Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category
Thanks to the amazing organization skills of Rinn over at Rinn Reads, we’re right in the heart of Science Fiction Month. And I’ve noticed something. Something wonderful: lots of folks who are participating in SciFi Month are completely new to science fiction.
This is fantastic! That so many people who have never picked up a science fiction book are interested in giving some weird stuff a try, it warms my heart. Getting into science fiction isn’t always easy. Strange names, alien planets, technobabble, far future technologies. . . it can be a bit much. Luckily, there are plenty (countless, actually) of “gate way” books, books that take place right now, or maybe a few years in the future, or even a few years in past. Books that don’t leave the solar system, maybe don’t even leave the Earth. You don’t need to be fluent in technobabble or have a degree in astronomy to enjoy these. You just need to turn the first page. . .
to help you on your journey into scifi, I’ve linked the titles to my reviews. If you have any suggestions for other gateway books, let everyone know in the comments!
American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett – After her parent’s death, Mona inherits her Mom’s old house in a sleepy town in the southwest. It’s one of those old fashioned towns, where everyone knows everyone else, and the oldsters remember all the family secrets. there are family secrets, and then there are Family Secrets. How will Mona react when she learns her own?
In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker. I love Kage Baker, it’s as simple as that. This novel is the first of her Company Series. Don’t worry, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, you won’t feel sucked into reading another long series. Mendoza is an operative with a company that collects historical artifacts, and they’ve turned her into an immortal cyborg, of sorts. She spies on people, but can’t tell anyone who or what she is. Really sucks, when she falls in love with someone on her first mission. This book is as heartbreaking as it is funny. By the way, I’ve got a review of some Kage Baker Company short stories that’ll be posting in a few days.
published in 2012
where I got it: Hugo Voter’s Packet
The umpteeth entry in her famous Vorkosigan saga, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance takes place very late in the Vorkisigan chronology, in fact, we only briefly meet the famous Miles Vorkosigan, and he’s semi-retired and chasing toddlers. Never read a Vorkosigan novel, or only read the first one? Have no fear, you really jump in (or back in) at this one. Bujold does her world building in my favorite way – through interactions between characters. Relatives and friends show up from time to time to let everyone know how things are going back home, which also lets the reader know about “back home”, and how it fits into the chronology. There’s no infodumping, just characters have an easy going and often inadvertenly funny conversation.
Right off the bat we meet Ivan Vorpatril, and his buddy Byerly Vorrutyer. These young men are effectively rich wastrels – extra heirs in a hierarchical militaristic society. They have wealthy parents, a title, and maybe some inheritance, but no one expects much from them because they’re so far down the line from the throne. Ivan spends his free time chasing women and promising his mother he’ll settle down one day, and Byerly uses his reputation as an idiot cad to his advantage in his career. It’s easy to think at first that these two playboys are exactly what they seem.
Ivan does a favor for Byerly, and ends up tied to a chair in a beautiful woman’s apartment, while the real kidnappers are breaking through the window. The beautiful woman, Tej, happens to be the on-the-run daughter of a deposed Major House of Jackson’s Whole, a planet on the other side of the wormhole.
In a last ditch effort to protect her from the local authorities, Ivan offers her instant entry into High Vor society, via becoming his wife (in name only of course, with a promise of a divorce once he’s seen her safely to her destination). A few hastily spoken sentences later, and poof: Tej is now Lady Vorpatril. She’s only know Ivan a few hours, but he seems earnest in that he’s just interested in helping her. And besides, if he tries anything (which he swears he won’t), Tej’s blue skinned companion will beat the shit out of him.
I don’t think I can afford to buy any more books until the end of the summer! Also, reviews have been light recently because I’m up to my eyeballs in epic The Diviner, by Melanie Rawn. ignore it’s hokey cover art, and go read this right now because it is amazing. Review will show up eventually, I’ve got to finish it first!
but, there’s New Stuff!
A Stranger in Olondria was recommended to me by my friend at the bookseller. The debut novel from Sofia Samatar from Small Beer Press, it never hurts to support new authors and small presses. the cover art? eh, bleh.
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay – after a long discussion with the other half last night about how Kay’s writing has evolved over the years, we decided that even though neither of us were in love with Under Heaven, we should give the pseudo-sequel, River of Stars a try.
New to me stuff! (because I can’t resist a used bookstore!)
Yes, I know the Doctor Who novelizations are kinda hokey. BUT I DON”T CARE I LOVE THEM!
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding – I remember hearing a ton about this when it came out, time to give it a shot.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jaqueline Carey. When 99% of the blogging world is saying this book is a must read, who am I to pass on it?
It’s almost January, and you know what that means!
well, besides THIS of course, January means it’s time for the 2013 Science Fiction Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings! The SFE runs January and February, and Carl does a beautiful job with artwork and articles and link lists. If you’re not familiar with his blog, get your rear-end over there and check it out. His is THE PLACE when it comes to friendly and in depth discussions of speculative fiction.
there’s even banners and badges and goodies like that!
Also, on a very slightly related note, is a fascinating experiment happening over at Teresa Frohock‘s blog (Yes! that Theresa Frohock, author of Miserere!). A handful of authors have provided writing samples written under a pseudonym, and your job is to figure out if the sample was written by a man or a woman. Truly, go check this out.
Meanwhile, I have already broken my Vintage Scifi intend-to-read list by reading and listening to stuff that’s not even on there.
or, random thoughts on hard science fiction.
How hard is too hard? How much science do you really want in your science fiction? According to wikipedia, hard scifi is defined as
“a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.”
It goes on to say that hard scifi should have accurate science and lots of scientific details. To simplify greatly, in hard scifi the science is an important part of the worldbuilding. the soft scifi story says they boarded a ship and went to another planet, the hard scifi story offers information regarding the type and design of the ship, how it manages to travel faster than light, and what it’s fuel is made of, and all of these details are important to plot development and characterization.
I’ve always had a soft spot for hard scifi because I love knowing how things work. Doesn’t matter if the author mentions elements or fuels or technology that doesn’t currently exist (that’s the fiction part), because I’m still getting a plausable scientific foundation for the technologies mentioned. Many books that I’d categorize as hard scifi can easily fall into other categories as well – space opera, military scifi, first contact, etc.
Titles that come to mind when I think hard scifi include Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Faith, by John Love, Clockwork Rocket, by Greg Egan, and plenty of Peter Watts, Gregory Benford, Larry Niven and A.E. Van Vogt. It’s the type of stuff where accurate science trumps all, and it’s usually pretty damn awesome.
as readers and fans of hard scifi, how hard do we really want it?
I bring this up because I recently survived Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan. Egan is a bit of a mystery man, and this was my first taste of his style. Egan dumps his reader on an alien planet (sounds good so far!), and the story mostly follows a scientist who learns of the danger her planet is it (still sounds great!). The physics work a little different in this solar system (sweet!) so we get all sorts of charts (cool, i guess) and academic discussions (when did I sign up for SCI302 Astrophysics II?) about the physics and how basically time and light and spacetime is completely different here. And then there are more charts, to put everything in 4 dimensions, more academic discussions (when did I sign up for SCI515 Non-real Relativity??), and then, well, I started to feel a bit stupid. What happened to the cool aliens and interesting plot?
If the heavy science in the book bores me to tears, can I still call myself a fan of hard scifi?
I freely admit I’m not the smartest person in the world, I’ve always loved math and science, even if it didn’t love me back. But when a hard scifi book makes me feel like I flunked 10th grade geometry, the hard scifi just got too hard for me.
published in 1997
where I got it: borrowed from a friend (thanks E! I’ll get it back to you right soon!)
With so many new books that feature female protags who kick ass, sometimes it’s hard to believe books like that have been around for a while. Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War is one such book, and in classic Zettel fashion, this is a space opera that will get you thinking about things you weren’t expecting, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. If you are a fan of Kameron Hurley or Elizabeth Bear, or just looking for some damn good space opera, this will be right up your alley.
In this far future, we have colonized a number of star systems, and we have FTL ships and Artificial intelligences. Due to a large enough number of AIs that have gone rogue and slaughtered entire colonies, many ship owners are leery of allowing any kind of untethered AI access to their systems.
Katmer Al Shei is a partner in a timeshare transport ship. Basically, she has the ship for 8 months, and then her brother-in-law has the ship for 8 months. The beginning of the book and the set up for our main plot line has her taking possession of the ship, collecting her small crew, recruiting a new pilot, and accepting the gift of a contracted Ship’s Fool. Fools – part entertainer, part psychoanalyst, part ship’s counselor, these are the only people who are guaranteed to keep your tightly wound crew members from going crazy in their tight quarters. Katmer’s new Fool, Evelyn Dobbs, promises that she’s one of the Guild’s best.
Faith, by John Love
published in January 2012
where I got it: purchased New
Remember Peter Watts’ Blindsight? Blend it with Moby Dick, and then imagine it was written by Gene Wolfe. Now ramp up the tension and suspense to eleven. It’s hard to believe Faith is a debut novel. It reads so smooth and subtle that as the pages fly by under your fingers, all you feel is the copper tang of a nameless fear.
Faith has a slow start, and this is exactly as it should be. Otherwise, we would never know the subtle ironies of the Sakhran race, how they live together, but live apart, their sense of honor even as they were conquered by the Commonweath. Without the slower, gentler, understated start, we would never understand the pure and total demise of the proud Sakhran race, and how they didn’t even attempt to resist it.
Three hundred years ago and unidentified ship came to the Sakhran homeworld. Only one person among them understood what she was. He wrote a book, and when the book was read, the Sakhran race began to decline. Out of vicious irony, the Sakhrans named the ship Faith. Like her namesake, she visits on a whim, and can destroy with a whisper, not knowing and not caring what she’s turned you into. But this Faith offers only questions, never any answers.
Faith has returned, and the expanded Commonwealth of Planets believe they have the only weapon that can stop her. The Commonwealth built nine Outsider ships. Built in secret, and then pushed away as lepers, the ships are named after psychopaths and mass murderers. There is never any shore leave, and crew know to never return to their home planets. Aaron Foord, commander of the Charles Manson knows he is the Commonwealth’s only chance against Faith. His crew are the dregs of humanity, the mistakes, the undesirables, the hidden criminals, perhaps, the anti-Faith. And those of his crew who aren’t human? some of them claim to have eaten their own children.
Lots of things have been jumbling around in my mind this week. Such as:
I caught a rerun of a 2008 Mythbusters episode where they debunked the myth that the 1969 Moon landing was faked. I loved the scene where Adam was hopping around in his space suit.
Reading Scott Lynch’s Queen of the Iron Sands that features an earthling being thrilled how far she can jump on Mars, because the gravity is lower.
Reminiscing about my love for physics and rollercoaster mechanics with a retired physics professor, while discussing many other wonderful things (if he’s reading this, he knows who he is).
Tor’s Exoplanet article.
What do all of those things have in common? they all have to do with gravity and planets and physics and everything that’s fun in the universe! So much science (fictional) fun to be had here! and a little bit of silliness, of course. I suddenly feel like an 8 year old who just discovered an astrophysics encyclopedia!
What would roller coasters and bungee jumping be like on the Moon? Maybe we’d need magnets to get the thrill of falling.
Speaking of falling, if you were born and raised on a planet with lower gravity, might you never develop a fear of falling?
If your planet had two (or more) suns, would you need extra sunblock?
Would people grow taller on planets with lower gravity? How many generations would it take for the mutation to “take” in humans? Would plants grow taller? would their roots not go as deep into the ground?
How would changes in gravity affect waterfalls and water erosion?
How would multiple moons affect ocean tides?
How would different gravities affect fashion? Something I read recently (I think it was Anderson’s Bitter Angels), talked about how on a lower gravity planet people used weights in their clothes as fashion accessories, and the poor tied or sewed rocks into the hems of their clothing. What about shoes? What about hair styles? And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not be wearing a Star Trek Unitard.
Sometimes the most important thing is coming up with the questions.
Three weeks in a sultry August, anything could happen.
And it does, over and over and over again.
Starring Okarin, a college student who styles (and LARPs) himself a mad scientist, his hacker buddy Daru, his childhood friend Mayushi, and the rest of their growing circle of friends, Steins;Gate was the sleeper hit of the summer. Bursting at the seams with Otaku jokes and on-purpose cliches, this is a show that took apart all the expected and overdone anime tropes and rewove them into something ground breaking.
This is my third post on Steins;Gate, so feel free to get yourself caught up by reading my first reactions to the show, and my mid season post. Really, go read them, as this post may not make much sense otherwise.
but now, after 24 episodes, Steins;Gate is over. Over three sultry weeks one August, a time machine was created, used, abused, and a choice regarding it’s uncreation had to be made. Okarin and his friends used the time machine to create the lives they wanted. Feyris used it to spend more time with her father, Ruka uses it to be born a little different. Suzuha tries to use it to find her father. Everyone takes a turn to change something from their past.
But everytime the time machine is used, the world line, our dimension, shifts a little. The city and the people who live in it change a little. Not as much as you’d notice, but an avalanche starts with one snowflake. Everyone gets what they wanted, but no one wins. And only Okarin can stop what’s happening.