This story takes place in John Scalzi's Old Man's War universe. Personally, I liked but didn't love Old Man's War, and the sequels dropped off fast for me. I'd given up on that universe, but this story was originally released serially, I'd heard good things about the first episode, so risked a buck. Enjoyed it so much, got the series, and then the collection when released.
For centuries, the Colonial Union didn't have a lot of use of diplomacy. When humans broke out into interstellar space, they were really good at this fighting thing. An overcrowded Earth supplied an unending number of soldiers and colonists, so the CU went where they wanted, kicked everyone out of their way, and killed anyone who wouldn't move. Their soldiers were highly developed cyborg forces that originally had been the old and dying from Earth (put them in a new body with genetic and nanotech improvements). Many died in the wars, but there were a lot of old people on Earth who wanted a second chance.
Unfortunately for the Colonial Union, the good times have come to an end. Earth has learned how much the CU was holding it back, so no more colonists or soldiers. And the other races have formed an alliance. So brute force won't work anymore, they have to be smart.
And I like smart.
The first story, for example, has a nice bit of problem solving at its core - how do you find a black box that isn't meant to be found unless it responds to the right signals, and the battery has run down. And once the black box is found - how to deal with the data inside and its implications.
This story builds on the tech from the OMW universe. It's possible, if you haven't read OMW, you may be at sea with some of the references (BrainPal, SmartBlood, and so forth). They get explained, briefly, I don't know if that will be enough (having come into it knowing about those).
As I said, the story was originally released serially. This collected edition includes two bonus stories. The first, After The Coup, was a prequel to the other stories, amusing but not at the same level I thought. The second, though, was a gem. Starting with the title, "Halfte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today", it is placed after the events in the other stories. It's a wonderful little vignette of an alien talking to some schoolkids after the traumatic events in the last episode.
Yes, traumatic events in the last episode. While this is a great tale on it's own, the final episode all but has a "to be continued" sign stuck on the end. I don't mind, and am looking forward to the "next season" of the Human Division.
One minor annoyance, though. First, when writing dialog, John Scalzi does way too much "Blah Blah", he said. "Stuff stuff stuff", she said. "But interjection interjection", George said. In an audiobook, that does get annoying. Annoying to the point that the performance got four stars. I know these books are "unabridged" when recorded - but maybe a little editing for things like that would be appropriate.
First up - this is going to be a somewhat specialized taste. It's mostly about computer/video/arcade gaming with a big side dish of 80s culture. If neither of those appeal to you, this book isn't for you.
But I love computer gaming, and 80s culture brings back waves of happy nostalgia for me. So I loved it.
Briefly, it's about a major MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game) that has pretty much taken over the Internet for most people. It's completely immersive, you wear suits to give full body feedback. In addition to the game play, schools also take place in this world, businesses have sprung up, it's a wonderful world. Which is good, because the real world has pretty much gone sour - economy is the pits, huge numbers of unemployed living on government handouts in these slums created by stacking mobile homes.
Inside this world is hidden an Easter Egg. Whoever finds it gets rich and takes control of the system. Most of the seekers are just players in the world, but there's also an evil corporation (in books like this, is there any other kind?) that wants to run this online world properly - no more free access for everyone, lots of ads and subscription fees. So it becomes a fight to find the Easter Egg first, without dying in game - or in the real world.
The puzzles are interesting, assuming you find gaming culture of the 80s interesting. Like Vernor Vinge's classic "True Names", the separation of the online identity and real world is important and knowing who you really are is a threat.
Like I said, this isn't going to be fore everyone. But I was one of those it was for, and I loved it. Oh, and kudos for Wil Wheaton's narration. Man can spin a good tale.
I read this book when it was released by the author on the web (while writing, I believe) and was thrilled to see this on Audible.
This is the tale of a man left behind on Mars, trying to figure out how to survive, make contact with Earth, and figure a way off the planet. On the one hand, it's very hard SF, you see him figuring out the solutions and every step is based on the real scientific possibilities of the situations. On the other hand, listening to Mike Watney work it out, his frustration with the entertainment options left by his crewmates, and occasional huge mistakes brings it to life.
If you don't care for the nitty-gritty of figuring out these things, probably not going to be very interesting. But if you love listening to smart people figure things out, this is a great book.
While I gave it overall five stars, I did see two flaws that sort of jumped out at me and may be more important to others. First, there's some casual use of phrases that are abusive towards homosexuality (like describing something as "gay" as a slur) - they stuck out more in the audio version than they did when reading, for some reason.
Second, for God's sake, in something this technical - a couple times, there are references to ASCII encoding of characters. Except the narrator reads it as "A S C 2". With all the tongue-tying terminology he did manage to deal with, he blew this? Aaaargghh! (Sorry, computer geek reviewing, made it really annoying.)
But, other than a few minor bumps along the way, this is an enjoyable, often funny story of someone saving his life with his mind.
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