Tag: sci-fi

The Forge of Mars

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My time spent reading the Forge of Mars was mostly spent agape in sheer stupefaction at how not good the novel was.

The characters were simply unreal. They were generally consistent, at least, but in the way that a flat, stereotypic impression of a character is. The villain was literally a moustache-twirling 100% evil ex-Soviet General and his little dog. And he was less cringe inducing than the main characters, Tai and Yvonne.

The story also suffered from extreme tonal dissonance. Is the story grim and serious? Is it sexy? Is it profound? Is it goofy? Is it deadpan? Is it HILARIOUS? The Forge of Mars is all of those! And thus it suffers from extreme tonal whiplash, where you have a breakup and serious discussions of relationships and future career plans followed by a character slipping into the Museum of Bureaucracy to escape someone chasing him, and running through office dioramas and jokes about government employees.

Additionally, the world was very confusing. There was real AI, nanotechnology, nanotech 3d printers, and regular no-big-deal space travel, to name just four big developments. And society did not change in the slightest as a result. It felt completely unreal to have that level of technological development, but have everything else feel like the early 2000s.

The dialogue was not enjoyable, and the scene descriptions generally went on too much and were not of importance. This dragged down the plot, especially when combined with jarring scene transitions between the multiple viewpoint characters.

Now, the bit I enjoyed: There are some cool and enjoyable bits with alien robots later on, as in B movie enjoyable. Still, if you want something like that, you should check out a Keith Laumer book, or one of Fred Saberhagen’s lighter Berserker books.

Inherit the Earth

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I thought that Inherit the Earth was a very odd book. The plot is slowly paced, but in a way that detracts from it. The extra space/time is dedicated to building up the characters and institutions, but the plot also spends a lot of time convincing you it is about to go somewhere before… not going there. Or, spending a lot of time/pages presenting a particular version of history, which is then promptly revealed not to be true. Additionally, there are several situations where something interesting is about to happen, and then just… doesn’t. That was the main thing that stuck out to me.

The conspiracy theory aspect of figuring out who was telling the truth and who was lying and what the truth and lies were and also did not grab me. I am not sure why: I generally like that kind of thing in novels, especially those “of this sort” such as in the Jump255 trilogy, (Infoquake/MultiReal/Geosynchron), or in the Cassandra Kresnov series (Crossover/Breakaway/etc…), or the Culture novels, but I think a lot of it just came from not being especially grabbed by the writing, characters, world, or plot.

Cover Art Review: Not going to lie, the cover art was about 5/8ths of my motivation for purchasing this book, with the book jacket description being the rest. I really liked the slanted concrete building face, the pursuit and escape parkour action occurring center stage, and the stacked verticality of the cityscape.

Brother to Demons, Brother to Gods

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Conclusion: This book is a hot soggy mess. It is also weird, but not in a good way.

Theoretically the pacing and the plot should be fine, but it drags terribly, and feels like it’s going nowhere very slowly. The overall setting concept and plot concept are solid, and there were some nice reveals, but they in no way salvage the story.

The setting is simultaneously super not interesting and confusingly off the wall, with some very arbitrary worldbuilding choices. The concept is interesting, sort of a revival of the struggle between Greek Gods, Titans, Demigods, and mankind, and if better executed could be very engaging. However, the characters are annoying, and every time a new character was introduced or I spent a scene with an existing character, it just drove me further away from caring about the setting at all. The character development feels mostly arbitrary, like the author suddenly decides to grant some new perspective or ability randomly to the protagonists, rather than the protagonists gaining abilities or knowledge from what they were experiencing. There is also an awful lot of incestuous-feeling stuff going on between Buglet and Davey, which was creeping me out the entire time.

This is also very much subjective, but the writing style did not appeal to me. It felt very jerky, as few paragraphs have any kind of transition to the paragraph before or after. This is fine for about 70% of the paragraphs, but 40% just feel awkwardly disjointed, coming before / after a paragraph with no transition or connection.

Also subjective: the title is amazing and inspiring.

COVER ART REVIEW: There is a lot that is mysterious here, from the budget tank-girl (who’s actually Davey, the dude protagonist. woooops!), to the beam that demon Edward Scissorhands is shooting out of his forehead which budget tank girl is absorbing with her hands / the beam that budget tank girl is shooting out of her hands into demon Edward Scissorhands’ forehead / the beam that is erupting between budget tank girl’s hands and demon Edward Scissorhands’ forehead, to the Fonzi demon-God goin’ all “Eyyyyyyy!” in the sky, to the general appearance of the Edward Scissorhands demon.

Eyyyyyyy!

Terra Insegura

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I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this book, which boil down into an impression of missed potential. This was a book that I had trouble reading due to the ugliness of spirit of some of the antagonist characters. However, they weren’t interesting, just mostly bland, brutal, nasty sons of guns. I think a lot of my issues stem from that this is a sequel, and so the protagonists were not developed that well. Had I had read the first novel, and had all that character development and plot development behind me, I probably would have received Terra Insegura more positively.

On that note, I constantly felt like the book and myself were not on the same level of understanding. In particular, the details behind the Selkies, their creator, and the Keronomi made little sense to me until the very end. This was frustrating, because the idea is very intriguing and has great potential, and I really liked what I saw of the Selkie populace, but I never really got the feel of what was going on. Additionally, the plot felt arbitrary at points, where obstacles seemed dropped in that had little to do with the main conflict but were not particularly interesting or effective on their own either.

One thing the book really nailed for me was the eerie feeling of a plague-devastated world. There was a lot of uneasiness and mistrust boiling over, with survivors fighting over the cure for the plague.

Cover Art Review: I like it! Aesthetically, it feels too ethereal and floaty to me, probably due to the light burst in the top, and would benefit from either having the bottom of the scene darker to solidly ground you in the scene, or just decreasing how much the bright light washes everything out. On the other hand, this does lend it a confused, eerie feeling, which is appropriate for the novel.

Gridlinked

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Gridlinked takes place in a fascinating, confusing universe, peopled by strange characters serving coldly inhuman causes, all alongside fairly relatable people.  There is a sense of impenetrability regarding the setting and exactly what is going on. Partly it’s that the characters and institutions are strange. Partially it’s the abundant violence. Partially it’s the story’s bizarre FTL technology, literally beyond human comprehension, as perhaps all things that hurl mankind faster than light well should be. The depiction of aliens who seem truly alien, and whose motives are frequently bewildering is also a great contribution to the atmosphere. But the intense mood and the frequent fast-paced and brutally matter-of-fact violence is the overwhelming contributor to this feeling of impenetrability.

There is some lingo usage that is very clever and original. It definitely takes a fairly common sci-fi technology, teleportation, and makes it memorable, giving it a very unique spin which greatly impacts the mood of the setting as well as individual scenes.

The plot is rather inscrutable, and even skimming through the book as I am writing this, while I understand the overall thrust of the arcs, there are plenty of elements that I don’t entirely grasp. Which felt in line with the general atmosphere. There are other books set in this universe, and I will probably end up reading them, if not right away; Gridlinked wraps up its plot pretty well, but dangles a hook at the very end that is simply begging for an explanation. I look forward to eventually reading the other books by Neal Asher and unraveling more of the twisted webs of technology, governments, aliens, and insurrectionists.

Cover Art Review: I like it! It very much conveys the mood of the book: overall dark with lots of seizure-inducing lights here and luminous circuitry there, bizarre, inhuman and foreboding. I don’t think Ian Cormac’s face looks like that, though.

Rogue Clone

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Reading this book was not fun. The writing was flat and uninteresting, quite possibly intentionally (more later), but that does not redeem it for that. The plot was probably alright, but given some horrific worldbuilding choices that destroyed my suspension of disbelief, it felt very artifical and badly structured, with long stretches of either the main character doing nothing, or secondary characters doing important things.

The main character is a clone who, despite having the capacity for independent thoughts and actions, has no capability for human sentiment. In that light, sure, this particular character’s perspective might be limited. However, that does not excuse a boring, flat, predictable characters, who repeatedly hammers home how flat and inhuman he and other clones are in order to convey his/their emotionlessness. It is quite possible to make emotionless, inhuman characters interesting: a great example of this is Franks in the Monster Hunter International series (which I probably will get around to reviewing someday). Additionally, on top of being boring, the characters in Rogue Clone never seem to be up to much, either traveling towards an objective, not being present while another character does something important, or being present while someone else does something important that hurtles them off somewhere else towards a new objective.

There are some startlingly bad worldbuilding choices: for starters, race has been bred out of humanity. The book’s exposition literally states this. Of course, about halfway through the book, you learn about a Japanese Empire, who emerge from the shadows as one of the sector’s most powerful players. And there is also a separate colony world of Africans (although being neo-Baptists, they are more likely space African-Americans), which are a minor power but play a very important role in the plot. So, despite the fact race has been bred out of existence by intermingling and human society is totally racially integrated… both the most powerful faction and one of the most important factions in the main character’s journey are pure racial enclaves. And in the intermingled racially integrated society, the only character names you see are white western European / American. And the only cultural touches you see are white western European / American touchstones.

Secondarily in terms of worldbuilding awfulness, there seems to have been very little attention paid to connecting technological developments, political events, and societal or cultural changes. For example, the U.A.’s military ranks are made up almost entirely of clones. Yet this is barely touched upon until the end of the book, where it is drawn upon to manufacture a crisis for the book to continue. It’s merely a plot point that shows up once or twice, and most of the worldbuilding aspects are similarly there to artificially prod the book along, rather than to create a place where the characters, institutions, and plot make sense.

This book is apparently the sequel to Clone Republic. Perhaps reading the first book may have been rendered Rogue Clone a better experience, but it seems unlikely.

The LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER: LEVIATHAN

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This is book number five in The LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series, which comes immediately after The LOST FLEET series, which begins with a book called The LOST FLEET: DAUNTLESS, which is a good book. LEVIATHAN is also a good book. It is also the only book in the entire LOST FLEET and BEYOND THE FRONTIER series which ends without a cliffhanger, to my knowledge. So if you were hankering for some good military science fiction, then you definitely could buy the entire LOST FLEET and LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series and read them all in sequence and then finish with LEVIATHAN and not have a cliffhanger that makes you wait a year before getting back to the good stuff. Then again, LEVIATHAN is the conclusion of the BEYOND THE FRONTIER series, which followed The LOST FLEET series, which means there isn’t any more good stuff in this exact series coming up. (You could check out  The LOST STARS series for more stuff set in this universe, but I don’t like that series as much as the other two. While the first and second are intriguing, they seem to lack the focus and depth of the other two series, and the third novel seemed more like a fluffy romance drama with some seriously creepy twists than watching a seriously good commander make tough strategic and tactical decisions and deal with the consequences. But the fourth book seems to wrap up that series, so I probably will pick it up and reread The LOST STARS series soon.)

I think The LOST FLEET series is pretty good. It focuses on Captain “Black Jack” Geary, a legendary starship captain whose escape pod was lost in the first battle of a war that has lasted over a hundred years. The book starts with an Alliance invasion fleet recovering his escape pod. The invasion fleet then stumbles into a well-set trap, the fleet and its leadership is decimated, and it is up to Captain Geary to take control of the fleet and get it safely home.

This is even more of a challenge than it sounds, as a hundred years of bitter, unconstrained war have changed the Alliance so much that Captain Geary hardly recognizes his people and their war tactics. The books focus on how Geary adapts to that, and how he manages to sculpt change amongst his commanders and the fleet. There are also lots of space battles and plenty of intrigue.

The LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series focus on the aftermath of what happens once the fleet returns to Alliance territory. (Spoilers!! But not really. I mean, it’s Cap’n Black Jack Geary. Of course he makes it home!) Here the focus changes to how Geary and his fleet interact with the various non-Alliance worlds, what they discover out beyond the frontier, and the resulting responses from the various inter-Alliance factions. This second series maintains the first’s focus on societal patterns and motivations, and the factors and reasons which shaping those outlooks. Except some of the societies involved are aliens (SPOILERS!! But not really… I mean, do you even read the book jacket summaries?), and they are carefully thought out, with motives that are more complex than simple ciphers of human behavior. The series also still has a lot of space battles and intrigue.

Cover Art: The paperback cover for Leviathan is much inferior to the hardback cover, which is awesome and amazing and colorful and perfect. And I got the paperback. See, here is a thumbnail of the hardback cover:

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Sigh…

PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE

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PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
susan r. matthews
Published by Avon Books, 1998.

I admit I do not know this for a fact, but I suspect many readers do not enjoy serious depictions of torture, rape, forced relocation, slavery, subjugation, and characters who justify such a spectrum of atrocities with the entire weight of a societal moral system behind them. Much of the science fiction I have read tends to avoid meditating on such grim fare.

PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE is not most books, and the universe it presents is not like much science fiction I have read. It submerges its characters, its entire universe, deep in precisely such grim fare. And yet it is more than a pornography of misery, for it does not glory in these things, but presents a universe steeped in them which invites reflection. In the spirit of the “what if?” tradition of science fiction, it takes the question of torture and a morality other than ours, constructs a universe and culture and institutions and characters around it, and then story and plot build out of the resulting interactions.

The tale which consequently unravels is difficult, strange, and often-times confusing, as much of the society and characters are so contradictory to the values that I hold dear. The characters conscience such acts that I would consider unconscionable for any good person. And yet it becomes clear that they have their own code of honor and morality, their own balance of guilt and shame, their own boundaries and horror at acts which cross those boundaries.

The writing is well done, and possesses a quality of otherness that is elusive to describe: it does very well at presenting the world, the characters and their thoughts impartially, which contributes a great deal to the atmosphere of the book. The universe is detailed and atypical, and the characters are developed in depth. Still, the book is grim and depicts much unpleasantness, although it is not overly graphic in presenting it. But if that will not disturb you, then it may be an interesting read.

Cover Art Review: Confusing, and utterly unrelated to the story at hand. So, in many ways, a typical science fiction book cover.

Wolfbane

WOLFBANE

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Aliens have kidnapped the Earth and its moon, turned the moon into a dim but serviceable artificial sun, and taken the Earth out into deep space. The human population has dwindled, and society has made major adaptations to manage reduced levels of sunlight and calories available. The only way the aliens interact with humans is with occasional teleportation-based kidnappings. There is nothing humans can do to resist, but there are always those who resist.

Until, of course, a main character is kidnapped, and we see the motivation behind the kidnappings. It is exactly this which gives humanity the chance to resist, and from then on the story is much more enjoyable than the preceding setup regarding the calorically-limited society.

I did not really like the style of this book as I started reading it. There is tension between the serious mood and between the less serious scenes, dialogue, and characters. However, as the plot develops and the story kicks into gear, I found myself enjoying the story more, and my appreciation of what it was doing grew. That jarring tone stayed, but became less important in the face of considering the story’s messages on meditation and warfare. The characters never particularly interested me, but the plot was captivating.

Part of my dislike may stem from how the style is semi-serious but the plot seems like an elaborate joke. However, partway through the book it doubles down on that joke and integrates it into the heart of the plot, rather than using it as a throwaway gag, which is something I chose to respect.

This book was written by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, and published in 1976 by Bantam Books.

Cover Art Review: Text so metal. Hair so curly.