Another Day, Another Blog

August 17, 2007

The Cloud

Filed under: books, science fiction — iamza @ 10:46 am

The Cloud, by Ray Hammond: The search for extraterrestrial life is finally over, or so everyone thinks when lunar-based Setiville scientists discover a signal being broadcast from the constellation Aquarius, almost fifteen light years from Earth. A return message is sent even as work begins on decrypting the alien transmission. Sadly, the decryption proves more challenging than initially thought, and thirty years pass with no significant progress being made. Then, just as Earth readies itself for a second message from Aquarius, the alien transmissions stop, and a fast-moving nebulous cloud is spotted on the fringes of the solar system. Suddenly, the idea of being alone in the galaxy starts to look more appealing…

On the whole, not a bad read. The plot ticks over nicely, and if the characters aren’t quite enough to keep one engaged, at least the story itself is reasonably entertaining.

As with so many other science fiction novels, the underlying message seems to be that, as a species, we ought to appreciate mother Earth more. Technology is all well and good, but we should limit our advances because we don’t really know what we’re messing with. And we ought to focus all our energy on Earthbound activities because space is too big and too alien and too wasteful of resources to be worth the effort. I’m not sure that I, personally, agree with any of these assessments.

There are also other bits and pieces that trouble me about the story. For one thing, the Cloud was designed to automatically seek out any and all civilizations who have developed to the extent that they are capable of generating radio waves. Apparently, this is a fundamental step on the path to developing a program of spaceflight. Earth survives because they play dead by turning off all the radios. What is to stop any other advanced civilization from doing the same? How is the Cloud able to regenerate itself? Matter has to come from somewhere, so the idea of a self-regenerating space-cloud is a little hard to swallow. Is the Cloud alone? If not, it seems terribly convenient that it happened to stumble across Earth just fifty or sixty years after SETI started searching in earnest.

If anything, for me, the Cloud reinforces the need for a viable space program. If there are multiple planets populated by human beings, we have that much less of a chance of becoming extinct. Not to be specist, or anything, but I kind of like the idea of human beings spreading amongst the stars like a virus. If nothing else, it’s sort of a cosmic, “Screw you!” to all the naysayers and doom-mongers.

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July 30, 2007

Words, words, words

Filed under: books, sci-fi, science fiction — iamza @ 12:27 pm

It amazes me how quickly the body becomes accustomed to time off. It’s like the brain is in a perpetual holding pattern, just waiting for that precious vacation call so it can skip gleefully onto the runway. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to your holiday. Please remain seated until the brain-plane comes to a full and complete stop.”

This time around, at least I was in the mood to read. Too often, my days off are lost in a haze of DVDs and movies. I can still remember the bemused expression on the face of the cinema clerk back in South Africa when I returned to the ticket counter for the third time on the same day. Ah, how I miss 09h15 screenings…

So, books what got read:

Linnea Sinclair: Wintertide and The Accidental Goddess. Both novels are both set in the same universe, but a goodly time apart — a fact which completely bypassed my sister, who liked the first novel, but hated the second. 

In Wintertide, orphaned Khemsin finds out she is somehow connected to a sorcerer, a fact which does not make her particularly happy. She decides to go have a chat with him, to see if she can persuade him to keep out of her life.

This novel is a quick and mostly entertaining fantasy (ideal for skim-reading). Its biggest flaw is the romantic subplot, which is all too predictable. 

The Accidental Goddess is more my speed: space opera. After a space battle against a vicious foe, Captain Gillaine Davre of the Raheiran Special Forces wakes up on a space station to find out (a) she has somehow travelled 342 years into the future, and (b) she is now revered as a goddess. Add to the mix the disconcerting presence of Admiral Makarian, a Raheiran crystal ship with a knack for humming wedding tunes at just the wrong time, and the re-emergence of an old foe, and Gillie’s beginning to wonder if life could get any more complicated…

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Both Gillie and Mack are engaging characters, and Mack’s lieutenant and Gillie’s ship add some much needed humour. All around good read.

Elizabeth VaughanWarprize, Warsworn, and Warlord. A fantasy romance trilogy, which came highly recommended.

In the first book, Xylara, daughter of the King of Xy and Master Healer in her own right, is claimed as Warprize by the Firelander Warlord, in exchange for peace between their warring nations. Initially unhappy, Xylara gradually learns that the Firelanders are neither as hostile nor as uncivilized as she’d been brought up to believe.

In Warsworn, Xylara and Kier are diverted on their path to the Firelander homeland when they run across a diseased village. As Master Healer, Xylara tries to aid the village, but then the plague spreads to the Firelander army, and Kier.

Having successfully retained his title of Warlord, Kier leads the Firelander army to the Great Plains, and home. But he travels alone, as Xylara has been taken by the Firelander Council to the heart of the Great Plains. There, Xylara must prove to the council that she is truly worthy of the title, Warprize.

I must admit that I was not keen on the first few hundred pages of this epic, what with the idea of a woman being claimed by the leader of an opposing nation as his just reward for peace. I disliked the slave imagery, and the feeling that Xylara had no say in her future. Even once the true status of what it means to be claimed as Warprize is revealed, it left me uncomfortable, because, essentially, Xylara’s position was unchanged. Xylara did not choose to go with Kier of her own free will — she was forced into it because if she did not go along as Warprize, Kier and the Firelanders would have destroyed her home and killed her people. Call it what you want, but that strikes me as blackmail.

I had fewer qualms with later books, once it became clear that Xylara wanted to stay with Kier. I’m still thinking Xylara’s suffering a bout of Stockholm syndrome, but, hey, that’s barbarian romance for you. Also, I guess in some ways, she’s made a political alliance for her people through marriage. 

On the whole, an engaging story with a huge dose of romance. Still not entirely sold on the notion of the Warprize, or the Firelander way of life, but it all ends on a relatively happy note. All three books are good pageturners, and well worth reading, if you can keep from chucking the first book across the room for the first hundred or so pages.

James Rollins: Deep Fathom is an adventure novel in the Hollywood blockbuster sense of the word. The new millennium brings with it a series of catastrophic natural disasters, culminating in the crash of Air Force One and the re-emergence of once lost continent off the coast of Japan. The discovery of a mysterious crystal with peculiar gravitational properties in ancient ruins on the continent may forecast the destruction of the Earth, or a way to save the world. 

This is switch-off-your-brain action of the highest order. Great (skim) reading for airports, or after long journeys when your brain is tired but you just can’t sleep. It has everything Hollywood looks for in action adventure: a down-and-out hero, romance, talking computers, big special effects, nonsense science, and the requisite super, ultra, really bad, bad guy (because, God knows, saving the Earth from blowing up just isn’t enough of a challenge sometimes).

Frank Schatzing: I know, I know, I keep bringing this book up, but The Swarm is hands down my favourite read of the summer thus far. Seriously, if you read one science fiction novel this year, make it this one — it is that good.

The oceans are rebelling against man. The coasts around the world are being ravaged by marine creatures, some known, but some which appear to have been artificially evolved. Meanwhile, a huge tsunami triggered by the collapse of the continental shelf off the coast of Norway wreaks havoc all around the North Sea. An international group of scientists struggle to understand what is behind the sudden surge in disasters, and come to a very disturbing conclusion: We are not alone.

This book has it all — an excellent story which is thoroughly absorbing; a great cast of characters; loads of action and adventure; the destruction of whole countries; and a bunch of seriously alien aliens. And it’s thick enough that you only have to pack one book for your holiday! :-)

March 18, 2007

Of life…and other things

Filed under: science fiction, the joy of life — iamza @ 1:43 pm

Do you ever get that feeling of having lived a moment before, but where the outcome was completely different? I’m not talking about deja vu, where you think you’ve visited a specific location before, even though, intellectually, you know it’s impossible. I mean, where you’ve literally lived through a given moment, but this time around, it’s all played out differently.

As an example: Once, while working late, I went on a coffee run which necessitated the navigation of a set of stairs. Half way down the stairs, I tripped, but managed to clutch the bannister, and save myself a nasty fall. Yet, at the exact moment I grabbed hold of the bannister, I knew that in some other life, I’d fallen, and things hadn’t turned out quite so well.

I guess it could be argued that my imagination was simply playing tricks on me. I’d had a close-shave, and my brain had taken the opportunity to embellish, in excrutiating detail, the potential consequences of that incident. In a split second, I not only knew what would have happened had I fallen, but my brain had also supplied the movie clip so I could see it happening.

Thing is, sometimes I have these flashes of awareness even when I haven’t had a close shave. There’ll be a moment when I’m making a decision — it can be something as simple as choosing whether or not to go shopping after work — and I’ll know that whatever I choose, I’ve lived all the outcomes.

Science fiction shows often make use of the premise of an infinite number of parallel universes. Every decision we make acts as a branching point, splitting the multiverse still further; every possible outcome of every incident we’ve ever encountered in our lives leads to a new universe. All the what-if’s in the world become reality.

Sometimes I wonder if that moment of not-quite-deja vu is just the conscious mind taking note of a flutter in the space-time continuum, watching as the multiverse gives birth again to a new universe, one in which I fell down those stairs or said no instead of yes.

Sometimes I wonder if that moment of not-quite-deja vu is the moment at which the universe we’re currently in came into being. Maybe it was only when I tripped on that staircase that this universe sprang forth, fully formed.

Mostly, though, I think thoughts like these are proof of my insanity. :-) 

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