Portal (Boundary III) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

PortalAfter the debacle at the end of Threshold, our heroes plus the few survivors of the EU ship Odin are marooned on Europa, a moon of Jupiter thought to have a liquid ocean underneath a globe-spanning icecap. The first half of the book focuses mainly on survival, while the second deals with the exploration of the Europan icecap and the obligatory thrilling cliffhanger.

This book is almost a throwback to old school “explore the solar system” science fiction. The struggle for survival itself becomes the subject of examination and discussion, but without becoming boring. The Universe is light and cheery and full of wonder despite its many dangers. The fleshed out characters make things come alive. The dialogue may sometimes be cheesy, but it always feels authentic. Real people don’t always spout cool one-liners, and some real people love horrid puns. The physics are real and well researched; I have learned more about ice behavior in low pressure and temperature than I thought I needed to know, but it was interesting. As with the previous installment, the story was on the light side, especially the conspiracy subplot. Also as with the previous installment, I liked this book more than it probably deserved simply because it is a joy to be with the characters on their fantastic adventures.

4Rosbochs

Boundary (Boundary I) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

The title “Boundary” refers to the K-T Boundary, an event 65 million years ago in which a large number of species, most famously including the dinosaurs, became extinct, probably due to the impact of a meteor. A group of paleontologists find a very strange fossil grouping, with bizarre anomalies including what look like bullets. The fossil sits right on the Boundary, meaning it is from the time of the event. A little later, the first mission (unmanned) to Mars’ moon Phobos reveals an abandoned, and ancient, alien base. The space program is accelerated to allow a large scale manned mission to Phobos and Mars.

This is the kind of adventure novel that I really love. Engineering, science, fun characters, and a great plot. A journey of discovery with a good sprinkling of old fashioned sense of wonder. It is not without its flaws, however. The dialog is often stilted. There is no deep exploration of interpersonal relationships as the characters mesh far too well. Love and friendship sprout in neat couplings and groups. I enjoyed this book a lot, but it could have had a bit more depth.

The Rama Series – Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee

A mysterious giant cylinder is found in space, falling inwards on a trajectory which will take it through the solar system. It is dubbed “Rama”. An expedition is sent to probe it’s contents.

Along with 2001, Rendezvous with Rama is the defining work of Arthur C. Clarke. The book is full of his trademark sense of wonder, and Clarke manages to convey awe at alien things like few others can. The first book is a solo effort. Clarke then teamed up with Gentry Lee to write a sequel trilogy. The whole series consists of:

  • Rendezvous with Rama
  • Rama II
  • The Garden of Rama
  • Rama Revealed

The follow-up trilogy explores and expands on the Rama concept, and puts forward some very interesting ideas on life in the universe, and how ready we as humans really are to inherit the stars (or Eden). It is an epic tale of destiny, focused around the character of Nicole, a hero if there ever was one. Not an action hero, however. Simply an inspiring figure around which the story swirls and flows. Wonderful stuff, and quite awe-inspiring.

The Songs of Distant Earth – Arthur C. Clarke

As usual, Clarke has an interesting premise. Faced with the Sun going nova in the year 3600, humanity launches seed ships with the necessities for creating earth life, including humans. Some of these colonies succeed, including one on the island paradise of Thalassa. After seven hundred years, a manned colony ship with a million frozen humans appears in orbit. The (not frozen) crew of the ship needs water ice in order to rebuild the ablation shield on the ship and continue their journey. The novel describes how the very different groups of crew and inhabitants of Thalassa meet and interact over the course of the colony ship’s stay.

I found the whole thing naive in it’s view of humanity (everybody is unnaturaly wise and kind) and more than a bit a bit dull. While Clarke has many interesting ideas, and I certainly had no problem finishing the book, I found that there was a peculiar lack of tension. Clarke compensates with his mastery of the “sense of wonder” style, but this still isn’t enough to elevate this novel even close to the level of his masterpieces, like the Rama Series or The Fountains of Paradise.

As an interesting footnote, Mike Oldfield recorded an eponymous concept album based on themes from the book. It is one of my all-time favorites.

The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke

A classic from one of the great masters. The book tells the story of the construction of a space elevator on an island closely based on Sri Lanka. The author also took a bit of license and moved it to the equator in order to make things actually work.

While one might think that the story is only about the technical aspects, it delves much deeper into the spiritual past and future of bridge building. For what is a space elevator if not a bridge to the stars? Clarke skillfully blends the past and the future into a marvelous tale. His famous skill sense of wonder is shown off to great effect, and the book leaves you feeling in awe with humanity and the universe.

2001 Series – Arthur C. Clarke

This series started as a one-off book released in conjunction with the Stanley Kubrick movie of the same name. The series consists of:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 2010: Odyssey Two. (Also made into a film)
  • 2061 Odyssey Three
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey

The first and second books are enthralling. 2061 is more of the same, and thus decent but somewhat pointless as part of the arc. 3001 is an attempt at closing up all the loose threads, and does so in a satisfying way.

For a long time, these books frustrated me because I just didn’t get them. On the surface, they are hard SciFi, but there is quite a bit of existential pondering about the nature of life. When I finally just relaxed and accepted the fact that there are mystical things going on, I realized that this is the whole point. The reader is supposed to be in awe, and there are some things that mankind is not meant to know (yet). Just remember to accept the mystery and embrace the sense of wonder.

 

The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke

One of the great classics of science fiction, this novel is set in a city that holds the last remnant of humanity. The inhabitants of the city while away the millennia in eternal bliss. But there is trouble in paradise (of course). A young boy finds that he wants more out of existence than merely existing. I found this a bit slow paced, but it is an interesting investigation of utopia and eternity.

Threshold (Boundary II) – Eric Flint & Ryk E. Spoor

Our friends from Boundary are back in a pretty direct sequel to the first book. The race is on to find more Bemmie bases. The Ares Project, despite having managed to get a foothold on Mars, is strapped for cash and resources. With some clever maneuvering they manage to get both, and set off towards first Ceres, then Enceladus.

The first book was nicely crafted, with excellent character development. This second one feels much more forced, especially the first half. I really enjoyed going back and seeing what the gang was doing after the previous story ended, but was a bit disappointed at the lack of a strong story. This series will never be “heavy” but it needed a bit more than this effort. That being said, it harkens back to adventure science fiction from an earlier time, before all the dark and broody bits that are so in vogue nowadays. And so I still liked this book more than it perhaps deserves. The ending wasn’t quite a cliffhanger but certainly lacked resolution, leaving the door wide open for a sequel. Yes please.