A Space Opera par excellence, Francis Carsac's masterpiece "Ceux de nulle part" (They from Nowhere) has it all: mind-boggling intergalactic (yes, as iA Space Opera par excellence, Francis Carsac's masterpiece "Ceux de nulle part" (They from Nowhere) has it all: mind-boggling intergalactic (yes, as in "more than one galaxy involved") struggle, sacrificially heroic military action on a part of multi-species alliance of "good" races, incomprehensibly hostile and immensely powerful aliens, set out to extinguish all light in the Universe, and all the other attributes one would expect from the genre.
Of course, no such setting would be complete without an Earth-born hero, and an alien princess with whom he is bound to fall in love. As good as the novel is, being written in the 50s shows: it won't rival the sophistication or technical detail of "Pandora's Star", nor the depth of "Ender's Game". Nevertheless, "Ceux de nulle part" more than makes up in sheer scale, and doesn't feel dated at all. Highly recommended. Besides the original French, there are Spanish and Russian translations.
If you love Space Opera and have been looking for a reason to learn French, this is your chance: head over to Livemocha and get started. You'll be rewarded with this forgotten Sci-Fi gem, that (for crying shame) has never been translated to English. ...more
Mankind reaches for the stars in mid-21st Century, but quickly gets burned (or frostbitten, given the title). On its maiden flight to Sirius, NASA’s pMankind reaches for the stars in mid-21st Century, but quickly gets burned (or frostbitten, given the title). On its maiden flight to Sirius, NASA’s prototype interstellar vehicle is intercepted and boarded by The Conclave of Worlds -- a seemingly omnipotent conglomerate of alien races. The crew is captured and interrogated, and alien ships soon show up in Earth’s skies. Humanity is allowed to join the Conclave, but on outrageously unfair and humiliating terms. Starting at the bottom, it may be millennia before humans are promoted to a “senior race” position, if ever. Unless something extraordinary happens. Well, where humans go, something always does...
Although some refer to the duology as “hard Sci-Fi”, Lukyanenko doesn’t dwell on technological details. Seen through the eyes of a simple Russian space pilot, alien machines just work -- and that’s that. There are FTL drives, anti-gravity, teleportation pads, and many other staples of a space opera, but technology is not the painting here, merely the canvas. Space exploration and warfare are also not what the book is about, even though both elements are present abundantly. To me, “Stars...” will always be social Sci-Fi.
Brilliantly original, beautifully written, this is a book about societal development, the relationship between individual and society, and the myriad things that could go wrong along the way. The author subtly satirizes both the utopian visions of the Soviet Sci-Fi (specifically, the Strugatsky Brothers’ “Midday World”) and Earth’s real society from the end of the 20th Century. It’s not hard to make a parallel between the way the junior races of the Conclave and the weaker members of the UN are treated. Like a third-world country from the 1950s, Earth is caught between the rock of Conclave’s “supremacy of strong races over weak ones” doctrine and the hard place of Geometers’ “supremacy of ideology over individual choice.” The first book ends here, with just a hint of the existence of a third possibility.
“If need be, the peaceful farmers will take up their laser sickles, and workers - the nuclear hammers.” ...more
Although Stephenson explicitly states in the foreword that "...the scene in which this book is set is not Earth", almost everything in the novel is evAlthough Stephenson explicitly states in the foreword that "...the scene in which this book is set is not Earth", almost everything in the novel is evocative of our home planet. In fact, I suspect many of us would find the "avout" (who, thankfully, populate most of the scenes in the book) far easier to deal with than the "extras" with whom we're forced to interact on a nearly daily basis here on Earth. Even the form of punishment the avout use felt strangely familiar, as I suspect it would to any alumnus of my alma mater – nothing captures the essence of our textbooks better than protagonist's simple explanation: "...the sole purpose of the Book was to punish its readers".
"Anathem" definitely falls within the category of hard science fiction, but it doesn't offer many amazing scientific and technological insights. In fact, by most measures, Arbre's society is only marginally more advanced than our own. Where Arbreans shine is in their ability to harmonize the desire of a small part of the population to study the universe with the overwhelming drive of the rest to burn those few scholars at the stake. The book emphasizes the importance of theoretical knowledge, as well as the methods of study and communication that make possible the development and maintenance of such knowledge by large groups of people. Practical application comes almost as an afterthought, whether it's a simple sextant, or an orbital assault platform.
The novel is written in the formal and precise style one would expect from a scientist, making no attempts to limit readers' exposure to unfamiliar words and concepts. Undoubtedly, that makes it hard to read by most of the "extras" out there, but I'm sure that was a risk the author understood well. Hint: if you can make it through the first 100 or so pages, you'll probably enjoy "Anathem". ...more