Tag Archive | space travel

Book review: Ilium by Dan Simmons

Ilium (Ilium, #1)Ilium by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Allosaurs, Greek gods, and space-going Shakespeare enthusiasts? Dan Simmons must have read my Christmas wish list.

Troy is at war. The Greeks, led by Agamemnon and Achilles, and the Trojans, led by Priam and Paris, wage pitched and pitiless battles, aided by the gods and observed by humans. These humans — the scholics — were once experts on Greek poetry and ancient history. They were reconstructed by the gods from their DNA, and then brought back to make sure the path of the war follows the path of the Iliad as laid out by Homer. Thomas Hockenberry is one such scholic, tramping around the battlefield in the guise of various soldiers, making notes and reporting back to the Muse. One day, after nine years of such a life, he is summoned by Aphrodite and told he is to alter the course of things. He is to kill Pallas Athena.

On Earth, humans live in an idyllic setting, pursuing a sybaritic lifestyle. The world is a constant round of dinner parties, picnics, long walks through the woods, and casual sex. No work, no worries, no schooling, no commitments, their every need is seen to by the voynix, mechanical servants who cook, clean, and care for them in their Eden. Daeman, who, like most others of society, is spectacularly incurious about the whys and wherefores of his world, and who collects butterflies and bed partners with equal vigor, arrives at the estate of his cousin, Ada, for a birthday party. He is shocked to discover that the party is not in celebration of someone’s 20th — after which they will be whisked away to the Rings and then returned after rejuvenation — but of Harman’s 99th. In essence, it’s Harman’s going-away party, for he has only one more year of life. But a chance encounter with an allosaurus changes everything.

On Europa, the Five Moon Consortium, a conclave of biomechanical beings, gathers to discuss the 600-year lack of contact from the post-humans and the more recent (in the last 200 years) apparent terraforming of Mars. The consortium is especially concerned with unusually massive amounts of quantum-shift activity centered on Mons Olympus, and decides to send an expedition to investigate. Mahnmut, a Europan moravec, is excited to be included in this expedition with his friend Orphu, an Ionian moravec, and looks forward to continuing their discussions of Shakespeare and Proust and literature in general.  The expedition sets off well enough but soon suffers a severe setback, leaving Mahnmut and Orphu to make the best of what may be a fatal error.

Simmons adopted three different voices to tell these stories. The Trojan saga echoes Homeric prose, to the point of opening the novel with a paraphrase of the opening lines of the Iliad itself; and it is in this opening paragraph that we first begin to understand the sorrow and tragedy of the scholic Hockenberry and the rest of the cast of characters Simmons introduces. The story of Daeman, Ada, and Harman is told in simple descriptive language akin to the childlike outlook of the humans themselves; while the conversations of Mahnmut, Orphu, and the rest of the moravecs are full of technobabble and high literary analysis. This narrative trick is effective, if occasionally jarring when 2017SFFReadingChallengemoving from artless human idyll to high Homeric tragedy.

Three settings. Three stories. Three disparate and wandering paths that lead to the same destination? We’ll find out when I read the sequel.

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Read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see more reviews. And once there, consider joining us!

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Sci Fi Summer Read-athon starts tomorrow!

Seasons of Reading is hosting their annual Sci-Fi Summer Read-athon beginning tomorrow and running through June 7.

Some folks are really ambitious with their plans, posting that they plan to read three or four or more books.  In a week.  I don’t have that kind of time, but more power to ’em!

Of course, I could be wrong, and those are the books they intend to read throughout the summer.

Me, I just hope to get halfway through Olympos by Dan Simmons during this week.  It’s the sequel to Ilium, which I finished last week and plan to review in the near future.  Like Ilium, it’s a doorstop of a novel (upwards of 800 pages).  I’m currently on page 127.

What are you reading right now?

Book review: Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rob Broadhead is in therapy, even though he is resistant to everything his therapist suggests. But he keeps coming back, week after week, session after session, until finally, a breakthrough is achieved.

The story that underlies that eventual breakthrough is the story of Rob’s experience at Gateway, a space station that houses the mysterious spacecraft of a vanished race known as the Heechee. Rob was a prospector, a person who takes a chance and joins an expedition to one (or more) of the unknown destinations pre-programmed into the Heechee ships in the hopes of finding something spectacular and making a fortune.

Rob made a fortune. And it broke him.

Frederik Pohl constructed his tale in bi-fold manner: Rob’s therapy sessions with his AI psychiatrist; and his time at Gateway, learning about Heechee navigation and preparing for his trip into the unknown. It’s an effective tool, revealing Rob’s psychosis and its triggering event a little at a time. And the information revealed about the mysterious and long-gone Heechee is intriguing enough for me to seek out the rest of the series. Well done, Mr. Pohl.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

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Book review: The Honor of the Queen by David Weber

The Honor of the Queen (Honor Harrington, #2)The Honor of the Queen by David Weber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A solid action-packed SF tale filled with military hardware and battle strategy. Great stuff for those folks who appreciate naval battles and C.S. Forester/Patrick O’Brian tales. Not so great for those who don’t. Like me.

Okay, I like Honor Harrington and think she’s a great character. She’s especially outstanding in the genre of Military SF, in that she’s a high-ranking military official in charge of a battleship, respected by her crew, and unafraid to make the tough decisions. This story in particular makes the point that Honor being a woman is a hindrance in certain corners of space; the very fact of her femaleness drives a good many plot points hinging on the misogyny and chauvinism of the planet she is charged to defend.

Social commentary aside, I’m still not an aficionado of technobabble about hardware and military strategy. So, while I give kudos to David Weber for his feminism in action, I won’t be visiting Honor in space again.

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R.I.P IX applies to movies and TV, too!

RIP 9 Peril on the Screen
I almost forgot I pledged to join “Peril on the Screen” too. Luckily, spouse’s and my general TV/movie viewing choices tend to fall into the mystery/horror/thriller/suspense categories anyway. I can’t recall all the way back to September 1 by myself, so we’ll check the Netflix “recently watched” list and get started.

Actually, no. First, let’s talk about TV!

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Naturally, The Walking Dead season premiere was avidly consumed this past Sunday, and it took up almost immediately where last season left off. I was rather surprised by the way the episode turned out with regard to a certain threat, but I’m awfully happy to see Rick putting the band back together. I’m so glad this show is back, even if it’s more gory than ever! Yeah, I usually watch a good third of each episode through my fingers. Love the story but the blood? Not so much. But I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, regardless.

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Then there’s Sleepy Hollow, back for its second season. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are still approaching: what will Ichabod and Abby do next to thwart their plans? Spouse and I both love this show not only because of a distant family connection with its source material, but because it’s so well done! The storyline is utterly implausible, of course, but the acting is wonderful, the stars very easy on the eyes, and all the supporting players are superb. I don’t quite know what to think about the newest character, Nick Hawley the “antiquities” hunter, but I’m sure his loyalties will be revealed soon. And let me just say this: I’m extremely happy to see a mainstream network (which Fox is now) series featuring a woman of color in a powerful leading role without making her a racial stereotype (at least, not so far as this middle-aged Caucasian woman can discern).

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Speaking of Fox, we’re also rather impressed with Gotham, the network’s take on the origin stories of Batman, Catwoman, Penguin, and so forth. Thus far, young Bruce (played by David Mazouz) is rather whiny and self-involved, which is understandable due to his age and trauma, and Fox has wisely limited his screen time, preferring to concentrate on the adults in the series and the events that will give rise to the Caped Crusader and his sworn enemies. The bad thing about young Bruce’s limited screen time is it also limits the screen time of the loyal Alfred, played by Sean Pertwee (yes, the son of the Third Doctor and a marvelous actor in his own right).

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Finally on the “small screen” is Fox’s Gracepoint, a nearly shot-for-shot remake of BBC America’s Broadchurch, aired earlier this year, and featuring David Tennant reviving his Broadchurch role as a detective brought in to investigate the murder of a boy in a small town. I wasn’t sure I was going to watch this, not even for the pleasure of Mr. Tennant’s company (and his partially successful American accent), since I’d already seen the BBC America production, but then I learned it would have two or three more episodes than the BBC show, and possibly a different ending. Thus far, nothing new has been revealed, but the casting is good, the acting is very good, and the location (northern California coast, ostensibly Mendocino or Humboldt County) is gorgeous.

The Last Days on MarsOn the big screen (which, in our house, means movies we watched at home because we seldom go to the cinema), Netflix must serve as a reminder. In September, we saw The Last Days on Mars, which to tell the truth I remember virtually nothing about except that it starred Liev Schreiber (yum) and had a bunch of folks in spacesuits running around trying to kill each other. According to Netflix, I gave it three stars (for “I liked it”) so it was at least enjoyable.

A Japanese film with English subtitles caught me by surprise. The Doomsday Book is a sci-fi anthology flick: three separate stories, three separate takes on an apocalypse (actual or implied). In the first segment, zombies. Second segment, robots. Third segment, death from the skies. Of the three segments, I think the zombie story is the least successful. I loved the Zen robot in segment two; and the third story was quite good and funny, but left me scratching my head (which means I should probably watch it again because obviously I missed something). The subtitles are only a marginal distraction from the gorgeous cinematography. It’s not rated, but I wouldn’t call it family-friendly by any means.

How I Live NowHow I Live Now (based on the YA novel of the same name) was another post-apocalyptic flick that came as a pleasant surprise. Daisy, an American teenager, is sent abroad to spend the summer with her English cousins. Shortly after she arrives, nuclear war breaks out, leaving Daisy and her cousins alone in the countryside to survive as best they can. In the beginning, Daisy is clearly a bitter, self-entitled, selfish little beeyotch; she’s as unlikeable as a character can be without murdering someone. As the film progresses, though, we learn just a little about what made her that way, but more importantly, we watch her grow up as she is forced to care about someone other than herself. Some truly heart-rending scenes and lovely acting by all involved.

Solomon KaneAnd finally, Solomon Kane, an historical horror story that gets its history all collywobbled, but still manages to be entertaining. The title character is an evil mercenary who plunders and pillages and murders at will in what appears to be the Middle East (circa 1600). But when he’s confronted by The Devil’s Reaper come to claim his soul, he escapes to his native England and takes up residence in a monastery to atone for his lifetime of sin. A year later, the abbot tells Kane his destiny does not lie within the abbey walls, and he must leave his sanctuary to seek his true path. Naturally, his true path leads to encounters with witches, demons, and other types of evil. It’s actually rather silly, and I suspect the historical context is there only for the mud and the blood and the general societal belief in witchcraft, because English Catholicism is awfully conspicuous for events taking RIP 9 Portraitplace in the last few years of Elizabeth I’s reign. Still, the film stars James Purefoy (yum) and features the marvelous Pete Postlethwaite (may flights of angels sing him to his rest) and equally marvelous Alice Krige in crucial character roles.

And that’s it thus far for Peril on the Screen. Click that badge over there to be whisked away to a list of other R.I.P. IX blog entries.