Category Archives: Books

Tau Zero

Tau Zero
by Poul Anderson (1970)

During an epic voyage to a planet 30 light years away, the engines of the starship the ‘Leonora Christine’ are damaged. Unable to slow down, it attains light speed (the tau zero of the title). The disparity between time for those on board and external time becomes impossibly great. Eons and galaxies hurtle by, as the crew speed helplessly into the great unknown.

 


This is considered a classic of ‘Hard Sci-Fi”. However it’s not Anderson’s best work. A lot of his short stories are entertaining and fun. The essential problem I have with the story is that all the protagonists do nothing.

They are put in an impossible situation by the failure of the ships drive. Hurtling towards the speed of light, there is little plot development of how to overcome their problem. Instead we have melodrama among the crew. In the end the death of the universe drives the plot and nothing else matters.

The ending is ridiculous, however this was written in 1970 so maybe it was before our knowledge of an endlessly expanding universe.

The Star Plunderer is a better read.

 

 

Feedback

Feedback
by Joe Haldeman (1993)

First published in the March 1993 issue of Playboy.
This science fiction novelette is about an artist that uses a ‘skinsuit’ that enables his clients to produce worth of art by their hand, but the experience and mind of the artist. An interesting idea that would seem boring until something unpredictable happens.

Refuge

Refuge Omnibus Edition
(Refuge #1-5)
by Jeremy Bishop

Refuge, New Hampshire, is a small town. When thee Baptist church’s bell starts ringing—on its own, things change. The air shimmers. The night-time sky fills with a burning red aurora. The moon, previously a crescent, is now full. And just hours after dusk, the sun returns to the sky, revealing an endless desert where there was once a mountainous pine forest. Somehow, the town is in another place (or dimension)

This is five separate novellas merged into a single volume. The core characters remain, but with each episode, new characters emerge. With each ringing of the bells, the location of Refuge changes. There are five different stories of action, adventure and horror:

Book 1: Night of the Blood Sky
Book 2: Darkness Falls (with Daniel Boucher)
Book 3: Lost in the Echo (with Robert Swartwood)
Book 4: Ashes and Dust (with David McAfee)
Book 5: Bonfires Burning Bright (with Kane Gilmour)

It’s not clear how the authors collaborated, but the writing throughout is consistent and feels mainly like Robinson.

The advantage is that you get a long book (155k words) and plenty of story. The disadvantage is that while there is continuity between episodes, they don’t accumulate to a satisfying ending. There are also far too many character and it can be difficult to remember them all. Still, there is plenty of invention and  interest to keep you reading to the end.

 

 

ST:D Desperate Hours

Desperate Hours
(Star Trek: Discovery)

by David Mack (2017)

Aboard the Starship Shenzhou, Lieutenant Michael Burnham, a human woman raised and educated among Vulcans, is promoted to acting first officer. But if she wants to keep the job, she must prove to Captain Philippa Georgiou that she deserves to have it.

She gets her chance when the Shenzhou must protect a Federation colony that is under attack by an ancient alien vessel that has surfaced from the deepest fathoms of the planet’s dark, uncharted sea.


As the author notes in the Acknowledgments:

This story originated in a request from Star Trek: Discovery co-creator Bryan Fuller, who asked me to craft a tale that would feature both the Shenzhou and the Enterprise commanded by Captain Pike. And put Michael Burnham and Spock together. Thanks for the idea, Bryan!

So Spock and Burnham are together to defeat an unknown ship. We know that both will survive, but that doesn’t stop this from being an exciting and tense story. In the middle section, Mack holds together multiple plot lines with two away-parties, two star-ships and the government of the planet.

A good read and a precursor for the TV Series Star Trek: Discovery.

 

Alchemy

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
by Theodora Goss (2017)

Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.


This story combines Jekyll and Hyde, Van Helsing, Moreau, Mary Shelley, Darwin, Jack the Ripper, Holmes and Watson. There are more, presumably from Victorian literature that I didn’t recognize.

It has the strange device of characters interjecting comments into the narrative. This interrupts the flow of the story and doesn’t add anything except to lighten the tone.

These isn’t much of a story. In fact it could have been more effective as a novelette. The characters seek to determine the perpetrator of a series of murders. This is solved about two-thirds of the way through, which results in a rather anti-climatic ending.

Large sections are devoted to backstory for the main characters. Unfortunately, having one of these after the main plot has ended makes it seem a bit tacked on.

The writing is good an kept me reading to the end. But the story isn’t very substantial and lacked a sense of adventure or excitement.

Japed

Space Team: Planet of the Japes
by Barry J. Hutchison (2017)

 

While trying to stop a cyber-attacker stealing all Space Team’s hard-earned money, the cyborg, Mech, unlocks a secret partition in his hard drive, revealing a mysterious set of co-ordinates.

The co-ordinates lead the team to Funworld, a planet-sized theme park with a worrying number of artificially intelligent clownbots, and a shocking disregard for Health & Safety.


As the author notes at the end, this is different from the Universe-shattering last story and concentrates on the ‘Space Team’. The characters are now well established and the fast talking jibes flow easily.

The  story is a bit different, you never know where it’s going (I don’t think the author knew until the final scenes). But overall it keeps up the humour and light-hearted adventuring.

 

Calderan

The Calderan Problem
by Joseph R. Lallo (2017)

The Calderan Problem is the fourth high-flying, swashbuckling adventure in the Free-Wrench series.

Several months have passed since Nita’s last adventure in the fug, and though she has spent them back in her native Caldera, she has never been busier. After countless debates and discussion, she has finally convinced her people to give the Wind Breaker and its crew safe harbor on the shores of her idyllic homeland. Now she is looking forward to introducing Captain Mack, Lil, Coop, and the rest of the crew to the land of her birth.


The first in the series was brilliant, the second also good, the third a disappointment. This I didn’t finish. After getting 29% through nothing was really going on and it became rather boring. So I stopped reading.

 

Hab 12

Hab 12 (Scrapyard Ship #2)
by Mark Wayne McGinnis (2013)

Captain Jason Reynolds faces new challenges, not only on Earth but from the far side of the universe as well. The only way to stop the Craing this time will be to square off with them on their home turf.


Most of this story takes place in what appears to be an alternative world within a starship. It’s not that clear, in fact a lot of this novel is not clear, like the motivations of characters and how things work.

It just seems to move from one set piece of adventure/battle with little logic. Not a series I was wanting to continue with. Just very average.

 

 

Scrap Ship

Scrapyard Ship (Scrapyard Ship #1)
by Mark Wayne McGinnis (2013)

Lieutenant Commander Jason Reynolds has had a string of bad luck lately — evident by the uncomfortable house arrest bracelet strapped to his right ankle. Worse yet, he’s relegated to his grandfather’s old house and rambling scrapyard. To complicate things, the women in his life are pulling from every direction. But It’s through a bizarre turn of events that Jason is led to a dried up subterranean aquifer hundreds of feet below ground. Here he discovers an advanced alien spacecraft, one that will propel his life in a new direction.


What begins as an adventure science fiction story soon turns into military science fiction. Although the story could easily be epic fantasy. There is a lot of hand-wavy techno-mumble to explain how things work. It could have just have easily been labelled ‘magic.

Despite these drawbacks, the plot moves along at a good pace and is generally well written. The story takes a number surprising turns. But there is one REALLY obvious military tactic that is foreshadowed early on.

A good read, and I’m moving on the the second in the series.

 

Starfire

Starfire
by B.V. Larson (2014) 132K

On June 30, 1908 an object fell from the sky releasing more energy than a thousand Hiroshima bombs. A Siberian forest was flattened, but the strike left no significant crater. The anomaly came to be known as the Tunguska Event, and scientists have never agreed whether it was the largest meteor strike in recorded history—or something else.

 


This is a big, sprawling science fiction /political novel that starts off like a Tom Clancy story with multiple plot-lines. There are conspiracies and deals being done between USA and Russia. Over half the book feels like a thriller. Then everyone goes into space and the plot-lines concentrate on the voyage.

This was written after the Star Force series. The writing is of an experienced author. Everything is well written and paced for one of his longer books. But best of all is that you never know where the plot will take you.

Recommended for science fiction and thriller readers.