Shards of Earth – Adrian Tchaikovsky (The Final Architecture, book 1)

What’s the point of making better people, if they’re still sad and afraid and lonely?

The book follows the story of a space pilot, capable of unique feats, and a soldier, driven by duty and skill, in a futuristic galaxy, where strange aliens seem bound to destroy the universe. In a grandiose space opera, the pilot and the soldier take part in wars and in a motley crew, carried around by the threat of the Architects, the destroyer of planets.

The book is the first part of a trilogy The Final Architecture, but can stand alone and does not finish with a major cliffhanger. Tchaikovsky is increasingly appreciated as one of the best upcoming scifi authors, already winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Hugo Award.

Shards of Earth is entertaining, credible and memorable. The reader becomes interested in the fate of protagonists, how the world events are affecting them and how are they responding. The plot is well constructed and there are almost no points where the reader is baffled by the luck or invulnerability of the personages. On the contrary, the heroes of the story do not escape their adventures unscathed. The supporting personages are unique and memorable, with their own motivations and different, interesting backgrounds.

But what impresses most is the world building, creating aliens and separate human species, planets, ships, language, clothes, food – all deeply thought how would they look in the future, and how would they interact. The socioeconomic developments that drive colonization are well-understood. The decision of planets to side with one faction or the other make sense.

Additionally, the dialogue and descriptions are masterfully written, with memorable quotes and presentations. The descriptions manage to create and explain the new space world, without going in too much length – a sign of a great writer.

While the aliens and the worlds created are not uncommon in the scifi literature, the way their interact, the attention to strong motivations, the vocabulary, the editing and, overall, the excellent writing makes the book really engaging and hard to let down before finishing.

The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny Beyond Earth – Michio Kaku

The deep space transport uses a new type of propulsion system to send astronauts through space, called solar electric propulsion. The huge solar panels capture sunlight and convert it to electricity. This is used to strip away the electrons from a gas (like xenon), creating ions. An electric field then shoots these charged ions out one end of the engine, creating thrust. Unlike chemical engines, which can only fire for a few minutes, ion engines can slowly accelerate for months or even years.

The Future of Humanity is one of the best books on science and astrophysics published in English language. It is now already considered a classical book on futurism and cosmology.

The book starts imagining how humans may solve some of the technical challenges in exploring space. Transport, propulsion, habitats, the economics of trying to finance the space exploration, robots are discussed, using the latest scientific discoveries. A lesson in astrophysics is offered, explaining our sun system, galaxy and the universe at large. Towards the end of the book, the latest theories proposed to explain the universe as wee see it are described.

Michio Kaku is professor of theoretical physics in the City College of New York and a proponent of the string theory (theory in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings). He wrote several well-received books on futurism and physics.

It is an awe-inspiring call to try and reach the starts. The message of the book is to not forget the long term: expand beyond our native planet, otherwise the nature will overwhelm us. I am making an exception and will add another quote from this author, which I find revealing:

Looking back at those dark days, I am sometimes reminded of what happened to the great Chinese imperial fleet in the fifteenth century. Back then, the Chinese were the undisputed leaders in science and exploration. They invented gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press. They were unparalleled in military power and technology. Meanwhile, medieval Europe was wracked by religious wars and mired in inquisitions, witch trials, and superstition, and great scientists and visionaries like Giordano Bruno and Galileo were often either burned alive or placed under house arrest, their works banned. Europe, at the time, was a net importer of technology, not a source of innovation.

I devoured the book in about three days. It is easy to read, the concepts from physics are easy to follow, despite their complexity, and the ideas proposed feel innovative and optimistic. A great book, particularly for young adults, searching for a meaning in life.