the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘outer space

what a board game map usually looks like:

  • it has places on it.
  • sometimes a road, or a line, between those places showing paths you can take
  • it has barriers or hazards you have to go around

Except if you are Phil Eklund, a boardgame map looks like this:

cropped map small

my photo doesn’t do it justice. This is seriously the most beautiful game board map I’ve ever seen.

it still has all the things a game board map should have – places,  lines between the places, barriers and hazards.  High Frontier is a game about developing technologies to travel to the solar system.   Figure out which thrusters or engines and robonaut your ship should have. Take a crew if you want. Water is the only currency. If you take enough resources you can build a factory wherever you end up, maybe a colony. But don’t make your ship too heavy, this game uses real physics and the heavier your ship is, the more fuel it needs to escape Earth’s gravity. And yes, there is a solar sail. All the techs in the game are real.  Makes you wonder why we’re not already using them.

Some more close up photos:

We used the sun's radiation area to store our extra water tokens

We used the sun’s radiation area to store our extra water tokens

I really don’t want to go to Mercury.

Everyone starts on Earth

Everyone starts on Earth

Everyone starts on Earth. Once your mission is ready to go, you can boost your components in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and then High Eccentric Orbit (HEO), and the Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). Each of these movements costs you burns of fuel, cuz we’re using real physics.  those “L” spots are Lagrange points, where it doesn’t cost you any fuel to change direction. you can just fly right through them and be on your way!

A great way to learn how the game works is getting a crew to the moon, and then getting your crew home alive.  You’ll learn how your different ship components work, and how much fuel it costs you to move around.

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2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Published by Orbit Books, May 22 2012

Where I got it: received review copy from the Publisher

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So many books I’ve been reading lately have been fast paced adventures, where characters are scrambling from one action scene to another, trying not to get killed, always trying to get towards the goal. 2312 isn’t that kind of book. The plot and the characters meander, people discuss that they aren’t sure what to do next, no one is scrambling anywhere, no one is in a hurry.  And yet, there is plenty of suspense and tension, just not the kind we are used to seeing in a standard science fiction novel. Again, 2312 isn’t your standard plot-based science fiction novel.

Existentially sprawling, and scientifically fascinating yet completely accessible,  I’m reluctant to categorize 2312 as science fiction. Yes, there is plenty of science and it takes place in the future, but of the three plot lines, only one (and it’s the weakest one) of them has anything to do with anything remotely science fictional. This is more a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world than anything else.

We first meet Swan Er Hong at her grandmother Alex’s funeral. There is some concern that due to Alex’s political connections perhaps her death wasn’t natural. Swan meets up with the Saturnian league ambassador Wahram and police investigator Jean Genette to discuss  the projects Alex had been working on, which leads to a discussion on the bitter feelings of Terrans towards the spacers.  Shortly after the investigation into Alex’s death begins, there is a terrorist attack on Terminator, the rolling city of Mercury. One more thing for Swan, Wahram and Genette to investigate, as it may be connected to Alex’s death. This is the obvious, overt plot line, and it’s the least important and least interesting part of the book.

I was continually amazed at my emotional reaction to 2312. After the attack on Terminator, Swan and Wahram escape into the underground utilidor system. Kim Stanley Robinson may be about to take us on a tour of the solar system, but the most beautiful parts of this book are the intimate moments between Swan and Wahram, which begin in the utilidors under the Mercurial surface.   These slower yet intensely focused tunnel scenes were a blessing in disguise, as without the gorgeous distraction of the cosmos, the reader can more easily concentrate on Swan and Wahram. Swan is whiny, defensive and over dramatic, and Wahram is patient and non-judgmentally curious about her life choices.  Swan never struck me as a very likeable character, yet I found myself completely emotionally invested in her life. Maybe I saw a little too much of my own indecisiveness, my own lack of concern for my own future in her.

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Mission to the Stars (also published as The Mixed Men), by A. E. Van Vogt

published as a novel in 1952, based on short stories written in the 1940’s

where I got it: purchased used

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With an incredibly immersive and involved story, Van Vogt manages to use very few words to imply so much about characters, the environment, and complex political situations. I was happily surprised at how few pages it took me to feel like I was “in” the story.  And another happy surprise, a female main character, who is also in a position of power, along with a handful of other female officers! How wonderfully unexpected!

Grand Captain Lady Laurr Gloria Cecily commands the Earth ship Star Cluster on their ten year mapping mission of the Megallanic Cloud. As their mission comes to a close and they are readying for the interstellar trip home, they come across a lonesome weather station, manned by a suicidal meteorologist named Watcher. What is a weather station doing out in the middle of no where, where humanity has barely been, and why in the world did he kill himself after he had been given medical care on board the Star Cluster?  Against the strong suggestions of the rest of the captains on the ship, Grand Captain Gloria Cecily decides to dive back into the Magellanic Cloud to search for possible colonists.

The government of Earth is a singular government, and does not tolerate any independent human colonies.  Revolts are either put down, or the populations involved are killed. If there are human colonists living in the Magellanic Cloud, they will be absorbed into the government of Earth.  But these people do not want to be found!

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The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

published in 1974

Where I got it:  Might have swiped it from my Dad

why I read it: was in the mood for some good old hard SF.

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Even in the 1970’s, hard science fiction and first contact stories were nothing new.  But the masterpiece by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God’s Eye, was something brand new. Sure, it had spaceships and aliens and detailed explanations of FTL travel, but it had something more, something new, something unexpected. The aliens in this ultimate first contact story were nothing like anything ever seen before.

If you’ve ever read any of the Pournelle CoDominion books, you’ll be in familiar territory, as The Mote in God’s Eye takes place on the edge of CoDominion space. Although teeming with futuristic technologies, the empire is saddled with a bloated aristocracy and an old fashioned view towards women.  Old fashioned and futuristic all at the same time, does that make this book horrifically dated, or did Pournelle purposely design it into the original CoDominion novels?

The six word sentence plot summary of The Mote in God’s Eye is: Aliens are weirder than we thought.

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sorry for the crappy photo. . .

Nightflyers (short story collection) by George R R Martin

published in 1985 (stories written from 1973-1980)

why I read it: cuz I lurves me some Martin

where I got it: have no idea, it’s been on the bookshelf for a while.

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Thanks to HBO and a rather infamous 5th book,  just about everyone knows who George R R Martin is.   I’m not ashamed to admit it, Game of Thrones was my first Martin, and before I read it (this was maybe 5 years ago?), I’d never heard of him.  Many people know him as “that epic fantasy guy”.

what if I told you he wrote tons and tons of stuff before Game of Thrones was ever a twinkle in his eye? That he’d been writing short stories since the early 70’s?  Dreamsongs volumes one and two were released a few years back, and are known as the Martin short story collections. Containing everything from essays to short stories and novellas, to tv scripts to his thoughts on different parts of his life,  when it comes to page count they are just as epic as his fantasies.  However, if you’re looking for a smaller dose of early Martin, allow me to recommend a skinny little short story collection called Nightflyers. It’s unfortunate this little gem is out of print, it’s well worth the search on Amazon or ABE or e-bay, or you favorite local used bookstore.   Along with the novella Nightflyers, written in 1980, it includes 5 more short stories written during the 70s.   no dice? no worries, all the stories in Nightflyers are also in the Dreamsongs collection.

Another thing I’m not ashamed to admit is that I don’t read a lot of short story collections or anthologies. Just personal preference, I typically want something novella length or longer. Well, Martin and his Dreamsongs turned me into a short story fan, or at least a fan of his short stories.  And you know what?  I like his earlier science fiction based short works better than A Song of Ice and Fire, and Nightflyers is part of the reason why.

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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.
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