Posts Tagged Hard science fiction

Vernor Vinge: SF Author with Best % Awesomeness

Vernor Vinge does not write very many books, but when he does, science fiction fans of the world sit up and take note of its arrival. These books will completely change your expectations. They may spoil you for the lesser books out there….

FWIW I’m not fanatic about ALL his books (Marooned in Realtime makes me say meh) but starting with his Zones of Thought thread in 1992’s A Fire Upon the Deep, it’s all mind-expanding fun. You may say, why get riled up now for an author whose last book was published in 2006?

Well, because his book Children of the Sky is being published in October 2011 which is this month.

This is a continuation of the Zones of Thought multiverse, which was last visited in 1999.

As for percentage of excellence: Vernor has not published dozens upon dozens of books, but a significant MLB-pleasing percentage has won Hugo Awards. VV is close-to or exceeding GGK in terms of percentage-of-books that rank in my best-books-ever estimation.

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Primary Inversion – Catherine Asaro

$AltTextA welcome addition to Babes with Blasters.

Primary Inversion  – Catherine Asaro.

Stars: Three and a half of five.
Summary: Jagernaut fighter pilot Sauscony (Soz) Valdoria is the lead character, in command of a squadron of four Jagernaut pilots: neurologically enhanced empaths who have been bio-engineered as weapons.  Soz is also an Imperial Heir of the Skolian Empire and may someday become its military commander.  Skolian Jagernauts are pitted against the legions of the Trader empire, in particular its Aristo ruling class, a race that derives pleasure from the amplified pain and anguish of empaths, especially Jagernauts. 
The book is divided into three sections.  In the first section, Soz and her squadron are taking shore leave on a planet that has remained neutral in the hostilities between the warring empires. It is there that Soz meets an Aristo named Jaibriol, who it turns out is heir to the Trader empire. Jaibriol is strangely interesting to Soz, despite her prior torture at the hands of an Aristo.  Later, Soz and her Jagernaut squadron launch a desperate mission to save a planet from annihilation by the Trader empire. 
In the second section, Soz is sent for rest and recuperation on a planet, emotionally drained and suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Her condition continues to deteriorate.  In the third section, Soz is recalled by her brother the Imperator, to join him on the Headquarters planet.  (based on content from wikipedia, but heavily revised for brevity and to omit major spoilers). 
Provenance: FREE download from Baen Online Free Library.

Primary Inversion was Catherine Asaro’s first novel, published in 1995. As such, it is an impressive debut with few significant stumbles and strong signs of promise.  However, I may have been reading a thoroughly revised 2008 edition (according to wikipedia).  Whatever its specific pedigree, it is a good book.

The pace moves things along at a brisk clip, and the key SF elements – FTL inversion drives and Jagernaut enhancements – are worked in as meaningful plot elements by the end of the story.  The main character Sauscony (Soz) is convincingly described and engaging, and secondary characters are reasonably well drawn too. The political backdrop of warring empires – provides depth and a sense of history.

Soz herself was my particular favorite in this book, especially in the second and third sections, when she is struggling with PTSD and then adventuring.  In the first section, the narrative strains under a very heavy load of gadgetry exposition (FTL, Jagernauts, the ethnic roots of the empires), and Soz’s relationship with her fiance is dropped in like a brick.

The three-section structure of the book worked unexpectedly well for me.  Partly, because I was only semi-whelmed by the first section: I was happy to move on to a more character-centered narrative with less exposition.

In general, Primary Inversion really has earned its three and a half stars. It is good, and it’s a promising sign that later novels by Asaro will be (will have been?) very good.  It has many strong points that outweigh its weaknesses.

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Century Rain – Alastair Reynolds

Century Rain cover

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds is a big book in very many senses. The scope in the future-world is huge, stretching across centuries of human -human conflict.  In contrast, the city life in alternate 1959 Paris is minutely detailed with smells, sounds, textures, and sights.  The characterization is relatively strong, and tension is carried along successfully first by the gumshoe detection mystery, and then shifting to Auger’s race to prevent calamity.

Given the doubled nature of the worlds, the story takes a little time to find its momentum.  The jumping time-frames felt like delay in the story starting, in the first couple-dozen pages, especially since the Paris checkpoint to cross the bridge reminded me of the restrictions on the excavation under the ice. Even after the mysteries are underway, the direction of the book is unclear for over half, at least to me.  Neither Wendell Floyd the detective nor Verity Auger know what they are looking for.  On the other hand, I enjoyed being along for the ride.

When Floyd and Auger join forces the momentum becomes unstoppable.  At that point, though, I was a little disappointed that Floyd and Custine edged away from center stage, but it was still fun.

This is a tough one to rate – slightly less than 4 stars, but more than 3.5.  This did take me days and days to read. The sheer number of strong points argues for it being a 4, yet they’re diffused through a really long book making the average level more like 3.5.  So, I will rank it as both. 🙂

Echoes of other books – in a good way. The ice enclosing future, ruined Paris echoes the ice that Setebos uses in Dan Simmon’s Paris in Olympos.  Is the ice blue in both cases? There is a sense of time-travel, which reminds me of Connie Willis’ time-travel themes particularly the World War Two pair, Blackout and All Clear.

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Skylife, Space Habitats in Story and Science – ed Benford, Gregory; Zebrowski, George

Skylife is anthology which is an excellent introduction to the genre of sci fi, especially the hard mechanics of how human might colonize space. It includes influential classics by Clarke, Asimov, and Bradbury.

You might consider it more of a reference volume than something to read for recreation. Still, if you like the nuts-and-bolts, this will catch your interest.

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