Archive for John Scalzi

space opera by John Scalzi [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2019 by xi'an

John Scalzi, author of the memorable Old Man’s War, has started a trilogy of which I only became aware recently (or more precisely became re-aware!), which has the perk of making two of the three books already published and hence available without a one or two year break. And having the book win the 2018 Locus Award in the meanwhile. This new series is yet again a space opera with space travel made possible by a fairly unclear Flow that even the mathematicians in the story have trouble understanding. And The Flow is used by guilds to carry goods and people to planets that are too hostile an environment for the “local” inhabitants to survive on their own. The whole setup is both homely and old-fashioned: the different guilds are associated with families, despite being centuries old, and the empire of 48 planets is still governed by the same dominant family, who also controls a fairly bland religion. Although the later managed to become the de facto religion.

“I’m a Flow physicist.  It’s high-order math. You don’t have to go out into the field for that.”

This does not sound much exciting, even for space operas, but things are starting to deteriorate when the novels start. Or more exactly, as hinted by the title, the Empire is about to collapse! (No spoiler, since this is the title!!!) However, the story-telling gets a wee bit lazy from that (early) point. In that it fixates on a very few characters [among millions of billions of inhabitants of this universe] who set the cogs spinning one way then the other then the earlier way… Dialogues are witty and often funny, those few characters are mostly well-drawn, albeit too one-dimensional, and cataclysmic events seem to be held at bay by the cleverness of one single person, double-crossing the bad guys. Mostly. While the second volume (unusually) sounds better and sees more action, more surprises, and an improvement in the plot itself, and while this makes for a pleasant travel read (I forgot The Collapsing Empire in a plane from B’ham!), I am surprised at the book winning the 2018 Locus Award indeed. It definitely lacks the scope and ambiguity of the two Ancillary novels. The convoluted philosophical construct and math background of Anathem. The historical background of Cryptonomicon and of the Baroque Cycle. Or the singularity of the Hyperion universe. (But I was also unimpressed by the Three-Body Problem! And by Scalzi’s Hugo Award Redshirts!) The third volume is not yet out.

As a French aside, a former king turned AI is called Tomas Chenevert, on a space-ship called Auvergne, with an attempt at coming from a French speaking planet, Ponthieu, except that is should have been spelled Thomas Chênevert (green oak!). Incidentally, Ponthieu is a county in the Norman marches, north of Rouen, that is now part of Picardy, although I do not think this has anything to do with the current novel!

a new John Scalzi

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , on February 26, 2017 by xi'an

A new series by John Scalzi is about to get printed, with the first chapters available on Tor.com.

the forever war [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , on April 26, 2015 by xi'an

Another book I bought somewhat on a whim, although I cannot remember which one… The latest edition has a preface by John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War and its sequels, where he acknowledged he would not have written this series, had he previously read The Forever War. Which strikes me as ironical as I found Scalzi’s novels way better. Deeper. And obviously not getting obsolete so immediately! (As an aside, Scalzi is returning to the Old Man’s War universe with a new novel, The End of All Things.)

“…it’s easy to compute your chances of being able to fight it out for ten years. It comes to about two one-thousandths of one percent. Or, to put it another way, get an old-fashioned six-shooter and play Russian Roulette with four of the six chambers loaded. If you can do it ten times in a row without decorating the opposite wall, congratulations! You’re a civilian.”

This may be the main issue with The Forever War. The fact that it sounds so antiquated. And hence makes reading the novel like an exercise in Creative Writing 101, in order to spot how the author was so rooted in the 1970’s that he could not project far enough in the future to make his novel sustainable. The main issue in the suspension of belief required to proceed through the book is the low-tech configuration of Halderman’s future. Even though intergalactic travel is possible via the traditional portals found in almost every sci’-fi’ book, computers are blatantly missing from the picture. And so is artificial intelligence as well. (2001 A space odyssey was made in 1968, right?!) The economics of a forever warring Earth are quite vague and unconvincing. There is no clever tactics in the war against the Taurans. Even the battle scenes are far from exciting. Esp. the parts where they fight with swords and arrows. And the treatment of sexuality has not aged well. So all that remains in favour of the story (and presumably made the success of the book) is the description of the ground soldier’s life which could almost transcribe verbatim to another war and another era. End of the story. (Unsurprisingly, while being the first book picked for the SF MasterworksThe Forever War did not make it into the 2011 series…)

lock in [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , on January 17, 2015 by xi'an

As mentioned in my recent review of Redshirts, I was planning to read John Scalzi’s most recent novel, Lock In, if only to check whether or not Redshirts was an isolated accident! This was the third book from “the pile” that I read through the Yule break and, indeed, it was a worthwhile attempt as the book stands miles above Redshirts

The story is set in a very convincing near-future America where a significant part of the population is locked by a super-flu into a full paralysis that forces them to rely on robot-like interfaces to interact with unlocked humans. While the book is not all that specific on how the robotic control operates, except from using an inserted “artificial neural network” inside the “locked-in” brains, Scalzi manages to make it sound quite realistic, with societal and corporation issues at the forefront. To the point of selling really well the (usually lame) notion of instantaneous relocation at the other end of the US. And with the bare minimum of changes to the current society, which makes it easier to buy. I have not been that enthralled by a science-fiction universe for quite a while. I also enjoyed how the economics of this development of a new class of citizens was rendered, the book rotating around the consequences of the ending of heavy governmental intervention in lock in research.

Now, the story itself is of a more classical nature in that the danger threatening the loked-in population is uncovered single-handedly by the rookie detective who conveniently happens to be the son of a very influential ex-basketball-player and hence to meet all the characters involved in the plot. This is pleasant but somewhat thin with a limited number of players considering the issues at stake and a rather artificial ending.

Look here for a more profound review by Cory Doctorow.

a pile of new books

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2014 by xi'an

IMG_2663I took the opportunity of my weekend trip to Gainesville to order a pile of books on amazon, thanks to my amazon associate account (and hence thanks to all Og’s readers doubling as amazon customers!). The picture above is missing two  Rivers of London volumes by Ben Aaraonovitch that I already read and left at the office. And reviewed in incoming posts. Among those,

(Obviously, all “locals” sharing my taste in books are welcome to borrow those in a very near future!)

redshirts

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on September 28, 2014 by xi'an

“For the first nine years of its existence, aside from being appointed the flagship, there was nothing particularly special about it, from a statistical point of view.”

A book I grabbed at the last minute in a bookstore, downtown Birmingham. Maybe I should have waited this extra minute… Or picked the other Scalzi’s on the shelf, Lock In that just came out! (I already ordered that one for my incomiing lecture in Gainesville. Along with the not final volume of Patrick Rothfuss’ masterpiece, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which will just be out by then! It is only a side story within the same universe, as pointed out by Dan…)

“What you’re trying to do is impose causality on random events, just like everyone else here has been doing.”

What amazes most me is that Scalzi’s redshirts got the 2013 Hugo Award. I mean, The Hugo Award?! While I definitely liked the Old Man Wars saga, this novel is more like a light writing experiment and a byproduct of writing a TV series. Enjoyable at a higher conceptual level, but not as a story. Although this is somewhat of a spoiler (!), the title refers to the characters wearing red shirts in Star Trek, who have a statistically significant tendency to die on the next mission. [Not that I knew this when I bought the book! Maybe it would have warned me against the book.] And redshirts is about those characters reflecting about how unlikely their fate is (or rather the fate of the characters before them) and rebelling against the series writer. Ensues games with the paradoxes of space travel and doubles. Then games within games. The book is well-written and, once again, enjoyable at some level, with alternative writing styles used in different parts (or coda) of the novel. It still remains a purely intellectual perspective, with no psychological involvement towards those characters. I just cannot relate to the story. Maybe because of the pastiche aspect or of the mostly comic turn. redshirts certainly feels very different from those Philip K. Dick stories (e.g., Ubik) where virtual realities abounded without a definitive conclusion on which was which.

Counter-incentive

Posted in Books with tags , , on April 9, 2011 by xi'an

When you read that the first sentence of a novel is

“Night had come to the city of Skalandarharia, the sort of night with such a quality of black to it that it was as if black coal had been wrapped in blackest velvet, bathed in the purple-black ink of the demon squid Drindel and flung down a black well that descended toward the deepest, blackest crevasses of Drindelthengen, the netherworld ruled by Drindel, in which the sinful were punished, the black of which was so legendarily black that when the dreaded Drindelthengenflagen, the ravenous blind black badger trolls of Drindelthengen, would feast upon the uselessly dilated eyes of damned, the abandoned would cry out in joy as the Drindelthengenflagenmorden, the feared Black Spoons of the Drindelthengenflagen, pressed against their optic nerves, giving them one last sensation of light before the most absolute blackness fell upon them, made yet even blacker by the injury sustained from a falling lump of ink-bathed, velvet-wrapped coal.”

do you feel like getting any further?! I do not… Even accounting for very dry wit. Which is a wee disappointing considering the previous novels by John Scalzi.