Cheshire, CT USA | Member Since 2012
Had all the fun and wondrous tech of a PFH story, but I felt it was a good bit longer than necessary. It also has a larger percentage of the story grounded in a terrestrial detective case which drags on slowly for both the characters and the readers. This story was at it's best when it took to the stars and the off-world settings.
Gibson’s second book in the Shoal Sequence continues following its two protagonists from “Stealing Light”, Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso, largely in two separate narratives. Having concluded their previous story in possession of the ultimate prize, a superluminal and ultra powerful starship full of technologies denied to humanity, Gibson promptly removes that advantage from them in order to ratchet up the stakes. While a good part of the first half of the book is a snail-pace chronicle of their imprisonment, it also introduced some additional characters from other species, and these were both imaginative and helpful in stretching both the perspective and focal length on the plot. The action-packed climax has a satisfying number of moving parts, although I was surprised at the amount of epilog following, which I imagine will make for a much smoother transition into the third volume.
This third novel in the jumping action-filled space opera 'Expanse' series maintains the down-to-earth dialog, humor, and the perspective-hopping narrative structure of its predecessors. Even more so than in those stories, however, we see Newtonian physics elevated to practically an additional character status; half the dangers the Rocinante crew face are acceleration related. The other half are the familiar contests between violent human groups. Although there is a continual alien presence in the background, its role is mostly an indirect one, and that allows for greater human drama. The infrequent moments of conventional Space Opera, jaw-dropping cosmic scale vistas and wonder are incidentally associated with a favorite character, Detective Miller, and promising new characters bring empathic connection with the reader. The most interesting of these is Melba / Clarissa, whose growth and progression is an interesting one to follow, with some rather extreme arcs.
Thrust into a widening game of spycraft, our android protagonist Freya will grow from a gutter-survivor flotsam-of-society-type to someone in command of her own destiny for a change. The villains and trusted allies swap roles several times, and personalities are likewise interchangeable among robot characters who can swap ‘soul chips' at a moment’s notice. One interesting allowance of this personality exchange mechanism for the story, is that it allows blended flashback narratives from various character viewpoints. After a few iterations, however, it begins to become difficult in telling the various players and their motives apart, and I think this is a deliberate decision on Stross’s part to make the reader identify with Freya’s solitary plight. Freya, herself an obsolete sexbot designed to serve humans who have now been extinct for three hundred years, casually alters her appearance frequently and drastically redesigns herself on multiple occasions. Such android adaptability is a theme displayed across the varied locations of the story, and is contrasted against humanity’s own inflexible nature. They exist in the memory of android society as beloved creators, but mysterious and poorly understood. The pacing and action are both healthy, and frequent satirical observations of human foibles through the eyes of our creations are also entertaining. There’s (unsurprisingly) a lot of sex included, though it never feels gratuitous as it occurs as a routine matter for the character; transactional. While the conspiratorial threads come to a satisfying conclusion, I remain unsatisfied with the long-term direction these characters and society are headed, and look forward to some insight from the sequel.
The POV’s of the two alternating narratives that comprise this novel are so wildly different in style, that it feels like two separate authors are at work. One follows a restless citizen of a far future galactic civilization on a quest to discover something, anything, new and mysterious in the aseptically tame society he inhabits. The other narrative observes an alien species in an environment wildly different than our own discovering fundamental physics on their own terms under the threat of environmental disaster. Of the two, I must say I preferred the space opera former to the ‘rock opera’ latter because it offered a broader cosmic scope in dimension and more wonder. As others have noted, the alien (‘ark dweller’) storyline is incredibly thick with mathematical exposition. None of it was deep enough to completely suffocate me, but it did begin to feel like an algebraic overdose sometime in the first half of the book with the majority of it still to come. Hand in hand with the descriptions of ratios of weight measurements to angles in space-time, however, is a truly engaging story with high stakes drama and interesting alien biology and thought modes. It just wasn’t as thought-provoking for me as Rakesh the post-human’s star system-hopping and at-will body redesigning pursuit. In this half of the book, Egan’s hard SF soars like the space opera I expected, filled with concepts like mind uploads transmitted between stars to be reassembled by nano-machine, and lifetimes spent shifting between digital environments and corporeal ones over the course of millennia.
The ex-conqueror of Earth, super genius Emperor Mollusk, comes out of retirement to defend his helpless subjects from the threat of villain just as brilliant and squishy as himself. Fans of John Scalzi or Douglas Adams will appreciate the genre-lampooning humor of this story, with it’s character archetypes, deus ex machina tropes, and send-ups of classic 1950’s pulp SF monster rouge’s gallery. In a truly brilliant twist, the narrating first-person protagonist is the ultimate villain, strangely relatable as a bored guy who just wants to move on to the next great challenge in life. While the narrative structure gets to be a little repetitive- basically a series of location-hopping quests designed to introduce odder and odder settings and characters, but without meaningfully advancing the plot, I still appreciated every word if only for the fantastic dialog. And although the pacing did become a bit predictable, the action was quite fun, and includes something for everyone: Lizard men aliens, time-travel, rock men aliens, mutated dinosaurs, city-ravaging monsters and robots, Atlantis, history re-interpreted, and more.
‘Aquila Rift’ calls to mind another Reynolds story “Pushing Ice” or Frederick Pohl’s “Gateway” with its plot device- an unreliable alien FTL technology backfiring. Each of those novels are both much longer, and therefore more satisfying to those who found this story disappointingly short. One particular strength here, however, is the well researched and described stellar geography of our 'local bubble’ within the Milky Way- exactly what one would expect from a former ESA research astronomer.
I have to agree that the short length makes the audio format suffer- it would be better offered as part of a collection or anthology edition, and not as this stand alone offering. Also, an awkward musical sample plays between certain scenes in what I imagine are the author’s narrative break points. I found it quite distracting, and each was overly long- several seconds each. They made me wonder if they were struggling to expand the final time length. At just over an hour, it isn’t worth spending an Audible credit on, but for Reynolds fans, it would definitely be worth a cash purchase.
Just as many have noted, it combines the best of “Apollo 13” and MacGyver and filters it through a wisecracking and down-to-earth protagonist who helps translate all the technical NASA-speak into something the layman reader can understand. The harrowing story seems completely believable due to its near-future setting, the realistic voices, and the aura of NASA to authenticate all the tech. I was completely drawn in to the main character, stranded astronaut Mark Watney, whose humor and resourcefulness will win over all readers. The roughest edges of this story would have to be all the endless math computations that Weir felt compelled to include and walk us through, but even they helped raise the stakes of the drama. R. C. Bray's narration provided various distinct character voices, and masterfully matched the wit and tone of Watney.
This story, about a rogue with a golden heart who suddenly finds both his fortunes and role reversed overnight, is equal parts courtroom drama and light sitcom. Aside from the setting- a vaguely described backwater jungle planet, and the newly discovered alien which resembles Spielberg’s Mogwai, there isn’t an awful lot of Science Fiction in the novel. Hollywood could substitute a remarkably intelligent species of primate from a faraway jungle and film the movie on the cheap. Nonetheless, the witty dialog and legal twists are entertaining enough to hold the reader’s attention through to the end. There’s a fair amount of wish fulfillment as Scalzi sets up the pins of his unlikable villain characters, only to knock them all down in the end with their deserved comeuppances. One personal pet peeve was the overuse of the dialog denoting words “He/She said”. I would have found it less distracting and more descriptive if the verb choice was more varied. This is most noticeable during rapid exchanges, and when experiencing the story in audiobook form. Wil Wheaton, incidentally, does a terrific job narrating and his performance absolutely drips with snark. Overall, I enjoyed the story quite a bit, but would recommend Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” series to those seeking thicker SF concepts, or “Redshirts” to those who want a good laugh at the genre’s many clichés.
It's fascinating to see in this collection of Clarke stories, the evolution and refinement of his work. Some of the earliest stories such as "How We Went to Mars" (1938) read like HG Wells's "The Time Machine" in that an amateur gentleman assembles a remarkable machine that resembles a Victorian sitting parlor with wings and recounts a fantastic voyage. Thankfully, this is not requiring any attention to minor details such as hostile alien environments, zero-G and high-G acceleration, etc. I can excuse this because the tone of this particular story is tongue-in-cheek humor. Other stories however, wave the magic wand of "Atomic-Power" to explain away any technological need the narrative may face- obviously anticipating much future success with the newly arrived science. The title story "Lion of Comarre" probably has the best example in the Atomic cutting instrument which is included in a list of common tools alongside a universal screwdriver. In other more serious stories, such as "Nightfall" (1947), Clarke addresses the terrifying self-destructive potential of Atomic power in the hands of mankind. The final story in the collection, "Breaking Strain" (1949) which contributed some of the ideas later seen in "2001: A Space Odyssey", makes a great bookend to "How We Went to Mars" in that it pays exquisite attention to the hard science details of orbital mechanics, the effect of weightlessness on the human body, psychological dangers of prolonged isolation, and more. The collection is at its best, however, when Clarke wrote in the freely fantastic realm of the unknown and unknowable extra-dimensional, such as "The Wall of Darkness" (1949) and "Technical Error" (1946). I found myself pausing after finishing each to wonder for awhile at the implications, as all good Space Opera SF should do.
A great character-centric space opera with central theme of split and conflicted identity. It explores the inward dilemmas we all face by extrapolating such a conflict into a society where consciousness can be distributed or duplicated across multiple bodies. Heavy tech and descriptions of aliens, spaceships, machines, and ray guns are all glossed over in favor of more person-scaled narrative. Leckie also weaves in some secondary themes of language and culture shock by dropping the protagonist, the human-embodied A.I. Breq, the product of a gender-neutral society, into a foreign setting where she (the default pronoun they adopt) needs to take the gender of the people around her into account when speaking their language. Breq’s quest and motivation are compelling, and the alternating past-and-present narrative timelines keep the pacing interesting, although I would have preferred to read little more about non-human societies and locales. One audiobook-specific comment I feel compelled to include (and I usually avoid doing so except in extreme cases), is that the narration is very dry and modulated. While there is a healthy effort made to differentiate character voices, and there were no instances of the em-PHA-sis placed on the wrong syl-LAB-le, I found myself too often pulled out of the moment when the emotion of the narration didn't match the contextual words.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.