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!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, Part 2

Welcome to week two of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn!  This week’s reading covers chapters 13-27, and the discussion questions are provided by The Illustrated Page. Beware of spoilers through that point from here on out!

1. How do you feel about Naomi being taken captive?

Well, she has kind of been ‘damselled’, hasn’t she? It does make sense with the plot, and I’m glad that the Rocinante’s plans are meeting with as many setbacks as everyone else’s.  But now Naomi, the only woman of the Rocinante crew, is confined to a small cell to await rescue.  I have hope that she’s going to turn Havelock against Murtry, and convince him to use his ‘extremely free hand’ to de-escalate the situation instead of whatever it is Murtry is trying to do.   

2. What are your thoughts on our new POV characters: Basia, Elvi, and Havelock?

I feel like we do not have any new heroic characters in this book at all.  Holden and Miller were both driven by their convictions, and Bobbie and Chrisjen were powerful in their own ways.  Anna, Clarissa, Prax, and Bull were all risk-takers, or able to be driven to it by their principles. On the other hand, Basia, Elvi, and Havelock are all pretty ordinary, and they are not currently rising to the occasion.

I like Elvi, but she is kind of naive and emotional.  I’d like to hear more about the weird stuff happening on the planet, and less about her frustration or her crush on Holden.  Also, is it not odd that the scientists don’t seem to have regular meetings to discuss their findings?  As a scientist myself, I couldn’t imagine being in an environment like this without daily group meetings to discuss new discoveries.

I like that Alex is forcing Basia to take ownership of his mistakes, because he was starting to slide into self-pity there.  I don’t yet see how he can have much of an impact on this situation, and he is a terrible judge of character.  At the same time, I think he may be a little pessimistic about his chances with the justice system.  He didn’t actually murder anyone, and his crimes are likely to look pretty minor next to Murtry’s.

Havelock hasn’t really done much of anything so far, aside from just following Murtry’s lead.  I’m guessing he might be here as a link to Miller, and as someone to turn on Murtry at a crucial moment.  I’m glad he chose to call out anti-belter sentiment directly, but his problems seem kind of small compared with a melting moon, murderous security and possibly an entire hidden biosphere of protomolecule.

3. So, do you think we're going to encounter aliens? The thing that destroyed civilizations? Is there something larger going on than the conflict between the colonists and the corporation?

At this point, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to meet sentient aliens, at least.  The fact that the protomolecule flinched away from some area of this planet makes me think we might meet the civilization-killer.  I think the background story, Miller’s search for what happened to the gate civilization, is going to come to foreground.  And if previous books are any indication, a lot of the people on the planet are going to die.  

4. Speaking of the conflict, what actions do you think Holden can take to resolve it?

I’m not sure he can do anything against something that destroyed the gate civilization.  Concerning Murtry and the colonists, his hands are pretty tied as well.  If Murtry were taken out of the picture, in some legitimate and non-violent way, then maybe that would help to defuse the tension.  The colonists’ resistance is stamped out at this point, so the only violent problem remaining is Murtry.