Extinction Journals picks up where the "The Sharp Dressed Man At the End of the Line" leaves off. For those of you unfamiliar with that story, it can...moreExtinction Journals picks up where the "The Sharp Dressed Man At the End of the Line" leaves off. For those of you unfamiliar with that story, it can be found in Mr. Johnson's short story collection, Angel Dust Apocalypse. Without giving too much away, we meet Dean in the last days before World War III, a young man who believes that he can survive the aftermath of a nuclear war if he's wearing a suit made of cockroaches. As the story ends, Dean is proved correct.
Extinction Journals follows Dean around as he makes his way through the nuclear bomb ravaged wasteland of what was once the USA. He struggles to find food and water, all the while wondering if his "suit" will, out of desperation and hunger, turn on him. Along the way, he meets a new god, borne out of mankind's collective unconscious. Neither Dean nor the reader is sure whether or not he's hallucinating, but considering he just survived a nuclear war we have to give him some leeway.
Ultimately, Dean meets other entomologically enlightened individuals who are struggling to put some sense to this brave new world. At that point, they must decide how life will exist, post-humanity, or if it will exist at all.
JRJ has a knack for characterization, even if those characters are a bit twisted. Dean is a nice enough guy, but one has to really be out there to conceive of fashioning a suit out of cockroaches in order to survive a nuclear war. And his descriptions of the nuclear wasteland are convincingly real, making you shudder (and question Dean's desire to live to see it).
The story was way too short. While readers don't need to be familiar with the short story that preceded this novella, it definitely helps. Adding it as a preface, while driving up the publishing costs, would have enhanced the reading experience for new readers of JRJ's work.
I also had a feeling of repetition between Dean's encounters. It was as if he were stumbling upon the same old irradiated buildings he wandered into earlier.
Lastly, I was hoping for more of an exploration of the relationship between Dean and his suit. I really couldn't get the sense that the symbiosis between man and roach was evolving until the very end. Maybe evolution itself works like that. Rather than gradual changes, we get abrupt "do or die" situations.
While I enjoyed this book, I feel that, for the reasons stated above, it falls short of JRJ's previous works. Newcomers should pick up his earlier works first before coming here. Fans of JRJ's work will still want to add this to their collections.(less)
"Chindi" is the third novel in the Priscilla Hutchins series. The archaeological mysteries continue.
"Hutch", as her friends call her, is fed up with h...more"Chindi" is the third novel in the Priscilla Hutchins series. The archaeological mysteries continue.
"Hutch", as her friends call her, is fed up with her career as pilot. She gets all of the blame when things go wrong and none of the credit when things go right. She's been asked by her employer, the Science Academy, to pilot one last mission before landing a desk job: ferry the well heeled members of the "Contact Society", an E.T.-phile crowd, around in a ship they commissioned for the Academy on its maiden voyage to investigate a strange signal emanating from the vicinity of a neutron star.
We journey with the crew as they discover a network of stealth satellites engaged in the observation of several worlds. As Hutch and her passengers track down clues to who built the network and why, they visit several worlds in the network and even make first contact with a new alien species. It's significant in that most worlds explored in this series contain the ruins of long dead civilizations, with one or two exceptions.
One of Hutch's passengers is an ex-boyfriend. Readers of previous works know that Hutch has been unlucky in love. Her career doesn't leave much time on Earth for relationships. Interstellar pilot really gives a new meaning to long distance relationships. Most give up. Hutch's relationship with this ex, Tor, makes for an interesting sub-plot, though it takes a while to really develop.
I don't want to give away too much, but suffice it to say that the Contact Society may have bitten off more than it could chew. Fatal mishaps plague the expedition, but they press on. Their compelling need to get to the bottom of the mystery pushes them on. They're rewarded with the discovery of the "chindi," a massive starship that they believe is the key to the stealth satellite network. Despite everything that has gone wrong and Hutch's warnings, the remaining members of the Contact Society set out to make contact with the chindi. The story reaches its climax with Hutch setting out to rescue her passengers from the chindi after a surprise turn of events.
McDevitt's writing style returns to the top form he achieved with "Engines of God" and quite possibly surpasses it. While Deepsix was a bit of a disappointment to this reader, Chindi made up for it. While his ability to weave a good mystery has never been a problem, McDevitt's use of characterization in "Chindi" easily surpasses what he provided in the previous two novels in this series. And the level of action and suspense also return to the level presented in Engines of God. This was a novel that I had a tough time putting down. Excellent work. Highly recommended. (less)
Rating System: 5 Excellent 4 Very Good 3 Good 2 Fair 1 Poor 0 Awful
“Saving Tiamaat” by Gwyneth Jones - 2 “Verthandi’s Ring” by Ian McDonald - 2 “Hatch” by Rob...moreRating System: 5 Excellent 4 Very Good 3 Good 2 Fair 1 Poor 0 Awful
“Saving Tiamaat” by Gwyneth Jones - 2 “Verthandi’s Ring” by Ian McDonald - 2 “Hatch” by Robert Reed - 4 “Winning Peace” by Paul J. McAuley - 3 “Glory” by Greg Egan - 3 “Maelstorm” by Kage Baker - 5 “Blessed by an Angel” by Peter F. Hamilton - 5 “Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” by Ken Macleod - 4 “The Valley of the Gardens” by Tony Daniel - 5 “Dividing the Sustain” by James Patrick Kelly - 4 “Minla’s Flowers” by Alastair Reynolds - 5 “Splinters of Glass” by Mary Rosenblum - 5 “Remembrance” by Stephen Baxter - 4 “The Emperor and the Maula” by Robert Silverberg - 4 “The Worm Turns” by Greg Benford - 4 “Send Them Flowers” by Walter Jon Williams - 4 “Art of War” by Nancy Kress - 4 “Muse of Fire” by Dan Simmons - 5
The first two stories, “Saving Tiamaat” and “Verthandi’s Ring”, left me cold. I really didn’t connect with them, though the former ended well. The latter was so far in the future with vast time scales and god like technology that it seemed like I was reading mythology. After going 0 for 2, I was afraid that I might’ve made a mistake in picking up this book.
But the third story, “Hatch” by Robert Reed, got me. The story is the latest in a series of tales which take place on an alien constructed, Jupiter-sized starship circumnavigating the galaxy. Humans, and many other aliens, are just along for the ride.
“Winning Peace” and “Glory” were solid stories. The former dealt with a post-interstellar war treasure hunt while the latter concerned an archaeological dig on an alien world in the midst of a cold war threatening to turn hot.
Things took a turn for the better after that.
“Maelstorm” is about the amusing misadventures of a production company on Mars performing a retro form of entertainment known as “plays.”
There’s nothing amusing about the diabolical exploits of the titular character in “Blessed by an Angel.” It brought the promise of immortality, but the price was one’s soul. And “no” really wasn’t an answer it wanted to hear.
“Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” takes the clever play on words and runs with it.
“The Valley of the Gardens”, one of a few stories in which humanity gets its ass handed to it, skillfully pits bio-engineered humans versus an extra-universal lifeform that achieved sentience when the universe only contained subatomic particles.
“Dividing the Sustain” is another amusing tale in which humans re-engineer themselves with strange physical characteristics to avoid becoming stale.
“Minla’s Flowers” shows that no matter how hard you try to save a world from destruction, you inevitably wind up destroying it. Good intentions and roads to brimstone destinations and all that. This was my first Alastair Reynolds story. I'm now on my third book.
“Splinters of Glass” is an excellent tale of intrigue and love beneath the ice on Europa.
“Remembrance” is another Earth’s ass gets brutally kicked story. The problem is, no one remembers it. Well, one guy does.
“The Emperor and the Maula” is a bit gentler in its ass kicking of Earth. Humor salves the wound though. In order to save our world, a woman seeks an audience with the Emperor. But as Earth is considered barbaric, barbarians are to be executed upon setting foot upon the capitol world.
Corporations will always be up to shenanigans. Hostile takeovers for competitors will go on, whether the prize is greater telecom market share or wormholes. In “The Worm Turns” a plucky woman is sent out to traverse a wormhole before someone else can snatch away the rights to it.
“Send Them Flowers” lets us know that the laws of physics may change from one to universe to the next but love triangles are still messy.
History shows us that you can learn a lot about a culture by studying its art. In “Art of War” the same holds true for aliens, but whoever heard of soldiers as artists?
“Muse of Fire” ends the book on a spectacular note. A Shakespearean production company is tasked with performing various works of the Great Bard for humanity’s alien overlords. The performance of the work will determine whether our species lives or dies.
All in all, this is a great collection of stories that will please most sci-fi fans. Hard sci-fi purists are the only group that I don’t see enjoying this anthology. I’ll have to pick up volume two and see what great tales Messrs Dozois and Strahan have gathered for us to read.(less)
The book cover hooked my eye. I didn't know that the author, Richard Paul Russo, had won the Philip K. Dick Award for this work, his second. I'd never...moreThe book cover hooked my eye. I didn't know that the author, Richard Paul Russo, had won the Philip K. Dick Award for this work, his second. I'd never even heard of him. I was looking for someone new to try so I read the back cover.
No one remembers where they came from or where they're going. For hundreds of years, the starship Argonos, home to generations of humans, has wandered throughout the galaxy, searching for other signs of life. Now, a steady, unidentified transmission lures them toward a nearby planet.
The colony has vanished. But deep within the planet's steamy jungles, the exploration team finds horrible evidence of its fate.
Once more, a signal lures the crew of the Argonos. Haunted by what they have seen, they have no choice but to follow - deep into space, where an alien mystery awaits...
"Interesting," I thought. So I bought it. But the book really wasn't about all that. Oh sure, it's the story, but it's not what the book is about. Despite the fact that the book won the Philip K Dick Award in 2001, it turned some people off, including this guy. While I don't agree with his conclusions, he makes several good points that I won't refute. He's right about the story but not what the book is about. What the book really is about, IMO, is our beliefs.
The story is told from the viewpoint of one man: Bartolomeo Aguilera. He was born with several physical deformities: stunted arms, a damaged spine and a club foot. He makes up for it through the use of prosthetics and a metallic exoskeleton. He's a negative atheist who's intrigued by Father Veronica (yes, a woman priest), her faith in particular.
"I understand hypocrites, like the bishop, and I understand fanatics, or at least I can more easily predict their behavior, which is much the same thing, as far as I am concerned. But I admit I did not know what to make of true believers like Father Veronica. Her belief, her faith, was both profound and real. Her faith disturbed me."
Bartolomeo and Veronica are among the team sent down to the mysterious planet to investigate the source of the signal and the fate of the colony there. The two spend time together and slowly, over the course of the story, Father Veronica reveals a bit more of her faith to him. He also finds himself falling in love with her. In fact, since Bart isn't a member of the crew (he's the captain's adviser , a political position), he's free to dwell on these things while everyone else is engaged in their work.
So how did Bart find himself in this crisis of belief systems? His aforementioned deformities resulted in his being abandoned at birth. He was raised by the upper class community of which his parents, though he doesn't know who they are, are a part of. No compassionate conservatives here. He spent his whole life trying to find his own path. His deformities kept him isolated from the others and he had few friends (the captain being one). His predicament is just like the Argonos, the generational starship that he lives on.
Over a century ago, there was a strange plague that drove a large percentage of the ship's population mad. In the ensuing chaos, there was a lot of internal damage. Among the casualties were the historical records and navigational database. The ship has been lost since then and has no way of finding the other worlds that humans have colonized. They stumble upon habitable planets by accident. A star is chosen and they journey towards it but it's been 14 years since their last contact. An ill-fated attempt by the bishop to play missionary to the masses of that world forced the Argonos to leave. So the ship keeps wandering around, lost, with no idea as to what its mission is or even its destination. Bart is merely the embodiment of that rudderlessness.
Bart learns that Father Veronica doesn't blindly follow her faith, nor is she the preaching type. She doesn't patronize, condescend or condemn. She questions her faith regularly and periodically steals herself away for introspection. I won't reveal Father Veronica's confession to Bart and spoil it for would be readers. Let's just say I found it to be intriguing. I'm sure that there are plenty people of faith who will disagree with what Russo has her say. And he certainly won't convince atheists to pick up a Bible. But it might give some people something to think about.
There's no point discussing many of the "real" plot elements. Russo leaves so many unanswered why's and how's that I can't see why I should bother. It's the faux story, which pissed some people off. The real story is Bart's quest for purpose, meaning, and belief. If the back cover was the real story, we would've been offered other viewpoints in the book. All of the major characters actions are revealed to us only through Bart's interaction with them. Reading Ship of Fools for the mystery teaser on the back cover is Russo's deceit to get readers to explore even deeper mysteries.(less)
Manfred Macx is a "venture altruist," someone who conceives of new technologies and patentable ideas who gives them away for free. He's a successful m...moreManfred Macx is a "venture altruist," someone who conceives of new technologies and patentable ideas who gives them away for free. He's a successful man because he makes others wealthy, who, in turn, cover all of his expenses. He's trying to be post money, but the IRS, still struggling to pay off America's massive debt, is after him. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem for a man like Macx, but the agent in charge of the investigation is his estranged, dominatrix wife. While on the lam in Amsterdam, he gets a call from a net-based AI built from the uploaded brain scans of lobsters that works for KGB.ru. It seems that the lobsters want to defect and escape the domineering influence of humanity and they need Macx's help.
If that sounds strange, it's only the beginning. We follow three generations of the Macx clan as they cope with the rapidly increasing pace of technological advancement, expansion of the human race into the solar system, and the decline of civilization as we know it.
Stross sets a heady pace here. He packs more ideas into a single chapter than most writers do in an entire novel. It's easy to get lost, but Stross provides omniscient narrator infodumps in each chapter that sound like newsreels from the first half of the 20th Century. But even with the help, there's nothing to help us stay connected with the characters. In fact, the reader must actively re-connect with them as the jumps in the narrative break the continuity. It was hardest to do with Amber, Manfred's daughter. She goes from rebellious pubescent girl on the run from her domineering mother to founding a kingdom/infohaven on one of Jupiter's moons without any sort of transition. But before we can adjust to this new setting, she's uploaded a copy of herself to an interstellar probe. Now I understand that the book is composed of a series of short stories, but for the collection which is Accelerando, I would've preferred new material that tied the individual stories together and delete the obvious repeated background which were necessary for the short stories to stand alone.
The accelerated pace of technological advancement reads like a Ray Kurzweil wet dream; something for the Singularity crowd to swoon over. Being that the time from when an author writes his manuscript to when it sees print takes some time, I thought Stross bought into Wired's fantasy puff piece: "The Long Boom," written pre-dotcom bubble burst, in which the dotcom boom was never going to end. Fortunately, Stross doesn't buy into that and he doesn't paint the Singularity as all shiny either. Instead, bad things happen as the offspring of post-humanity threaten us with extinction!
In case all of my grumbling has obscured matters, I'll reiterate that I loved reading Accelerando. Where else can self-aware corporations wielding lethal pyramid schemes do battle at an interstellar network router orbiting a neutron star with uploaded personalities fleeing an all-consuming Martioshka Brain? If your curiosity outweighs your confusion, then pick up a copy of this book. (less)
Review edited to reflect the good work of the new publisher.
Rating: Initially 3 1/2 stars due to lack of editing support from the original publisher....moreReview edited to reflect the good work of the new publisher.
Rating: Initially 3 1/2 stars due to lack of editing support from the original publisher. Antimony Sun's rescue makes it a 4.
Mike Halsey is a former Mek (that machine on the cover) pilot. He survives an ambush in Thailand and eventually makes his way back to England where he joins Britain's struggle for independence from the European Federation.
Before I review the book, I need to provide a bit of background. Standing Alone is a novel intended to put a face on Armageddon: 2089, a role playing game (RPG) from Mongoose Publishing. Novels based on RPG's and video games are fairly common. Authors are hired to write novels to enhance the gaming experience. Such is the role of Mr. Dougherty here. What is unusual in this case is that this game has been defunct for several years. While the book was written when the game was still viable, it wasn't published until September of last year. Rumor has it that the setting is going to be re-released with a different rule set.
When the game was conceived, the European Union's star was on the rise. Its economic success suggested that political sovereignty would soon follow. The game was born out of the British reaction against that move. In the game (which the book is faithful to), the European Federation has risen to ascendency and is now the most powerful nation in the world. The USA is still faithful to the "cowboy diplomacy" philosophy of the George W. Bush administration even after 80 years. China? No direct mention here (must be part of the Tiger Combine briefly talked about in the Introduction). As time tends to be merciless to the predictions of science fiction writers, history has taken a different course. The Great Recession has sent corporations and governments to the brink of bankruptcy (bailouts for everyone!). The EU is struggling to survive as an economic entity. For the foreseeable future, the likelihood of a political union in Europe is now small.
Putting that aside (as it isn't the author's fault), I can say that Mr. Dougherty has given us a good military sci-fi story.
Mr. Dougherty has written several non-fiction books that cover military history and current day armaments and is a martial arts instructor. Without question, this story has a solid technical footing. Sometimes a term will come along that will leave the layman scratching his head, but by no means is this just a weapons catalog with narrative verse. However, I'm not sure I needed to know what weapon everyone was carrying in non-combat scenes.
Dougherty gives his main characters depth. Mike Halsey is a skilled soldier and Mek pilot but he's not without issues. His mother walked out on him and his father. In turn, his father later died in a plane crash (a heroic ditch into the sea to spare civilians). It's clear he has abandonment issues and avoids getting too close to people. He distrusts authority but believes in the cause of a Free Britain.
Elizabeth Sinclair is the de facto leader of the Free Britain government in hiding. Having survived a harrowing attack by a European raid on the then intact government, she's had to order people on suicide missions just to keep hope alive. Her conscience has taken a beating and she doubts that any of it will do any good in the long run. As her command decisions weigh on her soul, she takes it out on her liver.
There were a lot of secondary and minor characters. While some received sufficient coverage to become memorable, some others tended to blur together. Two of the better drawn characters were Palmer, Halsey's Mek pilot rival, and General Lavalle. Palmer's personality served as nice contrast to Halsey's generally dour disposition while General Lavalle spent his time scheming such that one can't wait for his comeuppance.
It should come as no surprise that action is heavy in Standing Alone. In the opening chapter, Halsey's Mek unit is ambushed in Thailand. Dougherty provides a heavily detailed account of the battle, which goes to underscore Halsey's skill as a Mek pilot. Similar levels of detail are provided in subsequent battles and chases in the book. But in all cases the action is there to support the plot, rather than being the plot.
There were many typos in the PDF copy of the book I received. It wasn't a case of American English vs. the Queen's English. I've read enough work by British authors to know the difference. No, it looks like Mongoose Publishing (the initial publisher) was remiss in its responsibility to edit, or at the very least proofread, Mr. Dougherty's work before publishing it. Either that or the editor needs to be sacked. However, Antimony Sun has acquired the book, proofread it, and re-published it. I've had a look through the online previews and it does indeed appear that my typo concerns have been addressed. Be sure that you get their version of the book and not Mongoose.
One recommendation I'd still make would be to get rid of the Introduction. The information contained therein would've been better served if brought out during the story. Instead, all it does is delay and clutter the reader's mind. We don't need to know the background before we read this book. This is a story about Mike Halsey's role in the fight for British Independence. We can pick that other stuff up later.
In summary, Standing Alone is an action-packed story for military sci-fi aficionados. Dougherty provides expert level of detail with his combat scenes and gives us realistic characters we can root for. It's too bad that Mongoose neglected its responsibility for editorial support and thus left Mr. Dougherty standing alone. Fortunately for him, Antimony Sun took on the role of cavalry and came to his rescue.(less)
'Aliens Invade Earth' is probably one of the most prevalent story ideas in the history of science fiction. At this point in time, an author had better...more'Aliens Invade Earth' is probably one of the most prevalent story ideas in the history of science fiction. At this point in time, an author had better have some new twist to the subject and write it well in order to justify going down this well worn path. Unfortunately, Mr. Dietz's twist isn't good enough for me to recommend it to others.
Earthrise is the sequel to Deathday. I'd received Earthrise as a gift, discovered it was a sequel, and decided that I should see if I should buy the first book. Almost all of the reviews I read of both books rated them both at fair or poor. After reading a summary of Deathday I realized that I didn't need to read it before Earthrise. I picked up enough from the summary to know what the scene was: Earth had been invaded by insectoid aliens and was now enslaved.
Dietz's twist was that the insectoid aliens were racist. In their hierarchical society, black bugs ruled, brown bugs were warriors, and white bugs were slaves. As such, when the bugs enslaved humans, they categorized them that way as well. For example, the black governor of Washington state is picked by the bugs to be the US president.
So why did the bugs (who call themselves 'Saurons' - not too obvious that they're bad guys) invade Earth? They needed to reproduce. Apparently the entire species reproduces asexually at death, giving rise to a nymph that carries the genetic memory of its parent. It's an intriguing concept but every single bug all at the same time? That sounds far-fetched to me.
In Earthrise, the President leads a resistance movement to take back Earth at the point when the bugs are spawning their nymphs. The humans are aided by another slave race that the bugs have brought with them through space. They're called the Ra 'Na. Their physical description makes them sound like otters, but they're a technically adept race who know more about the functioning of the bugs' starships than they do.
So why the need for slaves? Well, the bugs have this millennial tradition of building great pyramids where the spawning is to take place. And tradition dictates that slaves have to haul large blocks of limestone into place, no superior technology allowed. Once the pyramids are built, the bugs plan on killing all but a handful of slaves, just to make sure that no one attempts to kill the nymphs while they're still vulnerable.
There are a lot of questions that I have regarding the bugs. Do they have an endoskeleton capable of supporting their massive exoskeletons? If not, why don't they collapse under their own weight? How did this spawning technique arise? And why only one nymph? If a whole species is spawning at once how did they come to their present size? Why weren't they eaten by predators on their homeworld millennia ago? Maybe the answers to these questions are in the first book.
As for writing style, Dietz jumps all over the place. One page you're in Washington state, the next you're in Guatemala, and then you're in space on the bug ships. And so many characters are introduced that few stand out. Just as one character starts to be developed, he/she disappears for 40 pages. The end result is that the characters seem like cardboard props on a cluttered stage.
I was leaning towards a 2 star rating but the ending was a letdown. I kept waiting for the book to build up to a climax but it never really happened. When it ended I actually said, 'That's it?!' The whole book reads like a series of events just strung together. There's no ebb and flow of drama. I never got the impression as I read certain events that they were pivotal moments in the book. It's only now that I've finished it that I can realize them for what they were. It was like driving over speed bumps when I should've felt like I needed to swerve to avoid fallen boulders on a mountain pass.
In summary, if you're looking for a good alien invasion story, pass on this one. (less)
Mirror Shards is a short story anthology published by Black Moon Books, the imprint of indie author, Thomas K. Carpenter. This time around, Carpenter...moreMirror Shards is a short story anthology published by Black Moon Books, the imprint of indie author, Thomas K. Carpenter. This time around, Carpenter serves as both author (he contributed one story) and editor. He accepted submissions from unpublished and published authors.
Much like Carpenter's novel, The Digital Sea, the stories in this anthology all have augmented reality (AR) as a common element integral to each story. However, how each author incorporates AR into their story is as varied as the authors themselves. It would be difficult to provide a detailed analysis of all 13 stories so I will provide a taste of each.
We're shown how a submarine pilot guides a gaggle of tourists in the depths of the Indian Ocean in "The Watcher" and jacked in with a bio-engineered assassin dropped on a distant ring world in "El Matador".
AR is a positive force that advances the effectiveness of smart detectives in "Witness Protection" while helping a young woman survive an encounter with a crime syndicate in the cold of eastern Russia in "Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials". It enables a singer to adopt new personas while Earth is under the boot of alien overlords in "Stage Presence, Baby". And it enables revolutions in the corporate dictatorship of "Gift Horses".
The darker side of AR is explored as well. It is used to bring about an advertizing apocalypse in "Below the Bollocks Line" and adds a new dimension to imprisonment in "The Sun is Real." It fosters the ugliness of narcissism in "A Book By Its Cover".
Some stories balance the two. It props up the ego of the actors in "These Delicate Creatures" but also restores their humanity when art becomes protest. And in the sexual slavery of "More Real Than Flesh" it provides an escape hatch.
I have to say that there isn't a bad story in the bunch but I was still able to pick out two stellar stories that rose above the rest: "Music of the Spheres" and "The Cageless Zoo".
"Music of the Spheres" is probably the best math story I've ever read. A math major helps his sister with her geometry homework and it doesn't come across as dull, instead it turns into a lesson she has to teach him later in life. The underlying theme is about what happens to those who are left behind when AR takes over society. The author, Ken Liu, poignantly shows how one can cope with watching dreams die.
My favorite is Carpenter's own, "The Cageless Zoo", which is about a widow and her two children visiting a zoo full of predators who are kept from eating people by AR implants. The mother is confronted by a zoo official who demands a copy of her late husband's research, which she doesn't want to surrender for fear of it being buried by the Darwin Institute. Not only does Carpenter's story present us with a unique use for AR but it provides us with an excellent demonstration for how epigenetics could work in nature on a fictional beast. But forgetting the science for a moment, it was a fun read along the lines of Jurassic Park, but without the dinosaurs.
Carpenter has amassed a diverse collection of highly entertaining and thought provoking AR stories in Mirror Shards: Volume 1. As with all good anthologies, I now have another list of talented writers whose works I can explore further. I look forward to the next installment of this series. Highly recommended for all sci-fi fans. (less)
The world is a bleak place in Thomas Carpenter's The Digital Sea. Rising sea levels, changes in climate, dwindling resources and overpopulation have f...moreThe world is a bleak place in Thomas Carpenter's The Digital Sea. Rising sea levels, changes in climate, dwindling resources and overpopulation have forced governments to enact population reduction laws and trade in population bonds. But a global one child policy isn't working fast enough for some, leading them to consider more drastic measures.
Escapism via augmented reality (AR), what people refer to as the Digital Sea, is very popular. Whether accessed via glasses or “mods”, surgically implanted neural networks, people are able to wallpaper over the despair and ruin to see a rosier reality. Or you can observe what's others have projected over themselves and their surroundings. It's geocaching taken to a whole new level. Unfortunately, just as opening an email attachment may introduce a virus to your computer, accepting someone's AR program may grant them permanent control over your perception of reality.
Zel Aurora has a daughter who is deathly ill. Fortunately, Zel is highly skilled at parting the waters of the Digital Sea to reveal what people try to hide. And she can use it to wash away her tracks. For this, she receives enough money to acquire the medical equipment and medicines to keep her daughter alive, albeit barely. They've also been on the run from a former employer, the Djed, who Zel spurned. Tired of running, and her daughter in desperate need of better treatment, Zel decides to return to his employ, hoping that his desire to use her skills overrules his anger.
Besides Zel, there are several other characters that figure prominently in the story. I wondered how well Carpenter was going to tie their individual storylines together, but he pulled it off. Even though he shifts around a lot, at no point did I forget who any of them were. Carpenter deftly shapes and defines all of his characters, providing us with a diverse group. He deserves credit for writing a story where one major character is an amputee and another suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, yet neither falls prey to stereotypes.
While The Digital Sea is well written, it could have used an editor's oversight. Overall, Carpenter does a good job self-editing but nobody's perfect. Typos got past him (“too” and “to” swapped, “artic” instead of “arctic”, missing verbs) and there were times when there were too many short, choppy sentences and fragments. An editor would've helped to catch the mistakes and offer suggestions to improve the flow of the narrative.
But despite my complaints, The Digital Sea is a good story. There's plenty of intrigue to captivate the reader's attention. The characters challenge the reader in that it's not a good versus evil situation. They're just pawns on opposing sides, trying to eke out a living in a difficult world. It will be interesting to see where Carpenter goes from here with this series.(less)
Science fiction doesn't always age well. When it attempts to predict the future, most often reality takes a different course. Stuff that seemed plausi...moreScience fiction doesn't always age well. When it attempts to predict the future, most often reality takes a different course. Stuff that seemed plausible in the early 50's (City was published as a collection of connected short stories in 1952) seems downright silly now. Such is the case here. I can overlook some technological assumptions that an author made to establish his setting, but the quality of the story itself has to make up for it.
Simak takes the nuclear power wet dream of electricity being "too cheap to meter" (whether that could've been true or not is moot) and extrapolates. Hydroponic farming displaces traditional farming and everyone owns electric helicopters. With no need for amber waves of grain, there's plenty of room for people to spread out. No roads are necessary because people use their helicopters. Therefore, cities are no longer necessary as land is cheap and access to it is easy. While far-fetched, it isn't out of the realm of possibilities.
From here it gets worse: terrible inaccuracies about Jupiter, an abandoned plotline involving Martians, the human race so full of self-loathing that people either abandon their bodies for alien ones or wither into ennui, and all the animals of the world living together in perfect harmony. I'm not exaggerating here.
"Epilog" was added for the 1981 printing and reflects an improvement in Simak's writing over three decades. While it doesn't change anything that came before, it does provide the book with a solid ending rather than the wishy washy one it originally had.(less)