Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “space opera”

Fofo’s #CBR4 Reivew #43: The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton

Target: Peter F. Hamilton’s The Evolutionary Void

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Science Fantasy

Okay, I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention to book two, but The Evolutionary Voiddefinitely jumped the tracks a bit and careened off into the nebulous science fantasy genre.  Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with science fantasy, but the effect is sort of like going to a Star Trek convention, passing out on the last day and waking up to the cosplay contest of an anime con.  Not unpleasant per se, but definitely disconcerting.

Where book two, The Temporal Void, was mostly about the events within the Void, and by extension Edeard’s story, book three takes us back outside to resolve the ongoing problem of the Living Dream pilgrimage.  The majority of the narrative is spent picking up plot threads from the first book that were left withering to make room for the copious number of dream chapters in book two.  I should note that I started Evolutionary Void almost two full years after reading the first two books, and spent a substantial amount of time trying to remember who the hell everyone was with mixed success.  Most of the protagonist groups have finally aligned against the forces of the Living Dream or the Accelerator Faction, but haven’t necessarily teamed up.  All that aligning means less in the way of Ludlum-esque chases and more pseudo-scientific technobabble along with a fair portion of posthumanist philosophy.

Read the rest of the review…

Read Fofo’s reviews of the Void Trilogy

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #39: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

Target: Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continuity

Having reviewed more than half of Banks’ excellent Culture novels, I’m getting to a point where I’ve run out of things to say.  The Hydrogen Sonata continues the series’ exploration of the galactic metacivilization called the Culture with the same strong storytelling and eye for humor.  The themes Banks is exploring are natural extensions of those we found in Look to Windward and Excession.  Of course, the problem with consistency, even good consistency, is that it is boring to read about.

The Hydrogren Sonata focuses primarily on the problems faced by a society preparing to ‘Sublime.’  If you’re not familiar with Banks’ terminology, Subliming is a process that civilizations, or extremely advanced AIs, undergo to abandon the material world and become creatures of pure energy and thought.  The exact nature of the Sublime realm is appropriately mysterious, but most if not all of the players in galactic civilization see it as a natural step in the evolution of a species.  Of course, removing an entire culture from the universe is far from a simple process.  The Gzilt have spent centuries preparing for the transition, and now, days before they will make the transition, some unexpected problems have cropped up.

Read the rest of the review…

Read Fofo’s reviews of the Culture books

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #76: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Summary from Goodreads, because I’m feeling lazy, and I really need to get these reviews done:

Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach. 

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations in the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why. 

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that the girl might be the key to everything. 

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. 

I don’t read a whole lot of sci-fi, but I don’t want to find myself stuck in a rut either, limiting myself to only one of two genres of literature. So I try new things occasionally. I read sci-fi a few months back, when Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout featured two books I hadn’t read before. They were more to my taste than this, which turned out to be a bit to spacey for me. I didn’t hate it, by all means, but the story didn’t really grip me either, and I kept making myself go back to the book to get through it. I don’t like it when reading becomes a chore.

There’s some very cool world building in this book, and the characters are nicely multi-faceted, it’s not quite clear who’s right and wrong. The story is told mainly from Holden and Miller’s alternating POVs, and for the first part of the story, they’re in very different places. There were some very cool concepts in the book, and certain sections are rather horrible, but creatively speaking very well done. While this book just doesn’t seem to have it done it for me, I can see why it’s popular, and why it was selected as a monthly pick in the Sword and Laser book club.

Also posted on my blog.

Kemp Ridley’s #CBR4 Review #18: Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey

I am really super behind on my reviewing.  It has been quite a while since I read this book, so this post may be short on details.

Leviathan Wakes is a piece of New Space Opera.  While a lot of space opera deals with gigantic galactic empires, or the fall of same, there’s not a lot that deals with the very early stages of expansion to the stars.  Enter Leviathan Wakes, which is set entirely within the solar system.  There are basically three power blocs in play: Earth, which is the source of a lot of raw materials (eg food, water and air) but is becoming somewhat of a technological backwater; Mars, which is in the process of being terraformed and is the technological powerhouse; and the Belt, which includes not just the asteroid belt but the moons of the outer planets as well.

While there is a good bit of cyclic Cold War-style tension between the Earth and Mars, the real divide is between the Inner System and the Outer System.  Earthers and Martians grow up in a gravity well.  Belters don’t.  Humanity has been out in the solar system long enough that this makes a difference: Belters have begun to adapt to their environment, and so look different enough from other humans that their origin is immediately apparent.  Both the reality of these differences and the prejudices on both sides are causing steadily mounting tension between the Belters and their inner system cousins.  When a ship hauling water to the Belt is destroyed, apparently by the Martian Navy, those tensions explode, pitching the solar system into war.

Perspective shifts between two characters: Holden, an Earthborn crewman on the water hauler who escapes his ship’s destruction, and Detective Miller, a Belter who works for a corporate security firm and who has been tasked with finding the missing daughter of wealthy family of Earthers.  I’m not going to say much more about the plot than that, both because of my increasingly foggy memory as to the details and because it would be very, very easy to spoil bits of the plot.

I will say that the book goes in directions that I did not expect at all, and is full of great twists.  The multiple tensions that wind through the solar system are well defined and used to great effect, and the combination of space opera with a more hardboiled detective story works surprisingly well.  This is the first book in what is to be a trilogy (because of course it is), and I’m looking forward to the next book.


TylerDFC #CBR4 Review 13 Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Wow. That’s about the best word I can come up with to describe my reaction to this book. As I stated way back here in this review, Consider Phlebas, I didn’t used to be a big reader of science fiction. Along with Consider Phlebas, Leviathan Wakes is making me rethink that choice.

Set a few hundred years in the future, mankind has spread out from Earth into the far reaches of the solar system. Earth is still the cradle of humanity, but Mars has been entirely terraformed and populated, as have outer colonies been set up in the Asteroid Belt, known simply as The Belt. There is growing tension between the inner planets and The Belt due to heavy taxation of the colonies by Earth, and Mars and Earth are uneasy neighbors at best.

I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to figure out how to describe this book without giving key plot points away. It is a hell of a great sci-fi adventure novel with equal parts action, horror, mystery, and some genuinely funny moments that combine to make a great ride.

There are 2 main characters; James Holden, XO of the doomed ice hauler Canterbury, and Detective Joe Miller, a burned out cop on the Belt station Ceres tasked with finding a missing person. The novel alternates chapters between these two men and the other characters that surround them. Soon enough Holden and Miller are forced together to unravel a mystery that threatens all of humanity from Earth to the Belt.

What sets this story apart from similar space operas is that the action is kept in the solar system. The space ships in the book are capable of no more than .3 the speed of light, and the physical impact on the humans of these excessive speeds is a focal point of the book. I have no idea if the science is right, but it certainly feels right. While making combat maneuvers in space the occupants are forced to lay in gel filled capsules, pumped full of drugs to keep them conscious and alert but able to withstand the sustained g forces. It is one thing to read about a ship wildly dodging incoming fire. It’s quite another to know that with each twist and turn the agony on the occupants increases.

Rather than spend time with techno babble Leviathan Wakes sets up a universe very much like that in Alien. The technology is more advanced than ours, and mankind has explored to the far reaches of the solar system, but greed and power are still the dominant force in the universe. Holden’s never-say-die idealism and Miller’s gruff cynicism play against each other well through the course of the book. At 600+ pages this book very much is the definition of “epic” but by the time it is done you will just want more. I loved it and am planning to pick up the sequel, Caliban’s War, when it releases next month.

Leviathan Wakes was nominated for both a Hugo and Locus Award for best science fiction novel of the year. This is an honor very well deserved.

NOTE: James S.A. Corey is the pen name for 2 authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Ty is the assistant to George R. R. Martin. After reading Leviathan Wakes I am no longer worried about Martin finishing the Song of Ice and Fire because Franck and Abrahams seem to be more than capable of continuing it if circumstances were to come to that.  

Leviathan Wakes is book one in what is being called The Expanse series. You can find more information at The Expanse.

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #40: Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

I ate up the Old Man’s War trilogy last year like it was a friggin’ breakfast burrito during a hangover. It was my first exposure to John Scalzi, and it was delicious (especially #1). Zoe’s Tale is a re-telling of the final book in the OMW trilogy, The Last Colony, from the perspective of the protagonist’s daughter, who played a pivotal but largely unseen role in the story. Because I’d enjoyed the original trilogy so much, and because I’d been burned by re-tellings before*, I was a little wary of Zoe’s Tale, despite my faith in Scalzi as a storyteller.

*Had a nasty reaction to Ender’s Shadow a couple years back. I did end up enjoying the sequels to that story, but I still kind of hate what Orson Scott Card did to the events of Ender’s Game by placing so much credit on Bean’s “behind the scenes” actions. I liked the Bean backstory, but I thought the “new” events in Ender’s Shadow took away some of the magic from the original story. I should stop now or this could will go on for a while.

It is possible to go into Zoe’s Tale not having read any of Scalzi’s other writing, but I wouldn’t recommend it, not only because it would ruin the story if you ever decided to read Old Man’s War, but because Zoe’s Tale just isn’t as good as the other three books. I don’t know if I would feel the same way about it if I hadn’t read the other three, but I obviously have no way of knowing at this point. The only way I can honestly review this book is in the context of its predecessors. My verdict is largely that it was a fun idea, but I’m not entirely sure it needed to have been written, at least, not as a whole novel. It was sort of fun seeing Scalzi put on the persona of a sixteen year old girl, and it was nice to see things through Zoe’s eyes, but all the narrative tension was mostly non-existent for me, because hey, I’d already read the story before in another form. But that’s always the danger of re-tellings: you have to find a way to make the story succeed even though the audience knows what’s coming, and I’m not sure that Scalzi did that. At least, not for me.

Again, reading this book is a particularly subjective experience, so there could be people out there (and I’m sure there are) who completely disagree with me. This was a fast, fun read, but really there were only two scenes in the entire book that warranted this re-telling: the scene where Zoe saves everyone from the werewolf things (a scene I missed in The Last Colony) and the whole ending sequence, which I imagine was Scalzi’s justification for this whole novel in the first place. And it was really awesome. I’m just not entirely convinced he needed to write a whole novel along with it. Of course, there’s also the strong possibility that I’m talking out of my ass. This book did make me cry, after all, even though I totally knew what was coming. I give it 3.5 stars, because of the ending, and because I have a strong suspicion that I’m an asshole and need to make up for it a little bit.

ANYWAY, you guys should all read Old Man’s War, because it’s awesomesauce. Peace out.

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

Kemp Ridley’s #CBR4 Review #14: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Foundation is one of those books/series that is constantly mentioned as being Very Important.  I dimly remember trying, and failing, to read it when I was a teenager, and decided to give it another whirl.

In the far future, humanity has spread throughout the Milky Way and is ruled by a great empire.  A scientist within that empire, one Hari Seldon, invents the science of psychohistory, which uses the laws of mass action to predict, in a very general way, the future.  Psychohistory apparently only works on vast numbers of people, and it becomes less and less accurate as the number of people declines.  Seldon forecasts that the fall of the empire is nigh and will be followed by 30,000 years of barbarism and anarchy before a new empire arises.  Seldon and his acolytes – the “Foundation” of the title – attempt to set into motion a great plan that will jump-start the process and bring about the Second Empire after a mere millennium.

The book is broken up into a number of short-story length chapters, each of which chronicles the growth of the Foundation and the crises it faces in the first centuries of its existence.

Although the concept is fascinating, I had several problems with this book.  The first is that, at no point, does the reader ever feel that the Foundation is in any real danger.  Seldon himself, in the form of holographic recordings, even pops up from time to time to reassure the Foundation’s members that he has foreseen what they’re going through and that they’ll be okay if they just hang in there.  This lack of suspense killed a lot of my motivation to keep reading, and I found myself skimming some passages of the book because it just wasn’t grabbing me.

Asimov, in interviews later in his life, admitted that Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was a major influence and that bits and pieces of the plot were due to his “cribbin’ from Gibbon.”  I am reading Gibbon myself right now, and this connection was at times a little too obvious.  Because I’m that kind of nerd, I often found myself saying, “Oh, look. This guy is clearly supposed to be General X and the emperor is So-and-So.  Isn’t that cute?”  Once again, this did not lead me to become particularly invested in the story.  If you’re basing stuff on actual history, for god’s sake change it up a little.  Otherwise some wise-ass shutin will see your plot points coming a mile away.

Asimov – like many of the classic sci-fi writers – also has some serious shortcomings when it comes to, you know, people and stuff.  His characters have little to no depth, serving instead to just recite their lines, make sure we all know what point we’re being hit over the head with, and then go away.  I could have let this go up to a point, but the conversations his characters do manage to have with one another are so wooden that I wonder if Asimov had ever actually talked to another human being.  Finally, the whole book is pretty much a total sausage party: I don’t remember a single female character.

I wanted to like this book, I really did.  I adore sci-fi.  This just didn’t do it for me.  That said, I’ll likely continue with at least the next several entries.  I bought the first three in the series at a recent library book sale, and I hate leaving books unread, but I’m not terribly enthusiastic about it.  I give it high marks for ideas, but find the poor execution to be nearly crippling.

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