While the initial book in the series Empire V also suffered from excessive narration, at least it had the allure of introducing us to a new world. The...moreWhile the initial book in the series Empire V also suffered from excessive narration, at least it had the allure of introducing us to a new world. The sequel also introduces a few new ideas, but in doing so it clearly departs from the science fiction genre by delving deeply into mysticism and occult, while reaching a new high in the narration-to-action ratio. A disappointment. (less)
The novel has many facets. One can consider it science fiction: parasites (or rather, symbiants) supplementing humans to form a new species; urban fan...moreThe novel has many facets. One can consider it science fiction: parasites (or rather, symbiants) supplementing humans to form a new species; urban fantasy is also a label that fits – vampires walking among us. And given the copious amount of philosophical ramblings, "philosophical fiction" seems like a good match. But neither the fresh, original ideas, nor Pelevin's unique in-your-face writing style can make up for the patches of unmitigated, excruciatingly boring narration. One of the author's weaker works.
....In the 21st century, "industrial exemption" means that you don't care what does the captain of the galley where you're chained to an ore think about your jacket. Everything else is work clothes, even if you're wearing a Rolex. In fact, particularly if you're wearing a Rolex. (less)
This is a review for the entire "Lost Fleet" (1-6) series:
Military SF at its best. So much space combat action has been published in the last 20 years...moreThis is a review for the entire "Lost Fleet" (1-6) series:
Military SF at its best. So much space combat action has been published in the last 20 years that readers are probably getting fed-up with human fleets emerging victorious over some physically or ideologically repulsive threat against overwhelming odds. The valiance of human sailors, the resilience of human technology, the ingenuity of human science, and just plain superiority of homo sapiens over all other species in the Universe were enjoyable the first few times, but got old really quickly.
Jack Campbell takes a different approach. While the actual enemy is sufficiently powerful to present a credible threat, Captain Geary's main challenge are the incompetence, insubordination, and just plain stupidity (often bordering on insanity) of a good portion of his command staff. And that's before even facing the political side of the equation. After dealing with all those... factors, victory in battle comes almost as an afterthought. Protagonist's personal life is also refreshingly unconventional, and even though I wish some of the bedroom (or is that "ready room") scenes were better written (or better yet, never written), the overall effect is favorable, and Jack Geary deserves an honorable place on every space combat buff's bookshelf, right next to Honor Harrington, Ivan Antonov, and Raymond Prescott. (less)
Москау in many ways echoes an earlier work: Philip K. Dick's iconic "The Man in the High Castle". There are multiple nods in Dick's direction, includi...moreМоскау in many ways echoes an earlier work: Philip K. Dick's iconic "The Man in the High Castle". There are multiple nods in Dick's direction, including some not very friendly ones: the American author confines Slavs to "...their heartland in Asia... to everyone’s relief. Back to riding yaks and hunting with bow and arrow." Zotoв, while equally harsh to the unfortunate North Americans outside of "dictator McCain's California Republic", who in his words "...subsist by hunting possums and feral cats", at least leaves them the dignity of performing that unenviable activity with Sturmgewehr 44, which is apparently as ubiquitous in Mockay's world as its derivative AK-47 is in ours.
However, Zotoв's work definitely stands on its own despite the historical similarities of the plot. More over, while in Philip K. Dick's novel the worldwide atrocities committed by the Nazi victors are no less calamitous, there is certain academic detachment the writer, and by extension, the readers feel from the action. Not so with the Russian author, whose native land is still scarred by the tracks of the "Panthers" and "Tigers", and bears scorch marks from the flamethrowers of Waffen-SS. When every 8th person in your nation dies in a war, that is bound to feel personal. It certainly does for Zotoв, and he makes no attempt to hide it. In fact, the idea that the world of Москау is somehow wrong is the leitmotif of the book, felt by the characters on almost every page to a point where the whole work starts smelling of mysticism and black magic. However, the author manages to tie everything together in a scientifically sound, convincing, and logical science fiction story.
Although the novel made a huge impression on me, I can't close my eyes to a number of mistakes and imprecisions that distract from the plot and reduce the credibility of the author in the eyes of a typical educated reader (and uneducated readers of alternative history are unlikely). For example, how can we accept anything said about the United States by a person who refers to "...the ungoverned lands of the Far West: the former states of Alabama, Utah, and Kansas"
As memory of WW2 fades, all kinds of groups chip away at the historical records: Holocaust deniers proclaim the death camps to be "props", constructed by the Allies post-factum; die-hard Stalinists deny the decisive effect of the land-lease arrangement; movements of self-proclaimed "patriots" within every "allied" nation, astonishingly including France and China harbor illusions of how they could have won the war all on their own, etc. However, the major revisionist trend, one that billions of dollars (and other currencies, including rubles) are being pumped into is marginalizing (and I suspect, eventually reversing) the role of the Soviet Union in the war. None of the shards of the shattered Communist empire seem to be interested in setting the record straight, with maybe the weak and weary exception of the Russian Federation. However, that state lacks both the means and the will to reverse the trend that will have their children in 2050 (if any are born by that time) bow their heads in shame at the despicable crimes of that nation under one Joseph Stalin (aka Adolf Hitler), who killed billions and billions of his own people until a United Nations peacekeeping force nuked his bunker in Hiroshima, Japan – a city which his troops were illegally occupying after having raped, slaughtered, and eaten (not always in that order) the local population. Hopefully, the effort of Russia's writers can make up for the state's deficiency in PR skills and funding. We (the human race) are lucky to have authors like Philip K. Dick and Zotoв (Georgi Zotov, Russian: Георгий Зотов) put their talents to the task of helping us all learn from history, rather than endlessly repeat it. (less)
It is hard to be fair when writing about a book from 1951. At a first glance, the plot is flat, the characters stereotypical, and their behavior often...moreIt is hard to be fair when writing about a book from 1951. At a first glance, the plot is flat, the characters stereotypical, and their behavior often unreasonable and illogical. The book lacks detail, or in fact any explanation about how anything works or happens. "Atomics" is the answer to most technological questions, and the author leaves it at that.
Then again, what do I know? Maybe "unreasonable and illogical" is exactly how a bunch of rednecks would behave if they find themselves torn away from their familiar surroundings. Maybe the scientific and technological vacuum is meant to emphasize the helplessness the residents of Middletown feel. Maybe this book was a trend-setter, the precursor of Vernor Vinge's Across Realtime? I doubt it. All I know is that just 4 years later in 1955, Francis Carsac wrote the excellent Les Robinsons du cosmos, which I find highly preferable in every way.
Interestingly enough, the "enemy" which supposedly puts Middletown in this predicament remains unnamed. When the novelette was written, the Soviets already had nuclear weapons, Churchill had already delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech, and Sen. McCarthy's campaign to save the world from Communism was well underway, so there mustn't have been much doubt about the identity of the mysterious "enemy". Yet Hamilton never refers to it by name. Did he refuse to buy into the nacent anti-Soviet hysteria, or was that not expected from American authors just yet?
Still, worth reading to familiarize oneself with the origins of what I see as a subgenre that should be called "marooned in space/time".(less)
This scary post-apocalyptic work reminded me why I keep reading Russian SF, despite ever-dropping signal-to-noise ratio: freshness! The author uses te...moreThis scary post-apocalyptic work reminded me why I keep reading Russian SF, despite ever-dropping signal-to-noise ratio: freshness! The author uses techniques no Western writer can get away with: fictional personas co-exist in the flashbacks with real, live individuals, presumably retaining real, live lawyers. Real companies are also not spared, particularly Monsanto, which gets a number of fictional sins added to the already long list of its real ones.
After a fast-paced post-apocalyptic opening, complete with artifact hunting and firefights with mutants, the author takes us back to the early 2000s and proceeds to explain the origins of the global catastrophe in a series of excruciatingly boring lectures, poorly camouflaged as interviews. If you manage to tough those out (or skip through, despite author's explicit plea not to do so), you will be rewarded with a non-stop action sequence until the very end.
I don't think I'd be spoiling too much if I told you that Paolo Bacigalupi's works look like a blissful utopia in comparison to Tarmashev's vision of how our planet will be devastated by genetic tampering. While the idea is good, the plot is far from satisfying, the characters and events, especially the US-based ones are unconvincing, and the scientific and technological base is shaky. Still, I'd give the author a solid "C" for trying, and for confronting the very real problem of indiscriminate genetic manipulation.(less)
This is the second book in the series, and those who have not read the first would struggle to make sense of it. All the good things I said about "The...moreThis is the second book in the series, and those who have not read the first would struggle to make sense of it. All the good things I said about "The Last Admiral of Zagrata" still apply in this sequel, so I'll save everybody's time (and mine) and move directly to the criticism section. The novel touches on some very interesting moments regarding the origins of the White Mohr, and its lasting effects on humans, but never reveals any substantial details. What is worse, it doesn't even leave us with a promise for such revelation (although I keep hoping). Also, I don't think I'd be able to put up with the protagonist's nearly-supernatural abilities much longer without a fairly plausible explanation of how he got to be that way (although I can guess the origins of his nearly-pathological haughtiness all on my own).
All in all, this is an excellent sequel: well thought-out, well written, and offering at least a glimpse of the mysteries we have been wondering about throughout the first part. The excellent rendition of an airship battle (the best I've ever read) is just the cherry on the cake. (less)
Interstellar travel on dirigibles, a mysterious order of firearms-wielding knights, a bloody, senseless conflict. All of that in classical Steampunk s...moreInterstellar travel on dirigibles, a mysterious order of firearms-wielding knights, a bloody, senseless conflict. All of that in classical Steampunk settings that are likely to appeal even to the most fastidious fans of the genre.
But wait, there is more: Panov's characters are as beautifully and painstakingly crafted as hand-made bambadas, which is refreshing in a world that seems to stamp machine guns and novel protagonists with the same efficiency and lack of distinction. Although this first book in the series didn't last long enough for serious character development (except maybe in one case), I have great hopes for the future.
The cultural settings of the novel are... interesting. Those unfamiliar with Russian history will see a seemingly random mix of pan-European patterns, customs and traditions. None of the cultural constructs in the novel is readily identifiable as Russian. However, to Panov's countrymen and those of us in the West who are aware that no BattleTech units participated in the attack of the Winter Palace, the book is evocative of a different civil war, and a different admiral.
Most importantly, the author successfully resists the temptation to descend into excessive narration about weapons and technology, or take sides in the political struggles in his work. The characters make the book and move the plot, and most of the text conveys what they see, say, or feel. That said, there is some historical narration that could have been more naturally integrated into the novel.
To those readers who bemoan what they see as similarities with "Dune", I'd say "Why stop here?" After all, Panov seems to have borrowed from other authors as well: there are beautiful women and great warriors in his work, just like in Homer's "Illiad". He speaks of a civil war, not unlike McPherson in "Battle Cry of Freedom". And one of his characters is a dead ringer for the well-known protagonist of a novella by a 19th century Scottish author who shall remain unnamed lest I spoil someone's reading experience.
Note: I've only read the original. Trying to judge the English translation at this point wouldn't be fair to the translator, so I'll leave that task to others.(less)