Firestar

Firestar (Firestar, #1)Firestar by Michael Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am always on the lookout for solar system exploration fic, which is difficult to find, because aliens are king in contemporary space opera. I wish I liked classic SF more than I do; a lot of the old stuff was solar system specific. The oldest I’ll go back is 1990’s/ turn of the turn-of-the-millennium, and even that stuff seems dated. To a book, late 90s solar system fic is cynical. Not the writers; but their characters. The writers are desperate and sad: “We’ve given up on space!” They produced desperate and sad fantasies about characters fighting to get back to space against big odds. Nowadays, we get gee-whiz stories like The Martian, reflecting the greater optimism of the SpaceX and ISS era.

This book, written in 1996, tries hard to inject the pessimism with optimism, but the author has a political ax to grind, and the book has more than a little Fountainhead subtext, a naive belief in the benignness of privatizing not only space ventures, but public education as well.

Although I have my doubts about privatization as some panacea–removing ventures in the public interest from public oversight and lock-stepping the evaluation of their success with the profit motive–I’ve always shared the particular frustrated impatience with government progress in space. It is too cautious, too hamstrung by goal-lessness. But this book peppers its privatization with potshots at NASA, environmentalists, and straw-man liberals.

Which is too bad, because underneath that peppering is an complex near-future (now alt-history) world peopled with interesting characters, and despite me, I’ll probably read the next book in the series.

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Existence

ExistenceExistence by David Brin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I give this tour-de-force exploration of one possible answer to the Fermi paradox a 3.5. Better than a three, but not as good as a four. However, there is no 3.5, so four it is. It reminds me, in structure, of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312–a long, meandering novel with multiple characters and story lines, where the plot eeks along at a snail’s pace while entire chapters are turned over to philosophical musings.

Then, in the last quarter of the book, the myopic detail of the story lines is dumped to take a different point of attack on resolving the larger story, leaving the emotional payoff of the original story lines hanging, to be resolved by various, off the cuff “tellings,” rather than “showings.” This is frustrating, although you do find out what happened to the characters, and the ultimate message of the novel is positive.

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Luna: New Moon

New Moon (Luna, #1)New Moon by Ian McDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a bit disoriented at first by the admixture of common moon colonization tropes with the almost medieval merchant-dynastic politics whose commonplaces include trial by combat and arranged marriages (granted, some of them are same-sex arranged marriages).

This novel is soap opera-meets-space opera, most specifically, a 1980s-prime time type soap opera of the “Dynasty” stripe. Once you accept that, though, it’s good entertainment. Me, I dig soap opera when it’s done well, as it is here.

I found the feudalistic/Wild West/post-nationalistic depiction of the Moon’s near future unlikely, but the narrative admits freely that that is the kind of world it is depicting. It helped having one character’s (Adriana Corta) past set in our present as a bridge between the now and the future of the story.

Indeed, this first novel in the Luna series is Adriana Corta’s story. She is the common thread that knits together the various story lines of her children, grandchildren, allies, and enemies.

There is also a “character of invitation” (a character with a background more like the reader’s), Earth-born Marina Calzaghe, who reacts to and interprets the actions of the characters in a way most readers will. This also helped ground me in the story. However, you don’t start to see those reactions until after you’ve been thrust into the story world as it is perceived by Moon natives.

This book is way sexier than KSR’s 2312, I must add, although it is downright pornographic in places.

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2312

23122312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It might have been too soon after Aurora to read another Kim Stanley Robinson novel. But I’ve had 2312 in my collection for two years and needed to finish it. Also, I’ve been Jonesing lately for science fiction stories that take place exclusively in our solar system, rather than depicting interstellar travel.

Robinson builds up a plot in his usual way– out of a mosaic of endless, tiresome, breathtaking description. He does random, nonsensical things just for the opportunity they provide for his long-winded sensualities, like having his protagonist travel from Io to Earth on a ship with absolutely no internal lighting, and another ship that is one long orgy.

He breaks up the narrative with entire chapters of scientific, technological, and sociological exposition and lists, which he calls “abstracts,” “extracts,” and yes, “lists,” as if determined to show off his world-building notes and editing castoffs. Must be nice to get away with that.

His main character is annoyingly, stubbornly naive and storms through the novel like a bull in a China shop. I went back and forth between admiring her courage and wanting to smack her.

I was intrigued by the actual plot, when Robinson actually paused to spend syllables on it. It presents as a political mystery–terrorist acts the main characters must trace the origin of. Robinson should consider adding a plot to his word paintings more often in the future.

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Aurora

AuroraAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

spoilers – A typical KSR tour de force, with melodious and long-winded digressions into science, engineering, philosophy, sociology, and most particularly of course, geology and meteorology. But ultimately this is a depressing novel and when you finally realize what the main pessimistic message of it is you wonder why he bothered writing those voluminous poetic descriptions of Tau Ceti and interstellar space at all.

I should have known that was coming when the protagonists left with the backers. I wanted so much to stay narratively with the stayers. I read the story to go into space, not to be told to stay home.

There is a good message about preserving the Earth and protecting it but it doesn’t have to be told at the expense of dreaming about the stars.

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Titan (NASA Trilogy, #2)

Titan (NASA Trilogy, #2)Titan by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is one of the most depressing space operas I have read. A near-future novel written in 1997, it depicts an early-21st century NASA fallen into disrespect and disrepair. Although a mission to Titan would be a really cool endeavor, I actually prefer the real NASA of the 21st century this.

It is said the best way to write fiction is to give your characters obstacles and set-backs. But there’s a line between that and constantly dumping crap upon crap upon crap on them. A little more “gee, whiz” and a little less “oh, crap” would make for a better story.

Also… if it could be done in less pages than this slogs on through, that makes for a tighter tale.

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Nemesis Games

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Novel 5 of the Expanse Series is not about the alien planets on the other side of the rings. Or only indirectly. It’s about our solar system and its politics, again. The gang of four is separated on their individual shore leave sorties. This book should suck by every measure of The Expanse series I have. Except it totally does not suck. It is non-stop, edge of your crash-couch action. Strap in and hang on!

The ending is a little anti-climactic, but I suspect that’s because the authors wanted to introduce a villain and complication to solar system politics they can carry on with in the subsequent books.

Plus, several fan favorite characters return, because of the Awesome.

Go, read.

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