Tag Archives: scifi

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.

Shatterpoint – Matthew Woodring Stover

Jedi do not fight for peace. That’s only a slogan, and is as misleading as slogans always are. Jedi fight for civilization, because only civilization creates peace. We fight for justice because justice is the fundamental bedrock of civilization: an unjust civilization is built upon sand. It does not long survive a storm.

If there is one word to describe the book, that word is tense. The novel is situated in the Star Wars universe, during the Clones War, set after Attack of the Clones. It follows an adventure of the Jedi Master and senior member of the Jedi Council, Mace Windu.

Windu receives a troubling message from his former padawan, Depa Billaba, who is fighting to establish peace on Windu’s home planet of Haruun Kal.

Mace Windu, more than a fighter, a deep thinker caught in a web of darkness.

Windu comes to the planet and a series of adventures and troubles start for our hero. The book is tense, psychological, gradually the action picking up pace towards the end.

Matthew Stover is a good storyteller and adds depth and memorability to characters. There are many wisdom gems throughout the book, that makes the reader think of the role of the Jedi.

As a side note, shatterpoint is apparently a Force ability that can sense the importance of an event. An interesting idea.

Overall, I liked the book. It was a bit too tense for a relaxing reading, but enjoyable and with a fluid plot.

[Feature picture is a superb drawing by DarthTemoc called This is called Vaapad]

Revan (Star Wars: The Old Republic, Book 1) – Drew Karpyshyn

If they managed to kill you, then you weren’t worthy of serving me,” Nyriss explained. “If you killed them, then you proved that they were a waste of resources. Either way, I would be left with the most suitable candidate for the job.

The book comes from an exceptional writer, Drew Karpyshyn, the brain behind storylines such as Knights of the Old Republic, Darth Bain trilogy, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effects 2. He builds exceptional plots, creates memorable characters and has a beautiful story writing.

In Revan, Karpyshyn continues the story of the hero from Knights of the Old Republic, in the Star Wars universe. Revan, our protagonist, is now married, quietly settled on Coruscant, outside the Jedi Order. But he senses a menace coming and goes to prevent it. Meanwhile, a young Sith Lord is building his reputation as an efficient assassin with good political instincts. The Emperor patiently builds his web against the Republic. What will the outcome when their paths intersect?

The book is superbly written, with a great plot. While Revan does not do much, he inspires others. He is not the saviour, the perfect character, but a human with great will.

The Star Wars universe is brilliantly constructed, with just enough descriptions to give a vivid image, without being too long. The planets of Dromund Kaas, Nathema and others have strong individual features.

Compared with the personage in the legendary video game, Revan as a hero is disappointing. He is not the infallible warrior and great strategist anymore, but still holds great wisdom and willpower.

The book is the first a series, being continued by Annihilation, where the nephew of Revan is not a Jedi, but an intelligence operative of the Republic.

Overall, Revan is an excellent reading, less entertaining than Darth Bane, for example, but still recommended for the fans of the universe.

 

Mortal Engines (Mortal Engines Quartet Book 1) – Philip Reeve

“Crome smiles. “Do you really think I am so shortsighted?” he asks. “The Guild of Engineers plans further ahead than you suspect. London will never stop moving. Movement is life. When we have devoured the last wandering city and demolished the last static settlement we will begin digging. We will build great engines, powered by the heat of the earth’s core, and steer our planet from its orbit. We will devour Mars, Venus, and the asteroids. We shall devour the sun itself, and then sail on across the gulf of space. A million years from now our city will still be traveling, no longer hunting towns to eat, but whole new worlds!”

In a steampunk world, where cities are wandering the land using huge wheels and tracks, a boy becomes witness to the start of a new era. The focus of the book is the city of London, moving now on tracks over the land, swallowing smaller towns and looking for dominance in the new Municipal Darwinism.

In a steampunk dystopia, it’s town eat town world.

Thrown from London and thought dead, victim of fateful event, Tom, Third Class Apprentice to the Guild of Historians, is the protagonist of the story. His adventure brings him to air towns, baloons, pirate suburbs, anti-tractionists, who believe cities should not move, and encounters even cyborgs.

The story is creative, superbly written and the world created is truly a wonder. A film was released in 2018 following the book.

The book seems dedicated to young readers: the protagonist is a boy, many things that occur to him are due to simple luck and the story has many just-in-time moments. However, the intrigue is captivating and there is noir background to the adventure.

A great book to read, particularly for your readers.

Iron Gold (RED RISING SAGA: BOOK 4) – Pierce Brown

Those you protect will not see you. They will not understand you. But you are the Gray wall between civilization and chaos. And they stand safe in the shadow you cast. Do not expect praise or love. Their ignorance is proof of the success of your sacrifice. For we who serve the state, duty must be its own reward.

Iron Gold is a continuation of the Red Rising Trilogy, one of the best recent sci-fi adventures. Ten years after the Society pact was destroyed and the Golds commanding planet conquered, the new Republic is in anarchy. The last of the Society fleets is around Venus, while the Rim have their independence.

The book intertwines several stories: our former protagonist, Darrow of Lykos, as ArchImperator of the Republic’s force; Cassius au Bellona and his protege Lysander au Lune; Ephraim ti Horn, a Grey from Luna, now an expert thief; and Lyria of Lagalos, a Red from Mars.

Ten years after Red Rising

Each of the stories presents a different perspective and ends up in a single plot. As usual, the writing is exceptional, the plot is unpredictable and plausible, the pace of action just right and the new protagonists introduced have depth and motivations. What is interesting is that, although sometimes antagonistic, all protagonists have justifiable point of view, making the reader hard to decide who is right.

A point that makes the series so good is that the author uses just the right amount of technical sci-fi jargon. All stories were good, and signaled a departure from the single perspective of the Darrow, as in the trilogy.

The proof-reading was average, I noticed mistakes; while the plot quality, although very good, not at the level of the previous books. The author puts Darrow in a questionable dilemma, which for some readers shouldn’t be really a difficult choice. Finally, I did not get why the book is called Iron Gold.

Overall, an excellent reading, towering at 600 pages, packed with action and a wonderful sci-fi saga. Next book in the new series, in February 2019.

Morning Star (Red Rising saga: Book 3) – Pierce Brown

My name is Felicia au…” I feint a whip at her face. She brings her blade up, and Victra goes diagonal and impales her at the belly button. I finish her off with a neat decapitation. “Bye, Felicia.” Victra spits, turning to the last Praetorian.

[…]

No child in my family watches holos before the age of twelve. We all have nature and nurture to shape us. She can watch other people’s opinions when she has opinions of her own, and no sooner. We’re not digital creatures. We’re flesh and blood. Better she learns that before the world finds her.

Morning Star is the third and final part of the Red Rising saga. A lot grittier, grey and bitter than the first two books, the volume concludes the story of Darrow. The protagonist, born in the Red low-cast, raised through ranks through deception and skill to be part of the Gold high-class. He then challenged the entire Society’s cast-based structure, by the force of his ideas and outstanding moral compass.

The book was more about Darrow’s friends and allies than his actions. The reader still sees the world through the protagonist’s eyes, but he is no longer in absolute control. Many of the main decisions and actions are taken by others. He is a lot more reactive in this book and depending a lot more on the will of others.

Final chapter in the Red Rising saga, one of the most popular sci-fi space operas in recent years.

The plot is still outstanding, the pace of action superb and the characters that are introduced are memorable. However, the quality of writing is a bit down, a bit struggling. It is still head and shoulders above most scifi literature, but just a little below the world class writing that were the first two books. The author, Pierce Brown, admits that he struggled with the third book. He knew where to arrive with the story, but he did not know how to get there.

The saga could have had a better vocabulary, more precise wording. More technical research would have made it a hard scifi, a difficult task considering the time horizon, 700 years in the future.

Overall, this is top-class trilogy, certainly among the best in scifi literature. The writing is superb, solid storyline, the plot is tight, full of action, the pace is perfect, numerous creative ideas for a far away future, explanations of why things are as they are, well-developed supporting characters, great balance between simplicity and psychological and moral dilemmas, excellent world immersion, strong moral messages and, above all, entertaining and unexpected developments.

[Features picture: ESA, NASA and L. Calçada (ESO)]