Bill Bryson wrote a lovely book. Then some inbred yank moron was given the task of reading it and decided to unleash every moronic parochial ignorant condescending notion he could muster up on the reading.
THIS SHOULD BE WITHDRAWN for the travesty that it is.
The smearing delivery is a disgrace to the book
And some really strange pronunciation. Sword... who pronounces the 'w'?
I was gratified that the author gave up on the usual American rehash of the dehumanising method the American military uses to beat its people in to their required, unthinking, shape.
The story is OK, while being way too video game. But whatever, it's a spin-off. Just accept it and it's not bad. But it really isn't 'good'.
But forget the physics making any sort of sense. The author obviously has zero understanding of the scale of space, even a solar system like ours, and the huge speeds that would be necessary to get around. If you can transit a system in a few hours then you are doing millions of miles per hour. So if you are at a range of a few miles you are within a microsecond of a collision. Conversely kinetic, unguided, weapons are almost entirely useless. If your ship is a mile long, then a microsecond difference is a total miss. Sub-light weapons, well you can see them coming thousands of miles away, and if you can see the things moving then there's loads of time to make a tiny course adjustment and miss by miles. It just doesn't make sense. You certainly can't collide with another ship at stellar speeds and survive. Even at orbital speeds a glancing impact releases fantastic energy.
SciFi for ignorant children.
The reading was decent. Perhaps the reader might have put too much selfish whining in to the reading, but I think it was there in the writing.
Spoiler alert. The method of storytelling, a mixture of psychiatrists sessions and retrospective details of the real story, was irritating at best.
Perhaps it is because I am British and we don't really do all this navel gazing shrink junk. The pathetic selfish attitude. The drugs, alcohol, smoking and gambling.
So basically it was just a recipe for making me happy to see him dead. There was nothing redeeming in the character for me.
If the main character had had some professionalism this could have been very different.
The science fiction side is the epitome of not explaining the science. I actually don't have a problem with that. I think it is a huge mistake to try to describe speculative or pure BS science in detail. But so much more could have been done with this. The destinations were uninteresting,
At least it was cheap.
OK, so the story is fun and the characters are well written. The technology is believable, the descriptions are credible and avoid the common mistake of getting in to technical detail that someone with a scientific or engineering background would find offensively wrong.
But in some places it could do with some technical checking. The ships, in normal space, are running at 0.25-0.5 C in combat. That is 75-150,000 Km/s. Now they are maneuvering within 10,000-20,000 Km of enemy vessels. So 4/15 to 1/15 of a second. With humans driving.
And then there's the serious anachronisms. 300 years in the future they are driving ships that can accelerate in moments to multiples of light speed and have ship killing plasma canons. But they are still using Bren Tens and M1911s as personal sidearms. At least once the 1911 is described as the best hand gun ever made. But that isn't true now. By current standards it is dangerously unreliable and marginally effective. If you replace a bunch of parts it can be extremely accurate, at the expense of reliability, unless you pay a very great deal. And even then it's only pretty reliable. If you clean it every day and keep it away from all dirt it works OK, but it is hardly a Sig or Glock either of which will work no matter what. And each of which is highly reliable. 300 years ago we had single shot flint lock pistols. In 300 years a 1911 is utterly out of place. Like if he'd had his Harley Davidson brought on board as a way of getting round the ship fast.
The good stuff first. It's a good story. I won't say it isn't predictable in places, some of them significant. But that doesn't detract a great deal. The story is fun and moves along. I am not going to do spoilers so I'll leave it at that. I think I will be buying the next one too.
The English... well I need to check the written word against the audio version. "Crumbled to the ground"? Really? Not crumpled? There were quite a few things like that.
Then there are the anachronisms. Things taken from a Valley Girl lifestyle today. "She grabbed 'a water' from the fridge". In the future we are still stupid enough to pay more for water than for gas? At one point one of the military commanders sounds like she's got a yoga mat under one arm and a bottle of designer water in the other. Really.
And odd pronunciations. Pyper doesn't strike me as someone who swears much, or she'd know how to do it.
And then there's the odd spacing "street-rat hacker" gets read as "street rat-hacker". Who hacks rats? That happened all the time, it was a continuous distraction.
Our heroes are supposed to be adults? They sound like they are 16 and 17. At times they remind me of my brother and his girlfriend in high school.
And the accents? Was that supposed to be Scottish? Oh, Irish. Well OK. Perhaps Pyper could pay attention next time she is listening to a Mick? And is that French? That French accent reminds me of the outrageous French accent of the British secret agent in Allo Allo. That is not good. But at least it was consistent.
The worst part is... well why would you read a military commander, the head of a massive galaxy spanning navy as a Valley Girl. Fer shure? Why would you read a decisive military commander's address to their forces like some pathetic HR address to people you are trying to con?
Really. Listen to some military folks. There are female military commanders. They don't sound like HR dweebs or valley girls.
I find the story entertaining and engaging and I wish there was a third one out. There's always something going on or about to go on and yet the plot doesn't take you where you expect, it's always something slightly different, or radically different, from what you thought. The characters are believable and engaging. The side issue of Earth society is dealt with in a credible manner without becoming preachy or boring.
The reader is pretty good, but sometimes hard to tell men from women and too many people have the craggy "I shout for a living" voice even when talking to normal people. I worked with UK military for a long time and have US military friends (senior master sergeant, nuclear engineers, SEAL team commander, Ranger) and none of them had that ruined voice. Mostly I liked the performance though, 97%.
As science fiction if he wants a mega gun that can do what a tank gun does today but can be carried by a normal soldier I have no issue with that. Unlikely, or according to NASA this week, quite possible FTL drive... perfectly fine by me. And there's plenty of that. SciFi does not need to explain its physics and should not try.
Slight spoilers and complaints of poor research and physics from here...
Where it broke the suspension of disbelief for me was in the mundane physics. You don't need to be specific, you can say it's a micronuke and leave it at that.
If you are bothering to tell me the weight and speed of something please bother to work out your numbers credibly when you are putting them in the mouth of a physicist. 43,000 metric tons is 43x10^6 Kg, 5km/s is 5x10^6m/s. Energy is 1/2 mv^2 so .5x43E6x(5E6)^2 = 5.375E20J. As it happens there is a well known conversion factor for TNT equivalence so 1billion tons of TNT is 4.184E18J so the number you want is 128.5GT equivalent. Not vaguely hundreds. If the blast took place in one second then it is 5.4E20 Watts, the sun is 4E26 Watts, Just about 1,000,000 times the power, all the time. So at about 8.3 light minutes it would still just be a little flash. Not a second sun for some time. Not enough to bother sensors.
If a thing happens 150 million Km away and you are using optical sensors it will take 8.3 minutes for the light to get to you, not a few seconds.
If you blow up a ship its engines can no longer propel it, so it is not still accelerating at 0.25g.
A 50 microton warhead would be equivalent to 1.6oz of TNT. Why not just use 1oz of HMX and save the technical complexity. Of course that won't do what you said, but it's SciFi, feel free to make the warhead a more believable and credible size.
There were more, but those were the ones I found particularly offensively careless.
The story is set in London and is close enough considering Steam Punk is supposed to be slightly out of our current universe. The representation of the young ladies is OK but a bit hackneyed. It is very much an outsider's view of society girls and a typically idealized view of 'polite' girls.
The story does not go the way that it looks like it will, and it isn't surprising that a bright woman sometimes does stupid things. People are far too simplistically offended, we are occasionally treated to adults taking permanent dislike to children based on a single sentence. A bit too pat.
On the one hand the story is fantastic, as in unbelievable. But on the other it isn't quite supposed to be real Victorian society, so the differences are forgivable.
In the end the story is enjoyable but too short, half a book.
Within a few minutes of the start we hit the first Americanism and they come in every few minutes from then on. "she fit in"? The poor reader must have choked on this. She fits or she fitted. In Victorian England they may have used steam power but they knew their language. England does not have Sidewalks. Nor shingle roofs, even cheap homes had slate or stone roofs. Pocket book? Really> I have never heard that term in English English, but I am not certain. Britain did not grow maize, what Americans call corn. Corn in Britain meant wheat, cornfields were yellow dry grass. Every few minutes another Americanism. There are various "brit fic" communities, or the Little Details community on Livejournal that would be able to provide direction. The Americanisms really spoiled the effect and pushed my assessment to Fan Fic rather than serious and professional writing.
The thing that's missing from this is a feeling for the time it takes to get from sighting a sailing ship to arriving at gun range. This tends to gloss over that in a few paragraphs, so it lacks tension. There's not a great deal of atmosphere or scene description either.
There was one point where I said "and here comes the love interest" and without spoilers she arrived exactly in the expected mode and at exactly the expected time. This was never going to be a book about the Royal Navy getting thrashed, so that part is forgivable.
My remaining impression is that this lacked breadth.
This is an immediately engaging story and it gets more interesting as it goes along. Some of the tech is already dated, but that almost seems to have been a choice instead of an accident and it did not reduce my pleasure in the story. He avoids the major mistake of attempting to explain technologies, which is very easy for SF authors to fall in to. The characters are engaging and distinct, as usual. There's a lot of imagination shown in various aspects of the story. I don't want to spoil it so I will leave it at that.
My other half and her friends are writers, we listened to this as we drove around Scotland together. If there had been significant mistakes it would have been torn to pieces, but the writers kept quiet and enjoyed the story.
In some ways the story line is a common one, but this is a good example of the type.
I was reticent about trying anything involving Terry Pratchett because so many people told me how wonderful they were. Now I wish I had started sooner.
I am not going to tell any spoilers. The book is as described. It also lives up to expectations. It is smart and amusing and entertaining. It shares elements of Stephen King (observation) and Douglas Adams (weird humor). That's about all I have to say about the story.
The reading is excellent. I have had a few bad experiences recently with over emotional and over colored readings. Martin Jarvis does an excellent job of reading the book and not applying his own tilt on the book. Now we will be listening to more Pratchett and more Martin Jarvis.
I enjoyed this, the reading was done well, much better than most.
The story was 98% setup then SHAZAM and it's all over. Bringing in a super powerful magic character to sort everything out is like using the get out of jail free card in Monopoly or having Scotty beam you up.
At the end the pressing questions were not answered. There was no ending.
Unfortunately Iain Banks died of cancer and took the answers with him. A very sad day for all of us. FWIW I love most of his books, but this one not quite so much.
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