Pointless action/adventure novel in which gods and sorcerers walk the present day earth.
Alien Emergencies – James White
The Weapons Shops of Isher; The Weapon Makers – A.E. Van Vogt
A couple of Golden Age classics that have aged very badly. Often published in one volume.
In the Presence of Mine Enemies – Harry Turtledove
In this alternate history novel, the year is circa 2001. The Nazis won the Second World War, then conquered America a generation later. Jews are hiding in the midst of the Third Reich.
So, what’s the book actually about? As far as I could figure out, not very much. I kept wondering when something would actually happen. Unfortunately I reached the end and nothing had, unless you count interminable games of bridge while the characters wonder who is having unfaithful thoughts.
Turtledove had a great idea for the premise, but this novel is mind numbingly dull. The portrayal of everyday life under the shadow of the Germanic Empire is fascinating for about ten pages, and the hints of change intriguing, but the rest is one long yawner.
Armor – John Steakley
The novel is about a disillusioned soldier in a future war. But that’s only the first 100 pages, which flow pretty well and are decent science fiction battle action. After the climax of the first part, which is about the soldier Felix and his troubles, there is a jarring discontinuity and the story picks up two years later with a pirate named Jack Crow, who escapes from prison, makes a deal with another pirate and goes down to a planet.
By this time I was well and thoroughly bored. I hate it when authors make their characters do stuff which they can’t describe. Jack Crow runs a con, and Steakley writes that it is very sneaky and how it feels and all that. Everything except explaining what the con actually is. Cop out! I kept trying to read on but it was both horrendously boring and not particularly good so I couldn’t bear to continue. Who knows, there may be nice action stuff ahead, but I’ll never get to it.
Triplanetary – E.E. “Doc” Smith
The Lensman series is considered the mother of all space opera, and it all begins with Triplanetary, which is a series of three vaguely related novelettes, the first one concerning the fall of Atlantis. In the second one, a spaceliner is attached by a pirate. The pirate in turn is attacked by aliens intent on grabbing all our iron (no, really…) and a few corny heroes have adventures.
Many science fiction greats including Michael J. Straczynski to Peter F. Hamilton (who told me so personally) see the Lensman series as one of the main reasons they entered the field. My problem: I hated this book. The technology and science stuff very dated, but that shouldn’t stop a good story. Certainly Jules Verne is still good over a century later. In Triplanetary, there is no rhyme, reason or consistency. Our heroes always seem to have the correct device when they need it. This removes any sense of suspense. It feels like an old black and white Flash Gordon television serial. While that was good stuff when I was nine, now it just seems corny and silly. Yawn.
Inexplicably, the first edition that I sampled skips more than half of the original “Triplanetary”, which is not so much a novel as a collection of three novelettes, skipping directly to the middle one. There is also an unrelated Smith novel as the second half of this book. I have since found the original text but just as before I could not get through it.
The Burning City – Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
This book has no discernible story. There are some good ideas but they are squandered. I wish these two geniuses would have hired some young fireplug to do the actual writing off their outline. That way their cool concepts would have made for a legible novel. Niven & Pournelle are just not the team they used to be.
Once a Hero – Elizabeth Moon
A Talent for War – Jack McDevitt
One of the earliest McDevitt novels, about investigating the truth behind a historical legend. The premise is interesting. A chance death leaves behind an inheritance and clues to a mystery.
Unfortunately it is really really boring. The characters and the locales are forgettable, and the thrust of the story is dull. I gave up after about a hundred pages.
The Ship who Sang – Anne McCaffrey
Probability Moon – Nancy Kress
The Stand – Stephen King
A disease wipes out most of mankind. The survivors must deal with a post-apocalyptic world in which evil is brewing.
I read the “Complete and Uncut” edition, which is a “Director’s Cut” of sorts. When “The Stand” was first published, King’s publishers figured a hardcover in the full length would be too costly to produce, meaning a retail price that would make it unsellable. Ten years later, in 1990, King was a much bigger name, and so he restored the cut parts and the book was rereleased in this form. The story itself is pretty decent but King takes way too long to get to any sort of point. It just drags and drags. Get on with it already. I just couldn’t motivate myself to continue past the first half or so.
Resurrection – Katharine Kerr
This one is thankfully short. A novelette of just over a hundred pages in large-ish print. Even so I kept thinking that someone like Niven could have told the same story in less than thirty pages. Our hero has been “resurrected” after a plane crash incurred in combat. Her brain is still recovering from the injuries and she is having a hard time telling the truth from hallucination. Or is she?
I was quite dissapointed with this. So much interesting stuff to work with, such as the multiple realities, the Devil and the Rabbi, the process of medical resurrection itself. But it’s all quite bland really. Our protagonist Tiffany wanders about a predictable and very poor San Francisco in a confused daze. Her boyfriend is bland. Her family is bland. The Devil and the Rabbi are kind of interesting but not enough to redeem the story. If it had been any longer, I would not have finished it.
The Number of the Beast – Robert A. Heinlein
A Call to Arms – Alan Dean Foster
Book one of “The Damned”. A man is kidnapped by aliens, who are shocked to find that humans are so good at war and violence. All alien species are pretty useless at the stuff. Humans, though obviously and abomination and blablabla, will be a useful asset. Written with a great does of humor, but maybe I just didn’t get the joke. Yawn…
The Pride of Chanur – C.J. Cherryh
This is now published in the omnibus “The Chanur Saga”. I managed to slog through this Novel. The story is pretty boring and the aliens are plain vanilla space opera fare. Just “humans with fur” if you like, not alien at all apart from appearance. What I don’t get is how this stuff can sell so well. Seriously, there is so much better out there.
The Rock Rats – Ben Bova
Part two of the Asteroid Wars. I used to keep coming back to Bova and his Grand Tour of the Solar System. Maybe I’m just a sucker for near future tales of men and women trying to tame the solar system. This book made me stop. It is just plain boring. Amanda may be beautiful but she and the other characters feel about as emotional as puppets. Furthermore, I simply don’t buy the story. After slogging through about half the book, I gave up.
Darwin’s Radio – Greg Bear
I saw the sequel to this one in the bookstore and it intrigued me. So I picked up the first book. It’s all about the “next step” in evolution. Sure it’s been done, but this looked cool.
Unfortunately it was monumentally boring. The main characters are very well described and interesting, but you always feel as if you’re at one remove from the real action. A new chapter will suddenly assume that a lot of things have happened since the last one, but none of that stuff is filled in. This sometimes had me checking if I actually missed a page or something. The biology is very interesting, but there is too much of it, disrupting the flow of the story.
I gave up after about 150 pages. Blech.
A History of the World in 10Â½ Chapter – Julian Barnes
Kaleidoscope Century – John Barnes
The Great and Secret Show – Clive Barker
The Digital Dead – Bruce Balfour
In the setting for novel, one can get an implant that takes a snapshot of the brain at death (a little like in Altered Carbon). This snapshot is transferred to the databanks of the company Elysian Fields and a sort of electronic heaven. So the dead are not really dead. Looks promising, but my first question is: If these dead can be “alive” why don’t they just implant their cybernetic consciousnesses into cyborgs and roam free? This question is answered, but not really to anyone’s satisfaction.
The story is rather complex, with a host of characters being introduced in the first eighty pages or so. It remains complex for most of the novel, but without ever really coming into focus. The driving threat feels abstract and the actions of the characters are rather erratic.
The writing is average. Many good ideas are competently presented, but there is no sign of prose virtuosity. The author tries a bit too hard with the near future clichÃ©s, such as “Brooks Armani”, or the worst one yet: “President Schwarzenegger”. Not because it is implausible, but because it is so uncool. His descriptions of locales are formulaic and boring and I found myself skimming through them.
I was left dissatisfied. I could barely work up the energy to finish the book, and it took a long time. Balfour has some great ideas, but does not present them nearly well enough.