the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘space travel

arkwrightArkwright by Allen Steele

published March 2016

where I got it: purchased new

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Reviewers seem to really love this book or really be frustrated by it, there doesn’t seem to be much in between.  Here’s my issue:  I can’t figure out if my frustration with the book is because it was crafted poorly, or if I’m just whining that an author didn’t write the exact book that I wanted to read.  As the process of me writing these reviews and such is more often than not just me having a conversation with myself about a reading experience I had,  let’s let the review write itself and see what happens.

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Warning – spoilers ahead.

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The concept of Arkwright is a very fun one.  A fictitious science fiction writer, Nathan Arkwright, puts his life savings towards a foundation whose goal is to get humanity to the stars. Doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly successful, movies and TV shows are made from his stories and novels, he knows how to invest, he has a fantastic agent, etc. He kinda reminds me of a romanticized Gene Roddenberry combined with the kind of success every science fiction author dreams of.  The novel opens with Nathan’s death, and his granddaughter Kate learning the truth about her family, and about why every cent in his will went to some Foundation she’s never heard of. Once she learns the truth, she decides to get involved with the Arkwright Foundation.  And their methods of ensuring humanity gets to a colony planet and can survive the trip is a pretty innovative idea. There is some good hard science in Arkwright, that’s for sure!

 

This is not a long book.   If the plot is going to zip forward a bunch of generations, Steele doesn’t have much time to introduce characters and their motivations, and develop any interesting side plots.  So he doesn’t.  The characters barely get developed,which makes  much of the writing feel rushed and clunky. To add insult to injury I found Nathan’s flashbacks of meeting new friends at the 1939 WorldCon to be so overly schmaltzy sweet, I nearly DNF’d this book right then and there to avoid getting cavities in my teeth. What so many reviewers saw as a love letter to the genre, I saw as characters flatly written to be at exactly the right place at the exactly the right time to quite literally Forward the Foundation.  As we meet new generations of Arkwrights, unfortunately even their stories became predictable: handsome and brilliant Arkwright of marriageable age meets brilliant scientist of the opposite gender, awkwardly written romance ensues, the next generation is born,  bam, on to the next chapter and generation we go. Do these characters exist for any other reason except to ensure that the next generation of Arkwrights is born?

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Vintage SF badgeOne of the most influential science fiction writers, Robert Heinlein (1907 – 1988) has long been one of my favorite “old time” scifi writers.  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress still brings tears to my eyes every time I finish it, and The Puppermasters has me on the edge of my seat every time, even though by now you’d think I’d know what happens at the end of both books after countless rereads.  I discovered Heinlein in my late teens, his works were a gateway into science fiction for me even though it would be years before I discovered his juvenile fiction.   Last year during Vintage Month I wrote up a little bio of every author I read, and you can read my Heinlein article from last January here. It saddens me a bit to realize it’s been since last January that I read a Heinlein!  I’ve got to make him more than just a January thing!

SAM_2421The Man Who Sold The Moon, by Robert A. Heinlein

copyright 1939, 1940, 1950

where I got it: purchased used

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Containing many of Heinlein’s earliest works,  these stories all take place in his organized future history timeline, which most of his later works took place in. The stories are presented mostly in chronological order, even though they weren’t written in that order. For once, it’s a good idea  to read them in the order presented as it’s fun to see the invented technologies show up later in the time line.   In this future, fossil fuels have nearly run out and Earth is forced to develop other energy sources such as solar and nuclear. With sudden cheap energy at our fingertips, anything and everything becomes possible.  Rockets capable of getting to the moon are researched with some success, and businessmen dream of exploring the stars.  The stories included in The Man Who Sold The Moon aren’t far future adventures or space operas, they are nice light early timeline tales on how the technologies that let us reach the stars came to be.

Let There be Light (1940) – a quick story on the research and development of the Light Panels, which can store and use solar energy in a highly efficient manner.  The story opens with scientist Archibald Douglas learning the famous scientist Dr. Martin will be visiting him to speak with him about his Cold Light technology.  The next day, the only person waiting for Dr. Douglas is a beautiful woman.  It takes a bit, but she finally does convince him that she is indeed the famed Dr. Martin. Douglas quickly comes to respect and appreciate her intelligence and wit, and they work tirelessly to improve his Cold Light technology into a highly efficient power source. Unfortunately, this frustrates the electricity based power companies to no end, and Douglas comes up with the perfect solution.

The Roads Must Roll (1940) – Massive cities and communities have developed thanks to massive moving roads (similar to moving sidewalks found in airports, but much wider and much, much faster) that allow commuters to travel a hundred miles in just over an hour.  The industry that maintains the roads is massive as well, employing thousands of engineers, technicians, and supervisors.  Should anything happen to the roads or suburbs and towns that depend upon them, the entire economy could come screeching to a halt. And that’s exactly what almost happens when the followers of a  radical socio-political movement sabotage a moving road. This is an interesting story when it comes to workers rights, and the labor movement, as employees of the roads aren’t allowed to quit, and the lower echelons believe they are treated badly by management.
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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.