Archive for space opera

seveneves [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2015 by xi'an

As the latest Neal Stephenson’s novel, I was waiting most eagerly to receive Seveneves (or SevenEves ). Now I have read it, I am a bit disappointed by the book. It is a terrific concept, full of ideas and concepts, linking our current society and its limitations with what a society exiled in space could become, and with a great style as well, but as far as the story itself goes I have trouble buying it! In short, there is too much technology and not enough psychology, too many details and not enough of a grand scheme… This certainly is far from being the best book of the author. When compared with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Anathem, or Reamde for instance. Even the fairly long and meandering Baroque Cycle comes on top of this space opera à la Arthur Clarke (if only for the cables linking Earth and space stations at 36,000 kilometres…).

 The basis of Seveneves is a catastrophic explosion of our Moon that leads to the obliteration of live on Earth within a range of two years. The only way out is to send a small number of people to a space station with enough genetic material to preserve the diversity of the Human species. Two-third of the book is about the frantic scramble to make this possible. Then Earth is bombarded by pieces of the Moon, while the inhabitants of the expanded space station try to get organised and to get more energy from iced asteroids to get out of the way, while badly fighting for power. This leads the crowd of survivors to eventually reduce to seven women, hence the seven Eves. Then, a five thousand year hiatus, and the last part of the book deals with the new Human society, hanging up in a gigantic sphere of space modules around the regenerated Earth, where we follow a team of seven (!) characters whose goal is not exactly crystal clear.

While most books by Stephenson manage to produce a good plot on top of fantastic ideas, with some characters developed with enough depth to be really compelling, this one is missing at the plot level and even more at the character level, maybe because we know most characters are supposed to die very early in the story. But they do look like caricatures, frankly! And behave like kids astray on a desert island. Unless I missed the deeper message… The construction of the spatial mega-station is detailed in such details that it hurts!, but some logistic details on how to produce food or energy are clearly missing. And missing is also the feat of reconstituting an entire Human species out of seven women, even with a huge bank of human DNAs. The description of the station five thousand years later is even more excruciatingly precise. At a stage where I have mostly lost interest in the story, especially to find very little differences in the way the new and the old societies operate. And to avoid spoilers, gur er-nccnevgvba bs gur gjb tebhcf bs crbcyr jub erznvarq ba Rnegu, rvgure uvqqra va n qrrc pnir be ng gur obggbz bs gur qrrcrfg gerapu, vf pbzcyrgryl vzcynhfvoyr, sbe ubj gurl pbhyq unir fheivirq bire gubhfnaqf bs lrnef jvgu ab npprff gb erfbheprf rkprcg jung gurl unq cnpxrq ng gur ortvaavat… It took me some effort and then some during several sleepless nights to get over this long book and I remain perplexed at the result, given the past masterpieces of the author.

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…)