the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘aliens

survivalSurvival (Species Imperiative #1), by Julie Czerneda

published in 2004

where I got it: purchased used

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Just because we’ve traveled to the stars and met with aliens doesn’t mean everyone wants to travel to the stars and hang out with aliens. Evolutionary biologist Dr. Mackenzie Connor  is perfectly happy to study salmon at the Norcoast research facility, working with other quirky research scientists and grad students.  Why should she care about aliens, outlying human colonies, or a dead spot in the galaxy, when all her salmon are doing just fine?

Let me save you a lot of reading by simply saying Julie Czerneda’s Survival is damn near perfect. There is no possible way to cram all the awesome of Survival into one review, so I won’t torture us by trying. But by all means, keep reading. Excellently researched and presented hard science fiction, characters in difficult situations, betrayal, aliens, and genocide, it took me a while to write this review because my brain was so Wow’d by the implications of what I’d read.

As there’s a big blue alien on the cover of the book, it’s no spoiler to tell you that an alien, a Dhryn to be specific, visits Norcoast. Instead of being flattered that the first Dhryn to ever visit the Earth has chosen her research facility to visit, Mac is less than thrilled to have her meticulously timed research interrupted by a huge alien name Brymn.  When I first met her, Mac reminded me of Dr. Ellie Arroway from Carl Sagan’s Contact. Both women are so very focused on their fields of research, that they take it as a personal insult whenever someone tries to interrupt their studies.  And it’s not just an alien who visits Norcoast, it’s the entourage of political hanger ons and the media, all stomping all over the place. So much for this season’s salmon spawning research.

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exodus towersThe Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough (Dire Earth, book 2)

published in 2013

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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This is the second book in Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle, and due to some very important plot points revealed at the end of the first book in the series, The Darwin Elevator, there will be unavoidable spoilers in this review for the first book.

 

The Darwin Elevator was fun, but it certainly wasn’t my favorite book. Friends of mine kept telling me to give The Exodus Towers a try, that the series got better.  And they were right.  This second novel is far and away better than the first. The pacing is tighter, the characterization is better, the alien technologies are described better, the stakes are higher, the tension is built in a more effective way, it’s just a much better written book all the way around.

 

At the end of the first book, a second elevator plunged to earth, landing in Belem, Brazil.  The stations and levels that escaped the Darwin elevator were able to attach to this new elevator, and since then, Tania Sharma and Skyler Luiken have been slowly but surely building a new colony.  Hampered by a low population but helped by  mobile towers that protect from the Subs virus, it’s slow going.  Skyler spends most of his time on the ground scouting, and Tania is up in the elevator.  She takes comfort in group decisions, being cautious with their limited resources, and not taking action until a sure course is decided on. Skyler on the other hand, is comfortable making snap decisions with incomplete information.

 

Tania has lived the protected life of an orbital scientist, where if it takes two weeks to come to a decision it won’t really matter, whereas Skyler is more used to running from Subs and needing to grab scavenged cargo as fast as possible.  I enjoyed watching the two of them play off of each other, and I appreciated the time Hough took to really develop their personality differences.  So many times, they are both right, or both wrong, and sometimes they even see it.  There is some obvious chemistry between the two of them, but Hough keeps their relationship complicated instead of taking the easy route of allowing them an easy or simple romantic relationship.  

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bowl of heavenThe Bowl of Heaven, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

published in 2012

where I got it: purchased new

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Science fiction adventure? A strange bowl shaped structure in space? Bird-like aliens that “adopt” species they come across? An alien planet that sends out confusing information? Shut up and take my money!  Right?  Not so much, as it turns out.

The Bowl of Heaven starts out as you’d expect a science fiction adventure story to start: we’ve found a planet that could be another Earth, a new home for a humanity that’s quickly outgrowing Earth. Nicknamed Glory, a large expedition is put together to sleep most of the way, and assess the situation when they reach Glory.  And they wouldn’t have awoken biologist Cliff Kammesh if it wasn’t an emergency.  The ship’s computers have found something, something they can’t explain: a star that just winked into existence.  They couldn’t see the star before, because it was hidden behind a structure nearly the size of our solar system.

Captain Redwing is awakened as well, along with biologist Beth Marble (she and Cliff have a relationship), and a handful of other crewmembers. They need to understand this giant structure, but they also need to reserve the dwindling food and air stores they have on the ship.

The structure is a gigantic bowl like structure, the “bottom” is mirrors aimed at a star, and the “sides” are all biome. There’s a magnetized hole in the bottom, and the mirrors cause ripples and disturbances in the star’s surface, and the magnetized hole pulls a jet of agitated plasma away from the star, propelling the huge machine forward through the cosmos. The scene where Beth pilots the ramscoop ship through the plasma jet absolutely blew me away, and I will forever remember it as one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever come from across in a hard science fiction novel. Once through, and into the inside of the bowl, it would be a crime not to explore further.

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Vintage Science Fiction months owes part of it’s existence to my friend Andy. We met a few years ago through the local bookstore, and became fast friends. Over lunch discussions and a few beers, we traded books back and forth, me trying to get Andy on the “new weird” band wagon, and him getting me into Andre Norton and making sure our local scifi book club read the classics (See Andy? This is what happens when you don’t send me a bio. I write one for you!).

Andy is also a typewriter collector, and although we live in the same city, we write letters to each other, him on his typewriter(s), and me by hand. Hand writing and typewriting a letter is a completely different experience than firing off a quick e-mail.  He even typed me this guest post. See? To keep the pages loading fast, I’ve only scanned in a few typewritten paragraphs.

AR first paragraph

Fortunately the trauma was short-lived and soon after I discovered the films of George Pal and Ray Harryhausen. Pal’s The Time Machine and Harryhausen’s First Men in the Moon are still great favorites in the DVD collection, much to my family’s despair. TV beckoned too and no science fictional kid growing up in the Sixties could miss Lost in Space or Star Trek as well as the proto-steampunkiness of The Wild, Wild West. Sad to say, all but the last haven’t aged well for me. The camp value of pasteboard sets, pedestrian scripts, a now-hilarious lack of actual science, and acting that is adequate at best only takes nostalgia so far. Many SF movies of the time suffer from the same defects yet command greater affection for reasons I can’t explain.

My introduction to written science fiction came more gradually. First there was the discovery of the paperback cache in the upper drawer of my parent’s bedroom dresser. My paternal grandfather, a diehard fan from SF’s “Golden Age” of the Thirties and Forties, sent them to his son but my father wanted nothing to do with the genre. Fortunately for me, the unwanted collection included such treasures as Mark S. Geston’s now-classic Lords of the Starship. The book isn’t really about a starship and its ideas were way beyond anything I would have understood then. No matter, I was arrested by the cover image of a golden armored vehicle with a skeleton hanging out of the turret swimming through a sandy desert toward the huge, bluish, winged vehicle of the title. Not long after, a friend turned me on to the author who really turned  me into a fan.

The Stars Are Ours-Star Born Read the rest of this entry »

I met Rinn of Rinn Reads when she hosted Science Fiction Month back in November. What a great event!  Not only because science fiction is near and dear to my heart, but because Rinn did an amazing job of getting authors and publishers involved AND getting bloggers who weren’t so sure about science fiction to pick up a few titles.  People, this is what I love about the blogosphere. Someone says “hey, I’d like to do this, who wants to join me?” and suddenly a hundred people are raising their hands.

 

Why H.G. Well’s classic The War of the Worlds is still today, by Rinn

 

“No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater  than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…” (page 1)

 

And so H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds begins, with these immortal and haunting words. To me, it is up there with those fantastic opening lines that include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But it’s not just the opening line that really has an impact – the entire book was, at the time, a brand new concept and something really quite shocking, and over one hundred years later it still grips and surprises: it is a timeless classic. It has been adapted time and time again, for the screen, stage and radio, and has influenced so many other authors and works, and even an entirely new genre of invasion fiction.

 

The War of the Worlds has been interpreted in many ways. Commentary on British imperialism, or perhaps Victorian fears, Mars was a very apt planet to use either way. Mars is the Roman god of war, equivalent to Greek Ares; where better for these alien soldiers and destroyers to come from? Wells was not the first to have this idea: it was used as early as 1880 in Percy Greg’s Across the Zodiac.

 

One of the scariest parts of the book is how the human race is completely and utterly powerless against the alien invasion – at least in in the tradition way. Weapons barely make a dent, and even taking down a tripod or two requires some sacrifices. The people watching the HMS Thunder Child fight a tripod believe that they are seeing progress, only to have the ship sink in front of their eyes.  Their weapons include the Heat Ray, which burns people up instantly, the Black Smoke, a poisonous gas which chokes people to death, and the Red Weed. Were those aliens to invade today, when we’ve made so many technological advances, would we fare any better? Some people may look upon our ancestors of the nineteenth century with scorn, and have no doubt that today’s modern warfare would annihilate the Martians – and perhaps we would stand more of a chance – but it doesn’t just come down to that. Another factor to come into it is how we would react.

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Best of Hal ClementThe Best of Hal Clement, edited by Lester Del Rey

published in 1979

where I got it: purchased used

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School teacher and rationalist, Hal Clement, most famous for Mission of Gravity, is one of the fathers of hard science fiction.  His works deal in real science, and a theme that kept coming up in this collection is characters who face issues that would realistically come up in SFnal situations, be them dealing with aliens, unexpected gravity, or even mechanical problems.  It was very satisfying for me to read about characters whose first impulse isn’t to shoot first and ask questions later, but to ask question first, to observe, to learn about their surroundings, to make the best possible decisions with the resources at hand. And the alien descriptions are just amazing. How would creatures evolve on different types of planets with different environments and resources? What would they think of humans? Those are the types of questions Clement thought about.

 

Enjoyable and completely readable, these are recommended to all fans of hard science fiction. These stories may be slower paced, but they’ve got pay-offs that beat many fast paced space opera adventure stories. Lester Del Rey edited and wrote the introduction to The Best of Hal Clement, and convinced the “I’m not a writer, I’m a teacher” Mr. Clement to write the Author’s Afterword.

 

The collection includes: Impediment (1942), Technical Error (1943), Uncommon Sense (1945), Assumption Unjustified (1946), Answer (1947), Dust Rag(1956), Bulge(1968), Mistaken for Granted (1974), A Question of Guilt (1976), and Stuck with It (1976).

And these were some damn excellent stories, possibly some of the best hard science fiction I’ve read in a long time.  Bulge and A Question of Guilt didn’t do it for me, but they were still very well written. Here are my thoughts on some of my favorites:

Impediment – Aliens have landed in a remote area of North America, hoping to find a particular element with which to recharge their weaponry. But first, they must face the challenge of first contact with human beings. These aliens have no vocal speech, and use a completely different method of communication than we do. At first they are not sure if we are even intelligent. They do make contact with a lone hiker, and are able to communicate with him through writing. Impediment offers some excellent discussion on communication and language. And it was nice to see a First Contact story from the aliens point of view. It’s obvious to the reader what their human friend is doing and saying, but the aliens have no idea.

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Joining me today is reviewer, blogger, author, photographer, podcaster, and all around nice guy Paul Weimer, to discuss L. Sprague De Camp’s Viagens Interplanetarias series of short stories and novels.

Viagens Interplanetarias

An expat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota for the last 9 years, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Besides his regular presence at SF Signal and his chatty presence on Twitter (@Princejvstin)Paul can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, a contributor to the Functional Nerds, as a co-host on Skiffy and Fanty, occasional guest on SFF Audio, and many other places on the Internet. Read his story “Newton’s Method” in Tales of Eve, an anthology from Fox Spirit Press.

After World War III in the 1960’s, Earth became Brazilian for a while. The Southern Hemisphere was not as affected by the fallout and damage of the Northern Hemisphere, and so it, led by Brazil, led the world to recovery.

So when Man went to space, and eventually to the stars, the men and women who went to the stars spoke Portuguese. Exploring space and dealing with aliens requires an agency to handle the interactions. And thus, the Viagens Interplanetarias watches the starways.

The Viagens Interplanetarias is the eponymous name of a set of stories and novels written by L. Sprague De Camp. Written primarily in the 1950’s, the Viagens Interplanetarias novels have the virtues of De Camp’s strengths, in a light and fun setting he explored for decades afterwards.

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Joining me today is Lisa from Over the Effing Rainbow, to talk about The War of the Worlds radio broadcast.   And yes, this is eligible for the Retro Hugos under the Dramatic Presentation category!

 

The War of the Worlds Broadcast, by Lisa from Over the Effing Rainbow

Lisa is a Scottish blogger and voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy in most of its forms. Tea junkie, Dresdenphile, nail polish enthusiast, nibbler of cheese, devourer of cake.

Original air date: October 30th, 1938

Aired on: Columbia Broadcasting System

Where I got it: Amazon UK – MP3 (original recording)

My rating: 4/5

This adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic sci-fi novel was performed by Orson Welles, in a Halloween episode of the radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre On The Air. There have been a good few adaptations of this story over the years, from TV and movies to a bestselling album, but for this year’s Vintage Sci-Fi Month – and given the approaching Retro Hugos event at this year’s Worldcon – I thought I’d go right back to the ‘Panic Broadcast’, as well as reviewing the original novel.

For those who might not know the story, the broadcast of this adaptation, thanks to the news bulletin-style presentation of the first two thirds, apparently caused a widespread panic among listeners who believed the events being ‘reported’ were really happening.

D’oh.

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The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu

published in April 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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What would you do if you started hearing voices in your head?  How about if those voices saved your life, and then helped you improve your life?  You’d listen to them. . .   right?

The Lives of Tao follows a sort of Hero’s Journey (which I have a major weakness for), and so often in tales like this the protagonist is already hero material – they’re in good physical condition from page one, perhaps already have weapons and or military training, it’s almost as if that person has been planning their entire life about one day being called up for a Hero’s Journey.  Not so with Roen Tan.   He’s lazy, unambitious, in terribly physical condition, and has self esteem issues. He firmly lives in the same real world you and I inhabit – crappy job, annoying boss, messy apartment, and he lives on frozen meals.  He’s the last guy in the world to buy into the fact that aliens have been among us for centuries, the last guy on Earth you’d want to invite on a Hero’s Journey.  Can I tell you how refreshing that was? It was really freaking refreshing.

Roen isn’t going crazy, but he is hearing voices. The alien Quasing have been among humanity for eons, riding along in our minds and bodies, helping to nudge humanity forward.  They only want to get back home, and to do that, we’ve got to become a space faring race.  Over the centuries though, factions have arisen, and the Quasing have split into the peaceful Prophus, and the more aggressive and warlike Genjix.   They’ve inhabited many of our famous leaders and innovators, such as Ghengis Khan, Shakespeare, Cardinal Richelieu,  how many people who influenced our culture and shaped history did so because they had a Quasing guiding them?

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Warning: massive photo dump ahead.

Continuing my post from yesterday about the awesomeness of ConText26, on Saturday afternoon we went to a few more panels:

What Editors Want, with Faith Van Horne, John Joseph Adams, Jason Sizemore, and Scott Sandridge. This was one of my favorite panels.  They talked about common errors seen in manuscripts  (such as not following submission guidelines, the story submitted doesn’t match the style of genre of the publication,  bad grammar), the author-editor relationship, and how the anthology editor decides what order the stories should in be. Frustration with not being able to take great stories came up more than once, where an editor was putting together a themed anthology and had to reject an excellent story simply because it had nothing to do with the theme.

Faith, John Joseph Adams, Jason Sizemore and Sandridge

Faith Van Horne, John Joseph Adams, Jason Sizemore and Scott Sandridge

A big part of the discussion was What Do Editors Really Want?

- how did you put a different spin on the idea?

- how is your approach different to everyone else who has used the same device?

- originality is better than polish

- how is your character different? what do they care about? Why should the reader be interested in them?

- humor is a plus. Just make sure you are laughing because the author wrote it as a humor piece!

During the Q&A time I asked how they each got into editing, and what steps someone who is interested in that aspect of the business should take.  The advice was to volunteer as a slush reader to get a taste for it.

next, was:

Non-Human Characters, with Elizabeth Bear, Matthew Cook, Linda Robertson, Dave Creek, T. Lee Harris, and Scott Sandridge.  Another excellent panel! Be the character an animal, alien, shapeshifter or humanoid who isn’t human, they can’t just be the classic Star Trek “dude in a rubber suit”, or the person with nose ridges and lots of ear piercings. The authors talked about their techniques for writing non-human characters, which included tossing a lot of questions out to the audience. What sensory experiences does your character have (maybe they depend on smell?)? just because we are  base-10 doesn’t mean other creatures will be, especially if they don’t have 10 fingers.  What about symbiotic relationships? If you are on an alien planet, the environment of that planet will affect everything about the creatures who live there, everything from their physiology to their economy to their moral culture.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.