A corporate-funded attempt to settle Mars gets defunded after the settlers arrive, and the company isn't interested in spending the money it would takA corporate-funded attempt to settle Mars gets defunded after the settlers arrive, and the company isn't interested in spending the money it would take to get them back to Earth. Mary, once a company biologist with an interest in lichen, starts a pub and makes the best of things.
This is a fairly light-hearted, mildly humorous novel. It took me a while to figure out what it reminded me of, which is Pratchett's Discworld stories: a cast of broadly-drawn characters, with the book taking diversions into their background, while we follow a story of historical progress. It doesn't have Pratchett's wit or way with words, but it's likeable enough and kept my attention (except for a bit of middle-story drearies).
On the down side, there were a few things that hit my regular dislikes. Mary is relatively active and one of the stubborn-determined style of female character - but there are always men around her who know more about what's going on than she does. Her daughters are...well, I don't see them having much in the way of interests or ambitions and intellectual life, and their plots are more about being sulky or uncertain or angry while the men they marry actually do things.
I may try another Baker some time in the future, but this doesn't have me rushing to grab more....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.
(view spoiler)[I also thought the strong military woman who decided she would enjoy having a young man around to spoil and protect was rather fun. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
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.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Jason, a mildly psionic gambler is hired to gamble extremely well to finance weaponry for the planet Pyruss, which has an ongoing problem of epicallyJason, a mildly psionic gambler is hired to gamble extremely well to finance weaponry for the planet Pyruss, which has an ongoing problem of epically hostile wildlife. Intrigued, Jason follows his employer home, to a 2G gravity world where even the youngsters can out-gun him.
Once Jason gets through Pyrric infants school (every child packing their pistol), he takes on the classic "outsider solves the problem the locals can't see" role and (after quite a lot of death) picks a pathway toward planetary survival.
Over 50 years old now, this still holds up as an entertaining read. And although we only have a single Smurfette, she at least is a spaceship pilot who could crush Jason with one hand. :)
[Also mildly amusing to see this was a Hugo nominee. After recent nostalgia for the good old days where spaceships on the cover got you spaceships in the book, some good old manly adventure, slaughter of noxious aliens, and no icky message-fic, a reader will go into this book and find spaceships, some good old manly adventure, slaughter of noxious aliens...and a big old chunk of message-fic ending.]...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
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
While the history doesn't seem to quite match up, this is ostensibly set in the same universe as Star Guard, after jumping forward a thousand or so yeWhile the history doesn't seem to quite match up, this is ostensibly set in the same universe as Star Guard, after jumping forward a thousand or so years to the decline the galactic empire that humans have become part of. A little laggy in parts, but with some enjoyable parts.
Women actually appear in the book! And a couple have names and everything. :) Actually serving in the Patrol, but in a kind of "Women's auxiliary" supply corps. And the usual wives and mothers....more
The people of Earth ventured beyond their solar system and discovered a well-established galactic empire - that regarded them as over-aggressive barbaThe people of Earth ventured beyond their solar system and discovered a well-established galactic empire - that regarded them as over-aggressive barbarians, and consigned them to the role of mercenaries, too naturally pushing and violent to be trusted as full citizens. If someone from Earth wants to travel among the stars, they can only do so by enlisting as an Arch (sword-based combat) or a Mech (tech-based combat), to fight to settle the disputes of others.
After three hundred years of this, when Kana Karr (an Australian-Hawaiian-Malay young man) graduates as an Arch, it's about time something in this system gave.
First published in 1955, this story fully demonstrates Norton's belief that to be published in SF she could not write about women. There are no women in this story. Indeed, there is only a single mention of a photograph of an alien woman to demonstrate that non-male individuals exist at all anywhere.
And the system outlined above - how do women fall into this "too violent to leave Earth, must be a soldier to leave Earth" Catch 22? They don't. They're not mentioned at all, but presumably no Earth woman ever gets to leave Earth in the system set up. Back on the home planet, popping out soldiers.
Setting aside the non-existence of women, this is middle territory for Norton - engrossing for the "first assignment" and predicament portions, but the set-up is odd and contradictory....more
Although starting in the same place - with a loner outsider in the ghetto of Dipple - this is a far less successful book than Catseye. While the moralAlthough starting in the same place - with a loner outsider in the ghetto of Dipple - this is a far less successful book than Catseye. While the morally weak position of the main character is workable, the very long survival and monsters sections that make up a large portion of the book are for the most part just repetitive and dull....more
Norton's classic outsider story. Norton's early books are almost completely romance-free and sex-free - the main characters never show any sign of intNorton's classic outsider story. Norton's early books are almost completely romance-free and sex-free - the main characters never show any sign of interest, and there's only the slightest hints that anyone ever does (usually the vaguest allusions to pleasure girls). This one, however, is also known as "the one with the gay subtext". There's no definite romance, but you can certainly see Troy/Rerne following many of the standard romance beats - the meet cute, the getting to know, the estrangement, the reconciliation.
It's also a great example of constantly changing the situation up so that the reader's interest never flags. ...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