The Ship who Sang – Anne McCaffrey

Why this book was such a huge success is quite beyond me. Actually a mildly serialized collection of short stories, it is about a living ship. The brain of a woman was implanted in it. Sappy feelings… Space opera at its worst, blech… Yawn… Spare me… The utter boredom…

Time Future, Time Past – Maxine McArthur

Mildly entertaining novels about a space station under siege in the boondocks of space. Narrated in the first person and somewhat confusing in their plots (or lack of plots), I nevertheless found them a decent read because the main character is so well portrayed.

The Rampart Worlds Trilogy

While the Exiles Saga and the Galactic Milieu Trilogy are among my favorites, May has for a far less grandiose approach here. The characters are well rounded and her elegant prose flows smoothly. Unfortunately, the story is not very engaging. Still worth a read, especially as the third book is qualitatively above the first two. My main problem with the novels is that May is just a bit too in love with the main character, and he seems to be good at everything. There’s never any big question that things are going to be all right. Fun though.

  • Perseus Spur
  • Orion Arm
  • Sagittarius Whorl

On a side note, the covers are simply magnificent, especially on the UK edition.

Diamonds are Forever – Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor

This novelette from the anthology “Mountain Magic” deals with a young man from Kentucky taking his fiancee, a New Yorker, home to meet the parents. Little does she know that the Slade family hides a secret centuries old, about strange beings who live underground.

While not stellar, this story is entertaining enough to while away a few hours. Flint and Spoor have an easy style and a lovely wit.

Downbelow Station – C.J. Cherryh

Stuck between the “old world” Terrans and the “new world” Union, Downbelow Station struggles to survive in an increasingly hostile universe. The book follows the denizens of the station and their machinations.

This novel won the Hugo Award in 1982 so I was expecting a lot. Sadly, I found it very dull. The story itself is very interesting, as is the setting. Unfortunately I dislike Cherryh’s style. It has been described as “limited third person”, meaning that the author only describes what the current point of view character thinks about. This is different from what the character actually sees, as for example things familiar to the character are ignored. I found that the lack of details stifled the novel, rendering the prose “claustrophobic”, for lack of a better word. A side effect is that events that happened “off stage” are often introduced rather abruptly. Scenes also proceed in fits and starts, jumping from one character to the next without much apparent structure. I gave up after about a third of the book.

Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut – Mike Mullane

Mike Mullane flew on three shuttle missions as a Mission Specialist. His autobiography is a frank portrayal of NASA and the Shuttle program through his eyes. It starts with a hilarious and eye-opening description of the astronaut selection process (I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes) and then takes the reader from Mullane’s childhood through his NASA career.

The book is not written for laughs, but there is a lot of humor involved in Mullane self-deprecating style. (Of course there are  serious moments as well, such as when dealing with the Challenger disaster.) The narrative reflects one man’s singularly obsessive passion for spaceflight, and what happened once he made his dreams come true. Mullane is open about his fears, but also about what drives men and women to crave spaceflight and torture themselves in order to achieve it. The book focuses in detailed fashion on many of the less glamorous, and less well-publicized, aspects of spaceflight, chief among them visits to the toilet but also what it is like to lie uncomfortably on your back for hours waiting for launch.

This book is a real treat and highly recommended even if you aren’t that interested in space travel.


Counting Heads – David Marusek

Marusek’s debut novel is set in a futuristic Earth of nanotechnology and cloning. Society is divided up roughly into four groups. Affs are the very rich, practically immortal beings who seem to spend their time spinning webs of power. Free Rangers are the middle class, living often in Charters, a sort of communes. The lower class is made up of clones, everything from Russes to Evangelines to Jennys, bred for their dominant traits. Jennys are nurturing and often work in healthcare, Russes are loyal and work as security and bodyguards, and so forth. These are real human beings, not robots, with feelings and aspirations, albeit somewhat restricted by their genetic heritage. Finally, Mentars are cybernetic beings. The story, such as it is, revolves around the death of a very powerful Aff, and the fallout from that. The journey takes us from the lofty Aff life to the day to day work of clones.

Marusek’s world is a masterpiece of imagination. Detailed and cleverly internally consistent, it sucks the reader in. Most of the characters are three dimensional and interesting, their flaws and motivations laid out in fascinating expositions.

Unfortunately, the novel has three big flaws, beginning with the rather weak first section. It serves as a very long introduction and is jarringly different in style and content from the rest of the book. The two main characters are unlikeable, and while that’s fine, they are also a bit dull after a while, like inhabitants of a bad reality show. The second flaw is the paper thin plot. The whole book feels a bit like a documentary. And while it is a very good documentary, the lack of a concrete thrust to the story made me almost give up after eighty pages or so. The third flaw is the author’s often excessive attempts at cleverness. A character may be introduced and go about its business without any explanation about how he or she fits in the grand scheme of things for another thirty or a hundred pages. While this is fine in itself, it is somewhat annoying to see it used as a plot device. Yes, Mr. Marusek, I did understand that all these characters are related, and you did explain it in the end, but complexity is not a means unto itself.

In conclusion, this is a very promising debut, but the style and world are presented too blatantly. The author seems to be saying “look at this cool thing I made” all the time. Contrast this with the rawness Gibson’s Neuromancer, where the world is just “there”, and fascinating concepts are barely touched upon unless the characters themselves explore them more deeply. I really wanted to like this book, but the flaws annoyed almost to the point of disgust. Having said that, I would still recommend it if you like futuristic world building.

Cosmonaut Keep – Ken MacLeod

Book one of Engines of Light. This post-singularity novel has received quite some critical acclaim. While I can appreciate the good prose, I was not drawn in by either the characters or the story. MacLeod has some cool ideas but I gave up after about one hundred pages.

The Call of the Wild – Jack London

I don’t think that I can add much about this classic beyond what has already been said by other reviewers. Although it is, perhaps, more intended for a teenage audience, I found it very engaging. Quite simply a great yarn about a boy and his dog.

Bolos – Created by Keith Laumer

Bolos are huge self-aware robotic battle tanks/mobile fortresses. Throughout a very long history of wars and conflicts, they have served humanity selflessly.

After Laumer’s death, Baen thought to resurrect the Bolos with a series of anthologies featureing a variety of authors. There is some excellent, some good, and some less good, but the overall quality is surprisingly high. It is military SciFi in a very pure form, and many will probably be put off by this. I have read the first four books:

  • Bolos Book 1 – Honor of the Regiment
  • Bolos Book 2 – The Unconquerable
  • Bolos Book 3 – The Triumphant
  • Bolos Book 4 – Last Stand

Probability Moon – Nancy Kress

The first novel in a series of three. The plot is about humans on an alien world, or something. It is hard to describe the plot since nothing memorable really happens. Some neat concepts, but I couldn’t really get into it. The characters weren’t engaging at all and the plot is confused at best.


A State of Disobedience – Tom Kratman

Military Science Fiction about a Second American Revolution. Kratman sets the stage with a Democrat woman (clearly modeled on a worst case Hillary Clinton) becoming President. This new President, a leftist (for the US) Congress and the cabinet enact laws that make the US a socialist police state of the worst kind. The individual states stand to lose all their powers and the freedom of their citizens. Only Texas does something, and then only when abuses and killings in that state force the hand of the governor. The US is on the brink of civil war.

I have many problems with this book. First of all, Kratman has made the President and her cronies so absurdly power-mad and clueless that it’s just ridiculous. They seem to be the embodiment of a conservative’s ideal nightmare, including the President’s love affair with her female Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Secondly, while I will agree that big government can be abusive in many ways, simply moving all the way in the other direction is not necessarily a good idea. These are complicated problems, and there are no simple solutions.

Having said that, the depictions of combat are very good. They should be, as Kratman is a former Infantryman (I will still nitpick and say that the AT-4 is not a rocket weapon). The whole “second Alamo” is a bit over the top when it comes to plausibility, but it makes for engaging reading. If you’re into military SF, you will enjoy this, although some of the political views on both sides might make you cringe.