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Tag Archives: book review

Redshirts – by John Scalzi


Redshirts - by John Scalzi. Slapstick space-comedy with much maiming and a sweet ending.

Redshirts – by John Scalzi. Slapstick space-comedy with much maiming and a sweet ending.

Redshirts is a novel by John Scalzi.  I’m really starting to dig his work, I’ve read a couple of books now and they’ve both been quite a bit of fun to read.  His most influential work to date is likely Old Man’s War (the other book of his I’ve read, which I will post about shortly), and he’s also worked on the Stargate franchise.  For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that serves to give him quite a bit of cred, in my eyes.

You can guess the topic from the title, and Redshirts is a ton of fun, from start to finish.  Let’s dig in.

The book starts on a dramatic away mission, where crew members are investigating a planet surface.  The scene is told from the vantage point of a low-ranking ensign who’s stuck on a rock and surrounded by sand with Borgovian Land Worms circling in for the kill.  The senior officers, also on the away mission and headed up by Captain Abernathy, are trying to figure out how to get themselves out of this mess.

All sorts of strange things pop into the ensign’s mind as he’s sitting there.  Like, how his father had served with the captain on the Benjamin Franklin at some point in the past, where his father even saved the captain’s life at one point.  How the things coming out of his superiors’ mouths (“don’t move!  It’ll attract the worms!”) sounded dumber than usual, and how suddenly – and against his better judgment – he somehow decides that if he makes a break for it he can run to a cave before the worms can get him.  Well, you can guess how that ends, and poor Captain Abernathy is left wondering how he’ll ever explain to the man that saved his life that he’s lost his son under the captain’s command.

So, that went well.

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The Rook – by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley.  Highly recommended!

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley. Highly recommended!

Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  Maybe it’s the summer, maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t know.  Either way, it’s time to exercise the keyboard for creative pursuits again.

This post is about a book called “The Rook,” by Daniel O’Malley.  It’s an urban fantasy (a genre that I’ve never sought out, besides Harry Potter, which I’m not sure counts) set pretty much in modern-day England.  A family member got it for me on Kindle, and I’m really glad they did.  This was an awesome book, and if the author writes more in this world I will definitely read it.

The book follows the story of a woman in her thirties who wakes up in a park in the rain.  She has no idea who she is, or where she is, but she’s surrounded by a pile of bodies wearing latex gloves.  So, ick, right?  Searching for clues for who she might be, she looks through her pockets.  In one of her coat pockets, she finds a letter addressed “To You.”  Reading it, the letter explains pretty much exactly the situation she finds herself in, and tells her that she’s been targeted by an unknown assassin.  It also gives her instructions for getting to safety.

In a hotel (she was also told how to get money), she ditches her filthy and soaked clothes to the hotel laundry and cleans up.  Looking in the mirror, she realizes why she got such funny looks while checking in – she’s got pretty much the worst black eyes (on both eyes!) that a person could have.

After resting, she sits down to another letter that explains to her that the body she’s in used to belong to a woman named Myfanwy Thomas, and it gives her a choice.  She can leave the past of whoever Myfanwy is behind and adopt a new and completely anonymous life (the identity of which was completely prepared by the former Myfanwy prior to whatever happened), or she can step into Myfanwy’s former life, and try to figure out who was out to get her.

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Leviathan Wakes – Book Review

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Okay, so this book kept on coming up everywhere I was looking on the internet.  Kindle store, io9, other sci-fi sites…  While I only ever read it reviewed on io9 and it piqued my interest then, it just kept on popping up everywhere else.  Maybe it’s Google’s fault for tracking all the stuff I look up on the web, or maybe the book is just very well advertised.  Either way, it’d been on my list long enough that I finally got it on Kindle.  Man, I read a lot of science fiction.

Leviathan Wakes, by James S A Corey (actually a pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) is a space opera that takes place between the orbit of Mars and the asteroid belt in our solar system.  Humanity has colonized the solar system, but we haven’t managed to get outside of it.  Leviathan Wakes is near enough to our time that people don’t know everything yet – technology doesn’t make us invincible, and we can’t get anywhere in the solar system instantly.  In the same way that I really enjoyed the relativistic limitations of Revelation Space, the human limitations in this book really worked for me.

Life isn’t perfect for humanity, either.  While we may have colonized the solar system, that doesn’t mean everyone gets along.  Like the political divides that plague our nations today, Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt don’t quite see eye to eye.  Resources, physical and linguistic differences, technology levels… there is a lot of existing strife between Earthers, Martians and Belters.

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Absolution Gap – Book Review

Absolution Gap, by Alastair Reynolds

Absolution Gap, by Alastair Reynolds

Okay, I’m going to say it outright, this is a really long review, but it’s a really long book.

Revelation Space and Redemption Ark were both excellent books.  The third book in a loosely connected trilogy, Absolution Gap had all the promise to continue the epic struggle of a human race both young and experienced in travelling the stars against an unseen enemy.  The story continues where Redemption Ark left off, but that serves really only as a starting point – each member of this trilogy has woven a vastly different story (or set of stories) around the central overarching conflict.  The third book is a conclusion, of sorts, but it really ended up feeling like a thematic shift from the first two books.  Similar to the other two, however, the book connects several different stories taking place in several different times on different planets to a final showdown.  In the first two books, the showdown was about survival; Redemption Ark’s showdown is about fighting back and coming out on top.

We start on an Ultra lighthugger called the Gnostic Ascension.  As explained previously, lighthuggers are vast spaceships built by a branch of post-humans called Conjoiners that can travel very  near the speed of light, though in the technological epoch of the books they can generally travel no faster:  science and technology are still bound in relativistic theory.  Conjoiners being one branch of post-humans, the Ultras are yet another.  Ultras are very different from Conjoiners.  While Conjoiners (as explored in Redemption Ark) seem unilaterally consumed with improving human cognition and performance through enhancement and collective work approaching a hive-mind (essentially, overclocking, hacking and networking the human condition), Ultras seem more consumed by making money and increasing longevity and individuality through modification/mutilation and replacement.  So, where Conjoiners are the recluse scientists, Ultras are the opportunistic and pragmatic (almost fanatically so) wanderers.

A non-Ultra man named Quaiche has been contracted by the Ultra captain Queen Jasmina to prospect solar systems they pass by and find opportunities for making money.  He hasn’t been doing the job to her satisfaction, however, and she is giving him one last chance to find something of value that can turn the tide of business for Gnostic Ascension, and he needs something really big.  Jasmina is kind of into pain and suffering (far beyond sadomasochism), and her mind, twisted from her personal exploration of pain, devises a “motivation” for Quaiche – she locks Quaiche’s lover in a torture suit called the “scrimshaw suit” and sends them on their way in an Ultra shuttle to prospect in a remote star system.

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Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline – book review

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.  Don’t read my lame post, go buy this book and read it instead.

I have to stop reading the same sets of books and branch out some more, otherwise I might never read another book like Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline) again. I got it for my birthday last year on Kindle, and when I finally got around to reading it, I found I couldn’t put it down. It called out to the child in me who grew up in the 1980s, it called out to the video gamer in me, it called out to the geek in me; this book was not deep in any way, but it was a shout-out to everything that was awesome in the 1980s and a love letter to anyone who was born in the late 1970s to enjoy it. It proved to me ultimately and was a cry for justice that the virtuous geek is truly the greatest hero humanity has ever produced.

You should just stop reading this review now and go get the book.

No, seriously; did you not read my last statement?  Go read the book.

The book is set in the future, in the year 2044. Things are not good for the human race. Resources are scarce, most of the population is poor, and in many parts of the world anarchy reigns over the establishment, which pretty much exists in name only. Entire cities worth of underprivileged people live in communities called stacks, which are row upon row of mobile homes, stacked on top of each other in sketchy frames.  They are a fire department’s worst nightmare.  They are the residents’ worst nightmare.  They are the reality of the world that people live in.

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Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card – book review

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I recently did a two-week stint on the road for work. In preparation for the trip, I loaded a few books on my Kindle Touch. One of those I’ve already posted about on here (The Enlightened Cyclist), and another one was Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I didn’t know anything about it, save that it is considered a modern sci-fi classic, and that there have been some rumblings about a possible movie adaptation. Anyways, I can’t say I’m versed in sci-fi without reading this book, and now I’ve done it.

Ender’s Game is the story of a boy named Andrew Wiggin who goes by the name of Ender. He is possessed of extremely high intelligence. He is the third of three children (eldest brother Peter and middle daughter Valentine) in a future Earth so over-populated that many nations have limited childbirth to two children per family. Ender has been allowed to exist because Peter and Valentine were so far mentally advanced that a third child was actually requested of his mother and father. There is a war on, and Earth is taking the brightest and most capable children on to mold them into what Earth needs to defend herself against a future invasion of an insectoid alien race known only as the Buggers.

The defense effort identifies promising children based on intelligence, genetics and other markers. They then implant monitors in these children so they can observe how the children grow and develop. They are looking for signs of how intelligent and capable each child will be in the future. Ender’s siblings were both monitored as very young children, but then had the monitors removed when they were not chosen. We find out later in the book that Peter was not chosen because he was too violent and unpredictable (though undeniably brilliant) and Valentine was not chosen because she was on the other end of the behavioral spectrum – too meek and gentle for the likes of Battle School. The hope with Ender was that understanding his brother and sister’s genetics, he would turn out to have both of their brilliance, but a disposition squarely in between them: equal parts decisiveness and compassion.

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The Enlightened Cyclist by BikeSnobNYC – book review

Bike Snob – a manifesto for the cycling realist, in my opinion!

I enjoy Bike Snob’s blog. It’s probably one of the only blogs that I regularly follow and snigger at in a self-satisfied fashion while sitting smugly at my desk. He is definitely an avid cyclist and fan of cycling in general, and he enjoys deconstructing and mocking all of the cliques, communities and movements that seem to strangely grow off of a simple machine with two wheels. Anyone is a target – including himself, and especially Mario Cipollini – and his language is at once hilarious, scathing, and disarming. If he just completely insulted you, you’d probably have to give a sigh and admit “yeah, you got that right, Bike Snob.”

The Enlightened Cyclist – a manual for how not to commute like a jerk.

I read his first book and utterly enjoyed it. I enjoyed classifying my friends as combinations of the different cycling stereotype “species” that Bike Snob identified. I am at once a retro-grouch and a bit of a lone-wolf, with a roadie and mountain biker mixed in… among other things. The book lashed out at the more polarizing aspects of cycling that would intentionally exclude other cyclists. Those hipsters look on the roadies and the roadies look on the hipsters with equal amounts of disdain. It all seems so silly, doesn’t it? It call comes down to this bizarre phenomenon that one group of cyclists looks at another group of cyclists and determines “you’re doing it wrong.”

Bike Snob’s second book is all about commuting. If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll know that the bulk of the 18 pounds I lost last year was done on a bike between my home and my workplace. Because of that, I was pretty interested to see the full take on commuting from the snob’s point of view. What I like about his outlook is that it’s inclusive as opposed to the often fragmenting aspects of cycling communities. If you’re riding, you’re riding, and that’s a good thing. It’s what you do while you’re riding that defines the way the rest of the world sees you. A dirty hipster on a ridiculous track bike with no brakes running a red light is every bit as annoying as a full-kit roadie with 20 gears and sponsor stickers running a red light.

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The Hobbit, revisited

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

Well, Peter Jackson is at it again, and I love reading Tolkien’s books, so I made my way through The Hobbit again.  I’ll probably read it one more time before the first movie hits theaters this winter, but it’s so much fun to read it again now (or, well, December, when I actually did it… I’m a bit behind in my online writing).

The Hobbit is the tale of… well, a hobbit.  Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton, in The Shire.  A respectable hobbit (meaning, he never does anything unpredictable or too adventurous) who prides himself on the considerable size of his belly, as any good hobbit would do.  The story begins with Bilbo living a rather comfortable and normal life in his desirable hobbit hole, Bag End.  His quiet existence is interrupted by the appearance of a wizard named Gandalf, who volunteers Bilbo’s house to be the muster point for the beginning of a grand adventure to reclaim the lost treasure of a band of dwarves.  Gandalf also conspires to have Bilbo join in on the enterprise, to which Bilbo responds by huffily defending his quiet, normal, predictable life.

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3001: The Final Odyssey – book review

3001: The Final Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

You may or may not have seen me work my way through 2001 (book and film), 2010 (book and film) and 2061.  Well, I have to finish the series off, so here it is!  3001: The Final Odyssey is the last installment Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his famous series about mysterious life-altering monoliths.  3001 is the only book in the series to take place outside the lifespan of one person, starting 1000 years after the events of the first book, where a monolith was first discovered on the moon and Dr. Heywood Floyd begins his journeys of discovery (no pun intended).

Things are predictably quite a bit different in 3001 than they were when we last left the Solar System behind.  The human race has reduced in number, but it has also spread itself out in the solar system.  After successfully colonizing numerous bodies in the solar system, humanity is busily preparing others for similar landings.  To do this, you need a lot of one very important ingredient:  water.  With the advent of new drives in spacecraft, it is easier to get around than ever before, and the popular way to get water has become harvesting comets.  One vessel in particular – the Goliath – is undertaking just such a mission in the Kuiper belt (outside the orbit of Neptune), when its Captain Chandler is directed by Earth to investigate a very faint, very small object.  It turns out to be the frozen body of a human astronaut, spinning through space on a course that would inevitably have taken it outside the solar system.  It is the body of Frank Poole, an astronaut on the ill-fated Discovery who in 2001 was sent spiraling into space by a neurotic HAL-9000, and who should have been lost forever.  Just his luck.

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2061: Odyssey Three – book review

2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke

Whew, I’m catching up on books and happenings.  I actually finished 2061: Odyssey Three at least a month and a half ago, but things have been so flat-out busy (between work and renovations) that I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and write this post that I owed myself.  Vacation time now, so I’m starting to get to these things.

As you may have read, I’ve been through both 2001 and 2010 now.  Both were hard to cover as I had to go through and compare the movie versions of each to be complete.  No movie this time, just Arthur C. Clarke’s manuscript to talk about.

51 years after the events of 2010, a lot has changed on Earth, both politically and technologically.  For an example of one, the black population of Africa has long since rebelled and formed the USSA (the United States of Southern Africa).  The economy of that nation was built almost entirely on the value of diamonds, now valued for much more than just their luster.  For an example of  the second, a trip to the planets orbiting the star Lucifer (formerly the moons of the now-ignited planet Jupiter) on business is now pretty much as routine as a trip to the moon used to be.

Some things never change, however.  Dr. Heywood Floyd is still alive, and orbiting the earth permanently at the age of 103.  Following the events of 2010, he was injured while  returning to Earth.  As a result of his rehabilitation in orbit, he was never able to repatriate to Earth physiologically and has lived the bulk of his life orbiting the planet where he was born.  Through all of the defining moments in human history he has participated in, he remains somewhat grounded and cynical in his approach to aging and fame.  He has mostly been denied a normal life with family he could have lived had he not pursued historical events out of duty.  Not much stirs him from his routine with his small set of friends in orbit, but one day he gets a call he can’t ignore:  a rich Chinese shipping mogul wants him to be a passenger on the shakedown mission for a new class of passenger cruiser.  It’s not the ship that excites him, it’s the destination:  the Universe is scheduled to touch down on Halley’s Comet during its next pass by the Sun.  How could you say no to the opportunity to set foot on one of the most famous and romantic of celestial bodies?

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