Sleepover – Alastair Reynolds

Sixty-year old Gaunt, a billionaire in his previous life, is woken up from the hibernation he entered in order to sleep his way to a future where medical technology would have evolved towards clinical immortaliy. But the future is not what he expected. He finds himself on a massive platform in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, as part of a caretaker crew for billions of sleeping humans.

This short story started as notes for a novel, and has a very interesting premise. As post-apocalyptic scenarios go, it is certainly one of the most original I have read. Mr. Reynolds’s masterful prose makes the whole thing flow smoothly.

Children of Time (Children of Time I) – Adrian Tchaikovsky

A planet orbiting a distant star is seeded with life in a grand experiment. Soon after, back in our solar system, the “Old Empire” collapses in civil war, and human civilisation falls, almost to extinction. Thousands of years later, the ark ship Gilgamesh, carrying hibernating refugees from the poisoned and dying Earth, arrives at the seeded planet. Lacking supervision from those who started the experiment, a race of spiders has risen to sentience, and built its own grand civilisation on the one speck of lush green that humans could use as a new beginning.

Mr. Tchaikovsky’s opus divides its time between the desperate humans on the Gilgamesh, trying to find a place to settle before their ship gives up the ghost, and the evolving spider society on the planet. A story about sentient spiders might seem silly, but the author skillfully makes the arachnids come to life. Their society and technology is nothing like that of humans, but the primal struggle for survival is still very much in evidence. In fact, after only a brief while I started enjoying the spider chapters more than the human chapters, though this may be due to the humans acting in general as selfish and somewhat irrational refugees in a desperate situation.

Themes of loss and revival are strong, as well as the not so subtle lesson of history repeating itself by those who do not study history. The historian protagonist lives the tragedy strongest, given that in these dying days of humanity the very reasons for the race’s near-extinction are ignored, with decision makers blithely trundling towards their own doom, almost seeming afraid to take a step back and look at the big picture. A marvellous novel.

Spider Star – Mike Brotherton

SpiderStarThe inhabitants of an extrasolar colony accidentally triggers a weapon system built into the star they orbit. With the help of archaeological records evidence, they can trace its creation back to an ancient race that inhabited the system. An expedition is sent to the mythical “Spider Star” in order to find a solution. The journey itself takes years, and when they arrive, everything is so very alien.

The premise is intriguing and fascinating. The plot itself is not half bad. Unfortunately the characters are uninspired cardboard cutouts and the read itself is fantastically dull. I really wanted to like this book but after about reading about two thirds of it I couldn’t bring myself to continue.

2Rosbochs

 

The Inheritance Trilogy – Ian Douglas

These are sequels to the exciting Heritage and Legacy trilogies. As before, the focus is on the Marine Corps and its role in imagined future conflict. Note: Ian Douglas is a pen name for William H. Keith.

Star Strike

This is the first book in the third trilogy about US Marines. The story jumps ahead about half a millenium. The Xul still threaten humankind, but have been quiescent since the events of Star Marines. As per usual, the Marines are hindered by a misguided politician, then proceed to save the day and win a great victory. There is the usual boot camp training sequence with a new scion of the Garroway line.

While the plots are becoming somewhat formulaic, these novels are still of high quality. The action is gritty, the story is epic, and the books are real page turners. I was afraid that all the “future tech” would somehow make the story less relatable, but this is not so. Douglas manages to explain well how technologies like AIs, direct mind link to computers and virtual spaces change the way humans interact. He also infuses the book with a sense of history, and understands that political entities and priorities can shift dramatically over time.

Galactic Corps

The second book of the trilogy picks up the story about a decade after Star Strike. Once again, there is an annoying politician. The Marines now attempt a blow at the very heartland of the Xul, in the radiation saturated galactic core.

While the first half follows the usual formula, the second half, with operations in the core, is truly excellent. Very exciting and with many elements from “sense of wonder” stories like Ringworld and Rendevous with Rama. These are areas that military Scifi doesn’t usually touch upon but could and should more often. A very strong middle book and another page turner.

Semper Human

After a thousand year “break” in the macrostory, the Marines are back. Revived from a centuries long hibernation (de facto a kind of reserve status), they wake to a radically different galactic society, with a plethora of alien races, as well as new offshoots of the human race. The reason for their awakening is that the Xul seem to be altering reality by subtly influencing human minds through the spooky effects of quantum physics.

After the breakneck action of the previous two books, this one feels very slow to start. A lot of time is spent discussing the changes to galactic society of the past centuries. The usual “Marines are anachronisms” message, only more so, and to excess. Once battle is joined, so to speak, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as visceral as previously. The characters are dull and lack the compelling qualities of those in earlier installments. Douglas redeems himself a bit at the end with some excellent historical vignettes, but it is not enough. Unfortunately, the book becomes one long treatise about why Marines have always pulled mankind’s (and in this case Galactic Society as whole’s) chestnuts out of the fire. While I understand and even agree with the message, it is far too heavy handed. So this ninth, and possibly last, book of the saga unfortunately ends it with a sizzle where there should have been a bang. A big, big bang.