The Word for the Blog is Scientifiction

domingo, 15 de septiembre de 2019

Seven Surrenders, Terra Incognita #2, by Ada Palmer


(In this review, more than ever, you should excuse me from the mistakes that I can make in the use of the English language).

You can read the review of the previous book Too Like the Lighting here.

Of course, this novel deserves a re-reading that right now I will not do. For the moment, since mostly of the open plots of the first book are closed, and therefore in practice this novel and Too Like the Lightning form a quite complete duology, I will read other "things", things of science fiction, of course ;-)

From the absurd to the fascinating, from comedy or “sitcom” chapters to tragedy, from subtle but also important changes in the main story to frequent surprising plot twists... This novel even surpasses the first, so I must congratulate Ada Palmer for these two impressive novels. The books are a declaration of love for the Enlightenment and to the intellectual and philosophical movements that revolutionized and dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th Century.

About the reading experience, the plot unfolds fluently in some chapters and in others (the most, in fact) it is difficult to advance because you have to reread continuously to understand the subtleties of the story and to not lose important information (I guess it happens to me more, as I said English is not my mother tongue). I must clarify that fortunately it does not reach the level of difficulty of the first novel, however it does not prevent that at some point you can feel that your brain will explode with such complexity, which could also be said in favor of the author's wisdom with the classics from the Age of Reason and also about her good literary skills.

So, I wonder, why is this book so difficult and at the same time so captivating to read? Briefly, I will try to explain it (spoiler-free mode activated):

- A very complex and well-built story. Also with frequent and surprising plot twists, for me one of the best aspects of the novel.

- The author is aware of the literary principle: Do not explain, suggest; and also she dosifies the information that the reader receives in order to develop the intrigue. Most of the unsolved questions in the first book are explained here.

- [Please hold my coffee] The whole two novels are told from a subjective point of view, mostly by the main character Mycroft Canner, but interspersed in the narrative there are some comments addressed to "you" (a distant future reader) and also to a contemporary 25th Century reader/corrector who in turn reprimands the narrator questioning his style or the facts narrated. In other words, the author uses a first-person point of view in the mouth of Mycroft Canner; a second-person addressed to “you”, or when the reader/corrector discusses with Mycroft; and finally the third-person point of view about stories from other characters told by Mycroft Canner. Also note the frequent use of the royal we, or pluralis maiestatis, referred to some of the characters. You must pay attention!

- Regarding the previous point, a prose very convoluted, frequently imitating classic texts and using archaic expressions. Also in this novel there are some languages merging: Latin, French, Spanish, German; and some more in the case of the vocabulaire (Japanese, Greek, etc.). The author translates it for us, but it is a “double” read.

- The characters are very well developed, another strong point of the novel, but they are a lot and they are evolving. An example, the one that the author seems to treat with the most loving care: the tribune J.E.D.D. Mason, or Jed Mason, or the Porphyrogene, or Jehovah, or Micromégas (from Voltaire's book, considered one of the first novels of science fiction), or Tai-Kun, or... He has nearly ten names! And also, the relations between the characters are very complex, like a TV soap opera but concentrated in only one season.

- Finally, the aspects of science (fiction) and fantasy (?) involved also are an awesome add to this mixture.

I am sure that I leave a lot of important aspects to comment, but in any case it is a very, very interesting reading. As I said before, in this sequel the author resolves the main plots he had left open to the previous book, while opening a wonderful, New World to discover in the next sequel, "The Will to Battle".

martes, 10 de septiembre de 2019

Fail-Safe, by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler

I assume that you know this story more by the two films (released in 1964 and 2000 respectively) than by this novel, which in my opinion is excellent.

Book cover
Fail-Safe is a classic political fiction novel set in the Cold War but it can also can be considered as a thought experiment about the limits of the military menace between two superpowers (today, you can think for example in India & Pakistan, or of course about Mr. Trump and China).

To emphasize in this book, written in an effective "bestseller style", I think that the tension of the atomic threat in the political and military levels in the US is very well described. In this regard I must indicate the fascination that causes me that the development of the plot happens in about an hour, from the first and insignificant failure to the end. About the characters, correct in their respective roles.

Written in 1962, the plot is set in 1967, so I assume the novel has a bit of technology fiction, for example in the defense systems of the impressive bomber Convair B-58 Hustler; but this does not detract the merit of being a great warning about the political and military irresponsibilities of contemporary national states. 

1964 Movie poster
Convair B-58 Hustler

martes, 27 de agosto de 2019

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

(apologies for mistreating the English language)

Crazy, seductive, dizzy, frustrating at times but also with some great ideas... I would need many more adjectives to review Ada Palmer’s novel. 

I admit it, in the first chapters (I have reread them three times) I seriously considered to give up, but at last I think the effort was worth. 

The author imagines a very detailed and full of nuances (politics, etc.) future society set in the twenty-fifth century. It reminds me another fascinating book, The Golden Age by John C. Wright: both books seduced me intellectually but I could not read them passionately; by an excess of information, I suppose. Also that both novels are set in a sort of utopic future, a Golden Age. In Too Like the Lightning there is a future without nation-states, without wars; and an universal cheap and fast transport. Really, it looks utopic, but… (...but nothing, because spoilers ;-). 

For me, the principal criticism is that Ada Palmer’s first novel is excessively confusing. For example, the novel has a lot of characters, and some of them have two or three different names, so I consider it an unnecessary game of hide-and-seek for the reader, for me at least; and as consecuence of this the pace of the novel suffers a lot. On the other part, the novel deserves a reading because this is one of the more fascinating worldbuildings that I have read lately: bizarre but also coherent in its own framework.

The story ends with a cliffhanger so I buyed the second book and I will read it “in a not distant future” (for now I have had enough and I want a more lighter reading).

viernes, 16 de agosto de 2019

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone

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

Imagine that all the information in the universe can be apprehended and therefore used; for example for traveling great distances by an integration in a sort of hyperspace. Imagine a galaxy in which anyone can connect with this informational aether, can interact with it, and more, anyone have a part of themself in this galactic cloud, that is, like a “soul” (and incidentally it provides a solution for the traditional problem of how to understand the alien languages). Anyone except… our protagonist, Vivian Lao, a genius millionaire from our planet Earth.

Now, put aside everything I have told you. What I have commented is awesome, "senseofwonderful", but this is only the background: what deserves to stand out above all is that this that it is purely good space opera.

That is, apart from the well developed worldbuilding, some events in this novel are simply absurd, but this is why we call it space opera, doesn't it? In other words, Empress of Forever does not pretend to be "serious" science fiction, in space opera it must prevail above all the adventure and the enjoyment of the reader.

I must say that Mr. Gladstone is a competent writer. Maybe this novel is a bit longer than it should be, but only a litte, because I enjoyed the surprises and the plot twists, the dialogues, and also the characters, these coherent enough to tell us a great galactic adventure.

As an extense novel that one is, we can search for a lot of influences: the grandeur of a galaxy full of information like Vernon Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and Dan Simmons' great Hyperion saga; also about an heroine estranged from Earth, like John Carter on Mars or Buck Rogers; and it reminds me also some superhero stories, galactic variant, like Guardians of the Galaxy… It does not really matter, Empress of Forever has sufficiently originality of its own to be a good and very entertaining science fiction novel. 

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: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?14

You can see more great covers of this book here.