Sunday, October 22, 2017

Read-Along: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corery, Part 3

In the second-to-last week of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games, the suspense is killing me!  I really want to know how things can possibly be resolved, and I’m afraid things will get worse before they get better.  This week’s discussion covers from chapter 26 to 38, and I provided the questions. Beware of spoilers from here on out!

1. Marco has finally made his declaration. What do you think of it, and how Earth, Mars, and the Belt might respond?

I am glad that we got to see his announcement from Bobbie and Alex’s point of view, just so that they could immediately comment about how megalomaniacal he sounded.  His declaration was pretty horrifying, and also he had a lot of gall to pretend his side were the victims immediately after he probably killed the home planet of humanity.

Obviously, Earth and Mars can’t accede to his irrational demands.  I would also hope that the majority of the Belt would not answer his rallying cry.  It seems to me that the only reasonable response is to root out his terrorist group and eradicate them. They are guilty of murdering over a quarter of a billion people--they have proven that they are too dangerous and violent to be allowed to continue to exist in human society.  That might mean that they send more asteroids toward the Earth, but I bet more would die in the long run, if they continued uncontested.

2. It looks like most of the Rocinante are making their way to Luna! Which of the four stories is most intriguing you at this point? What are your favorite highlights?

Naomi’s story has been really compelling, and I’m really hoping it’s leading up to her breaking into and taking over the ‘trap’ ship, and then flying it to Luna. Right now hers is the most intriguing, because I’m really not sure what she’s going to manage to do next.  In terms of highlights, I really enjoyed seeing her square off against Marco and call him on his lies.  Based on Holden’s section, I’m pretty sure Marco’s plan was always to kill Holden, he just wanted to manipulate events to try and bludgeon Naomi into feeling guilty about it.

3. All the Rocinante crew are being put through a wringer. What do you think of the choices they’ve made? e.g., do you agree with Naomi’s priorities? Are Amos’s post-apocalyptic morals justified? Is it a good thing that Holden is keeping to the mission?

I think Naomi’s doing the best she can with what she has.  There’s no way she could have stopped Marco’s plan in it’s tracks, so she’s trying to mitigate damage to the people she loves--the Rocinante crew and her son. I don’t think there’s much she can do for Filip at this point, but I’ve been impressed so far with what she’s pulled off for the Roci.

Regarding Amos, I feel kind of bad about him killing the survivalist, but I guess the guy was showing signs of planning to murder them for their imaginary water recycler.  I was glad that he managed to avoid violence with the other groups.  I was kind of surprised that he went back to Erich, but it looks like it was the right decision.

I am happy with Holden’s new maturity, not blinding shooting all his information off into space and not running after Naomi.  I hope this saves him when the fake distress call is sent out.  I’m wondering if he’ll suspect it’s a fake.  

4. The protomolecule has yet to rear its ugly head. Do you have any speculation on what Marco might be intending for it?

I was thinking it would be a follow-up threat after the asteroids, but he didn’t mention it in his broadcast.  I’m wondering now if they might have a more complicated plan than just “dump the protomolecule on people”.  Maybe they’re planning to follow up with the super-soldier research and turn themselves into creatures that can live in space without a suit?

5. Seeing how the story is shaping up, which (if any) of the supporting characters do you think would make good additions to the Rocinante crew?

Since that conversation between Holden & Naomi, this has been on my mind.  I think Bobbie would be a good new crew member, and she’s shown signs of wanting to be part of a group again.  Erich would probably take to the life as well as Amos did, and he might like being part of a famous crew.  I guess Clarissa and Filip could only be included if the Roci got permission to keep them there in life-long house arrest or something.  I think it would be an interesting development if any of them ended up joining the Rocinante!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Short Fiction: June 2017

It’s time to talk about my favorite pieces of short fiction published in June 2016! This month’s batch is full of science fiction short stories, including tales of memory manipulation, space exploration, and even both in one case.  As for the authors, I recently reviewed Allen M. Steele’s novel Arkwright, while Jamie Wahls and Pip Coen are new to me.  All the stories for this month are available to read online, and I have linked to their locations accordingly.     

Utopia, LOL? by Jamie Wahls (Short Story, Strange Horizons): The writing style in this story is probably going to be the polarizing point.  The narrator is a far-future human, who mostly lives her life darting through near-infinite virtual worlds.  She’s serving as a guide to a newly woken human from the past, who is confused and upset by his new surroundings.  Her voice is just adorable, and I loved her infectious enthusiasm.  Beneath the silly narration, there is actually a bit of a serious plot driving the action of the story.

Welcome to Astuna by Pip Coen (Short Story, Apex): This is one of those clever stories, where all the details line up neatly at the end.  A near middle-aged woman wakes up in a hotel, missing sixteen-years-worth of her own memories.  In this world, you can gamble with your memories at a casino, though it’s uncommon to lose as much as she has.  The mystery involves how she lost the memories, and what she will uncover when she gets them back.  It feels kind of like a heist story, where you can see at the end how everything was arranged for the ultimate goal.  

Sanctuary by Allen M. Steele (Short Story, This short story is comprised of a colonization ship’s logs, detailing their arrival at their chosen planet.  The format of the logs gives it a certain detachment, as does the framing of it as a historical document.  The story is pretty interesting though, involving an alien lifeform that spells disaster for our society’s technology.  It feels like a beginning to a larger story, and I’d be in for reading more about the colonists’ experiences on the planet.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Read-Along: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, Part 2

James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games is getting very intense, very quickly!  It’s time to discuss the second quarter of the novel, which includes chapters 13 through 25.  This week’s questions are provided by There’s Always Room for One More.  

If you’re interested in getting involved in the read-along, feel free to check out our Goodread’s group, and/or to follow SFFReadAlongs on Twitter.  From here on out, beware of spoilers!

1) Woah. Okay, was anybody expecting this level of drama? Prediction time: what will Marco do next? Any thoughts on who his mysterious allies are?

No, I was definitely not.  It was foreshadowed with all the talk about the Belters’ feelings about the gate and thousands of habitable planets.  It was also foreshadowed by the discussion of the militant sect of the OPA and Naomi’s past involvement in it.  Marco’s request for Naomi was also a clue.  It seemed like a really minor thing to call her out for, just to charter her son a ship.  I was trying to figure out what was the real purpose.  The prologue, also, gave us some hints toward what they were up to.  Despite all this, I did not see the attacks coming at all.

As for the rest, I suspect his next plan involves the protomolecule.  Their goal seems to be to actually wipe out planet-bound humanity, so I suspect he plans to unleash the protomolecule on Earth.  I’m not sure if it will do the same thing as it did on Eros or Venus, now that the gate is built, but I don’t know.  I have no idea who his allies are.  Maybe aliens?

2) So Earth is full apocalypse. The Secretary General is dead. The Martian President may be dead too, but Mars was pretty much flailing anyway. What Should Fred Do? (and will Holden approve?)

I think Fred should unilaterally side with Earth and Mars, and focus the full military might of the planets to wipe out the militant OPA.  At this point, I’m not sure if even infiltrating the OPA terrorist cell is useful.  Anyway, Naomi’s in there.  If they can establish communication with her, she would gladly pass on any information she could uncover.  Also, I think that publicly acknowledging the OPA terrorists as a legitimate political force would cause more damage than he could possibly balance by any good.  They are not legitimate, they are mass murderers, and they should be treated as such.

3) All of Naomi’s past is laid bare for us now. Will she save Filip’s soul? Is she right to try?

I wouldn’t say she’s ‘right’ to try, but I understand why she wants to.  I think the guilt will get to him eventually.  Right now, he’s high on ideology and indoctrinated to not think of Inners as people.  Once he really understands, in his heart, what he has done?  I think it’s very likely he’ll at least try to kill himself.  I hope she is able to save his soul, but I don’t really see any future for him besides suicide or execution.

4) Who are you most worried about/for?

Right now? Amos.  He’s on Earth, being bombarded by rocks, surrounded by violent body-modified criminals. If I’m right about the OPA’s plans, he might be stuck on a dying planet poisoned by protomolecule.  I think he’s in the toughest spot right now, even though the whole crew is in danger.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 1989, Baen
Series: Book 8 (chronologically) of the Vorkosigan Saga

The Book:

“Miles Vorkosigan lives a double life, splitting his time between being a Barrayaran noble and leading a mercenary army under the alias of ‘Admiral Naismith’.  He’s just finished a dangerous mission with his mercenaries, one which was generously--and secretly--backed by the Barrayaran government.  When he arrives on Earth in order to see to his ships’ repairs, though, the promised money is nowhere to be found.

While their resources dwindle amidst communication delays, Miles ends up assigned with his cousin Ivan in the Barrayaran embassy.  The longer Miles and ‘Admiral Naismith’ are stuck in close proximity, the more likely someone is going to figure out his secret.  Miles comes up with a clever tale to explain the mercenary leader’s resemblance to him, about a foreign power growing a clone in an attempt to supplant him.  When an actual double appears, his story begins to look more true than he ever anticipated!” ~Allie

Surprise, I have not stopped reading the Vorkosigan Saga!  I just had a lot of books on my reading list, and this series dropped off my radar for a while.  I am certainly planning to finish the series at some point (including the latest one, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen).

My Thoughts:

Like Ethan of Athos, this novel feels like a lighter side story. Brothers in Arms does not cover momentous events for the Barrayaran Empire, but is instead a minor caper Miles falls into after the Borders of Infinity novella. The story stands on its own, but I would strongly recommend reading it once you’re already versed in the characters and setting of the overall saga.  Though the characters here are as vibrant as ever, I think it helped that they were already established in my mind from other novels. Brothers in Arms introduces a few important minor characters, but it doesn't really break any new narrative ground for the series. It's still very entertaining, though, and I enjoyed having such a fun and undemanding book to read in the evening.
The most interesting aspect of the story for me was the introduction of the clone of Miles.  The idea of a double is popular in fiction, and I think that using it as a narrative technique can illustrate interesting aspects of a character’s personality. The way a person and their double react to one another is heavily influenced by how they believe they themselves would behave in the opposing situation. In action-oriented stories, it seems like the two often try to destroy one another, which might speak highly of their self-knowledge but not of their decency.  Miles chooses a more unusual path, and his choices led me to appreciate him even more as a rational and compassionate hero.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing where his life next leads him.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Brothers in Arms is another lighter entry in the Vorkosigan Saga.  The story is completely stand-alone, but I think it would help to already have an understanding of and attachment to the characters involved.  The story involves a stopover on Earth, where Miles learns that his made-up story about a foreign power growing a clone of him is not as fictional as he might have hoped.  It is both amusing and exciting, with some action-packed conflict and suspenseful moments. As usual for the Vorkosigan saga, this novel was a pleasure to read, and it left me eager to carry on with the rest of the series.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Read-Along: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, Part 1

We’re diving right away into book five,  James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games! If you’re interested in joining the read-along, feel free to check out our Goodreads page or follow along on Twitter with @SFFReadAlongs.  Also, thanks to Sarah of The Illustrated Page for the banner!  The schedule for book five is:

Week 1: Sunday 8th October, Prologue to Ch. 12, hosted by Over The Effing Rainbow
Week 2: Sunday 15th October, Ch. 13 to 25, hosted by There's Always Room For One More
Week 3: Sunday 22nd October, Ch. 26 to 38, hosted by Tethyan Books
Week 4: Sunday 29th October, Ch. 39 to End, hosted by The Illustrated Page

Today we’re discussing up through chapter 12, so beware of spoilers!

1. The story takes a pretty sharp turn from any of the previous sorts of narratives, by dividing up the Roci crew and (finally!) giving us the POVs of Naomi, Alex and Amos, as well as Holden. What do you think of this twist? Are you enjoying a particular POV more than the rest, so far?

I love this twist!  I love all their viewpoints, and I don’t think I can choose!  This was such a happy surprise. I had assumed we’d never get the crew as viewpoint characters. I can already tell this is going to be one of my favorite books of the series!

As for their separate storylines, it seems like what they aim to do ends up not being what they’re doing.  For instance, Amos went to make sure Lydia died peacefully.  She did, and now he’s talking to Avasarala about going to see Clarissa.  I suspect his meeting with Clarissa is going to lead him into his true adventure.  Alex planned to go see his ex-wife.  That didn’t pan out, but now he’s into something scary with Bobbie.  Naomi went to help her son, but he came to meet her.  What’s this really about?  Holden thought he was going to watch over ship repairs, but now he’s got a mystery on his hands.

2. Holden, meanwhile, has to tackle the mystery of some disappearing ships, without the rest of his crew. Do you have any theories about the disappearances, and how do you think Holden will handle flying solo on this one?

I don’t think it’s Belter sabotage.  My theories are closer to Monica’s, but I don’t think it’s the protomolecule exactly.  There was some reason that the gate was closed by the previous owners, after all.  What if there is something of the civilization killer still remaining in the gate, and entering it in a certain way or at a certain time gets the ships eaten by it?  If it’s something like that, then it might put the breaks on the flow of people to new planets.  I think Holden will do okay, but I hope he doesn’t screw up the Rocinante’s relationship with the OPA.

3. Before leaving the Rocinante, Naomi raises the point that it might be time they considered expanding the crew. Do you think she's right?

I think she’s definitely right, but I don’t like it any more than Holden does.  I like the crew, and emotionally I don’t feel like they should hire anyone else.  Realistically, though, it’s a good idea.  It seems like Holden could have put up the postings and started going through resumes while people were on vacation.  That’s a lot of work, and he’ll have to do it before they get to the interview stage anyway.  It would have helped him with the loneliness.

Other notable points:

--I hadn’t really thought through what the gate meant for the Belter civilization.  We saw Belters who wanted to live on a planet on Ilus, so I guess it didn’t occur to me that others might oppose the idea of living down a gravity well. It does seem like these resources may destroy their culture, over time.
--I am loving Amos and Chrisjen’s conversations.  They are just hilarious.  I hope this is a thing that keeps happening.

--I’m actually pretty happy that Talissa pointed out how selfish Alex’s desire for closure was. He chose to leave her--I think he’s already got about as much closure as he’s going to get.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, END

This week we’re wrapping up the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn. Through this read-along, I have learned that my commute is really not long enough to listen to a full Expanse audiobook in a month.  Forewarned is forearmed, so it should be easier to find the right amount of time for Nemesis Games in October.  If you’d like to join in for the read-along of Nemesis Games, feel free to check out our SFF Read-Along’s Goodreads page! Our first post is going to be this coming Sunday.

Please beware of spoilers through the end of the book below!

1) First, the traditional question, what do you think of the point-of-view characters, now that you’ve seen how each of their stories end up? Also, how does this book compare with the first three of the series for you?

I’m still not too crazy about the viewpoint characters this time around.  Holden is fine, and I am happy to have him as a perspective for each book.  He’s a great choice, because he seems to be completely unable to keep from getting tangled up in momentous events.  As for the rest… they all ultimately felt a little unnecessary to me.  At the end, I felt like one could have tweaked the story just a little and told it with only two viewpoints.  I would say Havelock and Holden were the most needed-- Havelock to have a perspective in orbit, and Holden on the planet.

Considering the characters individually, I don’t dislike them but I also don’t feel strongly about them.  Elvi, Havelock and Basia all seem like fairly decent people, but they don’t have some of the spark that propelled along some of the earlier books.  It was important that they existed in the story, but it felt like showing their point of view required a lot of padding.  Elvi’s crush and abrupt seduction felt like filler, as did all the time Basia and Havelock just spent hanging out in orbit and thinking.  Nothing that happened in the end really changed that feeling for me.

I guess that also sums up my feelings on the book.  A lot of neat stuff happened, but there were stretches that felt like treading water.  Also, it seems like a step back in terms of the human conflict.  One criticism that I had about the first two books was that the human villain was completely one-dimensional, and I liked that there was a bit more complexity in the third. In Murtry, Cibola Burn returns us to having one-note cardboard villains.

On a side note, I also really don’t understand the zeal of the engineer militia.  They’re not soldiers, just some guys who play paintball together regularly. Why are they so eager to rush to their deaths at the word of Murtry, against the guy who trained them?  I get that the point was to make Havelock have an ethical dilemma, but it didn’t make any sense.

2) Do you feel that things came out fairly for everyone, colonist and RCE? Are you happy with how things ended for Marwick, Havelock, Murtry, Basia, and others?

I admit I am disappointed that Murtry survived, given all the suffering and death he has caused.  I further feel that the engineer militia should be held responsible for their actions, and be charged with attempted murder of the people aboard the Picola and Rocinante.  I also think Basia should face some legal repercussions for blowing up the landing pad.  That did actually kill people, even if it wasn’t intentional.

I’m okay, in the end, with Havelock coming out of this with no prison sentence. He did follow some questionable orders (like arming the shuttle), but I think he defected before he was ordered to do anything violent or illegal.  I don’t really remember Marwick doing any horrible stuff, unless he ordered the shuttle to attack the Rocinante. I am thrilled that Amos survived!  It seems like things are calmer now, between the RCE and the colonists, and hopefully that will move forward with less violence now that Murtry’s gone.

3) We finally get to see Avasarala and Bobbie again, in the epilogue! What do you think about her plan for James Holden, now that we know what she was going for in choosing him? Do you think she’s right to believe that what happened on Ilus will destroy Mars?

Wow, it makes a difference when it’s a viewpoint character you really enjoy.  Maybe it’s not a great endorsement for the book, but I loved the prologue and the epilogue.  I admit I did not guess correctly why she sent Holden, and I think she should have considered that this might not go her way.  Holden is known for screwing things up for people, and by succeeding here, he did just that!  I think she might be a little alarmist about this destroying Mars, though.  If the story is reported accurately, I would think many people would not want to go to new killer alien planets.  A lot of people died on Ilus, after all.  On the long term, though, I guess it is inevitable that humans will spread through the gate planets and abandon the cramped asteroids and enclosed Martian environments of the solar system.

4) Time for predictions! Do you have any thoughts on what might happen in the next book? Is there anything you’d especially like to see?

I’m hoping Bobbie and Avasarala will be viewpoint characters again!  I’m guessing we’ll get to explore more gate planets, and maybe learn more about the ancient civilization and the killers.  I’m not really sure what else might happen, so I’m going to stop my predictions there.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

TV Musings: Summer 2017

It’s long since time for another post on the science fiction and fantasy television I’ve been watching lately!  If there is ever a future where I’m fully caught up on blog posts, I may switch this back to a show-by-show format. For now, I have recently enjoyed watching a nice collection of new and returning shows, with a good balance between science fiction and fantasy.

New Shows:

Cleverman (Season 1, Sundance TV): The first season of this Australian series only runs 6 episodes, but the second season is also going to be available on Netflix at the beginning of October. The show draws a lot of inspiration from indigenous Australian traditional stories, which are all completely new to me.  Given how little I know about current social issues in Australia, I’m sure I also missed some allegory.  I thought it was a fresh and interesting show, and I enjoyed the chance to watch a fantasy that was not focused on North America.

In Cleverman, a mythological race called the hairypeople have suddenly appeared, and they have been promptly labeled as subhuman and restricted to ghettos or prisons. The story follows two aboriginal half-brothers with ties to the hairypeople.  The elder, Waruu, fights to make the world a better place for marginalized groups, while the younger, Koen, is a selfish and irresponsible jerk.  Unexpectedly, their uncle passes his cultural (and magical) Cleverman inheritance to Koen.  There’s more to both of them than meets the eye, and I felt the show was really deft in how their characterization was developed.

Travelers (Season 1, Netflix): This time travel drama is already renewed for a second season, which is good because this one leaves us on a cliffhanger.  In this show, a grim future for humanity has led to the development of time travel technology.  A person’s mind can be sent back into the body of someone in the past, shortly before their death. Teams of time travelers are sent back, desperate to shift the future to another course. They have faith in the plan of the Director, whether or not they understand the tasks they are given.  This one is light on special effects, but it is a really engrossing sci-fi drama.

The characters we follow find themselves dropped into some fairly complicated lives, and it was interesting to see how they tried to acclimate to being a different person.  Of course, they also have to be willing to drop their new lives at a moment’s notice, in order to attend to the needs of the future.  It seems like it must be a really difficult way to live.  While it might sound like a setup for a episodic kind of show, the story is actually very serial and character-driven.  The events in the finale were pretty major, so I’m impatient to see what impact they will have on the team’s future.

The Shannara Chronicles (Season 1, MTV): I’m not the demographic target for this teen show, but I have a soft spot for epic fantasy television. The second season has jumped to a different network (Paramount) and it has already started airing now. This show is based on the series by Terry Brooks, and its quirk is that it actually takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States.  Aside from that, it is a pretty traditional setting, with elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and trolls around the countryside. The main plot follows a group of three attractive teens on a quest to save the world.  The three of them--Wil, Amberle, and Eretria--are all really earnest and endearing, and I wanted to see them succeed.  There are also some subplots with druids and elven politics, but they mostly involve people making very poor choices over and over.

I thought the show was charming and fun, but the writing is inconsistent and some of the actors are still settling into their roles.  The teens’  interactions felt the most natural when the script wasn’t pushing the love triangle angle, and some episodes had pretty lazy plot choices (e.g. why are there torches laid out for them at the beginning of a tunnel in the wilderness?). The Black Guard at the Elven capital has also become a running joke in my household.  They are so utterly incompetent, it’s bizarre that anyone relies on them for protection. Despite my complaints, I did enjoy watching the show, and the remains of our former human civilization give the story a special touch.

Returning Shows:

Killjoys (Season 3, Syfy): The latest news from the Syfy Channel is that Killjoys is going to conclude with its fifth season.  This season ends on a pretty major cliffhanger, so I’m happy it’s going to have two seasons to resolve everything. This third season is more serialized than ever, and it focuses on the brewing war between the Quad and the alien Hullen.  While all the characters we have met play a role in the conflict, the heart of it is between Aneela and Dutch. If you’re interested in learning why they’re doppelgangers, this is the season for you.  The answer is probably weirder than you think!

In general, this show has a lot of convoluted lore, but I think a lot of the questions were cleared up in this season.  The quality of the show is pretty consistent with the second season, in terms of the writing and acting.  I enjoyed the balance of humor and seriousness in the dialogue, even if the jokes didn’t always land for me.  I also enjoyed seeing all of the minor characters find their own paths and strengths.  It feels like everything is starting to come together, and I’m excited to see where things will go from here.

The Man in the High Castle (Season 2, Amazon):  This first season had already started to diverge significantly from the original novel, and the second season firmly establishes the show as a completely separate entity.  The writing, acting, and production quality is as consistently excellent as was the previous season.  I had expected the parallel worlds to play a larger role than they did, but I like the understated way it is wrapped into the continuing alternate history drama.

The overall story, about preventing two fascist regimes from destroying the world with nuclear weapons, seems unexpectedly relevant to modern politics.  On the smaller scale, the season elegantly provided an emotional arc for essentially all of the characters, major and minor, and resolved many of the open questions from the previous season.  I do not know where the story will go after this, but I feel like the show has passed the first test of longevity.  It is beyond its source material, and the story is even more engaging than ever. I am looking forward to the next season!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, Week 3

Welcome to week three of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn!  This is the second-to-last week, and things are heating up. The discussion this week covers chapters 28-42, and the questions are provided by Sarah of The Illustrated Page.  Beware of spoilers below!

1. So we've got an apocalyptic scenario. Any predictions on how the characters will make it out alive? Or if they'll make it out alive?

I’m suspecting the viewpoint characters will make it out alive. At the very least, I highly doubt anyone from the Rocinante crew will die.  I bet Murtry dies, though.  Anyone else, I’ll be a bit sad if they don’t make it. Basia’s family has suffered so much, it doesn’t seem right for any of them to not make it out alive.
2. How do you feel the plot line of Cibola Burns compares with the other books in the series so far? Does it feel familiar? Different?

It still features conflict between different clans of humans, as well as a larger conflict with a deadly and unsympathetic alien force.  As in previous books, the humans fight each other until they’re forced to contend with a larger threat.  There’s a lot less travel in this one, though, so it was easier to feel like they were spinning their wheels at points.  We are also getting past the protomolecule, and to the aliens behind it.  That represents some progress in the series.

3. The traditional question, how are you feeling about the POV characters now? Elvi's "crush" on Holden? Havelock's choices? Basia?

My opinion of Holden was solidified before this book, and it hasn’t changed.  I like the humor in his perspective, and I like his interactions with the Rocinante crew.  He makes decisions that exasperate me sometimes, but he’s a fun character to follow.  I’m not too enthusiastic about the other viewpoint characters, though I should stress that I am still enjoying the book.

Elvi’s story seems to be buying heavily into stereotypes about women in academia.  She’s brilliant, but has a really low emotional intelligence and seems clueless about sexuality.  I don’t think this is the assumed norm for female academics in this universe, but Elvi is pretty much the only one we know well here.  I did not like that her arc concluded with a man explaining to her that she just needed to get laid, and that it pretty much solved everything.
Basia feels kind of superfluous right now.  I feel like his character could be excised from the story with little loss.  So far, he only existed to help us see the colonists as individuals, and to give a brief perspective into the now-dead resistance group. He wasn’t even really necessary for Naomi’s rescue, since Havelock ended up breaking her out.  I’m hoping he does something important or notable later.

As for Havelock, it feels like too little too late.  I’m glad he finally turned on Murtry, but the way he did it was so inefficient.  I feel like there wouldn’t have been any conflict on the ship at all if he hadn’t trained up a bunch of engineers to be loyal goons for Murtry.  If he’d managed to create a force loyal to himself, then he could have just announced that he was sending Naomi back to the Rocinante. I still think he has a bigger role to play, but the way he chose to save Naomi seems to have left him with little power or authority to make a positive impact.

4. What are your feelings on the world building so far? We haven't discussed world building in a while, and Cibola Burns is bringing in a lot of new material.

I like the world so far, but I feel like I need more information. The animals are really neat, and I want to learn more about how the planet seems to have been manufactured.  I don’t really understand how this ties together with the protomolecule, the precursor race, and the civilization-killer, and I hope I have a clearer picture by the end of the novel.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published: Tor, 2015
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“At the technological height of human civilization, a great project was undertaken.  Planets were carefully terraformed and seeded with Earth-based life.  A virus was loosed on the animals, designed to aid in their rise to sentience, and humanity eagerly awaited contact with their newly-created sentient alien species.

Then, humanity fell.  The few surviving members of the species have left their poisoned, dying Earth behind and journeyed into the stars in a final, desperate voyage.  When they find a terraformed planet, it seems like a dream come true.  But that planet was never meant for them, and its new inhabitants--a civilization of massive sentient spiders--are far from the gentle uplifted monkeys their ancestors had hoped for.  The spiders’ planet also has a caretaker, the last remnants of a human mind wielding ancient, deadly technology.  Time will tell whether humanity will survive, or will ultimately be supplanted by its own creations.” ~Allie

This is the first novel I’ve read by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I chose it because it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.  I have a very strong revulsion to spiders, but somehow it did not destroy this book for me! It helped that the spiders’ civilization was so interesting.

My Thoughts:

Two stories make up the basis of the novel: the development of the spiders’ civilization, and a dying humanity’s final journey. The two sides made a satisfying balance, one story of birth and growth, and the other of decline and death.  The spiders’ story was told over many generations, linking each set of characters by common names and roles. I loved the creativity and careful thought that clearly went into imagining the spider culture.  Their artificial initial conditions were taken into account, and the impact was carefully woven into their growth in an organic way. There are many places where I could see a parallel to the development of human civilization, but the details of their world were often utterly different.  For example, their biology, methods of communication and resources sent their technological progressed in a completely different direction than ours. I may have a deep, irrational fear of spiders, but even I can admit that their world was fascinating.

The humans, on the other hand, were fleeing their dead and poisoned homeworld, so their side of the story was considerably more bleak and depressing.  It was also a little more familiar, as it incorporated a lot of common tropes of generation ship tales.  Their story took place within the lifetime of a single generation, but with many interludes of cold sleep.  The protagonist and a small group of human crew struggled to keep the ship working, to find a new world, and generally approached each setback with the knowledge that they were the last of their species.  I enjoyed their story, though the characters were not as memorable as some we meet in the generations of spiders.     

From the beginning, I did not think it would take long for the humans and spiders to begin interacting directly.  In the end, though, the two stories were kept largely separate for a large part of the novel. In retrospect, I think seeing them both separately helped to emphasize the validity of the needs and desires of each group.  Neither the spiders nor the humans were the ‘bad guys’. Conflict between them arose from finite resources, lack of ability to communicate, and naturally ingrained instincts--not from moral considerations. I also appreciated how believably the novel demonstrates the human tendency to violence in the face of otherness. The massive spiders are just familiar enough to humans to evoke a visceral panic response.  I was surprised by how the story eventually concluded, but it was a good surprise.  I can't think of a better way to have wrapped up this excellent novel.  

My Rating: 5/5

Children of Time tells two stories, one about the beginning of a species and one about the potential end.  I loved reading about the development of the sentient spiders’ creative and alien culture over many generations, even though spiders creep me out.  The human side was more standard, with the remainder of the human race facing a long space journey with an uncertain end.  I enjoyed both stories, though the spiders’ civilization was definitely the most impressive aspect of the book.  Overall, I found the book the be very entertaining, and the ending was surprising and satisfying.  I’m curious to see if Tchaikovsky plans to write more science fiction novels!