Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

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Yesterday’s Kin

August 18, 2015

Yesterday's KinIt is everything that you can expect from Nancy Kress. It is a solid hard sci-fi, with some revelation made. I cannot help but to compare it with her previous novel that I read, Steal Across the Sky. I have the same feel when I read both novel. Both are related with alien encounter. Both also related with human genetics. Both also bring new revelation about our ancestor. I cannot help also to say that Steal Across the Sky has given me greater impact than this novel.

The novel is told using 2 POV, a researcher, stumbled on something that catch the attention of some aliens; and her son, an ignorant commoner. And the story is pretty much told from the circle of this family, and some closed friends. The story started with an alien encounter, with a hidden agenda. Once the agenda is not hidden, chaos followed.

First of all, this is a thin novel, only a little bit thicker than a novelette. I finished it in one sitting, without a sweat. I give a merit to Nancy because the flow of the novel is so great that it does not give me any speed bump while reading it. But unfortunately, being so thin, you cannot pack too may ideas inside it. Nancy has been doing well in packing all the necessary ideas inside this novel, plus the story, without making it too preachy with technical details.

Now, the down side. Nancy Kress has try to simplify the plot by ignoring all chaos that happened outside the labs. But even by cutting that parts away, she is still missing some interesting dynamics that might happened in her closed circle family and among her lab crews. It should be more interesting if she has more pages to write.

So, that is my final thought, it feels a bit incomplete. It feels that it ends too abruptly. And the final twist is a bit an anticlimactic. Sorry Nancy, only 3 out of 5 this time.

Additional Note (critical review with spoilers)

The hypothesis of Nancy Kress regarding the alien civilization is interesting. She hypothesized that due the more benign planet that the alien inhabited, they became a more cooperative society, compared to ours. And because they are more cooperative, they are far more advanced than we. That hypothesis needs to be explored at least another one hundred pages. Maybe in debates between alien and human, maybe in some scene when the alien are confused about our competitive, self-interested, individualized and obsessive behavior.

three star

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Worlds

August 11, 2015

WorldsWorlds is an ambitious attempt by Joe Haldeman. The title itself is revealing; it is a story of many worlds. Mankind is starting its next colonization, conquering spaces. Many giant space stations are built as new human habitats. Man also starts mining the moon and asteroids. A new interplanetary politics is building, between the old earth and the Worlds.

The premise is interesting, new politics caused by the new colonization, while the old earth is trapped in conservatism and ecology disaster. But it looks like that the author failed to capitalized it. I cannot help but to compared it with Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson. The premise is almost the same; the colonization of Mars creates a new tension in politics. Where Robinson succeed, Haldeman failed.

The first third of the novel is very good. The characters are properly introduced and the world building is amazing. Haldeman successfully captured the new culture caused by the separation from earth quite well. I would give FOUR STAR for the first third. But the second third, when the main character, Mariane O’Hara starts her campus life, it is plain boring. The details do not add well to the story. Instead of building the story, I find it as impediments to the main plot. The revolution spirit is not well captured. Maybe it is caused by the usage of just one POV, Marianne, which herself is almost oblivious the revolution. TWO STAR only for this part. For the final third, the story is improving. The revolution starts, and Marianne find herself in it, helpless and hopeless. The tension is well built. THREE STAR for the last part. So, on average, I give this novel a THREE STAR. Not great, but not bad as well, exactly is the middle.

I would say that this novel is not Haldeman’s best. Nice to read, but not really engaging.

(I GET THE COPY OF THIS NOVEL FROM NETGALLEY)

three star

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Forever War

July 28, 2015

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)This novel is indeed a classic. I can understand why it holds its place at the sci-fi hall of fame.

It is indeed the product of its age; America is deeply involved in the Vietnam war, many young men were conscripted, antiwar sentiment were raised due to the involvement of the unintended and unwanted war. You can see those parallels in this novel.

The story circles around a young (and then “very old”) soldier Mandella, who is drafted without his consent, due to the Elite Conscription Act, a law passed to conscript high IQ young men and women to fight extraterrestrials in another system far far away from solar systems. The first time setting is the near future, and then continues to about one thousand years. The military also has overcome the male-female bias. Each draftee is sterilized, eggs and sperms stored in cold storage for later use. The concept of “confraternity” is introduced, where male and female soldiers live in the same quarter. Promiscuity is actually encouraged to strengthen the bond, while exclusive partnership is discouraged because it will create tension and competition.

Since it is decades after the first publishing, I feel that the war issue is about outdated. The strongest part of this novel is not even the war scene. It is the social changes caused by war that is interesting. How the politics changes, the economy booms and collapsed, etc.

Despite the outdated war issue, the gender issue and clash of civilization are still contemporary. The heterosexual vs. homosexual orientation is widely discussed. Imagine when heterosexual became the outlier, while homosexual is the new normality. Imagine that you, being heterosexual is seen as an aberration and everyone wants to cure you. After reading this novel I can sympathized with my LGBT friends.

Clash between cultures (or in this case: species) is also the center theme. Many meaningless wars happened just because we cannot communicate with each other. Once we can understand each other, the war seems to be so puny. And in a long term, all wars might sound so silly. Imagine Japanese people that is portrayed as yellow skin savages that fight the allies. Now all of those image has lost, replaced by the uber-cute techno culture spread by the anime and manga. I can imagine that will also happened to the so-called Islamic terrorist right now. Imagine how would we see them decades from now.

The best part of this novel is the time dilation caused by the near-light-speed travel. It is something that is usually omitted in common space opera. It is just like the issue dealt in the movie “Interstellar”. It is something that should be faced by a star faring civilization.

Overall, a solid 4 stars. If Haldeman makes a more interesting war scene, I will give it a 5 stars.

four star

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

April 28, 2015

11Well, I have to admit that I have a bit of reluctance to read this book. If it is not for group read, I might have skipped it entirely. The reason is: The movie sucks!

So, I read it. It is pretty much better than the movie. It looks like that it is not easy to transfer a radio show into a good movie, but it is easier to transfer it to a book. I am still looking for the original radio transcript.

There are no obvious story line in this book, except that you follow two hitchhikers from Earth (one Earthling and one alien). The story is a satire, laughing at our daily life in a hilarious beyond Earth setting, with not-quite-intelligent alien life forms (in form of humanoids, reptiloids, and all other-loids), with exception of Zooey Deschanel.

There are plenty of English dark humor here that give me quite a laugh, but unfortunately not enough story line to get me hooked. I cannot help to compare it with Redshirts, with has better plot therefore much more enjoyable. I am not going to spoil the humor in this review, so read it by yourself. I also find that the first half of the book is funnier that the rest. So many clever jokes, especially when you can get out of your Earth-view, and laugh at those ignorant Earthlings (a.k.a carbon based oxygen sucker semi-intelligent life form).

So, the final verdict: read the book (or better get the original radio show), but avoid the movie like a plague.

three star

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War of Honor

April 21, 2015

77743This is the best book in this series so far. Everything is fully blown. And it is the thickest one also, which will make quite a bore if you cannot take the heavy stuffs.

Why I like it so much? First, politics! I know that a lot of people actually hate this book because it is 90% politics and only 10% actions. But this is precisely why I like this novel! Look at A Game of Thrones series, almost all of them ARE about politics, one scheming against another. The politics gives you the depth about the character and the issue, that makes the story much deeper and realistic feel.

I cannot believe that I quite enjoy the parliamentary debate in the House of Lords of Manticore. And also the lobbying and the political manoeuvrings. It is even more intricate than a clash between two battle-groups of navy. The motive is not easy to be seen, and almost everyone has something to hide deep inside. The character is not quite black and white anymore, even though you cannot help to scorn some characters, like you scorn Joffrey in Game of Throne.

And the best part is the diplomacy between The Havenite Republic and The Manticore Kingdom. Neither of them want to resurrect the bloody war. But somehow the internal politics takes over the international politics, not to mention some stupidity and personal ambition. All of them is a perfect ingredient to restart a fresh war that nobody would dare to comprehend!

The politics of media is also very good. Many characters are doing some back deal to hide the true motives. Add some polished media coverage, and you have a real political situation just like in our own world.

So, in the end, this novel is a full blown Honor Harrington series. You will have deep insight of the Manticoran politics once you finished this novel, and you will ask for more! Yes, it does not have a lot of battle, but it will make all the battle makes sense.

A solid FIVE STARS.

five star

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Ashes of Victory

March 31, 2015

77742This book is a real turning point in this series. Before this book, everything is just about space battle. Our beloved Honor Harrington is just the pawn in the midst of the power play. This book marks when it started to differ. Dame Honor just liberated an entire prison planet and became one of the most decorated (and living) heroes in two systems. And she deserve to take a break after all her ordeals.

The beginning is a bit domestic, a warm hero welcome, plus an even warmer family reunion. Fortunately that warm welcome does not continue forever to make me puke, and she get right into business, became the instructor in the Royal Manticoran Naval Academy, the infamous Saganami Island. At the battle front, it has to be taken care by her proteges Alice Truman and Scotty Tremaine.

What makes it truly different is the portion of the story given to the other side, the Peeps, or People Republic of Haven. Their national political tension is cause, some are caused by the escape of Honor Harrington, which is supposed to be dead according to their propaganda. Actually most of the action in this novel I think is in this side, not the Manticoran side. This is the first time we have a direct view within the enemy’s camp. And it is worth it.

The tension is also increasing in the Grayson side. Nothing new happened there though, still the old enemy, the fundamentalist. But this time, they are helped by the Peeps, so they have extra ammunition. And they will do anything to stop Honor from “destroying” their culture and religion, even cooperating with their enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Even by leaving Honor Harrington on the bench during the battle, this novel is still very interesting. It also started to get more political, and I like it for that. All for all, a solid FOUR STAR.

four star

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Maze Runner

March 24, 2015

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)I admit that I read it because of the movie. At least I want to have a guide before I watch the movie, since most of the movie taken from book sucks.

The story, not surprisingly, is set inside a maze. You have several juveniles, living inside a maze, trying to solve the maze to return to their normal world. In addition to that, the whole inhabitants memory was wiped out before they enter the maze, supposedly to add the mystery of the novel. The story started with one character, Thomas, the new arrival in the maze, and this protagonist somehow will lead the entire group out of the maze.

To begin with, the puzzle in this book is below par, considering that it is using the word “maze” as the title of the book. My old school juvenile book: The Three Investigator Series, had much harder puzzle to solve. At least the author should provide us some picture of the maze for us to solve. No, he didn’t. He is too lazy for that.

The novel is plot driven, not character driven. I cannot attach at all with all the characters. What I see is just one character withholding information from each other, mad against each other, typical YA books, boring… Even the plot is not that intense. Yes, one or two characters get killed, but since I don’t care about any of them, well, I just don’t care. The author failed to make the readers care about the characters, either to love them, or to hate them.

I am also annoyed by the usage of new words like: klunk, shank, in this novel. It doesn’t play well, unlike let say in The Giver. In the Giver, the setting is hundreds of years from our common era, it makes sense if some vocabs are lost, and some new grammar is created. In this novel, barely 2 years or more. Not enough the create any new lingo. It succeed only to irritate me.

The style writing is just at best acceptable. I cannot find any beauty in it. So basically it is just a fast food reading, not a fine cuisine. You read it, and then you dump it.

And the spoiler:
If the goal of the whole maze is to find out strong, intelligent, not-giving-up individuals to help us to escape the cataclysm cause by the solar flare, we are close to doom. The solution is too easy, and the tension is not that much. The fight-to-the-death Battle Royale or The Hunger Games style is much more intense. Make an arena, make them fight to death, and take the last 10 survivors, for the example. The Creator didn’t care about any casualties to begin with, right?

The last several chapter is just pure info dumps. All that is hidden in the beginning is poured in front of us in one serving. Not a nice way to tell a story, by the way.

Final verdict, TWO STARS. I do not give it a one star only because I keep that place of honor only for the book which succeed to be so repulsive that I want to throw it away. This book does not belong to the category. It is not that good, but at least it is not repulsive to me. Do I care to read the next book? Probably not.

two star

 

 

Final Note:
Another proof of the laziness of the author. It is told that the author is using the name of famous scientist to name the character.
Alby : Albert Einstein
Newt : Isaac Newton
Gally: Galileo Galilei

So far so good.
Now what about this.
Thomas: supposedly from Thomas Alva Edison.
He is not a scientist. He is a tinker, an innovator. He is not in the same league with the name mentioned above.

Now it gets weirder.
Teresa: from Mother Theresa.
Since when Mother Theresa is a scientist. If the author wants to be consistent, why not using Marie, from Marie Curie.

And the weirdest of all.
Minho : what? Any Asian scientist named Minho?
What I can recall is a Korean actor named Lee Minho.
The author tried to escape by saying that it is named after a non-existent scientist, since the setting is the future. If that is the case, why not make up all of the name from the non-existent scientist. Case closed.

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Red Mars

March 17, 2015

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)This is one of piece of sci-fi that deserves to be on my all time favorite. There might be a bias in my review here, because I tend to like solar-system sci-fi. Maybe because it is closer to home, and we can relate better to it.

The story begins with the “first-one-hundred”, 50 men and women that will be the first permanent colonist in Mars, selected among the best mind on Earth, to form the first permanent human settlement in Mars, and be there for good.

The book is a bit of a collection of closely related short-stories, each of them has different narrator and point of view. It makes this book quite interesting this way, because you see different kind of truth from different beholders.

The book can be a bit boring in some part, especially the technical and geological part (hey, it is not like we are familiar with the maps of Mars!)

There are plenty of things in this books: environmentalism, prolonged life, international politics, theology, transnational capitalism, exploration, and of course TERRAFORMING! I definitely am going to major in Terraforming if it is available right now in the university.

The science part in this novel is also very interesting, even though it might not be plausible. Come on guys, it is a fiction, not a handbook guide to Mars! There are some parts worth mentioning: automatic robot construction, martian storm, and of course SPACE ELEVATORS! I wish I could see a space elevator before I die, but I think it is a long-shot.

Wonders how it might look like? Here it is:

description

The concept itself might not be created by Kim Stanley Robinson (the first idea might be coined by Arthur C. Clark in The Fountains of Paradise), but still the depiction in this novel is very interesting, both the technical and the economical impact. And since it can created a really cheap means of travel to the geosynchronous orbit (or in the story areosynchronous orbit, that is the analog of martian to earth orbit, you landlubber!), even NASA consider it. Check it out here:NASA space elevator

But I think the best part in this novel is the questions asked. The questions is the best what-if scenario that is the hallmark of a good sci-fi. What will happened if we have surpassed the Earth support system (the Maltusian)? What would life be if we can actually live up to 200 years old? Will the colonization of Mars actually repeat the mistake in the earlier colonization of the New World? These kind of questions really make us think, and that is why I give this novel a FIVE STAR.

five star

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Old Man’s War

March 10, 2015

Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)As the first novel of John Scalzi, I am quite impressed. Maybe the novel is a bit Heinleinesque, but I think it is alright. What is new under the sun anyway…

The story is following a male protagonist, John Perry, who joined CDF at his 75th birthday, which is according to the regulation for an American citizen who wants to join the CDF. He met all his companion with the same ages, therefore created an army of elderly, hence the title.

The plot is interesting, at least for the first half of the novel. It is everything that you can expect from a military sci-fi. The boot camp (but for old people), the technology enhanced super soldier, and super weapon, and the camaraderie among the recruits. It is interesting to see that technological difference also alter the method of the military training, for better of worst.

As a single novel, I think it is very good. But if you want to make it a big space opera, I don’t think so. The world building seems lacking. The relation between Earth and the CDF is not really explained. It looks like the Earth is isolated from the interstellar conflict without any reason.

I cannot help to compared it with Starship Troopers. You have the same army recruit story, and the battle against aliens. The good thing about Starship Troopers is that it is not just telling us about the battle against the bugs. It is telling us about the human condition as well. The is exactly the weaknes in The Old Man’s War. It is not telling us enough about the human condition. There seems to be a break betweem the Old Man and the War. There seems to be almost no difference if the title is change to the Young Man’s War, except for the first half of the novel.

I am not saying that it is not a great novel. It is, and it is thoroughly enjoyable to read. But it is enough to make it to five stars. So, FOUR STAR it is.

four star

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The Martian

March 3, 2015

The MartianBelieve it or not, I have a calculator on my side to confirm all the calculation by Mark Watney in the novel. So far, all calculation are correct, until I get bored past half of the novel.

The beginning is very interesting. An astronaut stranded ALONE in the surface of Mars. He has limited food and water. He can manufacture oxygen by separating O2 from CO2, given the machine is not broken. This is the story of his survival, until he was picked up. Called it a Robinson Crusoe crossed with MacGyver on the surface of Mars.

The novel is definitely action packed, a perfect formula for Hollywood movie. It is not surprising that it is going to be made into a movie right away, starring Matt Damon. It is also plot driven, without any brain candy or philosophical problem. If you can pass through the technical jargon (which you can skip anyway), you can quite enjoy the novel actually.

The main weakness of the novel is that the character is too perfect. He is not depressed even though disasters hit him one after another. He, with his cool-headed-brain, simply attacked all the problems he encounter with a stoic attitude. That is almost impossible, unless you are a trained Zen monk, maybe. By that, you know that he is unbeatable, and therefore takes away the element of surprise.

The plot is interesting. However, after half of the book, it feels like a bit repetitive. Problem hits unexpectedly, Mark Watney figured out how to solve it, until the next problem hit. The sub plot in NASA is quite refreshing because it breaks the monotony. It has more elements of surprise compared to Watney’s plot, and it has more human elements.

Final verdict, it is a solid FOUR STAR, but not enough to make it a new legend.

four star