The Word for the Blog is Scientifiction

martes, 5 de marzo de 2019

Semiosis (Semiosis Duology #1), by Sue Burke

(Apologies for my English, I’m trying to improve it, thanks!)

Much of what I comment in this review can be read in the first chapter (and I must note that the cover and synopsis of the book reveals more than this review, if you don’t want spoilers do not read it). In short, “Semiosis” explains the colonization of an unknown planet, a planet with a rich ecology. The colonists call it Pax.

The Pacifists, trying to distance from Earth's wars and ecological disasters, organize themselves according to the Pax Constitution that establishes the rules of a non-aggressive democratic society armonious with the nature. But the planet has its own rules, and above all has its own ecology. A very developed ecology, more complex than the one the Earth had in past (and better) times, one in which the living beings have more evolved relationships. For example, semi intelligent animals such as eagles that know how to make fire; or plants that communicate, negotiate and even go to war with each other.

The inhabitants of Pax do not have it easy. A gravity ⅕ higher than on the Earth and a rich ecology of green plants but based on RNA will be very difficult to adapt to. As time goes by, they will lose the technological support that they have been able to bring with them, while at the same time the planet begins to influence them as human beings and also challenges their utopic model of society.

I can not resist to quote one paragraph of the novel:

We awakened, cold and dizzy, with our muscles, hearts, and digestive systems atrophied from the 158-year hibernation on a tiny spaceship. The computer had brought us into orbit, sent a message to Earth, then administered intravenous drugs.

Two hours later I was in the cramped cabin trying to sip an electrolyte drink when Vera, our astronomer, came flying in from the control module, her tightly curled hair trailing like a black cloud.

"We’re at the wrong star!"  

(The computer has found a more habitable planet and has changed the course of the spaceship).

As I said before, the worldbuilding is in my opinion the best of the novel. An exquisite approach, very well thought out. About the story, if you take into account the various characters that appear in the course of time, it is a choral novel. In addition, it must be said that the author manages to dodge the “bucolic trap”, although there are times when the development of the plot is a bit tricky, but the growing symbiosis between the terrans and the ecology justifies it.

Regarding to the story, I have found it at all times interesting, with good moments of intrigue but others a bit predictables. Also, I consider that successive characters along the story are well developed, although the evolution and motivations of a key figure in the plot are not clear enough.

The novel is the first of a duology, but this is a standalone story. So, Semiosis is an enjoyable example of the good science fiction that is being done in recent years, while also it maintains a classic sense of discovery. I recommend it (and you must read it if you want to know the meaning of the title ;-).

Although it is a totally original novel, to get an idea it have evoked me these other readings: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin, or the also excellent Dark Eden by Chris Beckett. This book also made me think about Bios, an interesting work by Robert Charles Wilson.

martes, 22 de enero de 2019

The Man--Kzin Wars, by Larry Niven, Poul Anderson and Dean Ing.

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

So finally I have read my first Man-Kzin Wars book. In this case, an introduction and a short story written by Larry Niven himself, The Warriors. A novelette, Iron by the master Poul Anderson and the novella Cathouse by an unknown writer (at least for me), Dean Ing. 

Enjoyable science fiction, pre-information age style (the book was published in 1988); well planned and correctly written; space opera stories with a lot of details: they have a notable hard component, specially Poul Anderson’s.

Actually I consider that Dean Ing’s story is the best. Cathouse deals with the psychology of its characters: Carroll Locklear, a survivor of a space battle that has left to his fate among the Kzin, first as a captive and then as a companion on an unknown planet. To highlight the character of a female kzin, which Locklear calls Miss Kitty.

It was not the first alien-cat-like story that I have read. I am thinking about Satan's World (Polesotechnic League series) also by Poul Anderson and of course Chanur, by C. J. Cherryh (Chanur Saga), both they are good works. In our case, as I said I am also delighted by the very interesting and well depicted Kzin characters.

In summary, I enjoyed it and I want to read more of this series. By the way, the Man-Kzin Wars XV will be available in February

sábado, 8 de diciembre de 2018

Who Goes There? and Other Stories, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

Apart from his work as editor of Astounding/Analog, John W. Campbell, Jr. deserves a place in the pantheon of the great classics of science fiction for his interesting stories. In this collection (1948) are some of his good short stories; excellent ones, considering the time they have been written.

The book has a brief prologue by John W. Campbell, Jr. There are the stories:

The first edition
Who Goes There? (1938): This is really a great story! And John Carperter's 1982 movie was a great adaptation (but I love the classic from 1951 too).

Blindness (1935): a scientific becomes an all humanity hero, but not in the way he was expecting.

Frictional Loses (1936): A post invasion Earth. We win, but will we endure a second wave?

Dead Knowledge (1938): An enigma, an entire planet defeated by the most unexpected enemy.
SF Gateway, Kindle edition
Elimination (1936) If we can see our own future, Can it be a blessing or a curse?

Twilight (1934): The death of humanity; that is, the loss of what makes us human.

Night (1938): The dead of the universe (what we know today as total entropy), only a few machines remain.

I this review I included the year of each story (the book does not). My source is here:

You can see more great covers of this book here.

sábado, 27 de enero de 2018

Undersea Quest, by Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

(También puedes leer esta reseña en castellano aquí)

As I explained in the first post, I intend to read three submarine science fiction books. Maybe I must have read this one first, because it is an anterior work than Creatures of the Abyss (1961) but it does not matter: the two novels deal with different topics.

I admit that I expected more from the masters Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, but it is my fault because Undersea Quest (1954) is juvenile literature. Juvenile literature is that we call today young adult? I think this is not exactly the same: about the former, one can say that is more naive and intentionally more... juvenile; while about the latter, as far as the few books that I have read, the A weighs more than the Y, but maybe the kind readers of this blog could think different…

So, from the firsts pages I know this is a novel for youngsters. The orphan Jim Eden receives a visit from his uncle, who is a great scientist and lives in a submarine city-state called Marinia. Uncle Eden announces to Jim that on his sixteenth birthday he will join the Sub-Sea Academy... and then the adventure starts. As a submarine cadet, Jim will visit astounding undersea cities; he will make friends (and some enemies) and he will face incredible dangers, including some monsters from the unexplored depths (well, this in not true, they are only mentioned, but I hope to see them in the sequels).

The undersea world that Jim and his friends will know is full of technological marvels, with incredible city-states and submarines faster than the surface vessels, but also this future has its own troubles, such as corruption and crime in Marinia; and also, one terrible threat for the entire world: a shortage of uranium! I said in the previous post how the oceans were considered the promise of future for humanity, and there is another trope: in the fifties the nuclear fission was expected as the future energy source. How I love retrofuturism! (No irony here, I am being honest).

The novel is correctly written, it is narrated from the protagonist point of view and maintains the youthful tone at all times. For example, when the story gives clues about what will occur next, such as when Jim Eden says, Soon (in the next chapter) I would discover how wrong I was. This is a curious way to anticipate the plot because... juvenile literature. However, in the third part of the book the pace is faster and the story gains interest.

Summarizing, an entertaining submarine adventure, nostalgic from better times, by the SFWA Grand Masters Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) and Jack williamson (1908-2006), whose prolific and prolonged careers have given us great science fiction stories for almost six decades.

My next and last under the sea science fiction reading will be Starfish by the mad genius Peter Watts. Naivety is over!

Undersea Quest, de Frederik Pohl y Jack Williamson

                         (You can also read this review in English)

Como expliqué en una publicación anterior, me propongo leer tres libros de ciencia ficción submarina. Tal vez debería haber leído este primero, porque es una obra anterior a Creatures of the Abyss, pero no importa: las dos novelas tratan temas muy diferentes.

Confieso que esperaba más de los maestros Frederik Pohl y Jack Williamson, pero es culpa mía porque Undersea Quest (1954) es literatura juvenil. Como literatura juvenil, ¿podemos entender lo que hoy en día se llama young adult? En mi opinión no es exactamente lo mismo, para mí la primera es un tipo de literatura más ingenua e intencionalmente más... juvenil; mientras que en la segunda, por los pocos libros que he leído, la palabra Adult pesa más que la de Young. Es solo una reflexión rápida, claro, tal vez los amables lectores y lectoras del blog podrán corregirme.

Desde las primeras páginas lo anterior se hace evidente. El huérfano Jim Eden recibe la visita de su tío, un gran científico que vive en una ciudad-estado submarina llamada Marinia. El tío Eden le comunica a Jim que a los dieciséis años ingresará en la Academia Militar Submarina ... y así es como empieza la aventura. Como cadete submarinista, Jim visitará asombrosas ciudades sumergidas en las profundidades; Hará algunos amigos (y también enemigos) y se enfrentará a muchos peligros submarinos, incluyendo algunos monstruos de las profundidades inexploradas (bueno, esto no es cierto, en esta novela solo se mencionan, pero espero verlos en las secuelas).

El mundo submarino que Jim y sus amigos conocerán está lleno de maravillas tecnológicas, con increíbles ciudades-estado y submarinos más rápidos que los buques de superficie; pero este futuro aparentemente idílico tiene sus propios problemas, como la corrupción y el crimen en Marinia; y además una amenaza terrible para todo el planeta: ¡escasez de uranio! En la entrada anterior comenté que los océanos se consideraban como la promesa de futuro de la humanidad, y aquí tenemos otro tópico de la ciencia ficción optimista de los cincuenta: la fisión nuclear vista como la fuente de energía ideal para el futuro. Ante esto solo puedo decir: ¡Amo el retrofuturismo! (y lo digo sin ironía).

La novela está escrita correctamente y está narrada en boca del protagonista, manteniendo un tono juvenil en todo momento. Por ejemplo, la forma inusual de proporcionar pistas sobre lo que ocurrirá después, como cuando Jim Eden explica que las cosas se van a torcer: Pronto (en el próximo capítulo) descubriría lo equivocado que estaba. Una forma curiosa de anticipar la trama porque ... es literatura juvenil. Sin embargo, la tercera parte del libro mejora, el ritmo es más rápido y la historia gana interés.

Resumiendo, una entretenida aventura submarina, nostálgica de tiempos más optimistas que los nuestros, por los premiados como Grand Master por la Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Jack williamson (1908-2006) y Frederik Pohl(1919-2013), cuyas prolíficas y prolongadas carreras nos han dado grandes historias de ciencia ficción durante casi seis décadas.

Mi siguiente y última lectura de ciencia ficción bajo el mar será Starfish, del genio perverso de Peter Watts. ¡Se acabó la ingenuidad!

martes, 16 de enero de 2018

Luna: Wolf Moon, Luna trilogy #2, by Ian McDonald

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

(También puedes leer esta reseña en castellano aquí)

Reading an Ian McDonald's book is not an easy endeavour for the science fiction fans, frequently used to more lighter novels. It requires carefull attention to not lose the richness and nuances of his prose, and in this case the added difficulty to remember all the dramatis personae. But the effort has its reward: in an unique way the author shows a complex and also a highly believable story about our future Moon.

Of course, like all Ian McDonald's books, to better understand his novel a second reading would be preferable.

About the plot, I just want to say that an elegant change suggests us new possible ways for the third book, while it maintains our attention for the whole story. It is said that the medium book of a trilogy is the most risky, but this is not the case: Wolf Moon maintains the quality of the first novel and needless to say, I highly recommend both novels.

I must comment that, as the previous book, it disappoints me a bit that the ending is an absolute cliffhanger… but I suppose it is the author choice in this trilogy (or perhaps by his publisher, I do not know). 

So, as Master Yoda says: Patience! Wait for the third novel we must... (scheduled for next July).

Luna: Luna de lobos, de Ian McDonald

     (You can also read this review in English)

En mi opinión, un libro de Ian McDonald no es tarea fácil para los aficionados a la ciencia ficción, frecuentemente acostumbrados a novelas más livianas. Las historias de este autor requieren una atención cuidadosa para no perderse en la riqueza y los matices de su prosa, y en en el caso que nos ocupa la dificultad añadida de recordar todos los dramatis personae, muchos de los cuales ya nos fueron presentados en la primera novela. Pero el esfuerzo tiene su recompensa: de una manera única, el autor muestra una historia compleja y también muy creíble sobre nuestra futura Luna.

Por supuesto, como todos los libros de Ian McDonald, para entender mejor su novela sería preferible una segunda lectura.

Sobre la trama, solo puedo decir que un cambio elegante nos sugiere nuevos desarrollos posibles de caras a la tercera  y última novela (prevista en inglés para julio y en castellano para este mismo año), mientras mantiene nuestra atención en toda la historia. Se acostumbra a decir que el segunda obra de una trilogía es la más arriesgada, pero creo que este no es el caso, Luna: Wolf Moon mantiene la calidad de la primera, siendo casi de Perogrullo recomendar ambas novelas.

Debo comentar que, como el libro anterior, me decepciona un poco que el final sea un cliffhanger absoluto, pero supongo que es una elección del autor (o tal vez por su editor, lo desconozco).

Así pues, como dice el Maestro Yoda: Mmm... ¡Paciencia! La tercera novela esperar debemos.