The other reviews are right: You have to stick with this book. It seems at first to be a standard space opera, but the plot gets more complicated as it evolves. The description of a sub-light speed space faring community is well thought out and believable. And the author knows his science.
Less believable are the aliens, who seem very human in their reactions. Given the cultural differences among earthlings, it is hard to believe that an alien world would have such similar psychologies to Americans. And the plot's pacing is somewhat erratic, sometimes slow and sometimes fast. I didn't mind it, but others may. And, yes, the author repeats things, but more as a reminder of where you are in the plot and where the character is at that moment. There are a number of leading characters to keep track of.
The story has its share of unexpected twists and turns, which kept me engaged. I look forward to more stories about the deep space traders.
One reason to read sci-fi, especially a novel written by a women, is to get new perspectives and stretch your mind. Alas, this story is pretty much a mash-up of Hollywood-quality plots: NASA coverup, testosterone-fueled tensions between crew, budding romance, aliens who may be good or bad, Earth in danger. Why make the main character a linguist, when there is virtually nothing to translate or explain? I am tired of aliens who not only speak perfect English, but understand cultural conventions. Compare this story to Chanur's Pride, which handled the issue of communication in a more realistic manner...and from the perspective of the "aliens" trying to talk to humans or even alien-to-alien! Moreover, the technical details seem to be poorly imagined. Why would an alien medical facility treat humans better than Earth-based technologies? Or how was NASA going to hide the fact that they sent a crew to the asteroid belt under the guise of a Mars mission? These are not exactly next door neighbors. Finally, the characters seemed awfully 2-dimensional. I would have expected an elite NASA crew to look at issues with more nuance and to work together more effectively. This crew spent a lot of its time yelling at each other. I won't want to be on that trip, either.
This very long audible book encompasses two novels. One is a well-written and well-plotted mystery that launches the book. (Great narration, too) The police detective characters are great and the way they solve the mystery is smartly written and plotted. The other part is basic horror story: Isolated team gets picked off one by one by knife wielding monster that stalks them. Cue scary music. And why do characters go out in a blizzard by themselves to get slaughtered again and again? Be warned: How the horror story resolves itself may make you scream: WTF! I can't help but wonder if the publisher was screaming at the author: "Finish the bloody thing already."
Despite all of this, I do love what Hamilton tries to accomplish in his novels. He imagines interesting new worlds with complex people. I also don't mind the back and forth of the narrative, as he jumps back into time to give the reader background stories on the various characters. In this case, it is partly to keep the reader guessing. He hides key clues by doling out details slowly.
And, yes, I'll probably listen to another Hamilton story.
I don't get the positive reviews on this book. The plot is unbelievable, the characters are two dimensional, and the idea that snatching a few individuals can stop technological progress is a complete mis-reading of how science advances. This is paranoia run rampant. Why would governments suppress technologies in the interest of humankind? It is the other way around, governments use every technology at their disposal to gain an advantage.
Worse, the story is poorly written; the dialogue becomes more unbelievable as the story progresses. The "good guys" are far too clever and the "bad guys" are far too evil. Of course, the good looking babe switches sides to the good guys--how original. And the characters seem totally oblivious to the growing body count as they fight each other. Really?
"How does he think of this shit?"
That line comes from one of the book's characters says, and neatly summarizes what happens in this hilarious and science-rich tale. I was laughing out loud listening to the story.
Accidentally trapped on Mars alone, the book's main character uses his wits and out-of-the-box thinking to survive. It is tempting to compare the character to TV's fictional McGyver, but I would rather think of Richard Fenyman--the great physicist and "curious character" who could really think outside the box. The solutions are soundly grounded.
If it weren't for the profanity, I would say that this book should be required reading in every high school. When was the last time that stoichometry--balancing chemical equations--played an important part in a fictional story? There are dozens of other examples in which real science and technology plays an important element in the story. I hope some science teachers pull out elements for classroom problem solving.
I do have to add that this book could be enjoyed without understanding any of the science. It is simply a good yarn. Yes, the main character is bit too good at coming up with solutions. And, yes, NASA does come off as a bit too rigid and unimaginative. But it is all part of the fun. (Fun being trapped on Mars alone--that is quite a concept.)
The narrator has a great sense of comic timing and the dialogue really come alive. However, he should stay away from accents. He keeps slipping in and out of them. Minor quibble.
I would have rejected the book.
This book makes little sense. People sign up for a stint in an intergalatic military and know nothing of its mission? The mind transfer is right out of a bad 1930s sci-fi film. And the characters seem mostly unaffected by the carnage happening all around them.
This book reminded me of an snide comment that was around during the Vietnam War. Join the army, travel to exotic place, meet interesting people and kill them. It is a weak vision of our future.
As a chemist who has loved the periodic table since high school, I thought I knew all of the element discovery stories. However, Kean tells plenty of new tales that I've never heard, and when he re-tells one that I know it is so lively that I listen fascinated. Think Bill Bryson. I also love how he handles the science. Unlike many so-called science writers, he doesn't shy away from the details, but presents them in a lively and clear manner. Quantum chemistry for everyone--a neat trick. And Kean is right--the development of the periodic table ( and his forays into a few interesting side topics) is, in his hands, a story of the past 200 years of human civilization--good, bad and strange. Bravo.
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