Archive for space opera

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…

Murderbot 2.0 [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2020 by xi'an

After reading (for free) the (fab) four “murderbot diaries”, I got enough infected to fall for the fifth installment, Network Effect, and buy it upon release on May 5. This is definitely a continuation of the on-going development of the growth of the central character, SecUnit, a rogue android operating free-lance after it hacked its own OS. With private name Murderbot. And  with biological human parts and a more and more human way of thinking. Except it is faster and seriously multitasking. Characters that came to life in All Systems Red (an Amazon bestseller in Science Fiction!) and the following diaries are still around and active, including the super AI ART which is the closest to a friend Murderbot can think of. Corporate entities are still revolving around the story, with an unlimited greed that leads to catastrophes on new planets they turn into mines and often abandon if the economy does not come their way. As previously, a large part of the plot is hardwired in that it involves hacking, killerwares, unfortunate reboots, and hidden recovery files, which sounds like lazy plot lines at times but remains enjoyable. The fact (!) that some characters are androids means that they can even die and be rebooted if a safe copy of their OS is available. Which makes for a schizophrenic and hilarious inner dialogue at a point of the book. The part I found the least convincing cannot be divulged without being a spoiler, but it made the explanation for the bad guys being bad guys lame. And reminded of a terrible short story I had written in high school involving a sentient blurb which… (Well, it was getting worse from there!) But overall, this is quite a fun and enjoyable if rather geeky novel, with witty exchanges (although AIs with deep minds should have been able to come up with better ones!).

record of a spaceborn few [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2019 by xi'an

As in the previous two volumes, the cover of this Becky Chambers’ book is quite alluring. As is the title. The story is a medley of intermingled individual stories revolving (!) around the Exodus Fleet, the massive spaceship that humans boarded to escape a dying Earth. The universe of this third volume in the Wayfarer trilogy is both the same and not the same as in the earlier books, as it almost uniquely takes place on that ship and plays on the “us versus ’em” theme, unlike the other books, which were both tales of travel and of reaching a destination. Here the only (!) destination is finding one’s place in this finite and claustrophobic environment, with utopian dreams of a truly communist or anarchist society, although there are, as always, cracks in the system. The story is not “going anywhere”, in the sense that the natural order of things has not changed by the end of the book, which some readers may find disappointing, but the individuals therein have definitely moved to other planes of consciousness. In that sense, it is a more profound book than the previous two as the focus gets more and more psychological [and less space-operatic!]. Rereading my earlier book reviews, I was already noticing the first book as being homey (in that most of the long way to a small angry planet takes place in a confined tunneler ship)  and the second being more homey. Already revolving on a closed and common orbit indeed. I also find it quite significant that record of a spaceborn few stands as a finalist for the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novel. As it indeed carries a deeper message than an action packed novel or a book overfilling with boundless evil. If there was such a thing as an Ursula Le Guin prize, it would definitely deserve it. There was something of an Hainish feeling to record of a spaceborn few

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!

provenance [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on October 6, 2018 by xi'an

While looking for a book to read in a café of Courtenay, B.C., I came upon a nice bookstore called Laughing Oyster (!) and among other findings, Provenance, a novel taking place in the same universe as the Ancillary Justice trilogy of Ann Leckie that I appreciated very much (along with the voters of the three major science-fiction prizes!). I read Provenance in a single afternoon, as the book is not particularly long, especially when considering it uses rather large fonts! Given the depth and complexity of the said universe, the current book is captivating enough for a warm summer afternoon read, but not at the same level as the original trilogy, as it feels too homely, i.e. based on a tiny set of people that are or get interconnected and manage to save the confederation of worlds from a major crisis. Which is alas a common occurrence in science fiction (and fantasy) novels, but remains annoying! And the characters are less complex and more predictable than in Ancillary… The book is thus capitalising upon the earlier series, but nonetheless enjoyable on… a warm summer afternoon!