Moderately entertaining artifact of the 1980s, predictably sociologically dated (and occasionally downright embarrassing in its treatment of sexual isModerately entertaining artifact of the 1980s, predictably sociologically dated (and occasionally downright embarrassing in its treatment of sexual issues), but that isn't the biggest problem here. Footfall is a shining example of science fiction's general refusal to face up to the challenge of conceiving a plausible invasion by an extraterrestrial power without stacking the deck severely in humanity's favor through biology, psychology, or plain old stupidity. Here our species faces the peril of a world-beatingly superior technology, as commanded by an alien species too psychologically limited and developmentally disabled to actually beat us with it. John W. Campbell, Jr.'s famous exhortation was: “Write me a creature that thinks as well as a man or better than a man, but not like a man.” The aliens of Footfall meet the third criterion but conveniently fall far short of the first two, stumbling half-assedly through their attempted invasion until we take their high-tech toys out of their hands.
The appearance of a cadre of thinly fictionalized science fiction personalities from real life (Robert and Virginia Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, Niven and Pournelle themselves, plus several others whose counterparts aren't so readily apparent) is less embarrassing for its grandiose wish-fulfillment than for the astoundingly unscientific presumption these folks are allowed to get away with. Time and again, they correctly diagnose the intricacies of the alien civilization at a glance. For example, upon noticing that the alien mothership carries sixty-four smaller vessels, one of the writers proclaims that they must use a base-8 (octal) numerical system, which, in a universe where the contrivance of the authors wasn't pressing down firmly on the scales of probability, would be like trying to divine the human numerical system from one picture of assorted aircraft on the deck of the U.S.S. Nimitz. The number could mean everything or it could mean nothing... perhaps 64 was all the aliens had room or time to install. Perhaps it was simply the most convenient and symmetrical arrangement for the mass of the smaller craft.
Even more ridiculous is the way the Niven analog correctly deduces the deeply-ingrained herd mentality of the aliens by... well, by watching them move and fight in units for a few minutes. Because human beings certainly never move or fight in groups! Great and incontrovertible weight is given to purely circumstantial evidence, and for all that this sort of book is generally touted as "hard" science fiction, no justice is done here to the most basic aspects of scientific analysis.
There are occasional moments of grace, such as the "Jayhawk War" sequence where a rootin' tootin' band of National Guard go racing off with armor and helicopter support to kick some E.T. butt and are promptly flattened from orbit with no survivors; for a brief instant the vital question of "how does humanity answer the unanswerable?" seems to be in play. But don't worry, folks, the space invaders still turn out to be just conveniently handicapped enough for us to get the best of them in the end. I wonder if the real universe will be so generous to us if we ever spot a large dark mass decelerating toward us from the edges of our solar system...
A minor work from a great writer, perfectly symptomatic of Steve's refusal to stand still and do the same thing over and over again. Not a patch on neA minor work from a great writer, perfectly symptomatic of Steve's refusal to stand still and do the same thing over and over again. Not a patch on nearly everything else he's ever written; the characters are strangely unlikeable, their response to the situation around them is frustratingly flat, bordering on suicidal, and the worldbuilding is threadbare. Our heroes are up against a time- and space-spanning conspiracy that can loose five thousand nuclear missiles on a whim but has serious trouble getting even a handful of guys with guns to have a competent go at the protagonists. Even Steve's usually slick dialogue is inert and confusing. Still, how many people can point to the worst book they'll ever write and say that it's merely bemusingly mediocre rather than actively bad? Steve can, the jerk. ...more
An in-depth and comprehensive view of the 1982 Falklands War, almost entirely from the British perspective (and to the authors' credit, they make it cAn in-depth and comprehensive view of the 1982 Falklands War, almost entirely from the British perspective (and to the authors' credit, they make it clear up front they never pretended it would be anything else). By turns fascinating and disheartening. The authors congratulate the UK armed forces and the Thatcher government for their very real achievements, but also pull no punches in revealing the layers of shoddy miscommunication, bad intelligence, and plain poor diplomacy (including the starkly embarrassing attempted mediation of the Reagan administration) that led to the by-no-means-inevitable shooting war. An Argentinian junta rode off to war desperate to prop itself up, and Margaret Thatcher's government rode out of it eager to parlay it into electoral popularity for as long as they could. The mists of popular memory are already closing around this fight, thirty years on. It doesn't hurt to be reminded what a ramshackle, close, and at times desperate affair it was. ...more
For all of its silly weaknesses and its lame climax, this remains an enthralling book with some fantastic notions and moments, and a genuinely heartbrFor all of its silly weaknesses and its lame climax, this remains an enthralling book with some fantastic notions and moments, and a genuinely heartbreaking ending. In more recent editions, the author's wryly honest essay "Taking a Dump in Lothlorien" explores all of the problems with it pretty thoroughly. It ain't perfect but I'm still damn glad I read it. Could I have written as well at age 20? Oh, hell no. ...more
The trouble with knowing so many people involved in this anthology is that it makes my enthusiasm seem unduly nepotistic... but what the hell. I didn'The trouble with knowing so many people involved in this anthology is that it makes my enthusiasm seem unduly nepotistic... but what the hell. I didn't know them yet when they were working on this; they were in their 30s and I was in elementary school. LIAVEK offers a vivid, deftly edited, and entertaining set of stories that take the yawn-inducing phrase "magic system" and make it genuinely interesting again. ...more
Amusing enough, but there is precious little diplomacy actually on display, as Retief solves most of his problems by sneaking around or punching peoplAmusing enough, but there is precious little diplomacy actually on display, as Retief solves most of his problems by sneaking around or punching people in the face. I suppose I expected something a bit cleverer; Retief is always omni-competent, nigh unto James Bond, and the diplomats around him are always quivering bags of ineffectual bad intentions. It's cute, but dated. ...more
It's my reluctant policy not to give star ratings to books written by the woman I am dating. ;)
With that said, Range of Ghosts was a very good book, aIt's my reluctant policy not to give star ratings to books written by the woman I am dating. ;)
With that said, Range of Ghosts was a very good book, a fine opening to this trilogy, but Shattered Pillars tops it in every particular. It moves faster but sacrifices neither detail nor characterization. It's brutal, beautiful, and nuanced, marrying the pace of classic swords-and-sorcery with the numinous, expansive worldbuilding of contemporary epic fantasy. Bear's touch is as deft and her control is tight as anything she's ever written. This sequence deserves many readers, and you deserve to treat yourself to it. ...more
A haunting, beautifully-wrought exercise in uncertainty that pushes just about every button I have when it comes to tension, horror, and the supernatuA haunting, beautifully-wrought exercise in uncertainty that pushes just about every button I have when it comes to tension, horror, and the supernatural. Kiernan hates to be called a "horror" writer, and while part of me sypmathizes the rest of me doesn't give a damn. "Horror" wouldn't be a shame to be associated with if it were primarily identified with this sort of multi-faceted and subtle work. This is a gobsmackingly good study of stress, illness, inevitability, folklore, haunted places, and above all not having easy answers offered up on a spoon just before the pages run out. An eerie and unsettling masterpiece. This inadequate thumbnail sketch will have to do until I can pry the novel apart at greater length. ...more
I have reluctantly adopted the policy of not giving star ratings to books written by the woman I'm dating. ;)
Undertow is not without its weaknesses anI have reluctantly adopted the policy of not giving star ratings to books written by the woman I'm dating. ;)
Undertow is not without its weaknesses and suffers a bit from the cramming of several major concepts each worthy of a full novel-length exploration into one brisk book. Even so, the world is richly built, the ideas flow fast and furious, and the proceedings are limned with Bear's trademark intelligence and precision.
This novel makes an interesting triptych with H. Beam Piper's earlier Little Fuzzy, to which it is partly a response and homage, and Hannu Rajaniemi's later The Quantum Thief, with which it shares a complex vision of a datasphere-driven future in which visual reality can be 'skinned' both consensually and non-consensually within the eyes and brains of those viewing it. ...more
I do wish Goodreads allowed more granularity, because I'd peg this as a 3.5 rather than a 3.
Much more favorably impressed by this one than I expectedI do wish Goodreads allowed more granularity, because I'd peg this as a 3.5 rather than a 3.
Much more favorably impressed by this one than I expected to be. The story keeps its head out of the sand by revealing the intricate balance of economic, diplomatic, and personal factors behind all the space opera. Some of the antagonists are sketched competently and sympathetically; some of the characters on Honor Harrington's side are neither competent nor sympathetic.
The gender parity in this novel is admirable, especially considering that it was written more than twenty years ago. Women are portrayed in every rank and sector of Manticoran society, and every level of the military from the enlisted to the high command.
Scientifically speaking, ON BASILISK STATION is written in a "wink-and-a-nudge" style that admirably simulates a near flavor of hard SF; there are three or four distinct means of high-velocity space travel described, and they're all pure bullshit handwavium, but their consequences and secondary effects are exhaustively explored and rigidly applied. Essentially, once Weber sets up his handwavium, he always plays the game with scrupulous fairness thereafter. The rules are the rules, and there's no increasing the power to the main deflector dish by 300% to somersault over any given chapter's cliffhanger.
There is a whiff of unfortunate colonialism to the book (and a one-sided massacre of drug-crazed aboriginal sentients that is made necessary by the plot but is nonetheless flatly impossible to portray in any kind of savory light), and a sense in several scenes that Weber has his infodumps and revelations a little out of order. The most egregious comes near the very end, when the climactic space battle (which is quite tense and harrowing) is put on hold for a multi-page lecture on the functions, history, and inventors of each method of FTL travel.
Also, the homage to the age of sail and the books of C.S. Forester does occasionally go more than a little over the top, as when supply (star)ships are referred to as "colliers." I'm a great appreciator of homage, but that's too precious by half.
Those complaints aside, I did enjoy this, and will at least continue to the next in the series. ...more
I have a deep personal weakness for 80s cyberpunk, and though I waited many years to finally read this one, it delivers all the chrome and lasers andI have a deep personal weakness for 80s cyberpunk, and though I waited many years to finally read this one, it delivers all the chrome and lasers and screaming cybernetic air battles and corporate skullduggery my teenage self could have ever desired. A gritty froth of all that was best and brightest in the SF cliches of a quarter century ago. ...more
The third anthology in the THIEVES' WORLD cycle goes a bit off the rails. I like Vonda McIntyre's work in general, but her touchy-feely opening pieceThe third anthology in the THIEVES' WORLD cycle goes a bit off the rails. I like Vonda McIntyre's work in general, but her touchy-feely opening piece barely feels congruent with the setting established in the previous two books. Andrew Offutt has the best dialogue and description in the anthology, but he doesn't seem to know when to stop; encounters that should take paragraphs take pages, and conversations trudge on endlessly long after the reader has been given the point. Janet Morris' closing piece is frustratingly over-written and puzzling. As for the rest, they range from mediocre to competent, with C.J. Cherryh's "Ischade" probably taking the prize for being the least pat and self-indulgent of the bunch.
One of the most interesting aspects of the first two THIEVES' WORLD collections was a deliberate refusal to inflict editorial homogeny on the characterizations within the tales. A given character might be described as attractive, commanding, and competent in one story, and shallow, ineffective, or comical in the next. The net effect is verisimilitude rather than contradiction, a real sense of glimpsing these lives and times from a dozen different perspectives, not all of which are always fair or accurate. Yet in Shadows of Sanctuary even a loose sense of overall editorial cohesion is missing. The alleged meta-plot, the dark mystery (someone is killing Sanctuary's wizards while they sleep) running like a thread through the tales, is almost completely ignored until the very last story, when we're simply told after the fact who did it. Nobody in the book seems to care, and neither will you.
I'm pretty sure I'll continue to the next volume in the sequence, but this one leaves me on my guard, hoping that Storm Season doesn't feel quite so random. ...more
Again, I wish Goodreads had a slightly more granular rating system, because this novel is a very solid 3.5.
Amanada Downum's debut is more of everythinAgain, I wish Goodreads had a slightly more granular rating system, because this novel is a very solid 3.5.
Amanada Downum's debut is more of everything than I was honestly expecting-- more strongly executed, more vividly described, more willing to blow anything and everything sky-high in a startling climax. Not many first-time novelists are willing to smash an intricate setting, but Downum fuses confidence with unpredictability and goes for the gusto in her last act. The Drowning City is an intriguing blend of espionage, murder mystery, culture clash, and colonial criticism. Some of the moral argument loses its tension when one of the story's factions drops all pretense of restraint and goes on a kill-crazy rampage, but as far as first-novel problems go that's a mild blemish. This is a brisk, well-calculated and atmospheric novel; I wish I'd read it sooner. ...more
What a trip! Tom Clancy, arguably (along with Larry Bond) the biggest game-changer in the history of the technothriller, proves that he can deliver coWhat a trip! Tom Clancy, arguably (along with Larry Bond) the biggest game-changer in the history of the technothriller, proves that he can deliver comedy gold with this droll self-parody. Ex-Navy SEAL and super-duper CIA legend John Clark, still hurting under his warrior's iron-hard facade from the brutal and plot-driving death of every woman he has ever known in his entire life, is put in charge of a top-secret NATO counter-terrorist team. Clark, his demeanor increasingly reminiscent of Uncle Duke from Doonesbury, assembles a crew of multinational stereotypes so flat they could fit into business envelopes. Clark starts with his son-in-law "Ding" Chavez, a veteran of other Clancy novels who used to be interesting but seems to have gotten over it.
Clancy cranks up the hilarity by allowing this team to launch cross-border operations with the eager blessing of every government involved... just like real life! Additional comedy comes from the notion that the Rainbow project is "blacker than black" on the U.S. side of the pond, a secret known only to gods and Ubermensch, and yet can be called in by the governments of Switzerland, Spain, and Austria at the drop of a hat. Oh, the trenchant sarcasm of Clancy's portrayal of these helpless Euro-wuss bureaucrats, pathetically eager to let a team led and dominated by American personnel run around shooting things up on their own turf! The way the terrorist scenarios play out in a ludicrously linear fashion, ramping up in challenges and complexity like video game levels, is also a deft parodic touch.
All in all, this book is so thunderously dull, its moral questions so elementary, its politics so spavined, its protagonists such jut-jawed spelunkers up their own buttholes, I have to applaud the author's divine sense of irony and... wait, what?