A Fire Upon the Deep
(Zones of Thought #1)
by Vernor Vinge (1993)
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from super-intelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.
This is being read as the ‘Sword and Laser’ podcast pick for September. The last Vernor Vinge book I read was ‘Rainbows End’. This starts OK, but the plot really sags in the middle, I got bored with it and gave up.
So it’s with trepidation I started this book………
The start is OK, spaceships are destroyed and a family is abandoned on a planet to face a savage foe. Then the third person narrative switches to the aggressor. The language changes and all sorts of unnecessary words are thrown in that makes it a difficult read. Up until now I can follow the story, then we get another narrative by some unknown people in an unknown place.
The author just isn’t that good at setting up a situation and describing what is going on. Things start to drag and become boring. I persisted until 14% of this 203,000 word novel. Was I going to slog my way through the remaining 86% ?
Kim Stanley Robinson – Aurora (2015)
AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.
This was read as part of the Sword and Laser Podcast June picks. I
I began this book with some trepidation. The previous Kim Stanley Robinson book I had read was ‘Forty Signs of Rain’ and I hadn’t finished that.
This starts with a domestic setting on a lake in a spaceship !. The story appears to be about young -adult and her interactions with some rebellious children. Not what I would expect of a Sci-Fi novel. Fortunately chapter 2 begins with some hard-Sci-Fi explaining the current situation. We are on a ship that has been traveling for over 100 years to a planet. Then it’s back to the kid. At this point I wondered if the whole book would be like this. So I checked out a few reviews. One of the best indicators of a book I don’t like is the comments in the 1-star reviews. Usually if there are a good number that use words like ‘dull’ and boring, I will be agreeing with them. Of the 453 reviews, 10% are 1-star.
According to Liz Seber:
I have been reading science fiction for 55 years. I have read all the greats – Asimov, Heinlein, Niven etc – and, sometimes, their efforts haven’t always been good. But this book must be the dullest and most boring sf effort I have ever read. A good concept ruined by pages and pages of philosophizing and an unsatisfying ending. I never fully understood the main character who was never completely filled out and I don’t think the author understood her either. This should have been a lively story (see Brian Aldiss’s Non Stop, which is a similar theme, for a returning space farers story that works) but it failed in all respects.
Doug Minear calls it a ‘slow boat to Aurora” . And Heather; I had to force myself to finish.
This book is 148k words long so instead of persevering through the remaining 87%, I’m moving on the the next Sword & Laser pick for June.
Emma Newman – Planetfall (2015)
From the award-nominated author Emma Newman, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…
This was read as part of the Sword and Laser Podcast June picks. It is also written by the host of the Tea and Jeopardy podcast.
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
The book starts well, an interesting premise and well written. It soon becomes apparent that the main device of the story is that the narrator has held back vital information. This will be revealed and its impact on the colony. The problem is that at the halfway mark, little has been revealed and the main character has some problems. And the plot slows to much to sustain interest. I gave up.
by Julie Hyzy
It’s not often Alex St. James has a story like this fall into her lap, only to have it snatched away again. As news researcher at Midwest Focus Television in Chicago, she’d been set to interview a young Polish immigrant woman, pregnant by a Catholic priest. When the woman is found murdered, and Alex tries to investigate, her boss abruptly reassigns her to a fluff piece, so he can give the hot murder story to the station owner’s nephew. But anyone who knows Alex also knows that like Fate, she’ll find a way. Acting without authority and without assistance, she continues to investigate, making some very powerful people in the Chicago Archdiocese uneasy. Suddenly Alex finds herself in the middle of a plot so sinister and far reaching that the very next thing she might hear are her own Last Rites. Award-winning mystery author Julie Hyzy has also written several award-winning science-fiction short stories. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago.
It’s not that there is anything badly done, it’s just that
… The pacing is too slow
… I can deal with a first-person female protagonist, but all that happens is centered around hairdressers !
… for a crime novel there isn’t much crime or action and after a quarter of the book has gone it’s looking like there won’t be much coming up.
So once again I’m ending a book because of slow pacing and lack of a plot.
The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1)
N. K. Jemisin
Read as part of the Sword and Laser March pick.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
This book opens with a huge info-dump of a prelude. Then it starts as the main viewpoint character in present tense, second person style. Not normally a prose style I like, but the skills of the author pull it off. Soon, however this would get annoying and pull me out of the story each time it was used.
This is grim-dark fantasy and very grim. It starts with the murder of a child and doesn’t look up. The story is very slow to get started and soon becomes apparent that everything will be stretched out to make this a long fantasy book. One of the main problems I had was that the ‘magic’ employed by the characters was just out of proportion to actual human abilities, apparently people can cause earthquakes !
The lack of any wit in the characters, the slow pacing and weird magic just got boring and I gave up after getting about 25% through.
by Robert J Sawyer (2016)
Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously—a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.
There are a lot of things wrong with this book. The first thing the author does is throw out the notion of free will and put everyone in categories.
It’s just the opposite of Zootopia !
It you want to hear all the problems with the book, listen the Luke Burrage’s TWO HOUR rant about the book in issue #302 of his Science Fiction Book Review Podcast.
All the Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders
This is the Sword and Laser Pick for March 2016.
From the editor-in-chief of io9.com.
Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.
It starts off OK, the story implies an interesting combination of magic and science to come. Once the two main characters become adults and live in the same city things come apart. All the magical realism and science in the first part of the story evaporates. By halfway through it all descends into some kind of boring romance. All the interesting stuff is gone. Hopefully the story will pick up and become interesting. But after a few chapters of the characters love life I lost interest and gave up.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
My reviews of the five published books.
A Games of Thrones (1996)
The magnum opus that started the madness. Slow to start but soon becomes compelling reading.
A Clash of Kings (1998)
Still compelling and interesting
A Storm of Swords (20002)
Now the books are getting longer. This one is split into two volumes. The plot starts to thin, the number of characters increase and the pacing slows.
A Feast for Crows (2005)
While still a good read, occasional plot developments keep the reader interested. By now we have realised that the journey is more important than the destination
A Dance with Dragons (2012)
Long, tedious and dull.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
I read this based on the popularity of the series.
First, I like the first person point of view and writing style, it’s tight and well paced. But whole premise of the book seems to be … Harry gets into trouble and uses magic to save himself and solve the case. There wasn’t much in the way of plot twists, suspense or intrigue.
The problem I have is that whenever Harry gets into trouble, out comes another obscure magic trick to save the day. These is never a sense of consistency or limitations to the magic. It’s probably because I have read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series with a well thought out magic system. Also, after just finishing George Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ books, fantasy just isn’t the same.
I enjoyed Mike Resnick’s ‘Fable of Tonight’ series of urban fantasy more than this.