Kat at FanLit
"In this universe, experience counts."
"Guns don???t kill people. The aliens behind the triggers do."
John Perry is 75 years old, his wife is dead, and he has nothing left to live for. It???s a perfect time to join the army, and the Colonial Defense Force is recruiting. They need a lot of loyal human bodies to maintain the universe colonization project, so their preference is to recruit old people, rejuvenate their bodies (nobody on Earth knows exactly how this happens), and train them to fight for the human race. Most of them will be dead within a few years, but that???s all they were expecting on Earth anyway. The Colonial Defense Force gives them something valuable to do for humanity, and a chance for a new life.
Old Man???s War is one of the most enjoyable novels I???ve read this year. The premise ??? old people being rejuvenated ??? makes for an excellent twist on the usual alien-fighting theme. The elderly, as opposed to the usual young heroes we find in so many speculative fiction novels, have had a lifetime to accumulate knowledge, skills, wisdom, and experience. I found John Perry and his cohort to be mature heroes whom I could admire and enthusiastically cheer for. I cried for them, too, as they lost each other or ruminated on past loves. Perry???s explanation of why he missed being married was moving and reminded me of my graduate school days when I would have felt lonely and unsupported (and maybe quit) if it hadn???t been for my husband???s presence.
Scalzi???s villains, on the other hand ??? all those alien creatures ??? are absolutely horrifying! The humans usually have no idea what they???ll find on a new planet, which is why their mortality rate is so high. It could be an insectoid creature with razors for hands, or a jumping slime mold, or a virus... The diversity of alien life that Scalzi has created adds suspense and terror to his story.
Old Man???s War is not a comedy, but it???s often funny ??? very funny. I laughed hard and out loud many times. William Dufris, the narrator of the audiobook version I listened to, contributed to the humor by reading the funny parts in a perfect deadpan voice. Dufris was outstanding and I highly recommend Macmillan Audio???s version.
I will definitely be reading John Scalzi???s other books in this series. Old Man???s War was excellent.
Paleontologist Richard Leyster works for the Smithsonian. It???s his dream job, so naturally he scoffs when a strange man named Harry Griffin offers him a new job whose description and benefits are vague. But when Griffin leaves an Igloo cooler containing the head of a real dinosaur on Leyster???s desk, Leyster is definitely intrigued. A couple of years later, when Griffin finally contacts him again, Leyster is ready to sign on to Griffin???s crazy project. He and a team of scientists are sent back to the Mesozoic era to study, up close and personal, the animals that, previously, had only been known by their bones. When a Christian fundamentalist terror group disrupts the project, things get very dangerous for Leyster and his colleagues. There are also concerns about the whole time-travel technology. How does it work? Where did it come from? What is the government hiding?
Bones of the Earth gleefully revels in paleontology and paradoxes. Readers will go to science conferences, watch grad students do field work, and listen to lengthy discussions about the classification of dinosaurs, the evolution of fringe ecological niches, and the event that caused dinosaur extinction. Some of this gets a little dry. There???s an entire chapter called ???Peer Review??? in which several scientists work together to write up a paper that, due to being stuck in the Mesozoic era, they know will never be published. (Even though this went on too long, I loved this idea!) But it???s not all stuffy science, because this is Michael Swanwick, so there???s also a paleontologist orgy ??? probably the first one ever.
Most people, if they had the chance to move around in time, would be tempted to use this ability to profit financially ??? get the lottery numbers from the newspaper, find out who won a horse race and go back and bet on it... But not a paleontologist. Swanwick speculates that they???d prefer prestige over money (and I think he???s right about that). Thus, Dr. Gertrude Salley, who???s both a hero and a villain in this story, gleans facts instead of dollars during her time travels. Later, when Salley creates a time paradox and is forced to meet herself, she???s chagrined to learn that she???s not much fun to be around. Swanwick also takes us to the far distant future and speculates about the future of the human species. Humanity???s prospects are grim, but we???re left with a deep admiration for the human mind, its insatiable curiosity, and the science that allows us to fulfill our desire to understand our world.
I???ll mention, since I???ve seen some negative reviews of Bones of the Earth, that some readers have accused the book of being anti-Christian because the terrorists are creationists. I am both a Christian and a scientist and I did not feel that the book was anti-Christian. Yes, there is a villain who identifies as a Christian creationist, but two of the small group of paleontologists are also specifically identified as practicing Christians. A Christian who refuses to consider the possibility that creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive probably won???t like this book. For everyone else, it???s fine.
Bones of the Earth, originally published in 2002, is an expansion of Michael Swanwick???s 1999 short story ???Scherzo with Tyrannosaur??? which was published in Asimov???s Science Fiction and won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2000. Bones of the Earth was nominated for a Nebula, Hugo, Campbell, and Locus Award. Kevin Pariseau narrates Audible Frontier???s version which has recently been released. He was a great choice for this book. During my life I???ve listened to hundreds of scientists talking about their research. There???s a certain reserved enthusiasm and eagerness they display and Mr. Pariseau has this down perfectly ??? he would fit right in at any scientific conference.
Pavane, by Keith Roberts, is a beautiful collection of six connected stories written in an alternate England where Queen Elizabeth was assassinated and Philip II won the throne of England. The Protestant Reformation never occurred and Europe, as well as the New World, fell under the control of the Pope. Now it???s 1968 and because the Roman Catholic Church has held back technological advances from the people, the English still live in a feudal society complete with candlelight, castles, moats, monasteries, and much superstition, though the Church has allowed some steam-powered vehicles and the use of semaphore telegraph lines for communication. The Church has electricity, people know they have been repressed, and there are rumors of revolution.
The title Pavane comes from the Spanish-style dance which has six steps and a coda. Likewise, after the short prologue, the book contains six stories and a coda. The stories span a couple of generations and occur in chronological order:
???The Lady Margaret??? ??? Here we meet Jesse Strange who carries freight on his steam engine, which is named ???The Lady Margaret??? after the barmaid he???s secretly in love with. On one of his business trips, during which he stops to see Margaret, he meets an old friend from college. On his way home, he???s attacked by bandits. Jesse, a competent and hard-working man, is the patriarch of the characters we???ll meet in the last two stories.
???The Signaller??? ??? Rafe, who is fascinated by the semaphore telegraph stations that span the country, has his wildest dreams fulfilled when he earns a spot as an apprentice in the Guild of Signallers. In this story we learn that the faeries are still active in England ??? the Roman Catholic Church has not been able to eradicate them.
???The White Boat??? ??? Fourteen-year-old Becky wants to be free and she thinks that the mysterious white boat she occasionally notices on the sea may be her ticket to a better life??? until the Church notices it, too.
???Brother John??? ??? The monk Brother John is commissioned by the Inquisition to use his artistic talents to document tortures and confessions.
???Lords and Ladies??? ???Jesse Strange, now a rich man, lies dying. As the priest intones last rites, Jesse???s niece Margaret remembers her recent humiliating experience with a young local lord and wonders if the faeries would treat her better than the priest???s god does.
???Corfe Gate??? ??? Lady Eleanor, daughter of Margaret in the previous story, defies the Church. Lord Henry, who represents the Pope in England, is sent to bring her down. With the help of Sir John, her seneschal, Eleanor prepares to stand firm. During her struggle, she suggests that history is like the pavane.
In the Coda, Sir John???s son visits Corfe Gate decades later and reads a letter from his father who explains what happened after Eleanor???s revolt. Sir John???s justification of the Church???s actions seems odd and tacked-on. Or perhaps Keith Roberts was going for an A Canticle for Leibowitz-type feel. Either way, it leaves the reader scratching his head and wishing Roberts had just stopped after the last story.
Overall, Pavane is a beautifully written book with well-developed characters, skillful use of language, and vivid imagery ??? dark brooding castles, hulking gothic churches, powerful steam engines, lines of clacking semaphores, horrid tortures at the hands of the Inquisition. These images will stay with me.
I listened to the audio version of Pavane which was produced by Neil Gaiman Presents. Gaiman introduces the book and explains why he loves it and chose to add it to his audio line. The narration by Steven Crossley was excellent; I recommend this version.
Originally Posted at FanLit.
I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.
The story sets up in a quite classic mode: fuzzy creatures are discovered on a planet being strip-mined for its resources. Are they sentient? If so, the corporations (and independent contractor surveyors) are out of jobs and minerals. In (now classic?) Scalzi mode, the characters are warm, deep, sarcastic, funny, and give great quips on cue, and the plot flies along at an easy pace, never slow, not too fast to leave the listener behind. Wheaton's narration here is nicely paced as well, not a long, drawn-out affair, nor one with heavy characterizations on the voices (when it comes, it's very nice -- but that's in spoiler territory). The fuzzies are cute -- but not unbearably, and there are a few laugh out loud moments here, and (our main character, the independent contractor) Jack's interactions with his dog, Carl, are wonderful.
It is, however, over a bit too easily -- and unexpectedly quickly. Fuzzy Nation comes in at a little over 7 hours, with download "Part 2" being a Peter Ganim narration of the original H. Beam Piper novel Little Fuzzy which runs about 6 and a half hours. So don't be fooled into thinking you're approaching halfway through the story as part one comes to a close, or you'll be regretting (as I did) that we have to leave Zara XXIII so soon. On the other hand, that's certainly a packaging and marketing artifact, and the 7 "Fuzzy Nation" hours of this audiobook were a good, enjoyable story, showing off what Scalzi can do with good characters: take us on a fun trip through another place, make us laugh, make us cry, and give us a little bit of what it means to be human -- even if we see it reflected in the eyes of someone much smaller and furrier.
On Ganim's narration of "Little Fuzzy", it was definitely interesting to compare the setup, characters, and storyline of the original novel to the reboot's, and Ganim is as-always quite competent. His reading is a bit slower-paced, which adds a bit more to the era contrast between the books.