Monday, October 16, 2017

Read-Along: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, Part 2

James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games is getting very intense, very quickly!  It’s time to discuss the second quarter of the novel, which includes chapters 13 through 25.  This week’s questions are provided by There’s Always Room for One More.  

If you’re interested in getting involved in the read-along, feel free to check out our Goodread’s group, and/or to follow SFFReadAlongs on Twitter.  From here on out, beware of spoilers!

1) Woah. Okay, was anybody expecting this level of drama? Prediction time: what will Marco do next? Any thoughts on who his mysterious allies are?

No, I was definitely not.  It was foreshadowed with all the talk about the Belters’ feelings about the gate and thousands of habitable planets.  It was also foreshadowed by the discussion of the militant sect of the OPA and Naomi’s past involvement in it.  Marco’s request for Naomi was also a clue.  It seemed like a really minor thing to call her out for, just to charter her son a ship.  I was trying to figure out what was the real purpose.  The prologue, also, gave us some hints toward what they were up to.  Despite all this, I did not see the attacks coming at all.

As for the rest, I suspect his next plan involves the protomolecule.  Their goal seems to be to actually wipe out planet-bound humanity, so I suspect he plans to unleash the protomolecule on Earth.  I’m not sure if it will do the same thing as it did on Eros or Venus, now that the gate is built, but I don’t know.  I have no idea who his allies are.  Maybe aliens?

2) So Earth is full apocalypse. The Secretary General is dead. The Martian President may be dead too, but Mars was pretty much flailing anyway. What Should Fred Do? (and will Holden approve?)

I think Fred should unilaterally side with Earth and Mars, and focus the full military might of the planets to wipe out the militant OPA.  At this point, I’m not sure if even infiltrating the OPA terrorist cell is useful.  Anyway, Naomi’s in there.  If they can establish communication with her, she would gladly pass on any information she could uncover.  Also, I think that publicly acknowledging the OPA terrorists as a legitimate political force would cause more damage than he could possibly balance by any good.  They are not legitimate, they are mass murderers, and they should be treated as such.

3) All of Naomi’s past is laid bare for us now. Will she save Filip’s soul? Is she right to try?

I wouldn’t say she’s ‘right’ to try, but I understand why she wants to.  I think the guilt will get to him eventually.  Right now, he’s high on ideology and indoctrinated to not think of Inners as people.  Once he really understands, in his heart, what he has done?  I think it’s very likely he’ll at least try to kill himself.  I hope she is able to save his soul, but I don’t really see any future for him besides suicide or execution.

4) Who are you most worried about/for?

Right now? Amos.  He’s on Earth, being bombarded by rocks, surrounded by violent body-modified criminals. If I’m right about the OPA’s plans, he might be stuck on a dying planet poisoned by protomolecule.  I think he’s in the toughest spot right now, even though the whole crew is in danger.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 1989, Baen
Series: Book 8 (chronologically) of the Vorkosigan Saga

The Book:

“Miles Vorkosigan lives a double life, splitting his time between being a Barrayaran noble and leading a mercenary army under the alias of ‘Admiral Naismith’.  He’s just finished a dangerous mission with his mercenaries, one which was generously--and secretly--backed by the Barrayaran government.  When he arrives on Earth in order to see to his ships’ repairs, though, the promised money is nowhere to be found.

While their resources dwindle amidst communication delays, Miles ends up assigned with his cousin Ivan in the Barrayaran embassy.  The longer Miles and ‘Admiral Naismith’ are stuck in close proximity, the more likely someone is going to figure out his secret.  Miles comes up with a clever tale to explain the mercenary leader’s resemblance to him, about a foreign power growing a clone in an attempt to supplant him.  When an actual double appears, his story begins to look more true than he ever anticipated!” ~Allie

Surprise, I have not stopped reading the Vorkosigan Saga!  I just had a lot of books on my reading list, and this series dropped off my radar for a while.  I am certainly planning to finish the series at some point (including the latest one, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen).

My Thoughts:

Like Ethan of Athos, this novel feels like a lighter side story. Brothers in Arms does not cover momentous events for the Barrayaran Empire, but is instead a minor caper Miles falls into after the Borders of Infinity novella. The story stands on its own, but I would strongly recommend reading it once you’re already versed in the characters and setting of the overall saga.  Though the characters here are as vibrant as ever, I think it helped that they were already established in my mind from other novels. Brothers in Arms introduces a few important minor characters, but it doesn't really break any new narrative ground for the series. It's still very entertaining, though, and I enjoyed having such a fun and undemanding book to read in the evening.
The most interesting aspect of the story for me was the introduction of the clone of Miles.  The idea of a double is popular in fiction, and I think that using it as a narrative technique can illustrate interesting aspects of a character’s personality. The way a person and their double react to one another is heavily influenced by how they believe they themselves would behave in the opposing situation. In action-oriented stories, it seems like the two often try to destroy one another, which might speak highly of their self-knowledge but not of their decency.  Miles chooses a more unusual path, and his choices led me to appreciate him even more as a rational and compassionate hero.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing where his life next leads him.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Brothers in Arms is another lighter entry in the Vorkosigan Saga.  The story is completely stand-alone, but I think it would help to already have an understanding of and attachment to the characters involved.  The story involves a stopover on Earth, where Miles learns that his made-up story about a foreign power growing a clone of him is not as fictional as he might have hoped.  It is both amusing and exciting, with some action-packed conflict and suspenseful moments. As usual for the Vorkosigan saga, this novel was a pleasure to read, and it left me eager to carry on with the rest of the series.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Read-Along: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, Part 1

We’re diving right away into book five,  James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games! If you’re interested in joining the read-along, feel free to check out our Goodreads page or follow along on Twitter with @SFFReadAlongs.  Also, thanks to Sarah of The Illustrated Page for the banner!  The schedule for book five is:

Week 1: Sunday 8th October, Prologue to Ch. 12, hosted by Over The Effing Rainbow
Week 2: Sunday 15th October, Ch. 13 to 25, hosted by There's Always Room For One More
Week 3: Sunday 22nd October, Ch. 26 to 38, hosted by Tethyan Books
Week 4: Sunday 29th October, Ch. 39 to End, hosted by The Illustrated Page

Today we’re discussing up through chapter 12, so beware of spoilers!

1. The story takes a pretty sharp turn from any of the previous sorts of narratives, by dividing up the Roci crew and (finally!) giving us the POVs of Naomi, Alex and Amos, as well as Holden. What do you think of this twist? Are you enjoying a particular POV more than the rest, so far?

I love this twist!  I love all their viewpoints, and I don’t think I can choose!  This was such a happy surprise. I had assumed we’d never get the crew as viewpoint characters. I can already tell this is going to be one of my favorite books of the series!

As for their separate storylines, it seems like what they aim to do ends up not being what they’re doing.  For instance, Amos went to make sure Lydia died peacefully.  She did, and now he’s talking to Avasarala about going to see Clarissa.  I suspect his meeting with Clarissa is going to lead him into his true adventure.  Alex planned to go see his ex-wife.  That didn’t pan out, but now he’s into something scary with Bobbie.  Naomi went to help her son, but he came to meet her.  What’s this really about?  Holden thought he was going to watch over ship repairs, but now he’s got a mystery on his hands.

2. Holden, meanwhile, has to tackle the mystery of some disappearing ships, without the rest of his crew. Do you have any theories about the disappearances, and how do you think Holden will handle flying solo on this one?

I don’t think it’s Belter sabotage.  My theories are closer to Monica’s, but I don’t think it’s the protomolecule exactly.  There was some reason that the gate was closed by the previous owners, after all.  What if there is something of the civilization killer still remaining in the gate, and entering it in a certain way or at a certain time gets the ships eaten by it?  If it’s something like that, then it might put the breaks on the flow of people to new planets.  I think Holden will do okay, but I hope he doesn’t screw up the Rocinante’s relationship with the OPA.

3. Before leaving the Rocinante, Naomi raises the point that it might be time they considered expanding the crew. Do you think she's right?

I think she’s definitely right, but I don’t like it any more than Holden does.  I like the crew, and emotionally I don’t feel like they should hire anyone else.  Realistically, though, it’s a good idea.  It seems like Holden could have put up the postings and started going through resumes while people were on vacation.  That’s a lot of work, and he’ll have to do it before they get to the interview stage anyway.  It would have helped him with the loneliness.

Other notable points:

--I hadn’t really thought through what the gate meant for the Belter civilization.  We saw Belters who wanted to live on a planet on Ilus, so I guess it didn’t occur to me that others might oppose the idea of living down a gravity well. It does seem like these resources may destroy their culture, over time.
--I am loving Amos and Chrisjen’s conversations.  They are just hilarious.  I hope this is a thing that keeps happening.

--I’m actually pretty happy that Talissa pointed out how selfish Alex’s desire for closure was. He chose to leave her--I think he’s already got about as much closure as he’s going to get.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, END

This week we’re wrapping up the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn. Through this read-along, I have learned that my commute is really not long enough to listen to a full Expanse audiobook in a month.  Forewarned is forearmed, so it should be easier to find the right amount of time for Nemesis Games in October.  If you’d like to join in for the read-along of Nemesis Games, feel free to check out our SFF Read-Along’s Goodreads page! Our first post is going to be this coming Sunday.

Please beware of spoilers through the end of the book below!

1) First, the traditional question, what do you think of the point-of-view characters, now that you’ve seen how each of their stories end up? Also, how does this book compare with the first three of the series for you?

I’m still not too crazy about the viewpoint characters this time around.  Holden is fine, and I am happy to have him as a perspective for each book.  He’s a great choice, because he seems to be completely unable to keep from getting tangled up in momentous events.  As for the rest… they all ultimately felt a little unnecessary to me.  At the end, I felt like one could have tweaked the story just a little and told it with only two viewpoints.  I would say Havelock and Holden were the most needed-- Havelock to have a perspective in orbit, and Holden on the planet.

Considering the characters individually, I don’t dislike them but I also don’t feel strongly about them.  Elvi, Havelock and Basia all seem like fairly decent people, but they don’t have some of the spark that propelled along some of the earlier books.  It was important that they existed in the story, but it felt like showing their point of view required a lot of padding.  Elvi’s crush and abrupt seduction felt like filler, as did all the time Basia and Havelock just spent hanging out in orbit and thinking.  Nothing that happened in the end really changed that feeling for me.

I guess that also sums up my feelings on the book.  A lot of neat stuff happened, but there were stretches that felt like treading water.  Also, it seems like a step back in terms of the human conflict.  One criticism that I had about the first two books was that the human villain was completely one-dimensional, and I liked that there was a bit more complexity in the third. In Murtry, Cibola Burn returns us to having one-note cardboard villains.

On a side note, I also really don’t understand the zeal of the engineer militia.  They’re not soldiers, just some guys who play paintball together regularly. Why are they so eager to rush to their deaths at the word of Murtry, against the guy who trained them?  I get that the point was to make Havelock have an ethical dilemma, but it didn’t make any sense.

2) Do you feel that things came out fairly for everyone, colonist and RCE? Are you happy with how things ended for Marwick, Havelock, Murtry, Basia, and others?

I admit I am disappointed that Murtry survived, given all the suffering and death he has caused.  I further feel that the engineer militia should be held responsible for their actions, and be charged with attempted murder of the people aboard the Picola and Rocinante.  I also think Basia should face some legal repercussions for blowing up the landing pad.  That did actually kill people, even if it wasn’t intentional.

I’m okay, in the end, with Havelock coming out of this with no prison sentence. He did follow some questionable orders (like arming the shuttle), but I think he defected before he was ordered to do anything violent or illegal.  I don’t really remember Marwick doing any horrible stuff, unless he ordered the shuttle to attack the Rocinante. I am thrilled that Amos survived!  It seems like things are calmer now, between the RCE and the colonists, and hopefully that will move forward with less violence now that Murtry’s gone.

3) We finally get to see Avasarala and Bobbie again, in the epilogue! What do you think about her plan for James Holden, now that we know what she was going for in choosing him? Do you think she’s right to believe that what happened on Ilus will destroy Mars?

Wow, it makes a difference when it’s a viewpoint character you really enjoy.  Maybe it’s not a great endorsement for the book, but I loved the prologue and the epilogue.  I admit I did not guess correctly why she sent Holden, and I think she should have considered that this might not go her way.  Holden is known for screwing things up for people, and by succeeding here, he did just that!  I think she might be a little alarmist about this destroying Mars, though.  If the story is reported accurately, I would think many people would not want to go to new killer alien planets.  A lot of people died on Ilus, after all.  On the long term, though, I guess it is inevitable that humans will spread through the gate planets and abandon the cramped asteroids and enclosed Martian environments of the solar system.

4) Time for predictions! Do you have any thoughts on what might happen in the next book? Is there anything you’d especially like to see?

I’m hoping Bobbie and Avasarala will be viewpoint characters again!  I’m guessing we’ll get to explore more gate planets, and maybe learn more about the ancient civilization and the killers.  I’m not really sure what else might happen, so I’m going to stop my predictions there.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

TV Musings: Summer 2017

It’s long since time for another post on the science fiction and fantasy television I’ve been watching lately!  If there is ever a future where I’m fully caught up on blog posts, I may switch this back to a show-by-show format. For now, I have recently enjoyed watching a nice collection of new and returning shows, with a good balance between science fiction and fantasy.

New Shows:

Cleverman (Season 1, Sundance TV): The first season of this Australian series only runs 6 episodes, but the second season is also going to be available on Netflix at the beginning of October. The show draws a lot of inspiration from indigenous Australian traditional stories, which are all completely new to me.  Given how little I know about current social issues in Australia, I’m sure I also missed some allegory.  I thought it was a fresh and interesting show, and I enjoyed the chance to watch a fantasy that was not focused on North America.

In Cleverman, a mythological race called the hairypeople have suddenly appeared, and they have been promptly labeled as subhuman and restricted to ghettos or prisons. The story follows two aboriginal half-brothers with ties to the hairypeople.  The elder, Waruu, fights to make the world a better place for marginalized groups, while the younger, Koen, is a selfish and irresponsible jerk.  Unexpectedly, their uncle passes his cultural (and magical) Cleverman inheritance to Koen.  There’s more to both of them than meets the eye, and I felt the show was really deft in how their characterization was developed.

Travelers (Season 1, Netflix): This time travel drama is already renewed for a second season, which is good because this one leaves us on a cliffhanger.  In this show, a grim future for humanity has led to the development of time travel technology.  A person’s mind can be sent back into the body of someone in the past, shortly before their death. Teams of time travelers are sent back, desperate to shift the future to another course. They have faith in the plan of the Director, whether or not they understand the tasks they are given.  This one is light on special effects, but it is a really engrossing sci-fi drama.

The characters we follow find themselves dropped into some fairly complicated lives, and it was interesting to see how they tried to acclimate to being a different person.  Of course, they also have to be willing to drop their new lives at a moment’s notice, in order to attend to the needs of the future.  It seems like it must be a really difficult way to live.  While it might sound like a setup for a episodic kind of show, the story is actually very serial and character-driven.  The events in the finale were pretty major, so I’m impatient to see what impact they will have on the team’s future.

The Shannara Chronicles (Season 1, MTV): I’m not the demographic target for this teen show, but I have a soft spot for epic fantasy television. The second season has jumped to a different network (Paramount) and it has already started airing now. This show is based on the series by Terry Brooks, and its quirk is that it actually takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States.  Aside from that, it is a pretty traditional setting, with elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and trolls around the countryside. The main plot follows a group of three attractive teens on a quest to save the world.  The three of them--Wil, Amberle, and Eretria--are all really earnest and endearing, and I wanted to see them succeed.  There are also some subplots with druids and elven politics, but they mostly involve people making very poor choices over and over.

I thought the show was charming and fun, but the writing is inconsistent and some of the actors are still settling into their roles.  The teens’  interactions felt the most natural when the script wasn’t pushing the love triangle angle, and some episodes had pretty lazy plot choices (e.g. why are there torches laid out for them at the beginning of a tunnel in the wilderness?). The Black Guard at the Elven capital has also become a running joke in my household.  They are so utterly incompetent, it’s bizarre that anyone relies on them for protection. Despite my complaints, I did enjoy watching the show, and the remains of our former human civilization give the story a special touch.

Returning Shows:

Killjoys (Season 3, Syfy): The latest news from the Syfy Channel is that Killjoys is going to conclude with its fifth season.  This season ends on a pretty major cliffhanger, so I’m happy it’s going to have two seasons to resolve everything. This third season is more serialized than ever, and it focuses on the brewing war between the Quad and the alien Hullen.  While all the characters we have met play a role in the conflict, the heart of it is between Aneela and Dutch. If you’re interested in learning why they’re doppelgangers, this is the season for you.  The answer is probably weirder than you think!

In general, this show has a lot of convoluted lore, but I think a lot of the questions were cleared up in this season.  The quality of the show is pretty consistent with the second season, in terms of the writing and acting.  I enjoyed the balance of humor and seriousness in the dialogue, even if the jokes didn’t always land for me.  I also enjoyed seeing all of the minor characters find their own paths and strengths.  It feels like everything is starting to come together, and I’m excited to see where things will go from here.

The Man in the High Castle (Season 2, Amazon):  This first season had already started to diverge significantly from the original novel, and the second season firmly establishes the show as a completely separate entity.  The writing, acting, and production quality is as consistently excellent as was the previous season.  I had expected the parallel worlds to play a larger role than they did, but I like the understated way it is wrapped into the continuing alternate history drama.

The overall story, about preventing two fascist regimes from destroying the world with nuclear weapons, seems unexpectedly relevant to modern politics.  On the smaller scale, the season elegantly provided an emotional arc for essentially all of the characters, major and minor, and resolved many of the open questions from the previous season.  I do not know where the story will go after this, but I feel like the show has passed the first test of longevity.  It is beyond its source material, and the story is even more engaging than ever. I am looking forward to the next season!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, Week 3

Welcome to week three of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn!  This is the second-to-last week, and things are heating up. The discussion this week covers chapters 28-42, and the questions are provided by Sarah of The Illustrated Page.  Beware of spoilers below!

1. So we've got an apocalyptic scenario. Any predictions on how the characters will make it out alive? Or if they'll make it out alive?

I’m suspecting the viewpoint characters will make it out alive. At the very least, I highly doubt anyone from the Rocinante crew will die.  I bet Murtry dies, though.  Anyone else, I’ll be a bit sad if they don’t make it. Basia’s family has suffered so much, it doesn’t seem right for any of them to not make it out alive.
2. How do you feel the plot line of Cibola Burns compares with the other books in the series so far? Does it feel familiar? Different?

It still features conflict between different clans of humans, as well as a larger conflict with a deadly and unsympathetic alien force.  As in previous books, the humans fight each other until they’re forced to contend with a larger threat.  There’s a lot less travel in this one, though, so it was easier to feel like they were spinning their wheels at points.  We are also getting past the protomolecule, and to the aliens behind it.  That represents some progress in the series.

3. The traditional question, how are you feeling about the POV characters now? Elvi's "crush" on Holden? Havelock's choices? Basia?

My opinion of Holden was solidified before this book, and it hasn’t changed.  I like the humor in his perspective, and I like his interactions with the Rocinante crew.  He makes decisions that exasperate me sometimes, but he’s a fun character to follow.  I’m not too enthusiastic about the other viewpoint characters, though I should stress that I am still enjoying the book.

Elvi’s story seems to be buying heavily into stereotypes about women in academia.  She’s brilliant, but has a really low emotional intelligence and seems clueless about sexuality.  I don’t think this is the assumed norm for female academics in this universe, but Elvi is pretty much the only one we know well here.  I did not like that her arc concluded with a man explaining to her that she just needed to get laid, and that it pretty much solved everything.
Basia feels kind of superfluous right now.  I feel like his character could be excised from the story with little loss.  So far, he only existed to help us see the colonists as individuals, and to give a brief perspective into the now-dead resistance group. He wasn’t even really necessary for Naomi’s rescue, since Havelock ended up breaking her out.  I’m hoping he does something important or notable later.

As for Havelock, it feels like too little too late.  I’m glad he finally turned on Murtry, but the way he did it was so inefficient.  I feel like there wouldn’t have been any conflict on the ship at all if he hadn’t trained up a bunch of engineers to be loyal goons for Murtry.  If he’d managed to create a force loyal to himself, then he could have just announced that he was sending Naomi back to the Rocinante. I still think he has a bigger role to play, but the way he chose to save Naomi seems to have left him with little power or authority to make a positive impact.

4. What are your feelings on the world building so far? We haven't discussed world building in a while, and Cibola Burns is bringing in a lot of new material.

I like the world so far, but I feel like I need more information. The animals are really neat, and I want to learn more about how the planet seems to have been manufactured.  I don’t really understand how this ties together with the protomolecule, the precursor race, and the civilization-killer, and I hope I have a clearer picture by the end of the novel.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published: Tor, 2015
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“At the technological height of human civilization, a great project was undertaken.  Planets were carefully terraformed and seeded with Earth-based life.  A virus was loosed on the animals, designed to aid in their rise to sentience, and humanity eagerly awaited contact with their newly-created sentient alien species.

Then, humanity fell.  The few surviving members of the species have left their poisoned, dying Earth behind and journeyed into the stars in a final, desperate voyage.  When they find a terraformed planet, it seems like a dream come true.  But that planet was never meant for them, and its new inhabitants--a civilization of massive sentient spiders--are far from the gentle uplifted monkeys their ancestors had hoped for.  The spiders’ planet also has a caretaker, the last remnants of a human mind wielding ancient, deadly technology.  Time will tell whether humanity will survive, or will ultimately be supplanted by its own creations.” ~Allie

This is the first novel I’ve read by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I chose it because it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.  I have a very strong revulsion to spiders, but somehow it did not destroy this book for me! It helped that the spiders’ civilization was so interesting.

My Thoughts:

Two stories make up the basis of the novel: the development of the spiders’ civilization, and a dying humanity’s final journey. The two sides made a satisfying balance, one story of birth and growth, and the other of decline and death.  The spiders’ story was told over many generations, linking each set of characters by common names and roles. I loved the creativity and careful thought that clearly went into imagining the spider culture.  Their artificial initial conditions were taken into account, and the impact was carefully woven into their growth in an organic way. There are many places where I could see a parallel to the development of human civilization, but the details of their world were often utterly different.  For example, their biology, methods of communication and resources sent their technological progressed in a completely different direction than ours. I may have a deep, irrational fear of spiders, but even I can admit that their world was fascinating.

The humans, on the other hand, were fleeing their dead and poisoned homeworld, so their side of the story was considerably more bleak and depressing.  It was also a little more familiar, as it incorporated a lot of common tropes of generation ship tales.  Their story took place within the lifetime of a single generation, but with many interludes of cold sleep.  The protagonist and a small group of human crew struggled to keep the ship working, to find a new world, and generally approached each setback with the knowledge that they were the last of their species.  I enjoyed their story, though the characters were not as memorable as some we meet in the generations of spiders.     

From the beginning, I did not think it would take long for the humans and spiders to begin interacting directly.  In the end, though, the two stories were kept largely separate for a large part of the novel. In retrospect, I think seeing them both separately helped to emphasize the validity of the needs and desires of each group.  Neither the spiders nor the humans were the ‘bad guys’. Conflict between them arose from finite resources, lack of ability to communicate, and naturally ingrained instincts--not from moral considerations. I also appreciated how believably the novel demonstrates the human tendency to violence in the face of otherness. The massive spiders are just familiar enough to humans to evoke a visceral panic response.  I was surprised by how the story eventually concluded, but it was a good surprise.  I can't think of a better way to have wrapped up this excellent novel.  

My Rating: 5/5

Children of Time tells two stories, one about the beginning of a species and one about the potential end.  I loved reading about the development of the sentient spiders’ creative and alien culture over many generations, even though spiders creep me out.  The human side was more standard, with the remainder of the human race facing a long space journey with an uncertain end.  I enjoyed both stories, though the spiders’ civilization was definitely the most impressive aspect of the book.  Overall, I found the book the be very entertaining, and the ending was surprising and satisfying.  I’m curious to see if Tchaikovsky plans to write more science fiction novels!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, Part 2

Welcome to week two of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn!  This week’s reading covers chapters 13-27, and the discussion questions are provided by The Illustrated Page. Beware of spoilers through that point from here on out!

1. How do you feel about Naomi being taken captive?

Well, she has kind of been ‘damselled’, hasn’t she? It does make sense with the plot, and I’m glad that the Rocinante’s plans are meeting with as many setbacks as everyone else’s.  But now Naomi, the only woman of the Rocinante crew, is confined to a small cell to await rescue.  I have hope that she’s going to turn Havelock against Murtry, and convince him to use his ‘extremely free hand’ to de-escalate the situation instead of whatever it is Murtry is trying to do.   

2. What are your thoughts on our new POV characters: Basia, Elvi, and Havelock?

I feel like we do not have any new heroic characters in this book at all.  Holden and Miller were both driven by their convictions, and Bobbie and Chrisjen were powerful in their own ways.  Anna, Clarissa, Prax, and Bull were all risk-takers, or able to be driven to it by their principles. On the other hand, Basia, Elvi, and Havelock are all pretty ordinary, and they are not currently rising to the occasion.

I like Elvi, but she is kind of naive and emotional.  I’d like to hear more about the weird stuff happening on the planet, and less about her frustration or her crush on Holden.  Also, is it not odd that the scientists don’t seem to have regular meetings to discuss their findings?  As a scientist myself, I couldn’t imagine being in an environment like this without daily group meetings to discuss new discoveries.

I like that Alex is forcing Basia to take ownership of his mistakes, because he was starting to slide into self-pity there.  I don’t yet see how he can have much of an impact on this situation, and he is a terrible judge of character.  At the same time, I think he may be a little pessimistic about his chances with the justice system.  He didn’t actually murder anyone, and his crimes are likely to look pretty minor next to Murtry’s.

Havelock hasn’t really done much of anything so far, aside from just following Murtry’s lead.  I’m guessing he might be here as a link to Miller, and as someone to turn on Murtry at a crucial moment.  I’m glad he chose to call out anti-belter sentiment directly, but his problems seem kind of small compared with a melting moon, murderous security and possibly an entire hidden biosphere of protomolecule.

3. So, do you think we're going to encounter aliens? The thing that destroyed civilizations? Is there something larger going on than the conflict between the colonists and the corporation?

At this point, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to meet sentient aliens, at least.  The fact that the protomolecule flinched away from some area of this planet makes me think we might meet the civilization-killer.  I think the background story, Miller’s search for what happened to the gate civilization, is going to come to foreground.  And if previous books are any indication, a lot of the people on the planet are going to die.  

4. Speaking of the conflict, what actions do you think Holden can take to resolve it?

I’m not sure he can do anything against something that destroyed the gate civilization.  Concerning Murtry and the colonists, his hands are pretty tied as well.  If Murtry were taken out of the picture, in some legitimate and non-violent way, then maybe that would help to defuse the tension.  The colonists’ resistance is stamped out at this point, so the only violent problem remaining is Murtry.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Short Fiction: May 2017

It’s time for another round of short fiction favorites, this time from the batch of stories published in May 2017!  This month, there’s a story by Hugo award winner John Chu, as well as two authors I had not featured before, Caroline M. Yoachim and Tony Pi.  This month’s stories don’t have much in common, spanning science fiction, fantasy allegory, and Chinese fantasy.    

Making the Magic Lightning Strike Me by John Chu (Short Story, Uncanny Magazine):  This is the story of a man who feels deeply insecure about his body. His body dysmorphia leads him into a self-destructive spiral (which also involves some interesting paramilitary near-future stuff), while his best friend struggles to figure out how and if he can be supportive. There’s not a lot of closure, but I thought it was a very effective emotional story.

Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): This is a story about a society of wind-up toys, and also an allegory of human life from beginning to end.  The main character’s life takes several unexpected twists, and we see how different wind-up people respond to unwanted responsibility and adversity in the face of their inevitable mortality. It was a surprisingly touching story, for being about wind-up toys, and it is one that has lingered in my mind long after I finished reading.

That Lingering Sweetness by Tony Pi (Novelette, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): Tony Pi has been writing a series of short fiction about “Candyman Ao”, a man who can call the animals of the Chinese zodiac by making their likenesses in a blown-sugar confection.  This is my favorite one so far.  Ao is generally tasked with solving some sort of problem that involves the supernatural, but this time an illness has robbed him of his candy-making abilities. His weakness forces him to rely on the strengths of the people around him, and I enjoyed seeing how everyone’s humble abilities fit together to solve the problem. I don’t think not having read the previous stories would hurt anyone’s enjoyment of this clever novelette, but I will go ahead and link here to Tony Pi’s list of the series. All of the stories are available to read online.  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, Part 1

It’s time for another read-along!  This time, I’m joining the in-progress reading of James S.A. Corey’s “The Expanse”.  I’d already read and reviewed the first three books: here, here, and here.  Now we’re going to read Cibola Burn book four of the series.  The schedule will be as follows:

Week 1: Prologue to Chapter 12, Friday 8th September, hosted by Over The Effing Rainbow
Week 2: Chapters 13 to 27, Friday 15th September, hosted by There's Always Room For One More
Week 3: Chapters 28 to 42, Friday 22nd September, hosted by The Illustrated Page
Week 4: Chapters 43 to End, Friday 29th September, hosted by Tethyan Books

As you can see, this week’s questions cover through chapter twelve, and are provided by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow. Beware of spoilers below! I’ve been listening by audiobook, so I’ve already read a little in advance to hedge for not being able to keep up (my commute is not that long).  I’m trying very hard to keep everything straight, so that I don’t accidentally let any extra spoilers slip.

1. Bobbie Draper is back! Though we don't get much more than a re-intro scene with her in this section ... Any thoughts on what form her role in this book might take?
It was great to see her again!  I felt a bit bad for the beggar that she humiliated (I think the specific stories are usually false, the real story is simply “I need help”), but I can see how his claiming to be a veteran hit a nerve.  I really don’t see how she’s going to be involved, since she’s apparently not going to the new planet.  I hope we get to see more of her!  

2. We also get to see Havelock again, and in a larger role than before, as we're set up with a colonisation/(another) 'evil' corporation story this time. How do you feel about those kinds of stories? Does this one grab you, and what are your thoughts on Havelock's role in particular?

Hah, I didn't remember him at all until you said that.  He was Miller's partner back in the first book, right?  I don't remember much about him except that he was an Earther.  Since Havelock’s on the ship, I don’t really see yet how he’s going to be involved.  I hope this doesn’t devolve to ships shooting at the surface.

I’m not necessarily seeing this as an evil corporation story, though I’m not averse to them. Corporations are often evil, after all--capitalism is not a particularly good moral structure.  In this case, however, it seems like the corporation was trying to do everything right and proper. They seem to have been planning to work with the illegal colonists as well, given that they hired them to build the landing platform. The security team, on the other hand...

3. We're given perspective on both sides of the battlefield here, as it were - not only with the colony vs. Murtry and his goons, but with the teams of scientists (and Elvi as a new POV character) who are there for their own reasons. What were your first impressions of Elvi, and your thoughts on the general attitude of the scientists present?

I like Elvi.  She seems naive, but well-meaning and competent at the same time.  I felt bad for her when she was trying to get the colonists to limit their impact on the planet.  She was not a politician, but she stepped into a political problem.  I’m generally positively biased towards scientist characters, though, as long as they don’t fall into the old “mad scientist” trope.

4. Once again, Holden appears to have the crappy end of the stick, trying to mediate between these two sides. Do you think Avasarala is setting him up, expecting failure, or is there some way he can actually make this work...?

I’m not sure anyone knows what will happen out there.  I think Fred and Avasarala wanted him because he’s famous, so it would be hard for either side to kill him, and because he’s known for being super transparent.  I’m not sure if they expect him to succeed, or if they just need him to buy time while they push forward some more devious plans.

On a final note, I feel like I should mention our other viewpoint character, Basia.  I feel a little bad for him, because he’s in way over his head.  I’m glad we have his perspective, because we can know for sure that he genuinely never intended to hurt anyone.  He just sorely misjudged his comrades, and now I can’t see a way this will go well for him in the end.  I hope he at least chills out enough to let Felcia go to college.