the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘space opera

2015-04-05 20.33.31The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher (short story collection)

published 2008, Night Shade Edition published 2015

where it got it: received review copy from Night Shade Books (thanks!)

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My first Neal Asher novel was The Skinner, an edgy  space opera that I’ve lovingly described as “magnificently disgusting”.  In that novel, the name of the game is adapt or die, and the denizens of the planet Spatterjay take full advantage of evolutionary opportunities. Even visitors who stick around long enough can watch their bodies change into something not quite human.  The Skinner made me an instant fan of Asher, and I’ve been watching for his titles ever since.

Many of Asher’s novels take place in his Polity Universe, which in a similar fashion to Banks’ Culture novels,  the novels all take place in the same universe, and occasionally characters from one book show up or are mentioned in another, but you can generally jump around in the order the books were published.   Not sure Asher is for you? Not sure you want to dive into a new universe? The Gabble, a short story collection of stores from the Polity will answer both of those questions for you.  If you ask me, you can just answer those two questions with a resounding Yes and be done with it.

What I loved about how Asher does alien planets and aliens is that everything is so damn alien. Why should aliens have two arms, two legs, a head, a nose and a mouth? If that configuration is unique to Earth, it follows that every planet will have a unique configuration based on evolutionary needs, the planet’s unique environs, and any one of a million other variables in how life works. No one we run into is going to look like us, think like us, or communicate like us. There is no gentleness here, no Star Trek style diplomacy.  Some species simply do not communicate with others, and humans are quite tasty.  It might sound harsh, but this is how nature works.   When it comes down to it, we are just animals in a food chain.

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kassa gambitThe Kassa Gambit, by M.C. Planck

published in 2012

where I got it: borrowed

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If you enjoyed the TV show Firefly, or have been enjoying the James S.A. Corey Expanse series (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, etc), then The Kassa Gambit is for you.

 

Starting off with a bang,  the crew of the Ulysses exit node space in the Kassa system to find mines and missiles waiting for them. Luckily, Captain Prudence Falling has a smart crew, and a freighter ship that’s got some hidden additions.  They outsmart the missiles, land on Kassa to learn the entire planet has been bombarded by a mysterious enemy that showed up out of nowhere, bombed the crap out of the place, and left without a word.  When the government patrol boat Launceston enters the system, Falling helps them through the mine fields, and doesn’t want to stick around long enough for the Launceston’s League Agent Kyle Daspar to use his governmental powers to commandeer her ship too.  She’s interested in helping the people of Kassa rebuild, but under her own terms, not those of the League.

 

Daspar has secrets of his own, and one of them is that he’s intensely suspicious and paranoid.  The mission he’s really on isn’t the one he’s talking about, and for a while he’s convinced that Falling is an agent out to kill him.  What changes his mind is the way Falling treats her long term crew members. She’s tolerant of Garcia’s crassness and alcoholism, and she’s maternal and protective towards Jorgun, who is an idiot savant. Jorgun can program the nav computer faster and more accurately than an AI, but he’s got the mental development of a five year old. Falling knows Jorgun’s skills, and she also knows how others would treat him, and what the League would do with him if they got their hands on him. When not running Nav, Jorgun is happy doing jigsaw puzzles, playing games, and watching cartoons. He’s the ship’s gentle giant.

 

As the Kassa investigation continues, a crashed alien ship is found, and Prudence and Kyle follow different tracks towards the answers.  Their paths cross again, and there is some obvious chemistry growing between the two of them. They are both physically attracted to the other, but they mutually agree that the timing couldn’t be more inconvenient.  They do decide to work together to uncover the mystery of what attacked Kassa.  Prudence has an augmented ship and knows the shipping lanes and node jumps like the back of her hand, and Kyle has the government connections to get their all information they could possibly need. Now it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together.

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cibola burnCibola Burn, #4 of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey

published  June 2014

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Orbit!)

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The first three books in the Expanse series were a complete yet open ended space opera, with a very definite change in where the story could have gone at the end of book 3.  Now, in book 4, we’re exploring story arc those changes.  The ring that opened at the edge of our solar system allows our ships to travel through any one of a thousand gates. On the other side of each gate is an empty solar system, all with at least one habitable planet. But all the planets are empty, there’s no one to be found. Who built the gate system, and where did everyone go?

 

The people on the Barbapiccola don’t care about where everyone went. They are running out of oxygen and water, and no port will accept a ship of refugees. What choice have they, but to go through the ring and hope for the best? If their ship survives the journey, there will at least be a planet with breathable air and gravity on the other side.

 

Fast forward 18 months, and the “refugees” are now “colonists”, making a life for themselves on Ilus.  Back home, the charter for mining rights to the planet has been awarded to Royal Charter Energy, who sent a provisional government and security to the planet.  The opening scene of Cibola Burn is a small group of terrified and angry colonists blowing up the landing pad on the planet and inadvertently blowing up the provisional government’s landing shuttle. Not the best way to make a first impression, to say the least.

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The more short fiction I read by Aliette de Bodard, the more I like her. It took me longer than it should have to “get it”, but now that I do, I just can’t get enough. Most of her short fiction (or at least most of what I read) takes place in her expansive Xuya Universe, and specifically in its space age, when humanity has conquered the stars.  If you’ve read “Immersion”, or “On A Red Station, Drifting” (both Hugo nominees last year) you’re familiar with the Dai Viet of Xuya, you’ve smelled their pungent food, you’ve been aboard their mind-ships that are someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s aunt, those ships that are painted inside and out with scenes and symbols from mythology, you’ve run your fingers along the slick, slimy, pulsing wall of the ship’s heartroom, you’ve seen how their culture has been attacked by the warlike and aggressive Federation.  There is more than enough space out there, but still we fight for planets, colonies, stations, insisting that there isn’t enough to share.

 

“The Waiting Stars” opens in a graveyard.

 

These are the Mind-ships that were captured by the Federation. Not exactly prisoners of war, the mind ships have been crippled and left to die. Hidden in a dark corner of space, the Federation assumes the graveyard will be forgotten. But how can Lan Nhen forget her great great aunt, The Turtle’s Citadel? Lan Nhen will bring her great aunt’s body home, to be buried properly.

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dune messiahDune Messiah, by Frank Herbert (Dune, book 2)

published in 1969

where I got it: have owned forever.

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Why am I starting with the 2nd novel in this series? The first book in the series,  Dune, was one of my gateway books to science fiction, and I’ve read it so many times in the last 20 years, that I practically know it by heart.  I grew up reading this series. But you may not know Dune by heart.  You may not have grown up with it. It’s okay, I forgive you.  But since I’m not a total jerk, here are some reviews of Dune to get you up to speed (The Founding Fields, Fantasy Book Review, Best Fantasy Books, Looping Wor(l)d, Josh’s Fantasy Novel Reviews ), and if those are tl:dr, here’s the wikipedia cliffsnotes.

My goal is to get through the rest of the series during this year. It’s been a good eight (yikes, ten?) years since I attempted Chapterhouse, so I’m due for a reread of the entire series.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even rewatch the movie and miniseries, and we can talk about that too.

 

Will there be spoilers in this series of blog posts? yes. sorry, ‘tis unavoidable.

Will they wreck your enjoyment of these books? Nope. read ‘em, and you’ll see what I mean.

and as usual, these will be my weird, impressionistic, paint thrown at the wall style reviews.

Dune Messiah  opens with the planning of a conspiracy to dethrone Emperor Paul Muad’Dib Atreides. Before Paul ascended the throne, there had always been an unspoken rule of checks and  balances – the Corrino Emperor ruled of course, but often bowed to the needs of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, and the Spacing Guild. Compromises were made, powers were kept relatively happy, any embarrassments could be swept under the rug of money and power.  If Paul continues his refusal to compromise, he will have to be removed,  and a more suitable (suitable = controllable) person put on the throne.  The conspirators consist of Paul’s wife Princess Irulan,  Scytale the Tleilaxu face-dancer, the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, and Edric the Guild Steersman, representing a cross section of the political parties whose future stability relies on being able to influence and control the ruling family.  The plan they come up with involves nothing more suspect than a gift befitting an emperor.

 

Dune Messiah takes place twelve years after Dune, and we really see the metamorphosis Paul and his family have been forced to go through. Paul rules as Emperor of the known universe, yet he is completely powerless to stop jihadists who kill  in his name.  By allowing his Fremen to call him Messiah, he has given up all personhood, becoming a prisoner of his own success.  Nearly overnight the known universe became a theocracy, and everything that’s happened, everything that will happen, Paul has already forseen.  The future isn’t written in stone, Paul has merely seen all the possible paths, with roads that narrow as events get closer.  He’s the most accidental Emperor ever, and he and his sister Alia sometimes joke about the tragicomedy of their whole situation. A renegade genetic success and his abomination of a sister, ruling the galaxy, what could be funnier?  it’s actually a little depressing, when you think about it.

Everyone in this saga is trapped. It is important to remember that.

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I’ve been friends with fellow blogger Lynn, of Lynn’s Book Blog for years. We started commenting on each other’s blog, and before we knew it we were doing read alongs together and plotting to take over the world!  Okay, not that last part.  Well, maybe a little.  In today’s guest post, Lynn talks Stainless Steel Rat, and how she got started reading more speculative fiction. Crime, con artists and capers in outerspace? sign me up!

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

by Lynn Williams

This month I’m reading some Vintage Sci Fi for Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Sci Fi month – which also dovetails quite nicely with Stainless Steel Droppings Sci Fi Experience.  Basically, it’s a bit like cheating – you read one book and it counts for both events.  Win.  We all love a cheat – don’t deny it!  It’s like finding a short cut or a bargain – it makes you happy!

I’ve read a few sci fi books already but the first that I can put towards my Vintage event is Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison.  I did think about writing a little introduction about the author but, to be honest, I’m probably not the best person to do that.  This is my first reading experience of this author and so to start waxing lyrical would just be plain silly – there are plenty of people out there who could really do him justice rather than me just regurgitating facts from Wiki!  The reason I chose this book?  To be honest I don’t read much sci fi and that’s something I like to address.  To be even more honest the reason for this is because I find it a little bit daunting.  Basically sci fi scares the pants off me because I think I’m not going to understand it!  I mean, it’s not like I’m a raging dunce but I hold my hands up that maths and science are not my forte – and I don’t want to read a book that makes me feel ridiculously stupid (is that bad?).

When I started blogging, one of the first blogs that I came across was Stainless Steel Droppings (followed by Little Red Reviewer).  I’ve been following these blogs for quite some time now and in doing so I’ve read books that I frankly would never have picked up, I’ve read books that the cover alone would have had me walking out the shop!, I’ve read a few classics and I’ve taken part in readalongs that meant the subject of the book was dissected in a really fun way.  Carl, over at Stainless Steel Droppings named his blog so because he has loved this author since being a young boy first stepping into the sci fi realm.  I really like that sort of thing and so I thought I’d read this book to find out for myself just how good these books are.  After all, if these books encouraged one person’s love of sci fi then what not mine?? Also, reading a bit about the Stainless Steel Rat its clear that this series is fun with a cheeky rogue being the main protagonist.

That all being said, the pressing issue – did I like it and would I continue with the series – yes, and yes!

The Stainless Steel Rat was the first in the series (although I think there have been prequels written since).  The book sets off really well with Jim diGriz going from one crime caper to the next.  The reason why this is so unusual is that crime has virtually been eradicated in this future world.  Genetic tampering (presumably) has removed the trait and so there are very few master criminals working the stars, not to mention the crime enforcers are poorly placed to deal with such crime.  Jim has little respect for the law and his lofty attitude is in a sense his undoing.  He finds himself in a situation where he’s being chased and in attempting to escape capture is actually being manoeuvred into a trap – he’s used to being the one who’s always one step ahead.  This isn’t a spoiler by the way – basically Jim is caught by the Special Corps – their aim (to boldly go maybe) to recruit master criminals and use their cunning and wily ways to catch others!  A thief to catch a thief – not a bad plan.

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outcasts of Heaven beltThe Outcasts of Heaven Belt, by Joan D. Vinge

published in 1978

where i got it: purchased used

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You know how sometimes a book looks really really good, and then you read it and it’s nothing special?  this book was the opposite. For not looking like anything special (and suffering from an ultra-cheesy tagline), The Outcasts of Heaven Belt was pretty damn good.

They came on a mission to paradise - blissfully unaware that heaven had become hell!" what an unfortunate tagline!

They came on a mission to paradise – blissfully unaware that heaven had become hell!” what an unfortunate tagline!

Think about some space operas that have come out in the last few years. How long are they? 400 pages? 600 pages? longer?   Vinge crams all the trappings of a great space opera in just two hundred pages. Everything from the not so pretty realities of space travel, to the effects of radiation, to complex planetary system politics, to how our cultural norms might change based on different environs. To add to the SFnal-ness of the whole thing, time is measured in seconds. No hours, days or weeks, character refer to kiloseconds, megaseconds and gigaseconds. There’s a great little graph in the front of the translating this into hours, days and weeks. It’s in logarithmic scale, making the metricality of measuring time in 10 to the nth seconds make perfect sense.

terrible photo of a really cool logarithmic scale of time.

terrible photo of a really cool logarithmic scale of time.

The story starts out with the crew of The Ranger. Traveling from Morningside, they’ve been enroute for four years, hoping to reach the Heaven system, and open up a new trade route. This isn’t like Star Trek, you can’t just get a message from someone instantaneously. Morningside hasn’t been in any communication with Heaven, but they’ve had no reason to believe the system isn’t doing just fine. The Heaven system had been colonized because of it’s resource rich icy and rocky asteroids and planetoids, and the moons orbiting its gas giants. Any system with that quantity of resources and trade goods would be rich within a few generations. (Vinge doesn’t even dream of Earth like planets.  None of the planets we colonize are Earths. They are what we can find, and what we can survive on)

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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.