman says a word in the entire story. (view spoiler)[Doubly ironic given that the advanced aliens that humanity is so horrified by are all women (and want humanity to overcome their own breeding issues). (hide spoiler)]...more
While flawed in many ways, this book moves from a slow start to a compelling ending.
This is a story in two halves. The first half involves a disparateWhile flawed in many ways, this book moves from a slow start to a compelling ending.
This is a story in two halves. The first half involves a disparate group of prisoners, coming to their senses on an abandoned, automated facility where it appears they've been kept so that they can be replaced by android doubles. The blurb gives away one of the main plot issues with this half of the story, as the prisoners try to work out how to get back to where they belong.
The second half of this story abandons that situation almost altogether, and instead wanders into one of Norton's magic fused with science set-ups and a battle for control of a planet. This half is the more compelling read, but also makes the first half almost entirely irrelevant.
For a book first published in 1971, Android at Arms is interesting for having the main character and a large portion of the cast be people of African ancestry. Very rare for SF at that time (and still rare!). Unfortunately, the gender politics is not one of Norton's better efforts - the antagonist is an evil "Old Woman" god. There's a moment where this is introduced where it looks like Norton's going to do something interesting by having the protagonist realise that he's merely been taught that women's magic is bad, but sadly that moment passes unrealised and instead we have two opposed groups - one where all the characters are men except for the Emperor's valiant wife, and the other side which is all women except for some enslaved men. No points for picking which side is evil and which side wins.
It's sad to read any book where all women except one are depicted as bad, and the divided aspect of the two halves of the tale do the book no favours, so while it did pick up in the end I'd recommend this book mainly for Norton completionists....more