Cheshire, CT USA | Member Since 2012
Gary Gibson's "Final Days" was equal parts action/thriller and far-thought SF that forces the reader to consider the purpose and motives of aliens so far removed from our own time that the stars and their galaxies have all burned out to embers, and the dilemma of Free Will in an observed time-loop.
The braided story lines of the main protagonists merge closer and closer together as the novel reaches its climax, and at no point does the momentum or adrenalin ebb for long. Cliché as it sounds, this truly is a 'non-stop' storyline where the characters are all pursued with deadly consequence and the very highest of stakes. There are several moments where one character unravels a portion of the story's mystery already known to one of the other characters, and the reader is rewarded with a goose-bump irony that is the privilege of omniscient narration. However, this kind of scene plays out one or two times too often for my tastes, and instead becomes tedious recapping. Overall, though, the pacing is quite balanced and holds the attention throughout.
At a more thought-provoking level, a scientific speculation about limited forms of time-travel enabled by accelerating one end of a wormhole to relativistic speeds, leads to a very intriguing situation: Can one change the future glimpsed by such means? The author credits scientists Kip Thorne and Ray Kurzweil with the original concepts he exploits for his plot. He ramps the wonder up by introducing a future alien civilization which has extended this technology to its very furthest extents, and then confronted the resulting dilemma of achieving free will when your future has already been observed, and therefore, determined. These same questions play out in smaller scale by the main characters who are trying to either escape or prevent the imminent destruction of the Earth.
"Final Days" will appeal to fans of Peter F. Hamilton and Neal Asher, synthesizing the strengths of each.
This sequel to Gary Gibson's 2011 novel "Final Days" takes the setting forward a few centuries to explore humanity's reaction to Earth's destruction, with a storyline structured around a murder investigation conducted by protagonist, Luc Gabion (whose surname reminds me of the author's own, perhaps deliberately). After a fairly action-filled opening raid, the story then slows down considerably as the investigation/mystery portion of the story proceed, and finally accelerate violently once the villains and victims are established. Aside from FTL wormhole transportation used in a strict government-controlled way, and ubiquitous non-sentient robots, the everyday technologies Gibson writes for Gabion's world is only very cautiously advanced from our own. He reserves the wider SF ideas and ambitions for a second society, called the Coalition, and resembling Iain M. Bank's Culture, glimpsed briefly in the ending chapters.
With a quick opening lesson excerpted from a fictional history text, Gibson explains the division of society into two separate civilizations representing the opposing approaches to Earth's final disaster. On one side is the fearlessly progressive Coalition, which continue to explore and study the alien Founder's Network of wormholes and artifacts that brought about the cataclysm, and which culturally parallels the Western culture of our own society. In self-imposed isolation from these, we find the worlds of the Tian Di, a strict empire which takes a more conservative position by outlawing such investigation, and which suffers from technological and political stagnation. It is within this Tian Di society that our story unfolds, and though the eyes of a Tian Di commoner character that Gibson progressively acquaints us with his wider story universe, allowing the reader to experience the same surprises and discoveries.
The story's conclusion hints at a future installment to the series which will hopefully be set in the Coalition, and will have a more cosmic, space-opera outlook. Unanswered questions regarding some of the characters from 'Final Days' can be addressed, and perhaps a multi-character perspective can break up the narrative again. Even without these elements from the first book, (not to mention the fascinating acrobatics with time paradoxes), I found 'The Thousand Emperors' to be an enjoyable five-star read, which can incidentally be enjoyed as as a standalone story, apart from the earlier novel.
Big-idea grand space opera follows in the final quarter of this novel, the majority of which is set in a closer future, juggling problems and wonders that are nearly at hand. Both segments are brimming with more concepts than can be absorbed in one reading, and I spent a lot of moments pausing my reading to trace a modern trend to the logical extrapolation Brin had. The world he paints is connected to ours in quite believable ways, and experiencing it in this story feels like a "Cliff's Notes" summary of all the latest science and tech developments spun forward several years. One can't help but feel that Brin spends a lot of time reading science journals, then thickly gathering all the most promising and fascinating discoveries into his stories.
The characters and plot events, while interesting, are not so memorable as the ideas being introduced. They feel like transparent vehicles for delivering grand theories on life in the cosmos, and how it will eventually look when encountered, given the dual challenges of vast distances and epochs separating civilizations. Two things that are done well in this novel are: reminding us of the truly insignificant scale of our place and moment in the universe, and illustrating many of the pitfalls surrounding us. Species extinction and civilization passing are taken as nearly unavoidable eventualities, and yet the tone here is not at all cynical, rather a celebration of diversity in the unfolding renaissance Brin sees us entering into.
This is the first book in the series, and the only one I've read so far. As the title alludes, in this future geriatric recruits are sent off-world to fight humanity's wars with the aid of modern medicine and technology. Much of the drama comes from the sudden renewal and then loss of youth.
I can't help but compare to Joe Haldeman's classic "The Forever War", which also told a first-person story of a new conscript into an interstellar war. Both stories are filled with fish-out-of-water wonder at adjustment to military life, and both protagonists find that they can never fully return to the civilian life they once knew. Scalzi's voice, however, has greater humor, and in this regard reminded me of Robert H. Heinlein's snark.
The alien enemies have varied appearances, but the two species which are most closely examined both fit familiar stereotypes, unfortunately: hungry predators and warlike religious zealots. What was unique to this story universe was its state of perpetual war in every combination on all galactic fronts; the most competitive neighborhood imaginable. While it is a decidedly pessimistic outlook in one sense, Scalzi manages to make it seem both unsurprising and not worrisome by focusing on the individual human relationship scale. His ending leads me to believe a reunion is in store for these characters in the four subsequent novels of the series.
This creative collection of short stories by Neal Asher will provide an excellent introduction to his work for those unfamiliar with it, as the standalone stories cover his favorite themes and strengths: high-intensity action, richly described alien biologies, villainous religious cults, and much violence. Returning readers will also be rewarded by references and tie-ins to his other future histories, The Polity, and The Owner universes.
The title novella, 'The Engineer', deserves special attention due to its length and polish. A Polity story, it tells of the discovery of an ancient alien escape pod by a science vessel who manage to revive the advanced being within. News of the discovery brings attention from various factions and soon a classic Asher full-scale conflict erupts. I was a little surprised by the altruism and bio-centric technology of the Jain alien in this story, having only the example from Asher's "Orbus" novel to compare with, but as is clearly shown with the various human factions in the Polity stories, species and societies are more diverse that any single specimen would illustrate.
The three "Owner" stories shared a common plot device for their climaxes, so I won't spoil them with a description, other than to say I would have appreciated a more varied 'reveal' in the stories chosen to accompany one another in a collection. Taken individually, all three are thrilling and wholly engaging stories that bring a low-tech fantasy element to Asher's SF which I hadn't seen before.
My favorite story in the collection, "Spatterjay" is probably the most dependent on a familiarity with Asher's other novels, in this case the Polity trilogy of the same title, as it deals with a setting and characters so vividly colorful that they are difficult to absorb in so few pages. It serves as a prequel to those novels, and even more so than any of the other stories in the collection it brings some wild alien biology to life for the reader- a whole ecology in fact!
The other five stories here each have interesting aspects, but can be grouped and summarized by saying they revolve around unique alien biological oddities which are expanded and extrapolated into skeletons on which to hang a brief story. Interpersonal drama, tension, and subtlety are not really to be found here, but imaginative and intense moments of action will make them memorable for most readers, I believe.
When one looks past the dated dialogue that identifies this as being authored in 1956, the concepts of time dilation at relativistic speeds has some fantastic possibilities for drama. "Don't look so dang sourpuss," and "Gee, that's swell" are actual lines, but it is almost as if Heinlein anticipates the linguistic drift that would occur in the decades to follow publication when his protagonist, removed from his descendants by decades spent traveling the stars at light speed, encounters difficulties deciphering the euphemisms and vernacular when he speaks to those of the younger generations. The discoveries and marvels encountered on the voyage are really secondary to the human drama of inter-generational strain as lives proceed at two different paces, forcing divided families to adapt.
Despite all the positive word-of-mouth about this book, I was prepared to hate it based on the unique route it took to success: self-published Kindle serial from an unknown author?! Even the synopsis put it outside my usual favorite imagination playgrounds of far-future deep-space hard SF. Not another dystopia coming-of-age novel!
Now, having read it and lined up with the legions of other five-star reviewers, I can tell you it is one of the best I've read this year. The world-building is fantastic, and the story exploits every opportunity to wring dramatic irony from situations where the reader knows more than the characters about a situation. The limited settings may prevent the action sequences from being truly cinematic, but there is no lack of tension and intra-character drama. I'm looking forward to reading Howey's follow-up episodes to see what onion-skin revelations about the wider story world he's got planned!
In this standalone story, Alastair Reynolds manages to squeeze multiple SF sub-genres together harmoniously, ensuring something entertaining for all readers. The premise is that a dormant snapshot 'backup' copy of the earth, accurately duplicating the 1936 moment when it was mysteriously created by aliens down to the last atom, has been discovered in deep space and it has been activated by one of the warring factions from the 24th century. Now, history progresses there under the subtle influence of hostile agents who prevent WW2 as a means of stifling the technological developments that might allow the inhabitants to resist the greater holocaust they have planned for them, in the pursuit of pristine real estate. The unlikely heroes are a 24th-century archeologist who specializes in pre-apocalypse excavations, and a down-on-his-luck private investigator who begins to see that something isn't quite right in his 1959.
Sound confusing yet? It actually settles in fairly gradually, and the two Earth timelines are well delineated. The primary three or four characters are also very rounded, and a lot more believable and flawed than commonly seen in such busy plots; The private investigator Wendell Floyd, for example, sees himself primarily as a struggling musician who takes on PI work between gigs, and sees the world in a very musical way. Verity Auger, the archeologist intervening in his world, consistently and stubbornly acts in a much braver manner than she herself asserts. I was surprised to read so little about the children she left behind for her mission, but which she claims are central to her motivations.
The miracle and threat of nanotechnology are central themes explored, and in nearly every scene in which it is employed, we see unique applications that I've not seen elsewhere, and I appreciated the expanding implications of its use. Notably absent are the expected frictions and misunderstandings of characters from such disparate cultures interacting, but a technological 'hand wave' introduced early on may explain this. The pacing picked up considerably in the final third of the story, when the setting shifts dramatically, but this corresponded nicely to the rising stakes in the conflict. All in all, an exciting and thought provoking novel that lives up to expectations from this excellent author.
After over twenty years, this still holds up as a Sci-Fi masterpiece character study into the dark soul of its protagonist, a mercenary named Cheradenine Zakalwe. At first, the unusual story structure of two asynchronous story lines, alternating between the present and an episodic sequence of thirteen key moments in Zakalwe's past (revealed in reverse chronological order), can be confusing. However, it quickly clarifies, and is an absolutely ingenious way of examining the roots of the character's motives, phobias, and mannerisms in such a way that maximum surprise is extracted at each 'reveal'. Of course, as you've guessed from the profession of Mr. Zakalwe, there is no shortage of action throughout, and a good deal of James Bond 007 (I'm picturing Daniel Craig, not the other blokes). The biggest lost opportunity here was to explore, in the book's many settings and locales, some truly alien cultures, philosophies, and biologies, but sadly we see only a large collection of human civilizations in various stages of technological development. At least Gene Roddenberry slapped some prosthetic facial adornments on his humanoid aliens! Nevertheless, the story succeeds in elevating character over deus ex machina; no easy feat considering the persistent omnipotence of the Culture standing behind the mercenary, but here kept at a welcome arm's length, maintaining a high-stakes identification between the reader and the protagonist.
The story structure is divided into two halves, each of which feels completely different in tone and pacing. While each holds the attention, they are so stylistically divergent that one may even forget they share an author.
The first half of the book is a satisfying salute to the archeological profession, and primarily takes place on a planet named Quraqua, the site of an ancient civilization which has mysteriously disappeared. The methodology and techniques used by the archeologist, linguists, and other scientists seem quite believable, and one comes to appreciate the painstaking manner in which they reconstruct a forgotten culture. Many intriguing mysteries about alien origins and interactions with galactic history are opened, and the reader will come to feel (incorrectly) that the answers will be their reward for finishing the novel.
However, in the second act of the story, the thoughtful pursuit of answers goes out the window as a rapid succession of breakthroughs and timely hunches bring the characters from one planet to another. With unrealistic abandon, these archaeologists set aside their jaw-dropping finds to pursue the next thin lead. Each stopover is accompanied by a tense, life-or-death scene, which all have clever resolutions, but are examples of action unseen in the first half of the story.
Each of these two plot halves are entertaining in their own way, but are jarringly uncharacteristic from one another, and would benefit from a stylistic synthesis. The cliffhanger ending, presumably setting up the subsequent book, deprived me of the satisfaction of solving most of the open mysteries, but that can be forgiven if further books in the series provide this.
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