Archive for space opera

a desolation called peace [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2022 by xi'an

This book by Arkady Martine is a sequel to the Hugo Awarded Memory called Empire, which I appreciated, pverall. I also did enjoy this one, no matter how different the settings are.

“The statistical chance of imago-integration failure leading to irreversible psychological and/or neurological damage is 0.3%”

Indeed, this second (and last?) volume is much more space-opera-esque in that most of the action takes place on a spatial fleet trying to fight an incomprehensible and invading alien force (whose mindset is rendered through an initially obscure chapter!). And subject to internal tensions, despite its military hierarchical structure. While the attempts at communicating with this unknown enemy are central to the story, they echo the main theme of the Teixcalaanli series (duology?), which is on how to reach the delicate balance between complete assimilation into a rich and fascinating culture and isolationism in order to preserve one’s original culture and way of life, doubled by the dilemmas caused by falling in love with someone from this other culture. (This may be the strongest aspect of the novel.) The related theme is the opposition between collective and individualistic societies, even though power competition is described in both the Teixcalaanli and the space station societies. (All three groups have achieved a way to operate as a collective. I actually wondered whether the “desolation” in the title was itself an intended collective, as in a murder of crows, esp. since a major character is nicknamed Swarm, but I could not find this collective ever being used.) It brought back some memories of Ender’s Game, in the sense of facing a radically different but still sapient species and backing away from complete annihilation. (The futuristic component of the book is as sketchy as in the previous one, with USB sticks being carried by spaceships as the only way to communicate, for no clear reason… But this is far from being of importance.) As an aside, the author linked her Teixcalaanli construct with the Mixtec civilisation, from Oaxaca.

the Galaxy and the ground within [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2022 by xi'an

This book is a standalone sequel to Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer trilogy. Where strangers find themselves stranded in the same spot for days and start sharing and relativising their differences. If on a useless rock in the middle of the Universe rather than in a snowed-in Yorkshire pub! But the science-fiction aspects become quickly irrelevant, except for enlarging the initial specific (as in species) differences between the five (non-human) antagonists. On the one hand, this book is a rather conventional, caricaturesque, care-bear, feel-good, rosy, cocoonesque story… On the other, it is a more profound and humanist fable on the fact that we are more alike than we are unalike. Actually, the book reads better as a fable than as a novel as the story is almost inexistent and the characters too perfect to be anything but shells (and literally so for some of them) for their awakening to the others. Perfect mind-candy for a bleak day!

Jean-Claude Mézières (1938-2022)

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2022 by xi'an

Harrow the Ninth [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , on January 2, 2022 by xi'an

After rushing through the fabulous Gideon the Ninth over a weekend, I attacked the second volume of the Locked Tomb trilogy, Harrow the Ninth, with much enthusiasm! But then very quickly hit a (tomb) wall as the story did not seem to make much sense, although I remembered quite vividly (or sepulchrally!) the previous volume and this one involved some of the earlier characters plus some, including God (also called John). The character seemed to change radically from one chapter to the next and sounded mostly insane. While the writing style was great and kept a tiny fraction of the earlier, I kept plodding on a few pages at a time, until the Season break, when I spent a day in front of the fireplace and finished the volume in one go. As it started making some sense after circa page 400…. This is such a weird book, even when considering the unusual mix of necromancers and space opera, horror novel and thriller, teenage love and immortal lust, dealing with trauma and holding bone magic, having tea and biscuit with God John and living full time with a ghost! The main character Harrow or Harry appears to be insane and the writing is trying to reflect this impression while making her definitely compelling and attractive.

“It is wickedly challenging to read, deliberately impossible to comprehend in full and, frankly, I still feel like I only got about 80% of what actually happened. But there’s just something so gorgeously Baroque about it all.”

Some readers complained that they understood less than 80% of the book, but I am rather leaning towards 30%. And still I find the book quite compelling, if less funny than the first volume. )And too much of a space opera.) I may have to read it anew, though. Even with the help of this great NPR review.

a memory called Empire [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2020 by xi'an

A pleasant read for a few afternoon breaks (and vitamin D intake), that I chose as it was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards as well as a Not the Booker Prize Guardian choice. But not really worth the hype I think as the novel, A Memory Called Empire, is quite unidimensional (which is unfortunate for a space opera). In that the few characters that populate the book manage to move by themselves the political structure of the interstellar universe quite substantially. Within a few days. These characters are definitely attractive but somewhat too nice to be true and the way they bond and connect with one another is just implausible, even for a science fiction novel

“…no algorithm is innocent of its designersAn algorithm is only as perfect as the person designing it.”

The most interesting part in the story, although somewhat stretched too thin, is the conflict the central character feels between her attraction to the highly sophisticated culture of the Empire and the feeling that she will never be fully incorporated within that culture. Despite mastering the language and the societal codes well-enough to reach the upper spheres of society and impact them.

“…the real inspiration for the number-noun naming system comes from the naming practices of the Mixtec people of Oaxaca…” Arkady Martine

But, beside borrowing a lot to Japanese culture, and a wee bit to Maya or Aztec societies, the universe created by Arkady Martine is quite close to ours in its mundane aspects, including plastic spoons..! With very few truly novel technologies. But with email delivered on USB keys after travelling faster than light between star systems. The threat of an alien invasion is pending, by the end of the book, paving the way for an incoming second volume.To be read…

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