viernes, 27 de diciembre de 2019

A History of Jet Propulsion, Including Rockets by Raymond Friedman

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

The ebook is expensive, but I was very interested in this topic and there was no better alternative. However, the book is worth it because it meets completely my expectations and I enjoyed a lot reading it.

Raymond Friedman is an engineer and you immediately realize it by his direct and efficient style, and because he manages to explain in a practical way physics concepts such as the essential Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of the movement applied to flight and space or advanced concepts such as specific impulse or escape velocity .

In a few pages the book deals with many topics. Among other things of the principles of flight, types of jet engines and rockets, the combination of fuels/propellants to choose in each case, types of satellites, and at the same time a succinct history of each of these advances.

Being two different themes, aircraft and missile propulsion by jet or ramjets, or rocket propulsion, in its varied military and civil applications, on our planet or outside it, the book justifies by humanity's need to dominate the air, and what is its extension, space.

In this sense, the author extends his technological explanation to the usefulness and scientific and/or economic justification of the expansion through space and dedicates part of the book to achievements such as the Hubble telescope or the ISS International Space Station. It also offers a few expectations about what to expect in the short, medium and long term future, mainly in the exploration of our solar system.

The book also has three appendix about Newton’s Laws applied to jets and rockets, the mathematics of rocketry and space travel and selected biographies of major contributors to jet propulsion and rocketry.

Published in 2010, I think that the only flaw that I see in this work is that it is written before the Elon Musk era with his reusable rockets and ambitious projects.

sábado, 21 de diciembre de 2019

A Calculated Life, by Anne Charnock

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

A Calculated Life (2013) is an interesting novel that shows us the daily life of an artificial person. Narrated in first person, this novel tells the experiences of the protagonist, Jayna, who belongs to a series of artificially created human beings in support of what is known as white collar jobs. In Jayna's case, she works in a data mining agency, with a rate of success above her human companions. So Jayna’s series is an attempt to combine the power of an AI with the qualities of a human being.

The author uses contrast as a method to show us the central theme, which of course is the meaning to be human. The novel shows Jayna’s daily routines and concerns and the coexistence with her peers, both humans and simulants (that is what they are called in this novel). Although it can also be said in reverse, the novel allows us to reflect of what happens when we lose our humanity in a society that makes us part of an economic process in a double way, as alienated workers and at the same time as consumers.

Of course, this is not the first time this issue has been discussed. The comparison with Bladerunner (more the film than Philip K. Dick’s novel) is evident, but it reminds me of a novel whose reading I have to resume some day (sigh here), Nekropolis by Maureen McHugh.

About the near future described by the author, apart from the replicant-style synthetic people, there is nothing really innovative: a future in which we will be ecologically and also economically poorer, at least most of society (if we exclude an elite of the upper class), which it seems that it will be confirmed in the short or medium term. A realistic future, we could say.

The perspective of Jayna, a unique and irreplaceable human being for whom we empathize, makes the reading worthwhile.

jueves, 12 de diciembre de 2019

Slan, by A.E. van Vogt

In short, Slan is poorly written but I enjoyed the reading (well, my reviews are also poorly written ;-)

As a lot of classics this novel could seem a bit silly to the current reader: the female characters, some aspects of the plot, and of course the state of the art of science and technology.

However, Slan has good ideas, for example when the author imagines a society in which some humans have superpowers (telepathy, intelligence, strength, etc) but at the same time they must hide and protect themselves from different superhumans, so I understand that this novel was acclaimed in its time.

Slan was published in 1940 and made a lot of fans. The “proto-geeks”, if I may say so, daydreamed to be the main character: socially unfit but in a sense superior to others, to the extreme that in science fiction fandom it was often said: Fans are slans!

In summary, an interesting reading from one of the pioneer science fiction authors.

jueves, 5 de diciembre de 2019

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

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

In a few words: Oryx and Crake is a nightmarish/transhumanist/literary (or mainstream) novel.

Of course a book by Margaret Atwood deserves much more than a simple sentence, so I will try to expose it in this -also unfairly brief- review.

It is well known that we, science fiction fans, are accustomed to visiting fantastic worlds through rational ideas and (more or less) well-constructed worldbuildings, but we must remember that this can also be shown by literary means, as in this case.

Mrs. Atwood makes a good science fiction approach, with a vision of our future based on a climate disaster and an irresponsible genetic engineering. But I think that the aspect in which the author really stands out is about "how"she tells us the story. That is, simplifying again, her literary talent. In this sense, the story is well developed, the characters are very well depicted and I can say that I have savored all the reading.

Returning to the science fiction approach, about the "novums" of the novel, reading it sixteen years after the first publishing, the novel loses some novelty. You know, things change very quickly; and the themes developed by this novel have also been mentioned in other apocalypticworks, previous and later. However, I must point out that, in the main, science fiction assumptions remain as bold as plausible in the actuality. In addition to climate change and genetic engineering, some topics discussed in the novel are: the trend of a fragmented future society in more segmented socialclasses (that is, more rich and more poverty), and also a criticism about the mass media and the Internet, which can -or have- become dangerous. The author shows us this in the MaddAddam game that gives name to the trilogy.

The case of Margaret Atwood is not very common, an author who manages to position herself between the mainstream and the fantastic genre unfortunately is not very frequent. I admit that I don't know if I will read the rest of the Maddaddam trilogy, at the moment I have enough for this apocalyptic future, and I also have The Handmaid Tale in my pending to read list.

sábado, 23 de noviembre de 2019

The Menace from Farside, by Ian McDonald (#Luna series)

In a way, it is true what is said about this short novel: that Ian McDonald collects the leftovers of the splendid trilogy of Luna and makes this story; but a rather entertaining story I can say, based on the great work that is the worldbuilding of the previous books.

The plot is about an adventure of four young not so friends in the Moon surface and, you know, Lady Luna knows a thousand ways to kill you: In other words, it's like the 1986 movie Stand by Me, a story of coming of age style. At some point Ian McDonald seems to laugh at himself, I assume that referring to some negative criticisms received about the trilogy - for example, the author "threatens us" with a cake, or the frequently mention of the word telenovela - but as I said the novel is at least entertaining, and for me its main defect is that this short novel loses if we compare it with its bigger sisters.

In short, considering the literary quality of Ian McDonald’s prose, a minor work from him is preferable than a good one by some other authors.

Note: I love it when the cover illustration of a science fiction novel reflects its content helping the reader imagine the story, something that is not so frequent.

lunes, 18 de noviembre de 2019

Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System, by John Rieder.

First of all, this is totally an scholar book and the readers to whom it is addressed are mainly other scholars. In other words, the author does not care about the enjoyment of reading, but it does not mean that this book is not interesting, quite the opposite.

Briefly, the book deals about science fiction genres with a innovative point o view, at least for me. Basically, the main idea is that the literary genders are the result of its cultural, economic and technological context and its appearance is attributable more to their background rather than to a single seminal work. For example, Frankenstein, commonly considered a seminal work of science fiction, but the author analyzes this novel from the perspective of its historical context and the gothic literature as a whole; or the pulp novels of the 30s, that is: escapism, cheap leisure for the working classes, etc. This part of the book is simply excellent.

The author addresses other issues: feminism and ethnicity in literary science fiction, and also some science fiction movies but of the latter too superficially in my opinion (in comparison to the other themes of the book) and he is not so successful in his analysis.

Overall, a rewarding reading, although it is not for all readers, it is recommended for those interested in science fiction genres as a subject of study.

domingo, 22 de septiembre de 2019

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

This is a “re-re-re-read”, but all the previous ones were a long time ago, when I was a young space cadet, so it has been an almost new experience because there are many details of the plot and characters that I didn't even remember.

Of course, there are issues in this novel published in 1951. The technology is outdated, but it surprises that how is well imagined: holos 3D, personal force shields, ray guns and some spaceoperesque gadgets that in today's science fiction stories are still used. Another issue is, mmm... Asimov and the women, so they have a insignificant role in all this story.

I had this novel highly valued in my youth, now of course things are different., but I still consider Foundation as a great milestone in the science fiction history by the fascinating things it manages to evoke: an empire that occupies the entire galaxy, the psychohistory theory... Excelsior!

Note to think about: the similarities in the Foundation expansion and the relations with its neighbors and the Culture series by Iain M. Banks.

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 little, 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 this 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