Victory’s Bright Dawn (Siobhan Dunmore IV) – Eric Thomson

Siobhan Dunmoore is now in command of Iolanthe, a massive Q-Ship charged with anti-piracy patrol. While returning for resupply, they find the Naval base on the planet Toboso, and the colonial administration facilities, destroyed by orbital bombardment. Many critical supplies have also been pilfered by the raiders. The crew of the Iolanthe sets off on a complex chase to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mr. Thomson continues to keep the series fresh by, once again, telling a very different story. While lacking in the high stakes of Like Stars in Heaven, there is still plenty of action and banter to keep fans of the series happy. The introduction of many new characters, including the colourful Army contingent, also injects fresh energy. The plot does get rather convoluted at times, requiring overlong and somewhat forced dialogue infodumps.

I must gripe again that, just as in the previous instalment, there is an out of context jibe at leftist thinking for no plot-related reason.

Like Stars in Heaven (Siobhan Dunmore III) – Eric Thomson

Dunmoore and the crew of the Stingray are sent on a long range mission to investigate a possible lost colony of mankind. When they arrive, they find a society that has developed in a rather radical direction.

While I have previously compared the Siobhan Dunmoore series to Horatio Hornblower and Honor Harrington, this instalment felt very much like an extended episode of Star Trek – The Next Generation, in all the good ways. The crew are sent on a mission. Things are not as they seem. Tensions arise. Dramatic conclusion. The structural elements of the story are not necessarily original, but the narrative structure is excellently assembled. The tension in the second half of the book is palpable; the stakes feel very real, and the pages almost turn themselves. Mr. Thomson has found a way to tell a different kind of story in each of the three books so far, and again avoided the temptation to expand the scope of the novel towards the wider universe, confining the action to the crew of the Stingray. The dialogue and pacing are excellent. My one gripe was the rather random snipe at liberal/leftist thinking, which felt like a jarring and misplaced attempt at political lecturing rather than an integral part of the narrative.

Tau Zero – Poul Anderson

The sublight colony starship Leonora Christine, powered by a Bussard Ramjet, is damaged while passing through a small nebula.  The decelerator mechanism is disabled and cannot be repaired unless a region of empty space is reached. The crew elects to continue accelerating in order to find a refuge. Due to the effects time dilation as the ship claws ever closer to the speed of light, ship time and outside time become increasingly disconnected. As the months and years pass on board, eons pass outside.

Tau Zero is an acknowledged science fiction classic. Some parts have not aged too well, in particular the 1960s social mores and optimistic view of the human races’ collective rationality. Some of the content also feels a bit like padding, most likely because it started out as a short story. However it remains a well executed hard science fiction story which manages to bring home the insignificance of individuals, and even of humanity itself, when confronted with the almost unimaginable vastness of time and space.

Cibola Burn (The Expanse IV) – James S.A. Corey

TheExpanse4CibolaBurnFollowing the events in Abaddon’s Gate, humanity has access to a thousand worlds connected by The Hub left behind by the protomolecule builders. The Outer Planets Alliance holds The Hub as a sort of way station. On the planet Ilus, Belter refugees have set up a lithium mining operation. However the UN has given the exploration charter for the world to Royal Charter Energy, a large corporation. While the Belters have been building a hardscrabble life, an RCE expedition to claim and explore the world has slowly been making its way to Ilus. The name itself is the first political issue of many, as RCE calls the world New Terra. Some of the Belter colonists take direct action against the perceived thread, destroying the first RCE shuttle to attempt a landing; killing several RCE staff and scientists. The UN and OPA send Holden and the crew of the Rocinante in to mediate. And from there, things go rapidly downhill.

In trademark The Expanse style, things start calmly and slowly, only to accelerate into a furious page-turning crescendo of action by the end of the novel. The world of Ilus/New Terra is not what it seems, and humans are messing with forces they can only barely comprehend. The crew of the Rocinante have matured into a closely knit team, and I can’t help comparing them to the crew of the Firefly. I even kept seeing Amos as Jayne. They trust each other to get the job done, without any doubts or hesitation. While not quite as strong as the previous installment, and somewhat ponderous in the first half, this yet another great read in the series.

4½Rosbochs

Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny

The crew of a colony ship has set itself up as the Hindu pantheon, lording it over the descendants of their former passengers by controlling access to superior technology and enacting laws forbidding progress. This works well for a long time, until the Buddha appears.

A deep novel which is sometimes difficult to fathom, it is nevertheless considered a science fiction classic for good reason. The way in which Zelazny uses technology as a metaphor for spirituality is masterful.

Coyote Frontier (Coyote III) – Allen Steele

Book three in the Coyote series, this novel takes us once more to the colony planet Coyote. But there’s a new twist. Earth has developed a technology for instantaneous travel between stars, meaning close contact with Earth is possible once more. Coyote seems like paradise to inhabitants of Earth wracked with overcrowding and catastrophic climate change. Will the budding Coyote Federation be able to withstand the onslaught? The original colonists have grown middle aged and responsible, but now their children rebel. It is a classic dichotomy. The old and wise versus the young and energetic. Steele plays to his strength in character creation and development, making this perhaps the most enjoyable of the Coyote books.

Unlike the two previous books, this one is not a collection of previously written short stories with interlude pieces. However, Steele has still kept some of that feel. The narrative changes pace, viewpoint and even style between sections. But the episodes are less self contained than before. This effect still takes some getting used to, but it works well.

The epilogue, after the action proper has been concluded and loose ends tied up, is a bit surprising. We are left dangling after a momentous first contact. Said first contact is described in Steele’s novel Spindrift. Blatant plug? Perhaps. But it also reminds us that the story of the colony is still unfolding.

Coyote Rising (Coyote II) – Allen Steele

The sequel to Coyote, picks up where the previous one left off, thus mitigating some of my annoyance with the ending of the previous book. Coyote has been invaded by the Western Hemisphere Union, a major power on Earth, and the original colonists have to fight a guerilla war against an increasingly despotic post-socialist regime. As before, the story is episodic in nature, with the whole derived from eight short stories. This has both advantages and disadvantages. While the thing feels cobbled together, the shifting viewpoints keep things interesting, and Steele is certainly a master of the short story.

Even more than before, though, Coyote feels like Steele’s “Big Caucasian Sandbox”. I don’t think the author has given it conscious thought, but everyone seems to be Caucasian and with a North American outlook on life. It’s really quite comical. And while Steele will sometimes make a token effort at exploring cultural differences between the the older generation of original colonists and the new one, he is mainly concerned with differences in political outlook. In the end, it’s not so bad, since the theme of the story is revolution.

Coyote (Coyote I) – Allen Steele

This novel goes beyond Steele’s typical near-future, near-Earth fare and describes the creation of the first interstellar colony.

The novel has previously been published in the form of a series of short stories, and suffers from it, feeling cobbled together.

The characters are interesting and I was drawn in by the narrative. Steele readily manages to convey the sense of wonder inherent in traveling for almost two hundred and fifty years, and then arriving at an alien world.

I was disappointed with three things. The first is the apparent lack of proof reading and sloppy science. For example, on one page a pilot is gripping a stick, and on the facing page this changes into a yoke. The second is the less than perfect orbital mechanics and the lack of biological diversity on the new world, In Steele’s defense, it is clear that he is more focused on interpersonal interaction, and he pulls off this part very well. The third and last thing is the ending. I don’t have a problem with endings that leave a lot to the imagination, but this simply left you hanging. I don’t want to give it away here, but the whole last part of the book was simply too implausible and just plain annoying. With just a very little change, Steele could have written a classic.

The Last Colony – John Scalzi

In this second sequel to Old Man’s War. John Perry is back centre stage. He is married to Jane Sagan, the special forces soldier created from the DNA of his dead wife. They have adopted the daughter of Charles Boutin (see The Ghost Brigades) and have retired from the military and live on a quiet colony. The Colonial Union has other plans for them, however, and they are more or less drafted as leaders of a new colony. The catch is that the Conclave, a federation of races to whom humanity does not belong, has forbidden the creation of new colonies. And so their new colony, Roanoke, is hidden away. They are forbidden from using modern equipment. But the depth of the Colonial Union’s deception is hidden even from them. To add insult to injury, their information about the Conclave is flawed at best.

I enjoyed this one just like the previous two books. Scalzi is very good at characters, and the first person narration through Perry gives the book a light hearted, humorous sense. The plot is convoluted, perhaps too much so. Scalzi is good at keeping track, but this reader felt that all the plot twists required too much exposition. The novel lacked the sense of immediacy so present in Old Man’s War. A solid conclusion to the series in any case.

Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

Earth is a backwater, kept in a sort of information embargo about humanity’s various off world colonies. Developing countries send colonists in droves, but in America the only option if you want to leave is to enlist in the Colonial Defense Force (CDF). There’s a catch, though. You can only enlist when you turn seventy-five. Details of what awaits the recruits are scant, and all ties to Earth are severed after enlistment. The whole thing is more or less a leap of faith. As it turns out, the Universe is a scary place and the CDF is more or less constantly at war. The recruits are rejuvenated, trained and sent out.

Our hero John Perry is one of these recruits. It is very interesting to see the story told from an old person’s viewpoint. All the recruits are old, and they don’t see things like youngsters do. It certainly makes a change from young people going to war. Perry does not know what to expect, and what he finds out there is far stranger than he ever imagined.

I enjoyed this book immensely. The main character is very likeable. He is basically Mr. Middle America (in the good way), but with the usual quirks to be expected after a lifetime. The pacing is excellent, unhurried but without bogging down. It is very strongly inspired by “Starship Troopers”, and as inspirations go one could do worse.

The Mars Trilogy – Kim Stanley Robinson

Consisting of:

  • Red Mars
  • Green Mars.
  • Blue Mars.

This series on the colonization of Mars is spectacularly wide ranging and epic. It is very well written and researched. While it is enjoyable, my big gripe is that Mr. Robinson leaves no stone unturned. He wants to explore so many things that the main push of the story gets lost. Or maybe this is less of a story and more of a chronicle. But even so, there is too much stuff going on. Admittedly most of that stuff is interesting but the whole thing just too ponderous.

Crystal Rain – Tobias S. Buckell

On what is obviously a “lost” colony world, a man without a past (or at least much of one) is caught up in a great conflict. And apparently there’s a macguffin in the desolate north that can save the day.

I really wanted to like this. The reviews were decent, speaking of swashbuckling action against a rick backdrop of hodge-podge Caribbean culture. Unfortunately I found the whole thing pretty dull. The pacing is slow, the action scenes are cookie cutter. I kept waiting for Mr. Buckell to get to the point. But no, the obviously upcoming expedition to the north never seems to get off the ground. Mr. Buckell is obviously talented, but this was not for me. I gave up about half way through.