Tag Archives: aliens

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]

Man of war (series) – H. Paul Honsinger

New contact!” Lieutenant Kasparov announced from the Sensors Station.  “Infrared and mass detection, bearing three-five-seven mark zero-six-eight.  Designating as Hotel eleven.  Classified as definite hostile.  No effort at stealth.”  Then, under his breath, he added, “Arrogant bastards.”

“Very well.”  Lieutenant Commander Max Robichaux, Union Space Navy, Captain of the Khyber class destroyer USS Cumberland, acknowledged the contact report but let the comment pass, not because it was appropriate–which it was not–but because he heartily concurred.  Judging by the quiet murmurs of agreement from the dozens of men at their General Quarters stations in the Cumberland’s Combat Information Center, he wasn’t the only one.

The destroyer’s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Eduardo DeCosta, leaned toward Max and said in a low voice, “No stealth.  Looks like disdain.  We’re not a threat to them, so they don’t need to waste effort making themselves hard to detect.”

Max shook his head and answered at the same volume—his voice would not carry beyond the Command Island, the platform in the center of CIC where the Commander’s and Executive Officer’s Stations, as well as an additional console known as the Commodore’s Station, were located.  “That’s not it, XO.  Krag disdain for us ‘blaspheming monkeys’ is a given.  Their goal is intimidation.  They want to make sure we know they’re here and how many of them are hunting us.  They want us cowed.  Too scared to think.  Believing we’re already dead so we’ll stop fighting to survive.” [Book 3 – Brothers in Valour]

The series follows the adventures of Max Robichaux, captain of a war spaceship engaged in the war with an alien empire, some 300 years in the future.

There are three books in the series: To Honor You Call Us, For Honor We Stand and Brothers in Valour. Interestingly, the first two were self-published (this means there was no publishing house behind them) and enjoyed an immense success.

The series are classical in the sense of story building. Captain Robichaux gradually earns his success and military victories, while training and giving confidence to his destroyer’s crew. On his side, there is his best friend, Dr Sahin, and a reliable council of advisers. The victories follow one after the other, but not without losses. The focus is on the hero and his crew, less on the ship itself.

to-honor-you-call-us
A nice, relaxed reading.

There are writers who like to introduce convoluted psychological plots and mind games. However, the author, Paul Honsinger, likes his story clean; the focus is on the fight itself, on the universe around it and on the crew. This makes the story easy to follow and engaging.

There is no hard scifi in those books, but the plot is imaginative, with nice twists. Also, every decision from the universe (such as why no women on board) is given a credible explanation (a genophage virus  sent by aliens to kill human females, due to the low reproductive rate of human species in comparison with aliens).

The battles are very creative and well described. The evolution of the hero and the crew is impressive. The captain is just an ordinary guy (not a prince or the son of a general), with a lot more grit, common sense and willingness to win that others. This type of character makes the reader to identify him/herself with the hero and follow his decisions.

I loved the series, it was easy to read. It was not a big,  convoluted plot where you have to make notes in order to remember what is happening. One of the most relaxing reads of military scifi.