Ring of Fire – Eric Flint (Editor)

An anthology of stories set in the Assiti Shards Universe. I would recommend reading 1632 and 1633 before this one. The most interesting thing about the Assiti Shards Universe is it’s shared nature. Flint has only set the most general guidelines, and other authors (both professional and non) are free to develop their story lines as they see fit, even if they affect other story lines in a major way. Flint is thus the editor of an evolving history that he has much less than perfect control over. The interesting part of the experiment is that it very much mirrors real history, which is non linear and chaotic.

Sphere – Michael Crichton

It’s another BDO (Big Dumb Object) story! Not the best Crichton. An large sphere is found underwater. Divers are sent down to investigate. Strange things happen. Gee, wasn’t this plot copied for Clarke and Lee’s “Cradle“? Anyway, fun for the SciFi and Crichton buff, and probably ok for everyone else. On a side note, the movie is actually pretty decent. Scary in that Alien way.

Rainbow Six – Tom Clancy

A step away from Jack Ryan, although he still lurks in the background. Unfortunately, this novel marks a decided slump in the quality of Clancy’s writing. There is nothing wrong with the story, although I found the motivation of the bad guys a bit too James Bond’ish. I just did not feel a compelling need to finish the book. It was a bit dull, especially compared to earlier Clancy are. You won’t miss anything by skipping directly to The Bear and the Dragon.

Some say that he does not write anymore, but only oversees a staff. I don’t know about that. My opinion is that this novel was written mainly as a selling vehicle for the computer games series released around the same time by Clancy’s games company Red Storm. The Rainbow Six games are very much about the counter-terrorism unit depicted in the novel.

To Save the Sun; To Fear the Light – A.J. Austin & Ben Bova

In To Save the Sun, humans rule a vast empire. It is discovered that the Sun is dying. A lethargic entity, the empire arrives at the consensus that humanity will evacuate the Solar System and move to other solar systems in the empire. One woman, however, feels that saving the sun would be both a symbolic gesture worthy of humanity, and a way to get humanity moving towards a common goal, as well as developing new technology. In short, a way to drive change in a society which has become too comfortable with the status quo, and in which progress has become a distant concept. The sequel is simply a continuation of events, but the first book can be read as a standalone. Unfortunately, both books feel rather unfocused on both the central story and the central theme. The main characters are not really fleshed out the way they could be. Since I very much like the thematic concepts, I was rather disappointed. It is, however, still an adequate read.

Orion; Vengeance of Orion; Orion and the Conqueror – Ben Bova

Widely considered to be Bova’s masterpiece, I never really figured out these books (and yet for some reason I read three of them). Our titular hero loses his memory, fights evil as he jumps back and forth in different eras of past and future. These jumps are more or less out of his control. He constantly loses and regains his beloved. The first book is decent, but after that it’s really just rinse and repeat and they blend into each other in my memory. I gave up after book three.

The Exiles Trilogy – Ben Bova

Three books way back when it was published, but nowadays collected in an omnibus, The Exiles Trilogy is about a group of humans on an orbiting habitat and how they are exiled from earth. Engaging and competently written, it has unfortunately aged pretty badly.

Colony – Ben Bova

A very dated tale of an orbiting habitat and of a “perfect man” who lives in it. Nothing remarkable about it, unless nineteen seventies science fiction is really your thing.

Flux – Stephen Baxter

As he did in Raft, Baxter plays with an idea in this novel. Heavily modified humans have colonized the mantle of a neutron star. The micro story taking up most of the novel is rather pedestrian, but the setting is magnificent. The macro story is about the fulfillment of a long lost purpose. Fun idea but not such a fun read.

Timelike Infinity – Stephen Baxter

In this important book in Baxter’s Xeelee sequence, Michael Poole, architect of a tunnel through time, must confront what happens when the tunnel ends in a time when humanity is enslaved. Be prepared to stretch those physics and existential synapses in your brain to the limit. If you are not really into hard SciFi, you should probably give this one a pass.

Jennifer Government – Max Barry

This starts off very well. It is a satire on globalization. The free market is everything and people change their last names to that of the company they work for. Take Mr. Hack Nike, for example. He is hired by the marketing department of Nije to stir up hype for a new line of trainers. The plan is for him to kill a couple of customers in order to give the product “street cred”. He subcontracts the job out to the Police. The government is weak and only handles crime. Jennifer Government is a government agent who used to work for an advertising agency. Definite Shades of “Snow Crash“.

This book is very clever in many ways, but disappoints in others. The story and characters are not much in themselves, but work pretty much only as vehicles for the author’s admittedly excellent satire. The novelty of the whole globalization run rampant idea wears off pretty soon, but it’s a fun, light-hearted read that kept me going until the end.

The Ugly Little Boy – Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

An expansion of an earlier story by Asimov in which scientists retrieve a Neanderthal child from the past. A nurse feels empathy for the boy and helps him escape. Competently written, but mostly interesting due to the questions it raises about scientific ethics. Published as “Child of Time” in the UK.

Nemesis – Isaac Asimov

One of Asimov’s later works, and not his best. His prose has certainly become more modern and, dare I say it, refined, since Foundation, but his ideas have not. Not a struggle to get through, but it is not a very original story. There’s a classic roving habitat, impending doom, and some youngsters.

Pebble in the Sky – Isaac Asimov

Although written in the same style as the forgettable The Currents of Space, this novel has a better story. A 62 year old retired tailor from 20th century Chicago is transported to a future earth so poor that citizens are euthanized at 60. His arrival and subsequent actions change the world. If you want to read Asimov (and you should), read the Robot books or Foundation instead.

Incidentally, this particular cover uses one of my favorite pieces of art of all time, by the late Peter Elson.

The Currents of Space – Isaac Asimov

Typical Asimov fare, in which our hero Rik is mindwiped and abandoned. Naturally, the information in his mind which he can no longer remember will bring down the reigning world order and so on. Not one of Asimov’s best, with an annoying lack of descriptions for environments and so on.

Back to the Moon (Space Excursions I) – Travis S. Taylor & Les Johnson

The story is set in the 2020s. NASA is finally returning to the Moon using the (now canceled) Orion/Altair hardware. Meanwhile, a private company is sending tourists around the Moon and the Chinese are up to something. The first mission back to the Moon turns in to a daring rescue.

I’m a big space program buff so I’m a sucker for this kind of book. The story itself is a decent adventure/thriller. The engineering is well described, as would be expected since Dr. Taylor works with NASA Huntsville and Les Johnson is a NASA physicist. Unfortunately the prose is quite stilted, especially during the first third. The characters are stereotypes, especially the Chinese. Unfortunately the Chinese are also the wrong stereotype. They feel like reruns of Cold War era Soviets with a dash of “Asian” thrown in. The story does pick up in the second half and there are some nice thrills for the space buff. If you aren’t interested in the space program particularly you should give this a pass. It isn’t a bad book per se but could have used an author with a smoother prose style.

Into the Light – Jane Wallace

The story is about Tem Sevin, who as a child saw his entire family killed by an evil group of humans known as the Gharst. Twenty years later, Sevin is a major in the special forces, and the Gharst are slowly winning a war of conquest against the Coalition. Eventually the Coalition surrenders and Sevin and various hangers-on are accused of war crimes. During the last mission, they conveniently find a Gharst prototype ship advanced well beyond the current state of the art and off they go to try and fix things.

I’ll confess that I didn’t finish the book, managing only about one third. The story is set firmly in the space opera camp, with an almost Star Wars feel to it. Physics are conveniently in support of the story and economics are ignored. Now, I’m ok with that, but since there is little science in the science fiction, the characters, plot and setting need to compensate. A prime example is Lois McMaster Bujold, where technology is not a crucial part of the story but the setting and characters are so stellar it doesn’t matter at all. Ms. Wallace, on the other hand, goes into the technology to the point that you think it would matter, then proceeds to whip out a convenient deus ex machina that negates the rules she set. There is also little sense of the military being, well, a military. The decision making process, command structure and tactics are completely out of whack. I understand that some militaries are incompetent, but at this level of operations that just wouldn’t be possible. I’m even ok with the military being unrealistic, the aforementioned Star Wars is a prime example. But in that case it shouldn’t be a primary driver for the story. And then there are the logic holes. At one point Sevin needs an emergency bandage for a buddy. Despite being surrounded by fresh corpses in uniform, he cuts up his own trouser leg. Also, since the corpses belong to soldiers presumably they would all have at least basic first aid packages on them.

Having said all that, I did enjoy the rich Universe that Ms. Wallace has created. I’m also very much in favor of Science Fiction from women, and authors who are not based in the US or the UK. If the characters had been just a bit more fleshed out, I probably would have finished the book. But I had a hard time identifying with their motivations.