Category Archives: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Laziness and a New Obsession

Yesterday was a total waste of time, which is exactly what was great about it. We watched Top Gear (BBC America) for a little while and I thought I might get bored with it after a while and go do something else. I did go out to get milk and bread because we were completely out of the former and almost out of the latter. Came back and Number Two Son was watching The Fifth Element (still BBC A) which we’ve seen at least twice before but I sat down and watched the rest of it anyway because it’s fun. After that there were three (or was it four) episodes of Humans, (still BBC A) which I had not seen before so we watched all of those, and later the new episode on AMC, and now we’re hooked.

Humans is about an alternate present in which there are android servants. (called “synths”) They perform household tasks and can respond when spoken to but they are not sentient. Except, at least some of them are. A human and one of the sentient synths are trying to find two of their synth companions who have been kidnapped. One was bought by a family and the other by a bordello. The latter has escaped and is killing humans. There is a touching sub-plot about an elderly scientist who has a defective android that he loves and is trying to protect from the company that wants to take and recycle it.

So… a lazy Sunday and a new science fiction obsession. Life can’t get much better.

Reading

Yay! Back to space opera for a while! I very much enjoyed Starhold by J. Alan Field. There is a brief description of what the story is about at that link so I will just say that this book has well-developed characters, adventure, mystery, space battles, political intrigue, and a touch of romance – everything I expect in good space opera. I am looking forward to the next book in this series.

(Sorry for such a short post. I guess I’m just not into this whole blogging thing right now.)

All About That Base

So, have you had enough of All About That Bass to last you for the rest of your life? Well, too bad because here’s one more version that you absolutely, positively MUST listen to. I didn’t see it in time for May the Fouth (be with you) but I don’t care. Star Wars isn’t just a one day a year thing.

Thanks

Star Wars Art

Looking at these Star Wars concept paintings you realize that a man whose name most of us don’t remember was hugely responsible for the look of Star Wars. At the same time, they have an almost “retro sci-fi feel”.

There is a book, which, sadly, I will never own. Not that it’s not worth it but the price is way beyond the limits of my considerable self-indulgence. Or maybe I’m just too practical. When I see something like that I tend to think in terms of “How many other books could I buy for that price?” or how many CDs or how many yards of fabric.

Embedded

I am generally not a fan of military science fiction but Embedded by Dan Abnett was a Kindle monthly special a while back and that’s really all the incentive I need. Science fiction novel? $3.99 or less? Why not?

This book, however, aside from the shooting, the bleeding, and heads being blown off, actually is a pretty interesting story and is very well-written. An aging, cynical journalist investigates a conflict that the government is trying to cover up or downplay. It’s not a war or a conflict; it’s merely a “dispute” and no one will say what it is really about. Unable to get any straight answers, he gets himself “embedded” into the mind of a soldier.

The ending, though it resolves most of the major questions, leaves things wide open for a sequel, which I will definitely read. I was disappointed to find that it is not out yet.

Aliens and Spaceships and Bombs! Oh My!

The 5th book I have read this year is My Other Car Is a Spaceship by Mark Terence Chapman.* Present Day retired U.S. Air Force pilot Hal Nellis is kidnapped by aliens and offered the choice of either returning home to a peaceful retirement or training to pilot a starship and fighting pirates. No points for guessing which option he chooses. This book is full of action from beginning to end – lots of shooting and bombs and destruction but also an interesting plot with surprises and intrigue. Pure fun and escapism. I highly recommend it to any space opera fans out there.

* I read the Kindle edition.

Different and Interesting

I finished reading the Extinction Point trilogy by Paul Antony Jones. I’m having a hard time getting started on this “review”. It was definitely good, definitely interesting. I read it in what was, for me, record time. But the ending was a disappointment. So what can I say about the ending without it being a spoiler? Perhaps, nothing? It wasn’t terrible, I suppose. Perhaps someone else would think it is the perfect ending?

So, let’s start at the beginning. A mysterious red rain falls, destroying almost all life on Earth. Emily Baxter, a journalist for a NYC newspaper heads off on a cross-country trip to find other survivors. (And I have another small quibble. Emily is from Iowa. Is it just me or does it seem like young women who move to New York are always from Iowa? More bothersome is the fact that she does not know how to drive. If she was from Iowa and moved to New York City as an adult she would at least know how to drive. She might not own a car and might not have got a license in NY but she would know how to drive.)

Anyway… I don’t want to be too negative. Overall it was a very interesting story and I do recommend it to anyone who reads science fiction. The characters were well developed and interesting. The alien life was original – different from anything I’ve ever come across in other books or in movies. The story itself, the action, was compelling and made all three of the books unputdownable.

Mr. Jones says that there will be at least one more book in the series and there is a short story about one of the characters in the series and, yes, I will read those and likely other books by this author.

In a Reading Mood

Since I finished reading Railsea I have already finished another book and I’m more than halfway through another. Wow, must be the weather. At this rate I could read over 200 books this year but I can’t keep this up. I have to come back to the real world and do other things, like sewing. I haven’t really done any sewing since before Christmas and I really need to get back to it. The stash is feeling abandoned. I haven’t even so much as fondled it in weeks. Not to mention that all the online fabric retailers keep having sales. (Shhh. Go away; I don’t need you.)

The books I’m reading now are the Extinction Point series by Paul Antony Jones. I’ll have more to say about them later on. I probably won’t review every book I read but I have decided to try to keep track of the total number of books I read this year. I’ve been doing that on Google+ but I might start some kind of list here too. Feel free to add me to your Circles if you like and I will add you to one of mine. (unless you’re a spammer) I’m not trying to be as exclusive on Google+ as I am on Facebook.

Trains!

I got China Mieville’s Railsea for Christmas. It’s one of those books that I have been wanting for a while but never got around to buying. I started it a few days after Christmas and finished it Saturday night. (which is really fast for me) I don’t know how to review this book because about all I can think of to say is, “Wow!” Which is usually the first thing I have to say about any of Mieville’s novels.

Railsea isn’t as totally freak-out weird as Perdido Street Station or Iron Council but it’s weird enough. It is not set on the same world as those two novels. It has elements of Moby Dick but it would be unfair to call it “Moby Dick on rails” as I did when I first started it, as that aspect of it turns out not to be the most important part of the story. And there are surprises.

I used to say that if you’ve never read China Mieville start with Perdido Street Station but now I’m thinking Railsea might be the better one to start with. But it doesn’t matter all that much. If you like weird fantasy and science fiction you should definitely read both. PSS is fantasy; Railsea is science fiction. I think. With Mieville, sometimes it’s hard to tell.

More Reading

I finished reading Stardancer yesterday morning. About two weeks to read it, I think. That’s actually pretty fast for me. It usually takes me at least a month to get through an average sized book. (Though I am getting better about that since I’ve been trying to spend more time reading books.) It’s sort of a weird experience for me to write about a book knowing that the author is going to read this, because he’s not some distant celebrity but someone I have known online for more than 10 years. But in this case it’s easy because this is a really great book. Seriously.

I read a wide variety of science fiction (as well as other genres, mostly classics and history) but this is the kind of story that got me hooked on science fiction in the first place – full of space ships and adventure. Stardancer is unique in a number of ways too. The main character is a teenage girl who, though she is a princess who discovers that she has a strange ability, is fairly typical of girls that age. There is also an ethnic minority character who is a minority of one on the planet they are visiting. Girls and minorities are two seriously neglected groups in science fiction. There is a hint of environmentalism – what happens when you rely on just one power source and that source starts running out – but the reader is not beat over the head with it. The story keeps moving, uninterrupted by either preaching or science lectures.

The story comes to a satisfying conclusion, not in any way a cliffhanger, but enough questions are left open to make me really impatient to read the next book.

Speech! Speech!

What’s the Greatest Speech in Science Fiction and Fantasy?

That’s a tough one. On Facebook, where I first saw this, a lot of people liked Malcolm Reynold’s “I aim to misbehave” speech in Serenity. Someone mentioned the V speech. I do agree that both of those are great. When I was a little kid I loved Captain Kirk’s speeches. (It seemed like he was always speechifying) They seemed so moving and profound. (Like I said I was a little kid.) But which one?

I always hate to declare one of anything to be The Best because I know that I will almost certainly remember something even better later, but I’m going out on a limb and saying that surely one of Captain Picard’s speeches must be the best. But again, which one? Well… this certainly must be a top contender.

What are your favorites? (From any science fiction or fantasy movie or TV show)

Reading

300 Suns by Allan J. Ferrenberg is one of the more unputdownable books I have read recently. In the near future a huge alien starship arrives. The aliens refuse to show themselves or to communicate in any way. Soon they begin putting satellites into orbit around Earth. Scientists, the military, and politicians are divided over whether or not the aliens are hostile and what, if anything, to do about them.

I don’t want to post any spoilers but I do want to say, “Hello, Hollywood? This would make an epic disaster movie.” Also, I was able to figure out what the aliens were up to one chapter before it was revealed in the story. I do like surprises but I also like being able to figure things out. I was not entirely pleased with the ending but it wasn’t a bad ending. My quibble is just over details, I suppose. Overall it was a very entertaining and worthwhile read.

Infinite Directions

A week or three ago there was a brief conversation on Facebook about fantasy and science fiction. Someone said something about not liking the direction that a lot of modern fantasy is going. I responded, saying that I don’t read a lot of fantasy but that the same was true of me and science fiction. But then, later, I thought, “Why did I say that? Is that really true?” I was thinking of some of the near future sci-fi and “hard” sci-fi (No FTL) that I’ve seen in recent years and which critics seem to be saying is “the future of science fiction,” the direction it’s going, and some of that is really good, but more often I’d rather just read some good old fashioned space opera. Damn the scientific plausibility and just entertain me!

If you ignore the critics and the hard “SF” nerds and really look at what’s out there, you see that there are books to take you in any direction you want to go. One of the first authors I thought of when I was rethinking my comment on Facebook was Neal Asher. Definitely original, what you could call “a new direction”, and yet, at their heart, his stories are good, old fashioned space opera, with strange planets, weird aliens, and FTL to get you there in less than one lifetime.

Independent and self published books are becoming more common. I have mentioned a few of these before: A Door to Truth by J.S. Johnson and The Last Revolution by R.T. Carpenter, to name just two. These authors have been inspired by the same books, movies and TV shows many of us have loved and they have their own original ideas so you get some really good stories (in spite of the fact that some of these authors really need to improve their proofreading skills) that might never have made it into print if they had been stuck trying to get past the traditional gatekeepers.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the book I just finished reading and one that I am eagerly anticipating. Let’s start with the one I just finished: Space Chronicles: The Last Human War by Dean Sault. The story begins some 300(?) years after Earth was completely destroyed in a war between several interstellar empires. The surviving few thousand humans are living in benevolent slavery on the planet Tanarac. The Heptari, a reptilian race, have apparently just discovered that there are still a few humans left alive and want to kill them all. Or at least they’re using that as an excuse to attack Tanarac. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot so I’ll just say, if you like space ships and especially epic battles between space ships you must read this book.

I have two more sci-fi novels and a non-fiction book (no wait… two of those also) in the queue, plus all those classics that I’m going to read someday, and I’m not sure what I will read next. But the big important one that I’m waiting on – and I have to wait until November for it – is Stardancer. I have been reading Kelly Sedinger’s blog, Byzantium’s Shores, since 2002, I think, and I have read some of the short stories he has posted there, and I think I know something of his taste in fiction, so I know this will be good. I’m going to try to time my reading to be done and ready for Stardancer when it comes out but if I’m in the middle of something at that time I will likely drop it to read Stardancer immediately. I don’t seem to be very good at reading two books at once. I usually end up dropping one even if I don’t intend to.

Doctor Who

We have started watching Doctor Who again. I first started watching it when Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor. I was not familiar with the long tradition of new Doctors and new Companions every few years so I was hugely disappointed when Eccleston left the show but I soon got used to David Tennant and ended up liking him very well. But then he was replaced by Matt Smith. I suppose it was partly that I took one look at a photo of Matt Smith and immediately disliked him (He always looks like he smells something nasty.) and partly that I was just put off by having to get used to a different actor yet again but I stopped watching. I did not watch any of the Matt Smith episodes. I did catch maybe five minutes of a couple of episodes when I changed channels to watch whatever it was that came on after Doctor Who and those few minutes never did anything to entice me watch an entire hour.

Now here comes Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor. I don’t know why I decided to give it a try again but I did and I have really enjoyed the first four episodes of this season, even the one with the Daleks. I really, seriously, effing hate the Daleks. I know we’re supposed to hate them because they’re the bad guys but I don’t mean it like that. I really hate them as characters. I hate the whole idea of Daleks. Worst excuse for villains ever! They’re not scary; they’re just stupid and annoying. But in the latest Dalek episode there was one that turned good for a while and that was sort of interesting.

I like the unique British weirdness of Doctor Who. It’s not what we generally think of as “good science fiction” but it’s fun. I especially liked the most recent episode, Listen, which was actually rather serious and, I would even say, beautiful. I look forward to seeing what’s next and I hope that Peter Capaldi sticks around for several years. I like Clara, the current Companion, too. I have not disliked any of the companions.

Much is being made of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, with good reason, I think. That is an incredibly long time for a television show to last and it seems that it could keep going for another 50. The long line of new Doctors and new Companions – having a way to periodically change stars built into the story – is what has enabled it to keep going. Therefore I can’t complain about that anymore, Matt Smith notwithstanding.

Book Quote

From Orbus by Neal Asher:

“The introduction of technology slows the process of evolution, but it never actually ceases, … and when technology advances sufficiently to be applied to the bodies and minds of those wielding it, it becomes a tool of evolution.”

“Oh!” – “I see, said the blind man.”

I had a 7th grade teacher who, whenever he would explain something to a student one-on-one and they would say, “Oh,” would respond, “I see said the blind man.” I suppose some students might have found this annoying but I always thought it was hilarious and I loved him for it. He was also one of my first Black teachers (I had two that year) and one of my first male teachers.

But that’s not what this is about. I just happened to think of it when I read this. That line from Star Wars, that the Millennium Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs,” has always bothered me. I mean seriously bothered me. A parsec is a measure of distance, not time. Things like this, to me, are worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.

Well, in fact, it does make sense. And I’m feeling quite annoyed at myself for being such a scientifically illiterate numbskull. This is rather obvious.

The main criticism of the line is that a parsec is a distance. Han saying that he made the run in 12 parsecs is like a runner saying she ran a marathon in 26.2 miles. This would be a legitimate criticism if the Kessel Run was a set distance like a marathon. In most cases, there are several different paths from point A to point B. For example, I live next to a lake, and there is a house across this lake. The direct route from my house to this house is to swim across the lake, but swimming is not an option for me because I can’t swim. To get to this house, I have to walk or drive. The same applies to the closest Target, which is a little over a mile away. To walk directly there, I would have to swim across a lake (a different one; I live in Minnesota) and walk across a freeway. Again, driving five miles is the best way for me to go to Target. On Earth, certain obstacles prevent a straight course; instead, a path around these impediments is the best way to travel.

In space, the obstacles are numerous. Planets, asteroids, comets, meteors, and black holes are just a few of the features a pilot has to navigate around in order to arrive at a destination safely. When Han has to get away from Tatooine, he tells Luke, “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy. Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?” According to the material in the expanded ‘Star Wars’ universe, the Maw is a cluster of black holes on one of the possible routes to Kessel. The safest course is approximately 18 parsecs. For Han to have completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, he would have had to travel near this cluster of black holes, which is dangerous. A black hole has a strong gravitational pull, and getting too close to one could result in the ship either being destroyed or pulled into the black hole to face an unknown fate. Traveling a direct route in space can be risky, and it takes a skilled navigator to plot a course that will get a ship to its destination in one piece.

The author goes on to say that Han’s boast “doesn’t sell him as a great pilot.” I don’t care. This line that has bugged me for over three decades now makes sense to me. Rays of glorious light shone down from Heaven and angels sang. You can’t take that away from me. Not even by going back to the time vs. distance issue:

The problem with the Kessel Run claim is the fact that Han says the line as an answer to a question about speed. Obi-Wan says he is looking for passage on a fast ship. Han asks, “Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?” Obi-Wan replies, “Should I have?” Then Han says the famous line, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” A parsec is a unit of distance, and distance is distance. You drive 60 miles; it could take you three hours if you go 20mph or one hour if you go 60mph, but you still travel 60 miles. Speed is determined by the relationship between time and distance. Again, without knowing how much time it took Han to complete the Kessel Run, the comment is an attribute to his navigating skills and not the performance of the ship. If Han has said, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in 11.7 parsecs in 3 days,” then the speed the Millennium Falcon could be determined, giving Obi-Wan an actual answer to his inquiry.

Okay, so she has a point. Sort of. But note the specific wording of the statement. “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” “The ship.” As if it was the only one that ever did it. A historic stunt that everyone is expected to have heard of, including other details, like time, that are not given in Han’s brief statement. Anyway, that’s how I make sense of it and I’m happy now. Star Wars is officially perfect.

Name

I keep getting spam comments from someone or something using the name ShoogeStulfef. I swear if I ever write a fantasy novel I’m going to name a character Shooge Stulfef. I haven’t decided what sort of character he will be. Certainly male, probably large and disheveled, and not necessarily human. Thoughts?