I read a couple of Baxter novels a year or two ago, but this is the first time I’ve read any of his short stories. As with any collection, I found som...moreI read a couple of Baxter novels a year or two ago, but this is the first time I’ve read any of his short stories. As with any collection, I found some very good stories and a couple of stories that didn’t resonate to the same degree. Every reader will have his or her own favorites.
Baxter’s stories involve grand cosmological concepts unfolding over vast sweeps of time or space, and several alternate histories, including one of my favorites, The Pacific Mystery. Like many of the stories in this collection it does not have a happy ending. The unifying motif in this collection is first and last contacts, and sometimes the first contact is also the last contact (Dreamer’s Lake).
The stories in this collection dramatize scientific cosmological concepts and moral issues in science, but characterization is what brings stories to life, and my favorite stories are those with more fully realized characterizations. It is this ability which puts Baxter in the upper echelon of hard science fiction writers. (less)
Children No More is the title of science fiction writer Mark L. Van Name’s fourth novel. But it is the first one I’ve seen, and it was an enjoyable re...moreChildren No More is the title of science fiction writer Mark L. Van Name’s fourth novel. But it is the first one I’ve seen, and it was an enjoyable read. I burned through it pretty quickly.
I don’t read a lot of military sci-fi, but I guess Children No More is classifiable as military sci-fi. However, it approaches the genre from an entirely fresh, and more serious, point of view. The protagonist, Jon Moore, is a psychologically scarred professional soldier and mercenary recruited by an old comrade in arms to help free 500 child soldiers from a rebel army. Liberating the child soldiers from the rebels is the first part of the story.
After vacillating, and against the wishes of the group dedicated to deprogramming the child soldiers and returning them to their families and civil society, Jon decides to stay and help in any way he can. His unstated reason for doing so is because he was a child soldier of sorts himself. That story forms a sub-plot told through interspersions within the main story arc, and it is a good story in its own right.
Some of the best parts of the novel revolve around the difficulty of deprogramming soldiers who do not think of themselves as children. Then Jon is forced to save the child soldiers from a politician scheming to use the children against the same rebels who captured them and turned them into soldiers in the first place. Jon’s plan for saving the children from that fate is highly entertaining.
But that is just a skeletal outline of the plot. Van Name provides a wealth of detail to put flesh on the characters and create an engrossing story, with multiple conflicts and personality clashes, and an engaging sub-plot.
Not the least of those relationships, though one with little conflict and good entertainment value, is his relationship with his powerful and sarcastic warship, Lobo. Naturally, Lobo is the most powerful AI in Jon’s society. (Aren’t they always?)
If I have one knock on the novel, it is that while it is a good story with a serious theme, the plight of the child soldiers did not really engage me on an emotional level. But, then, science fiction novels rarely do. It certainly is not because Van Name fails to treat his subject matter seriously or develop it fully. He does both. In fact, he is donating his proceeds from the novel to an NGO or charitable group rehabilitating child soldiers in the Congo. Maybe it is just one of things you can can’t really feel unless you’ve been through it yourself. In all other respects Children No More is a good novel, and should appeal to readers who do not normally read military sci-fi. Give it a try. (less)