Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Review: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

These are some belated notes on The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which I made back in April, but am just posting now.

I was very underwhelmed by the story and the series got worse as it went on.

  • I didn’t buy the main plot point of using children for the games and glorifying their deaths.  I could buy something closer to The Running Man with criminals, but not children.
  • I did think it was a good move to have some breaks in time between the books — it doesn’t have to be a continuous narrative
  • I appreciated the fact that not all characters are going to make it through alive (although I’m not sure there were any characters that I cared enough about)
  • The world building, for me, was too light. A bit of mystery left to the imagination is good but I would have liked to have seen a few more glimpses into how things got to be how they were.
  • The second book was essentially a rehash of the first, just worse.  The plot for book three was messy, chaotic (not in a good way) and seemed to just fizzle out as if the author ran out of ideas and just decided to stop.
  • The love triangle was weak.  It went on so long and so angst-y, that I didn’t care anymore.
  • For me, it’s easier to read first person narratives with the main character being male, which may be one reason that female readers (including those that may not typically read in the genre) may find it appealing.
  • So many of the characters had little depth to them.
  • I liked the idea of some of the Machiavellian politics and intrigue, but thought it was underdeveloped in the books
  • I think the author needed to introduce a bit of humor from time to time
  • What might be interesting is if the author wrote a few additional books or short stories from another point of view — perhaps President Snow, one of the gamemasters, or just someone else in the know — and find out that much of what Katniss though was going on is actually wrong à la the Ender books (Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow are prime examples) by Orson Scott Card.

I haven’t seen the movies yet and might watch the first one if it shows up on Netflix Instant.

Average 2 out of 5 stars (finished April 2011)

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Review: The Ballad of Beta-2 by Samuel R. Delaney

January 3, 2012 2 comments

I have started to develop a fondness for some of the science fiction novels/novellas of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I find that many of the ideas are clever and the writing is very tight.  I had read two of Delany’s novellas, Empire Star (highly recommended) and Babel-17 which you can find together in an omnibus edition. I ran across The Ballad of Beta-2 at a local used bookstore recently.

The conceit of this story is an anthropological study of a ballad composed by the people of a multi-generational colony ship. A student is assigned the task to decipher the history and meaning of the song. The words of the song are intelligible, but have either highly stylized meanings or the original terms have evolved over time, making the real message obscure.

The protagonist travels to the site of the surviving ships in a small research vessel which has the technology to create temporal bubbles. Once there, he attempts to locate records, both written and sound recording, to explain what happened to the ships and their inhabitants.

I found the novella very original in its themes of language shifts, idioms, and imagery, which rendered the original song mysterious to other civilizations.  Like Empire Star, it’s a story that almost has to be read again immediately after finishing to fully enjoy the book.

4 out of 5 stars (finished January 2, 2012)

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Review: Dragon’s Kin by Anne McCaffrey

September 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Dragon’s Kin is one of the more recent (relatively speaking) Dragonriders of Pern novels.  This book was coauthored by Anne McCaffrey’s son, Todd McCaffrey.

The focus on this book is the watch wher, the somewhat failed “cousin” to the magnificent dragons of Pern.  Set much earlier than the 6th Pass of the core “Dragonriders of Pern” novels, during an interval between passes of thread.

Kindan is the young son of a miner / watch wher handler.  Watch whers, who are able to see clearly in near dark, are being used in mines to detect “bad air” and to help locate miners who become trapped in cave-ins, almost a reptilian St. Bernard. If the mining camp can prove itself, a new Holding may be in the offing, but accidents and set-backs continue to plague it.

When Kindan’s father is killed in a mining accident along with his bonded wher, Kindan is assigned to the Masterharper. Ultimately, he must choose between his heart’s desire (to become a harper himself) and the needs of the community.

In my opinion, watch whers receive a bit of reconning treatment.  They are portrayed less like the ugly, twisted creatures of the earlier books — granted, however, their extreme loyalty to their Holders is admirable (recall the loyalty of the Ruatha Hold wher to Lessa) — and more like sturdy, likeable companions to their bondmates.  In this reconning, the authors demonstrate that whers can fly with their stunted wings, go between, and communicate telepathically.  The latter talent is greater than that of the fire lizards, but much less structured, intelligent, and self aware than the dragons themselves.

The companionship and the raising of a new wher is touching, however.  While I’m not sure that there is a whole story here, I found the book compelling and an interesting companion to the more dragon-centric novels.

4 1/2  out of 5 stars (finished August 31, 2011)


Currently reading:  The Myriad by R.M. Meluch

Review: The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

August 23, 2011 1 comment

The Skies of Pern is the last Dragonriders of Pern novel chronologically, a direct sequel to All the Weyrs of Pern and The Dolphins of Pern.  As such, Anne McCaffrey had to tie up some loose ends and provide a satisfactory yet open ended conclusion to the 2500+ year history:

  • What will the dragons and dragonriders do once thread no longer falls on Pern?
  • How will the technological advances offered by AIVAS be integrated into Pern society without losing the uniqueness of the colony?
  • How will the author treat F’lar and Lessa’s lives through the end of the current Pass?

All told, the book is satisfying, although I’d argue that the plot thread of the Abominators was rather weak and fizzled toward the end. Very anti-climatic.

I found that the fate of F’lessan and Golanth was one of the most moving of the series (along with the end of Moreta’s ride and the passing of Robinton and his fire lizard).  I thought it was dealt with very well and was somewhat overdue (the roles of the dragonriders are dangerous!).

I’m now curious to read the books that Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd McCaffrey wrote about the earlier Passes and Intervals. I think they’ll be interesting because I’ve now seen the dawn of the dragons in the early years of Pern’s colonization and the latter years when thread is eradicated; how effective can the writing be if the results have little to no impact on the future?

4  out of 5 stars (finished August 23, 2011)


Currently reading:  The Clones of Mawcett by Thomas DePrima

Review: A Galaxy Unknown by Thomas DePrima

August 22, 2011 4 comments

I had an opportunity via the Lendle service to borrow A Galaxy Unknown by Thomas DePrima.  I had seen the book on my Amazon recommendations several times, probably due to the Space Opera novels that I’ve rated there.

The book has many elements that I have enjoyed in many other series — for example,  the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber, the Seaforth Saga by David Feintuch, the Horatio Hornblower age of sail novels by C.S. Forester, and the Lost Fleet series (my review) by Jack Campbell —

  • An individual suddenly catapulted into command.
  • Having to lead by his/her wits, intelligence, motivation, daring, more so than by brawn.
  • Loneliness of command.

The difference between the above novels and A Galaxy Unknown is the former books’ strength of writing style and plotting.  This book seems still unpolished and too linear.

The first issue is the extreme “Mary Sue” nature of the main character, Jenetta Carver.  The skills she gains are more than convenient and unreal:  extreme beauty, a reshaped perfect body, enhanced longevity, quick healing, and pain becomes a non-issue (virtually a pleasurable experience.)

Another oddity:  the character is disqualified from command during her time in the Academy.  Her instructors find that she is indecisive and is unable to make the quick decisions required of an officer.  The author describes a single incident in one of her courses where she fails a critical engineering test and feels somewhat scarred.  However, once revived from a 10-year sleep in ship escape pod, she immediately becomes both creative and decisively competent.  Without much explanation.

In the Academy, Jenetta excels in the sciences.  I do think that it would have been more natural for some of her later command decisions to include her strengths in astrophysics or computer sciences to resolve the issue.  Perhaps the crew wouldn’t understand how exactly she was intending to get them out of the mess, but she’d come through anyway.

Other Oddities:

Weird stilted language.  I appreciate that the author suggests that books shouldn’t be dumbed down to the lowest level, but I suggest that many of the 50 cent words were contrived.

I think there were several jarring editing flaws:

  • insure vs. ensure
  • it’s vs its
  • innumerous vs innumerable

Virtually every character is described by height as if this were some magical characteristic that defines them.  It became a bit distracting.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy the adventure and have picked up the second book in the series to see how the character grows and whether the plotting becomes tighter.

3 1/2  out of 5 stars (finished August 14, 2011)


Currently reading:  The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey & Valor at Vauzlee by Thomas DePrima.

Review: Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey

Dragonsdawn describes the arrival of humans on Pern some 2,500 years prior to the events in the main Dragonriders of Pern novels.  (Note that it is set after a short story found in First Fall which recounts the original exploration team’s analysis of Pern and how they missed the threat of Thread.)

McCaffrey introduces dozens of characters whose names will seem very familiar as names of Holds in the Ninth Pass: Admiral Paul Benden, Governor Emily Boll, Captain Ezra Keroon, Sallah Telgar, Avril Bitra, Captain James Tillek, among many others.

The first part of the book seems like Eden.  Supplies and people shipped down to Pern, an organized settlement is constructed, and all of the colonists get to work making the world their own.  There are, however, a few undercurrents of discontent and avarice which slowly come to light.  Avril Bitra, a descendant of one of the original planetary exploration crew, has become disenchanted with the pastoral life and Admiral Benden’s rejection of her: an easy path to power and authority is now closed to her.  Armed with secret information passed down through her family, she intends to locate precious stones, steal one of the remaining space-worthy shuttles, and make it back to “civilization”.  Using her considerable charm, she has enticed several men to assist her, promising each separately that he will take the remaining berth on the shuttle.

But Eden comes to an end with the double hit of a space borne threat, Thread, which destroys carbon based flora and fauna and multiple earthquakes caused by unstable volcanic activity.

In the meantime, two strongly empathic young people bond to a small lifeform they call a fire-lizard.  These miniature dragons are intelligent, can breathe fire after chewing a phosphine-bearing stone to burn the Thread from the sky, and can teleport.  The colony’s bio-engineers genetically alter these creatures to grow large enough to carry a rider, to enhance their natural talents, and to increase their intelligence.  This way, Pern will have a self-sustaining guard against Thread (since ship fuel and fuel cells that power other equipment cannot be replenished).

Although readers will not be surprised that the early colonists succeed — after all, there are dragons 2,500 years later — this is an enjoyable look back into Pern’s history.

Several other comments:

  • It is interesting that several holds in the future are named after some of the villains and some arrogant, unpleasant people.  This could be due, I think, to a propaganda campaign to minimize morale issues, or it might just be reality that some of these individuals were not all bad and did contribute to the society as a whole.
  • I also thought it interesting that the Holds named after some of the “bad people” still have the reputation for shiftiness or rebellion in the future.
  • It seems that McCaffrey may have retconned how soon Thread fell on the Pernese colonists after landing.  My recollection is that the earlier books suggested that the first Threadfall was 2-3 generations later.  In Dragonsdawn, it is only 8 years after landing.  My guess is that this could easily be explained away as misremembered history. After all, the dragonriders and the Harper Hall both complain of moldering records, lost information, and gaps of knowledge due to the cyclical Threadfall and pandemics.
  • An interesting plot element for a future book is the launch of a distress beacon toward the Federated Sentient Planets. I haven’t yet seen a mention of Pern being rediscovered by the FSP (or its successor), but I also haven’t read The Skies of Pern yet, which is the last chronological book in the series thus far.
In my opinion, read Dragonsdawn after reading the main Dragonriders of Pern novels (core trilogy and the Harper Hall trilogy), but before All the Weyrs of Pern since the people of the 9th Pass learn about some of the early colony history and pivotal events in that book — I most recently read the books in the opposite order which was still comprehensible, however.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished June 26, 2011)


Currently reading: The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall by Anne McCaffrey & Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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Review: Citadel by John Ringo

Ringo continues his Troy Rising trilogy in this direct sequel to Live Free or Die.

In Citadel, the reader is introduced to two new POV characters:  Dana “Comet” Parker , an engineer turned shuttle pilot, and “Butch” Allen, a space-vacuum welder. While some readers may be put off by two seemingly irrelevant protagonists, I found it rather refreshing. In many space opera series, the authors often concentrate too heavily on the high profile strategists and charismatic action figures (like Vernon Tyler in the first book) with all of the many talented officers, engineers, construction workers, military grunts, etc. as mere bit players…if mentioned at all. But here, Ringo can answer the reader’s questions about null-G training, construction complications, and hazards of “the dark of space” without resorting to info dumps.  And while Vernon is definitely the moving hand and mind behind the defense of Earth, he couldn’t do it without these people. It’s similar to my enjoyment of the Star Wars X-Wing and Wraith Squadron novels rather than Jedi story after Jedi story.

For those who miss the Tyler character, he makes a strong presence in the second half of the book.

After finally forcing Earth’s erstwhile benefactors, the Glatun, to support Earth against the Horvath who were menacing the planet and demanding tribute in exchange for not dropping devastating missiles on major cities, a new alien race turns its eyes on Earth. It’s a race against time whether Earth can rebuild it’s defenses, complete several battlestations, and develop a new source for energy after an embargo. The Glatun had clandestinely released much of their technological plans to Earth (having determined that the Sol system might ultimately be their salvation since the Rangora/Horvath alliance would target them first), but it is all up to Earth including Vernon Tyler’s companies, the US led defense department, and the civil government.

Some other thoughts:

  • This book is a lot less hard science than the previous one, which was a relief to me, and much more character driven. I did find the military and corporate acronyms to be a bit annoying. I swear there were whole sentences of nothing but random letters.
  • I did enjoy a peek of the Rangora strategy, both militarily and bureaucratically. Although perhaps not alien per se, these kind of machinations are always fun to me.
  • I liked the discussion about Rangora confusion about Earth wars.  Why are certain battles (the last stand at Thermopylae and the Alamo) celebrated when the battles themselves were lost?  Why don’t Terran “tribes” utterly destroy their enemies (World Wars) and even rebuild them (US and Japan)?

The series concludes with recently released The Hot Gate.

4 out of 5 stars (finished June 19, 2011)


Currently reading: Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey & Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert