Tag Archives: aliens

Dreadnaught (The Lost Fleet, Book 7) – Jack Campbell

If you don’t exercise a talent, you get rusty,

The odyssey of Captain Jack Geary and his start fleet continues beyond human-controlled space, into the alien enigmas territory. The captain finds itself again in new and tense situations, but dangers are much higher than during the war with the human Syndics.

Already the 7th volume in the series, the story keeps its appeal and, finally, Jack Campbell responds to some of the criticism and does not repeat the various descriptions of the universe it creates. The book is more ingrained in the space opera, rather than a stand alone book, which was always one of the aims of the author in the previous stories.

This time the war with the Syndics is over and enemy is a mysterious alien civilization. While the plot is simple, it develops well and has enough depth and logic to be plausible. This is indeed one of the strengths of the book – taking wild developments in the far future and then apply logic response to them. There is no silver bullet or magic that saves the day.

Beyond human-controlled space, into the unknown.

The jabs to politicians continue, but it is not a nod to fascism, as, while not explicit, democracy is still seen the best of all forms of socio-economical organisation. The political game makes sense and helps drive the plot forward.

The drawbacks remain the same: a somewhat limited vocabulary, too much focus on dialogue that does not really add more depth to characters, too little description of the universe it creates.

Nevertheless, it is astonishing how the series keeps its appeal, even at the seven volume. Jack Campbell is truly a masterful and ingenious storyteller.

Victorious (The Lost Fleet, Book 6) – Jack Campbell

We should have suspected that nonhumans were involved right from the start when the activation process didn’t involve a lot of arcane commands that had to be done in just the right order, and the destination was displayed as a name rather than using some counterintuitive code. No human software engineer would produce a device that easy to use.

The book is the last in the Lost Fleet series, completing the story arc. The odyssey of Captain Jack Black is finishing. Or does it? Jack Campbell brings the story to an end, but leaves place for another adventure.

Compared with the other books of the series, it is rather the worst. The plot is still good, but a bit predictable. The romantic twist is an interesting idea, but it does not add much to the main story. And the romantic ending is a cliche.

However, the story is still captivating and good enough to make the reader follow the story until its end. The final fights are well thought and engaging. The dialogue was never a strong point of the book, but managed to stay at decent levels. Some new characters are memorable, although seem sometimes as caricatures of some human traits and cultures.

I enjoyed the book, although the series does not finish with a high. A nice read for a rainy evening, with a glass of tea nearby.

Absolution gap (Revelation Space Book 3)- Alastair Reynolds

“When two or more of their lighthuggers met, they would compare and update their respective nomenclature tables. If the first ship had assigned names to a group of worlds and their associated geographical features, and the second ship had no current entries for those bodies, it was usual for the second ship to amend its database with the new names. They might be flagged as provisional, unless a third ship confirmed that they were still unallocated.”

A meandering, long and unexpected finish for the Revelation Space series. The characters from the last chapter are still followed by the Inhibitors, the civilization hunters and destroyers, but a mysterious, disappearing planet could give key answers.

Towering at almost 700 pages, this hard scifi book still comes with intriguing and though-provoking ideas, such as moving cathedrals, Gothic spaceships, religious viruses and many more. However, the changes seem more of style than substance, at least compared with the previous books.

It was an entertaining book and, despite its length and a falling flat ending, the writing, editing, vocabulary remained great.

The fight against the Inhibitors begins.

Revelation Space (Revelation Space Book 1)- Alastair Reynolds

I don’t know.” That was typical Sajaki; like all the genuinely clever people Sylveste had met he knew better than to feign understanding where none existed.

Revelation Space is a hard scifi novel, the first in the “Revelation Space” trilogy, where humans explore stars, alien civilizations and mysterious planets. An archeologist, an assassin and a ship lieutenant interlinked stories make the protagonists of a superb dystopian adventure, with realistic world building.

Imagining humanity in the 26th century is a difficult endeavor, but Alastair Reynolds does a fantastic job in creating an universe that is imaginative, bold, mind-blowing, but still respects the basic rules of science. It does help that Reynolds is a real scientist, who tries hard to create a believable, realistic universe.

The stories of the three protagonists start separately and the reader sometimes feels lost, but gradually the stories converge and create an entertaining and imaginative adventure.

The theme of why we are alone in the universe is explored, despite proofs of ancient civilizations being found. The novel presents itself as a space opera, but the technology does not burden the reader. The adventure focuses on human actions, not on incredible technology feats.

Humanity in 26th century is not an utopia, but, similar with today, it is has good and bad, factions, love, war, diseases, family, priests. The way those concepts are brought forward in 600 years is thought provoking and credible.

One of the biggest strengths of the book is the extensive vocabulary. It was one of those situations when I was happy reading it from an e-book, as I had to search for meaning of words.

While the writing suffers sometimes, the vocabulary, the universe creation, the characters, the story, the premises are all compelling arguments for a great trilogy. An amazing book to read.

Death’s End – Liu Cixin (Translator Ken Liu)

Some call them doomsday ships. These lightspeed ships have no destination at all. They turn their curvature engines to maximum and accelerate like crazy, infinitely approaching the speed of light. Their goal is to leap across time using relativity until they reach the heat death of the universe. By their calculations, ten years within their frame of reference would equal fifty billion years in ours. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to plan for it. If some malfunction occurs after a ship has accelerated to lightspeed, preventing the ship from decelerating, then you’d also reach the end of the universe within your lifetime.

By many accounts, this is one of the best science fiction books ever written. The volume is the third in the Three-Body Problem trilogy and the best of all three. The story follows the development of humanity after the encounter with the aliens and finding the precarious balance. Many eras pass by, each one bringing amazing concepts and developments, surprising the reader. The protagonist is this time Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer, who is not a driver, but an anchor for the narrative. She is placed in the middle of all important decisions, from Swordhandler to speedlight ships development. However, her decisions are only a consequence of being chosen as such by humanity.

Trisolarians become at the end allies in an ending universe, gargantuan, dark and soulless. The Dark Forest remains a grim fact of the universe for the author, following the same rule less world perception developed by Thomas Hobbes: Homo homini lupus, but on a cosmos scale.

The boundless imagination of presenting new eras, technologies and aliens is mindblowing. The author manages to give the right length of description with unprecedented precision: enough to give the essence of an era, summarizing the relevant developments.

The logical tightness of the tale is astonishing, managing to captivate the imagination of the reader and make him wonder of what could it be beyond the stars. The concepts brought forward: dark forest, deterrence, civilization development, dimensions of a universe, galactic distances, human choices in face of critical situations, human society evolution having different stimuli, alien courses of action, make the book and the trilogy on par with the best of scifi writers.

These volumes of hard scifi are stunningly well-research as well, replying to practical, physics questions that arise in the wave of civilization and technology development with plausible, well-thought solutions.

No doubt, this is one of the best hard scifi books written so far, bringing enthusiasm for humanity to look at starts and see what lies beyond our planet. This is despite the fact that, ultimately, the story is one of fatalism, where humans, societies and civilizations, are at the mercy of cosmic events.

[Feature image: Yayoi Kusama – Infinity Room]

The Dark Forest – Liu Cixin, (Translator Joel Martinsen)

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life—another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod—there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

This is the second book of the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy by Liu Cixin. The book continues the story in the Three-Body Problem and explores the decisions humanity makes finding that an alien civilization heads for Earth, bent on destruction, in 400 years.

The story is followed through the eyes of Luo Ji, a lackadaisical astronomer and sociologist, who is named one of the four Wallfacers, the humanity project to hide its intentions from the Tri-solarian aliens. The anchor of the book remains Luo Ji’s quiet protector, the detective and policeman Shi Qiang.

Years and generations pass and humanity oscillates from the height of optimism and arrogant self-confidence to the depths of despair, when its fleet is easily taken out by a single alien droplet.

The questions addressed and the hard science put into the plot makes the novel a fascinating read. Weaker than the first book, this volume gives less space to the aliens and more to the personal story of Luo Ji.

The book is not a hero’s story, struggling for humanity, but of an unambitious fellow put, sometimes inexplicably, in positions of decision with grave effects for humankind. The book has no real protagonist, as Luo Ji is not sufficiently explored to understand all his decisions.

The alien motivations and the world building are beautifully exposed and are logically impeccable, while humanity’s response is lackluster, even disappointing. Few raise to the task, including our main personage.

The volume is of excellent writing quality and the story is well followed and expanded from the first book. A less exhilarating experience than The Three-Body problem, but, nonetheless, a great book to read.

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu, (Translator Ken Liu)

No. Many of the best scientists can be fooled by pseudoscience and sometimes devote their lives to it. But pseudoscience is afraid of one particular type of people who are very hard to fool: stage magicians. In fact, many pseudoscience hoaxes were exposed by stage magicians.

This is an amazing hard scifi book by the Chinese author Cixin Liu, masterly translated by Ken Liu, discussing human nature and communications beyond the solar system.

An engaging and creative plot, accurate use of mathematics and astrophysics, great character development makes this volume one of the best scifi books in the last years. The book won the prestigious Hugo and Nebula scifi book awards.

The book is the first part of the the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, which expands the theme of human resilience and entrepreneurship.

The plot is skillfully developed as a detective story around the experiences of Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist in current day China,  involving a computer game and an old research station. The book starts with the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the development of a secret research stations and we are gradually brought to present life and introduced to the scientist Mr Miao. Shi Qiang, the cunning detective who guides the protagonist, is a superbly created character, down to earth and creative.

Overall, an exceptional hard scifi book, with a well-built, engaging plot and memorable characters, deserving all the praise it got in the last years.

Horus Rising (The Horus Heresy PART 1) – Dan Abnett

You are walking along the shores of a lake,’ Sindermann said. ‘A boy is drowning. Do you let him drown because he was foolish enough to fall into the water before he had learned to swim? Or do you fish him out, and teach him how to swim?’
Loken shrugged. ‘The latter.’
‘What if he fights you off as you attempt to save him, because he is afraid of you? Because he doesn’t want to learn how to swim?’
‘I save him anyway.

It’s the 31st century and the martial society of humanity, the Imperium of Man, is expanding in the galaxy. The story follows the military feats of the “Luna Wolves” Legion of Space Marines. Their leader is Horus Lupercal, recently appointed Warmaster, general chief of Imperial military forces. Horus is one of the Primarchs, genetically engineered lieutenants of the Emperor. We find about his actions through the eyes of Captain Garviel Loken, leader of the Luna Wolves’ 10th Company.

The book sets the stage for the Chaos’ plot to destroy the mysterious founder and leader of the Imperium, the Emperor of Man. This story is followed in the next 49 books of the famous series.

Lupercal, lupercal, lupercal!

This is the beginning of the famous Warhammer 40,000 military scifi, a dystopian future galaxy-spanning war. Books, board games, figurines, video games, comics were all developed in this fascinating environment.

The plot itself is absolutely fantastic, building the base for a great military saga. There are obvious inspirations from Starship Troopers of Robert A. Heinlein. The recent Red Rising saga seems to take some inspiration from the Warhammer universe as well.

However, the military heavy element of the book might be hard to digest for many. The book has many plot strands, characters, sub-plots. However, the writing is fluid, the universe makes sense in itself, and the moral and ethical questions that are asked are mind blowing.

Overall, a great book for the fans of the military scifi and a must read for all passionate about the Warhammer universe .

Koban – Stephen W. Bennett

His octet was to be limited to the same weapons these humans were given. A very detailed video of the compound’s terrain was furnished. This he shared with his octet, because every Krall had an inborn ability to memorize such details for a mission. Repetition was unnecessary.

Koban is a very imaginative and action-packed military survival sci-fi. The story revolves around Captain Mirikami, who is transporting in a passenger spaceship scientists to a far colony, when he is attacked by an unknown and far more advanced alien species. Captain Mirikami and all on board is then isolated on a dangerous planet, Koban, where he has to prove to alien war race that humanity deserve to be treated as worthy opponents.

The author creates an entire universe with this book, with a new planet and a new alien species. The Krall are very advanced military, highly physical, destroyed or enslaving every other intelligent species they met so far. They use those wars to enhance their military abilities. Humans are considered weak and very low technologically speaking, but they are still put to trial. If they succeed, aliens plan to destroy humans gradually, rather then in a one big stroke, hence the struggle of Captain Mirikami.

Scifi survival story

Stephen Bennett creates a future where genetic warfare  almost killed the entire male population and changed ways of society. The men are subservient to women and the first part of the book is full with sexist situations. After the genetic war. humanity is not fighting internally nor meeting any other intelligent species in 300 years.

The narrative is captivating, some chapters are looking at events through the eyes of predators on Koban, some others through the Krall aliens. It makes the story a lot more interesting.The book has some fantastic ideas, but with others it went overboard. The sexism is interesting, but not adding to the story. The genetic enhancement done in days leave too many logical holes.

Nonetheless, it is a solid scifi survival book, imaginative, well paced, action-packed and entertaining.

Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

Man was, therefore, still a prisoner on his own planet. It was much fairer, but a much smaller, planet than it had been a century before. When the Overlords abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure.

Childhood’s End is a good scifi from the accomplished author Arthur C Clarke. It starts with a sudden arrival of some aliens, just after the second world war. They bring peace and prosperity, but never disclose their reason to come to Earth. The book ends somewhat surprisingly, into a kind of transcendence for humankind.

childhoods-end
Quality scifi writing

Although written in 1953, the book keeps pace with current development and innovations, which shows the, what proved to be correct, vision of the author for the future.

The plot has several twists, a couple of stories being intermingled, but the narrative is kept straight and easy to follow. The anchor of the book are the aliens and the slow progress towards the inevitable end. It reminded me of the more recent series of Harry Turtledove (Colonization – also on this website).

The book is an easy read and imaginative enough to be an entertaining scifi almost 70 years after writing.

While I enjoyed reading the book, I think it could have explored more the excellent plot lines developed. A solid reading overall.

[Featured picture by ITU Pictures]