Tag Archives: Science fiction

Zero World by Jason M Hough.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had a lot of difficulty grading this particular book. There are many things I loved about it and just as many that I absolutely hated, and some left me indifferent. So after much internal debate, I decided on 2.5 stars.

Let’s talk about the things I loved first.

I liked the technologically advanced Earth of the future that we are introduced to in the beginning of the book. The space travel, the physical enhancements and implants that seems to be common amongst the population. I would have loved to have been able to explore that world a bit more and I was disappointed when the focus shifted towards Gartien.

But I loved Gartien as well, because I’m a sucker for well-crafted new worlds and the amount of work the author put into creating this world that is so close but yet different to our Earth is impressive. I love the details the author added to flesh out those differences, be it in the customs and habits of its inhabitants, or in their speech patterns and religious beliefs. Even their physiology is slightly different than ours.

Character-wise, I liked Melni. She is a strong woman and an effective undercover operative who is very good at planning, but can think on her feet when needed. What I didn’t like is how quick she is to trust Caswell and even side with him when push comes to shove. It looked extremely out of character for someone for whom caution and suspicion were a necessity of survival.

So what didn’t I like about this book? Well, the plot was rather lacking to be frank. It starts like a science fiction spy / assassin thriller then shifts gears about 50 pages into the book and becomes a sort of Indiana Jones-esque romp through Gartien with seemingly half the world in hot pursuit of our protagonists. And it ends… I won’t say anything about the ending there apart from it was messy and left me highly dissatisfied.

The plot also left me with the feeling that the author started with one book in mind, then flipped everything into a different direction halfway through. There are also some lapses of logic in the character’s actions that I found hard to get past.

For example, Caswell only has 15 days to complete his mission before the implant in his brain automatically resets his memory back to 15 days ago, erasing all knowledge of where he is and what he is supposed to do. Yet, when we get bogged down in the details of his journey with Melni (whom he follows almost halfway across the world), that sense of urgency is lost. I mean, hello, your clock is ticking, Caswell, show a bit more concern about it!

Speaking of Caswell. This is the first book where the protagonist left me absolutely indifferent. It’s not that I didn’t like him and I didn’t really hate him. I just could care less about him and whether he survived to complete his mission. Maybe because in my eyes, Caswell is a coward. He chose to get that implant because that way he can kill as many people as he needs and pretend that it never happened because his memory is wiped clean every time. I’m sorry, a killer is still a killer even if he doesn’t remember his kills. And the sea of bodies he leaves in his wake on Gartien only proves my point.

In other words, I was looking forward to Zero World but I leave this book rather disappointed. I liked Darwin’s Elevator much better.

PS. I received and advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.

Dark Star by Oliver Langmead.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Dark Star is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a while. It’s written entirely in epic verse, even though the story it tells is more reminiscent of a noir movie than an epic ballade. I admit that this format was rather off-putting at first. I almost closed the book when I saw it. I’m glad I didn’t.

This book is like a dark vortex – it moves slowly at first, luring you with a false sense of security, then sucks you in faster than a whirlpool. Once you start reading, you cannot put it down. And the epic verse gives this story a fascinating depth as well: the format doesn’t allow for wasted words, so the author has to make all of them count. As a result, they have a bigger impact on the reader, highlighting the story like the beam of a good flashlight. Once I started reading it, I simply couldn’t put it down.

Vox is a world of eternal darkness, a planet revolving around a start that’s just a dark hole in the sky, absorbing all light. The city of Vox is powered by three Hearts that had been taken out of the starships that had crashed on this inhospitable world. Light is a precious commodity in this world. People could kill for a functioning lightbulb. And light is growing dimmer and dimmer with each passing year, so it’s no surprise that when one of the Hearts is stolen, the city is plunged into chaos.

But for Inspector Virgil Yorke, the theft of the Heart is not as important as the discovery of a dead girl with so much light in her veins that she glows brighter than any lightbulb even in death. And he will investigate the circumstances of her death with the tenacity of a pit-bull, especially since everyone in the precinct wants this death to be swept under the rug…

It’s rare for me to write a raving review for a book. It seems like no matter how much I enjoy a story lately, I can’t help but find some flaws in it that dampen my enthusiasm. Dark Star is the rare exception to that rule. There is absolutely nothing I can critique here. I loved every single world of this strange epic poem.

I loved Yorke. He is broken. He is hopeless. He is drowning in darkness and haunted by his own ghosts just as Vox is drowning in the non-light of its dark star with light-starved people haunting its streets. He is the best possible guide through this dark world. No wonder that his first name is Virgil. Like Dante’s Virgil, he is leading the reader through his own version of dark hell, and you can’t help but stick for the ride, because no matter how broken and disenchanted Yorke is, he is also very human.  I liked him. I understood him. I empathized with him. And I knew that even if he found out who had killed Vivian North and why, it would not change his own circumstances.

Yes, Dark Star does not have a happy ending, not entirely. It just brings a little bit of light and maybe some peace to the tortured souls of Vox before the end. And allows Virgil Yorke to finally let go of his ghosts…

Do you want to read a wonderful book with a profound story that touches you? That reads like a song, a strange and haunting melody that will stay with you long after you close the book, like the memory of light in a dark room? Then pick up Dark Star. Don’t let the unusual format put you off. This is a must read and re-read in my books.

PS. I received and advanced copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

Caliban’s War is the second book in the excellent Expanse series. The action takes place a couple years after the events of the first book, Leviathan Wakes (which I already reviewed).

The Eros station and the protomolecule it was carrying crashed into Venus, and now strange things are happening beneath the planet’s dense atmosphere. But even though humanity is aware (and afraid) of the monster sitting right at their doorstep, they still can’t put aside their petty squabbles. Earth and Mars are still at the verge of armed conflict and the OPA is now a force to reckon with because it holds the only known protomolecule sample that is not on Venus. The beginning of the book takes place on Ganymede station, which is the granary of the Belt and outer planets and a station that neither Earth nor Mars are willing to let go. So both superpowers have a military presence there, but are just content to sit in the trenches and watch each other warily… Until something tears through an Earth outpost, killing the whole garrison and all hell breaks loose, threatening to set the whole solar system on fire, while the protomolecule on Venus stirs at last.

James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are back! And they are in the thick of the action once again, quite inadvertently so this time. I love those characters and the author handles their development well. They are still the likable bunch I got to know and love from the first book, but the events have also changed them. Holden in particular is faced with a sort of identity crisis in this book, and I absolutely loved how he managed to get through it and stay true to himself.

I also loved the new characters introduced in this book, especially Chrisjen Avasarala, the foulmouthed Earth politician. They are all fully fleshed-out and interesting to follow. I think that’s actually part of why I love James S.A. Corey’s books so much – the believability of his characters. They are never cardboard, they are always alive. Whether you like them or not, you still want to follow their adventures.

The story itself is just as tightly woven and engaging as the one in Leviathan Wakes, and the author knows how to keep you up late turning the pages because you absolutely NEED to know what happens next. And oh dear God, please don’t kill my favorite characters!!!

Ahem, anyway, I think by now it’s clear that I absolutely loved this book. So my advice to you is buy it, rent it, steal it from your friends, do anything necessary to get it and read it. Well, start with Leviathan Wakes first though, and then continue straight to Abaddon’s Gate (I know a will).

Book review – Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

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I absolutely love all of Iain M. Banks’s books in the Culture series and I eagerly await each new installment. But Look to Windward is my absolute favorite – it has a particular place in my heart. I think that’s because this story touches some subjects that I can relate to.

The story is set on Masaq’ Orbital, one of the Culture’s ring-shaped artificial worlds ran by an AI. It’s been 800 years since the Twin Novae battle which ended with the explosion of two suns, the destruction of countless planets and artificial habitats and loss of billions of lives. But the light of this explosion has reached Masaq’ Orbital only now, eight centuries later. So did an unlikely ambassador from another war-torn world, Major Quilan. Quilan’s official mission is to bring a renegade composer back to his home world of Chel. His true mission, kept secret even from him and implanted deep in the recesses of his brain, is to kill the Orbital’s AI. Why kill an AI would you ask? For revenge. Oh, not on this particular AI, but on the Culture in general. See, the Culture tried to intervene in the affairs of the Chelgrian society and, even though they meant well, the result was a civil war that cost their lives to five billion people. And now Chel is sending Quilan with the mission to assassinate Masaq’s AI who is also caring for five billion people placed in suspended animation. To the Chelgrians their death would balance the books. And all this happens when the light of a battle fought so long ago finally reaches the Orbital. In that battle too Culture played a role that, some say, precipitated the disaster.

This is the intrigue (or part of it, because, as in all Banks’s books, there are layers upon layers of intrigue). But what made me love this book so much is the story behind the story, the hidden meanings and hidden feelings of all the characters. Quilan, Zeller and even Masaq’, the AI in charge of the Orbital, are surprisingly human, with their own baggage and skeletons in their closets, with their own nightmares and dreams and feelings of guilt and helplessness. And that makes them particularly endearing to the reader.

In this book, Ian M Banks wanted to explore the consequences of our actions on us and other people and to see how different human beings cope with feelings such as rage, guilt, grief, etc. I think it rings very close to home right now with all that has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan – both those conflicts scared a lot of people, be it the local population of the soldiers that have fought there. How do you continue living when you know that you are partly responsible for billions of deaths? Is anything you do good enough to counterbalance that? How far would you go for revenge?

Masaq’ Orbital AI is a perfect example of that – 800 years ago he was the AI of one of the warships that participated in the battle and he witnessed firsthand the explosion of the two suns. The guilt had been haunting him ever since, and now, when the echoes of this battle finally reached the Orbital, he wants to make amends. How? By asking composer Zeller to create a beautiful symphony that would honor the souls lost in that battle, but also by not stopping Quilan from fulfilling his secret mission… And these are all the spoilers I am going to give.

I love the world of Culture – it is incredibly complex and so well-detailed that it feels real. Every book in the series just adds a new piece to the puzzle, slowly building a beautiful picture of a star-dwelling civilization. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, pass it on.

Review of “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper

ImageEver since I was a child, I’ve had a particular love for science-fiction and fantasy books. Sure, I have read my fair share of non-fiction and there are a few classics that I love deeply, but give me a good fantasy book, and I am lost to the world. There are, I think, three reasons for that.

First of all, those books give me a chance to explore totally new worlds that the authors created. Places that are either years in the future or not even in our universe. Places that do not exist and never will, but if the author is good, they still seem so real that you can see and smell, and taste them.

The second reason is the characters. Most really good science-fiction and fantasy books have very compelling and memorable characters. Sure, they can be over the board and larger than life sometimes, but you remember them, you sympathize with them and that’s a good thing. After all, they will be your companions on the journey through this new and strange world that the authors have created.

And lastly the book needs a good plot. For the world building and tri-dimensional characters can’t keep my interest for long if the story isn’t getting anywhere. Something needs to happen, the characters need to face and overcome obstacles and evolve.

When it comes to “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper, the book left me with very mixed feelings.

I really loved the world Sheri Tepper created. I could really visualize Grass: I could see the multitudes of colors and textures of the grasses that constitute the only vegetation of the planet. I could hear the sound of the wind rippling through them, the cries of the peepers in the roots and the rhythmic dances of the Hippae. The ecosystem of the planet is also fascinating – it’s like a serpent biting its own tail in a way – everything evolves and mutates into something else along the food chain.

So as far as world building is concerned, “Grass” delivered, at least for me. It’s the characters that I had a problem with. As I said, I like well developed, tri-dimensional characters that I can empathize with. Sadly, in this book there is only one such character – Lady Marjorie Westriding. You can tell that the author took time to work on her background and motivations. She feels real and alive; I can understand the reasoning behind her actions and choices. Most importantly, she changes and her point of view evolves during the course of the book.

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are not as lucky – they felt like cardboard cutouts to me. They move, they talk, they act, but they don’t provoke any emotional response from me. Simply put, they are not fleshed out enough for me to care about them. If they had been a bit more memorable, I think I would have reacted differently to the problem of possible imminent extermination that awaits them.

But if you can get past that lack of characterization, the premise is interesting, the plot moves along at a nice pace and the author manages to tie everything neatly together.

While the rest of the colonized planets are not described in as much detail as Grass, the picture the author paints is still convincing, though very bleak. There are several colonized planets, but progress and expansion are at a standstill because Sanctity, the predominant religious order of the star-traveling humanity, forbids it. So the reader is witnessing the slow degradation of a once formidable race. And as if that degradation wasn’t killing humans quickly enough, there is a mysterious but deadly plague that swipes from world to world and for which there is no cure. All the planets are infected. On all of them humans are dying. Except Grass – there is no plague here. Why? If this question is not answered and a cure is not found, Grass might become the only place in the entire galaxy where human life still exists…

But Grass is far from being a bucolic and worry-free haven. Dark tidings are afoot here too. Danger lurks in the shadows. And when hounds are barking and mounts are ready to hunt foxen, their riders are given very little choice in the matter.

To sum it up, I would definitely recommend this book, even with the lack of characterization. Read it for the story, or just read it for the pleasure of walking in the grass gardens of Klive or watching the grasses paint the prairie in different shades of purple when spring finally comes on Grass.