Relentless (The Lost Fleet, Book 5) – Jack Campbell

He felt the comfort of being part of an eternal cycle symbolized by the gold strips on either side of the black mourning band he wore. Light, dark, light. The dark was just an interval.

The fifth book in the Lost Fleet series continues the odyssey of Captain Jack Geary, leading the Alliance Fleet back to home territory. However, a bigger threat than the rival Syndics is looming beyond the stars, a devious alien intelligence.

Already far in the series, the story is still captivating and it is a tribute to the writing skills of author, Jack Campbell, that he can come with new and unexpected ways to marvel the reader. The adventure is still very much anchored in hard scifi and no magic bullet happens that solves everything. Every progress of the fleet is marred by dangers and potential mistakes. Captain Geary is still human and, despite his undoubted talent, he loses ships. He recognizes himself that he could have done better.

Nevertheless, the fleet advances, and the advantages that were at the beginning (surprise tactics) fade away, as the Syndic learn themselves how to deal with the Alliance movements. However, now the Alliance’s sailors are veterans and know well their ships and how to maneuver them. Furthermore, the captains act more like a team and cover each other way better than at the beginning of the odyssey.

The fifth book in the Lost Fleet series continues the odyssey of Captain Jack Geary, leading the Alliance Fleet back to home territory.

On the negative side, the editing of the book seems to slightly drop the quality, with some extra spaces or commas missing. The vocabulary is less rich than other similar scifi series and the hard scifi part does not expand more than the already established environment. It would have been nice to know more about life in 24th century. Finally, it feels that the story gives too much time to the protagonist’s love interest.

Nevertheless, the book remains captivating, very hard to leave the book (better saying the e-reader) from a reader’s hands. Let’s see what happens in the next book of the series!

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.

Redemption Ark (Revelation Space Book 2) – Alastair Reynolds

Is that what happened to Mercier?” “No—not quite. In so far as I understood Sukhoi’s work, it appeared that the zero-mass state would be very difficult to realise physically. As it neared the zero-mass state, the vacuum would be inclined to flip to the other side. Sukhoi called it a tunnelling phenomenon.” Clavain raised an eyebrow. “The other side?” “The quantum-vacuum state in which matter has imaginary inertial mass. By imaginary I mean in the purely mathematical sense, in the sense that the square root of minus one is an imaginary number. Of course, you immediately see what that would imply.” “You’re talking about tachyonic matter,” Clavain said. “Matter travelling faster than light.
This is the second book in the Revelation Space trilogy, following the first book with the same title, and one of the books from the Revelation Space universe.

Humanity in 26th century achieves a level of space traveling and technological development which triggers ancient machines called Inhibitors designed to detect and eliminate intelligent life. Inhibitors have their own, well thought reasons to these purges. They are not mindless, evil machines, but instruments intended to preserve life in the long term.

The plot follows the search for several doomsday weapons hidden on a lighthugger, the name for human spacefaring ships. The protagonist, Clavain, is a bit of an old maverick, crossing between human factions.

The book explores the question of why we are alone in the universe despite having a rather middle aged galaxy. The book and the overall series is an extremely well thought and well written universe. While the plot is good, but not exceptional, the profoundness of technological development and realism of astrophysical phenomena is astounding. This is an exceptional hard sci-fi and I am puzzled why it was not nominated for any sci-fi prizes.

As in the previous book, the vocabulary used is gargantuan, making it an educational reading, including a good introduction in astrophysics. Even more impressive, the wording is not hindering the pace of the story, which makes the novel a beautiful crafted and immersive reading.

On the downside, the length of the book is rather excessive and some more limitations on technology could be envisaged.

Overall, this is a fantastic hard sci-fi novel.


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.

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.

Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson

The whole voyage to Tau Ceti and back takes place inside the Local Interstellar Cloud and the G Cloud, which are concentrations of gas within the Local Bubble, which is an area of the Milky Way galaxy with fewer atoms in it than the galaxy has on average. Turbulence, diffusion: in fact, with our magnetic field coning ahead of the ship, electrostatically pushing aside the occasional grain of dust big enough to harm it in a collision, all atoms of any kind encountered en route are pushed aside, so we register our surroundings mostly as a kind of ghostly impact and then as a wake, shooting by to the sides and then astern of us.

Aurora is a beautiful hard scifi novel, describing a voyage of humankind from Earth to another planet, for colonisation. The voyage fails, as all the other voyages of colonisation tried by humankind sometime in the future. The crew decides to come back to Earth, barely trying to understand and adapt to the new planetary conditions.

While I enjoy the idea, the writing, the narrative and all the scifi descriptions, I fundamentally disagree with the message of the book: that we are chained by biological strains to remain on Earth. Hence, we should do the utmost care to preserve the planet as pristine as possible.

According to Kim Stanley Robinson, outside of Earth, people are stupider, unable to adapt and none of the tries of colonisation has any success, despite well-planned voyages. I think this conclusion comes in contrast with humankind achievements so far: small groups of people exploring, colonizing and adapting to very different strips of land and weather patterns. Humans did not get confined in Africa, but pushed further and further, from the desert to islands and from arctic to jungles.

The story of this voyage failure to Aurora, the alien planet, is well constructed and tension is skilfully built. gradually increasing pace. The protagonists’ motivations and characters are carefully constructed.

A pessimistic story of humankind interstellar voyage

However, there are things I don’t like. The leading voice towards returning to Earth has no credentials, except being the daughter of the main engineer of the ship, dead at the time of alien planet arrival. She seems the leader not because of personal willpower or building a solid argument, but because she is known to most people and most voyagers are likely to fight the least her option.

The arguments towards returning to Earth are poorly constructed. There is no try to adapting  and understanding the new planet. No years of orbiting trying to see where the problems are and how they can be resolved. It is a very different and pessimistic story than the Martian, for example.

It seems unlikely that people can revolt and endanger the entire expedition, without exhausting all avenues of solving their issues peacefully first.

I like the narrative, but the logical path seems flawed and not realistic. There are too many psychological, mind games, when there are too many practical problems to solve.


The Martian – Andy Weir


I’ll be at the entrance to Schiaparelli crater tomorrow!

Presuming nothing goes wrong, that is. But hey, everything else has gone smoothly this mission, right? (That was sarcasm.)

Today’s an Air Day and for once, I don’t want it. I’m so close to Schiaparelli, I can taste it. I guess it would taste like sand, mostly, but that’s not the point.

Of course, that won’t be the end of the trip. It’ll take another 3 sols to get from the entrance to the MAV, but hot damn! I’m almost there!

I think I can even see the rim of Schiaparelli. It’s way the hell off in the distance and it might just be my imagination. It’s 62km away, so if I’m seeing it, I’m only just barely seeing it.

The book is a solid hard science survival story. I have seen the film first, but I still enjoyed the book. The technical detail and scientific accuracy are impressive and the action looks plausible. No fantastic, last second save or dash. The narrative line is well smoothed and comes at the right pace.

The best on the planet

The protagonist is no perfect hero, he makes mistakes, but remains positive and determined. There are no mind games, nor psychological detours, which I appreciate a lot. The story focuses on the facts and solving problems.

I enjoyed the most the subtle message of the book which in my view, was that the greatest quality of the hero is not the technical skill, but the mental fortitude. He takes every problem at a time, makes objectives and plans for them. Not everything is going smoothly, but he keeps pushing.
An amazing alien planetary survival, a genre much in vogue today.

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

The Mining Colony now comprised eight modules, plus an inflatable dome that was attached directly to the asteroid. The robots had spent several weeks welding a three-meter-diameter ring into a circular groove that they had prepared on Amalthea’s surface. The inflatable had been mated to it about a hundred days ago, and filled with breathable atmosphere. It was not quite a shirtsleeves environment, since the asteroid was cold and chilled the air in the dome. And many of the robots’ normal operations produced gases that were toxic, or at least irritating. But that wasn’t the point of having a dome.

Seveneves is a book of what is called hard scifi, a category of science fiction focusing on scientific accuracy and technical detail. Neal Stephenson did a fantastic job in researching and writing this book, which is arguably one of the best scifi in the last years. The technical detail is incredible and the plot is perfectly built and sustained.

What will humanity do if we have to leave Earth?

The novel starts with the destruction with the Moon in a cataclysmic event, an action that will destroy life Earth, leaving only the space as a refuge. After this strong hook for readers in the introduction, which kickstarts the entire action, Stephenson brilliantly describes the logical steps that human race takes for its survival. The author pays considerable attention to scientific accuracy, making the book a true voyage of discovery and imagination.

It is also extremely entertaining: the action has great pace, the descriptions are just enough to understand what is happening, the plot leaves the reader guessing what will come next and the personages are truly easily identifiable and memorable. The reader finds out by the last chapters why the novel is called this way.

The book is recommended by both Financial Times and Bill Gates. It’s incredible how you keep wanting to continue, even after more than 800 pages. A masterpiece.