Author Archive

I’ve been traveling a lot recently (Rome, London, San Diego, etc.) and that means my trusty iPad has been loaded up with books. I’ve finished reading them, but I never seem to find the time to write up real reviews for SF Signal. So to perhaps restore some of my credibility (as if I had any!) here, I wrote up a series of quick mini-reviews of the various novels I’ve read….

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NASA, a Mission to Mars, and Escapees

Jon Stewart’s show from Monday night was hilarious as Jon focused the discussion about the practical aspects of a mission to Mars on the details of space toilets.

TV REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘The Eleventh Hour’

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Doctor is still recovering from his recent regeneration while the TARDIS is recovering from the beating it took at the end of The End of Time. And on top of all that, he’s lost his sonic screwdriver. And wouldn’t you know it, he has 20 minutes to save the Earth from a fiery end. Good thing he’s got Amy Pond along to help.

MY REVIEW: The is the first episode of season 5, the first fully run by Stephen Moffat (who also wrote Coupling) and the first episode with Matt Smith as the new Doctor. There is a lot of firsts, but did this episode hold up to the standard set by Russell T Davies?

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SF Books That Could Be Turned Into Video Games

This week on the radio show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me there was a segment that suggested classic books that would be turned into video games after noting that Dante’s Inferno was coming out soon. Here is a list of the ones they came up with.

  • Don Quixote Kong
  • A Hundred Years of Solitaire
  • Pacman and the sea
  • War and Peace but Mostly War
  • Super Karamazov Brothers
  • A Tale of Sim-cities
  • Grand Theft Odyssey
  • Pride and Extreme Prejudice
  • Love in the Time of Tetris

But of course, I couldn’t help but think of some games based on classic science fiction. Read on to see what I came up with…

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MOVIEW REVIEW: Avatar

REVIEW SUMMARY: Outstanding visual effects and a compelling set of characters help this rather simple sci-fi story deliver a very entertaining experience.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An evil corporation wants to mine underneath the

sacred village of the indigenous population and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. In an attempt to negotiate a peaceful resolution, a group of scientists don Avatars, clones of the aliens grafted together with genetic material from the human pilots. The humans pilot these bodies remotely and befriend the natives but are unable to convince them to leave causing the corporation to use military force instead.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Best visuals in a motion picture, advancing film special effects, reminds many of Star Wars

CONS: Incredibly predictable plot, some dialog is really lame

BOTTOM LINE: This is a must-see film – in 3D – if you’re at all interested in seeing how the future of film (and science fiction in film) will be.

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REVIEW: Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

REVIEW SUMMARY: Overall a book I enjoyed, but I’m not sure it’s for everybody.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Freya is contemplating ending it all. She’s an android built to pleasure humans, with no humans to pleasure. The species died out, but it’s creations still live, truly sentient but bound by the restrictions put in to ensure they stayed subservient. Before she can follow through, she gets caught up in the politics of the new robotic slavemasters and finds a reason to thrive.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Very interesting premise, ingenious plot, highly interesting characters.

CONS: Lots of robot sex, plot is sometimes hard to decipher, characters aren’t necessarily easy to empathize with.

BOTTOM LINE: Imaginative book with lots of plot twists, fun characters, and an intricate plot. I recommend it if you have an open mind, don’t mind android erotica, and want to read something pretty unique.

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REVIEW: The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

REVIEW SUMMARY: Very fun pair of stories by one of the new stars of science fiction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Bob Howard is a h4x0r who stumbles upon secrets man was not meant to know. Well, it turns out men do know it, but the knowledge is restricted and protected in order to keep people from opening a doorway that lets in the elder gods to feed upon us all. So Bob is press-ganged into a super-secret branch of the SAS and the fun begins.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Awesome combination of the bureaucracy of government agencies and incursions from the planes by evil entities.

CONS: Starts out a little rough and enjoys asides a little too much.

BOTTOM LINE: A really enjoyable book that I read very quickly. I recommend it if you enjoy a little occult science fiction.

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REVIEW: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

REVIEW SUMMARY: Disappointing effort at a fairy tale by one of my favorite authors. This story is filled with good prose, but the plot and character issues sink the book.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Tristan Thorn adventures into the land of Faerie to recover a fallen star for his sweetheart. However, he gets far more than he bargains for when he finds he isn’t the only one who wants to find the star.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Gaiman can write and his use of language is excellent

CONS: Plot is wildly disjoint, and strangely most characters are uninteresting and unimportant.

BOTTOM LINE: I’d give this story a pass.

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REVIEW: The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

REVIEW SUMMARY: Interesting sci-fi ideas, interesting characters, made for an overall fun experience.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Rebecca and Tane are high school kids in New Zealand that are struck with the idea that it might be possible to send information back in time and if so, where to look for it. Of course, as soon as they start listening, they start seeing messages and ultimately find themselves mixed up in a major threat to the human race.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent ideas based on real science about potential transmissions through time, lots of facts about the hazards of time manipulation, exciting action sequences

CONS: Some of the prose, especially early in the book, is somewhat repetitive and hard to read; characters aren’t as deep as I would like; environmental message was too heavy-handed and not backed up by the plot

BOTTOM LINE: Fun reading experience that I would recommend to everybody.

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REVIEW: The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith

REVIEW SUMMARY: The full title is The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith with an emphasis on complete. The book contains all the known short fiction by Cordwainer Smith (whose real name is Paul M. A. Linebarger) including things he wrote when he was a kid and just learning to write.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor James A. Mann has brought together all available writings by Smith, including some discovered during the research for the book and a story completed by his widow.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: There are some really outstanding stories such as “A Planet Named Shayol“, “Scanners Live in Vain“, and “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons“, and some really innovative ideas.

CONS: Some early stories are clearly part of his learning process as a writer and were hard to read and come early, potentially turning readers off.

BOTTOM LINE: Worth reading if you are interested in learning about Smith’s history and reading his short fiction. The best are in here, and if you’re new to him you might want to read those first and then go back to some of the earlier works.

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REVIEW: The Best of Gene Wolfe by Gene Wolfe

REVIEW SUMMARY: Awesome collection of short stories from one of the best writers of our generation.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Thirty-one excellent stories from the mind of Gene Wolfe. You’ll find his classic and best regarded works here such as “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” and “The Island of Dr. Death”. But you’ll also find some lesser known but still outstanding works like “The Hero as Werewolf” and “The Marvelous Brass Chess Playing Automaton”.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: From very short works to novella-length efforts, the varied styles are fun to read. Excellent way to get into Gene Wolfe if you are daunted by the size of his novels.

CONS: None.

BOTTOM LINE: Every sci-fi fan needs to have this book in their collection; loaning this book out to non-genre readers will leave them begging for more.

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MOVIE REVIEW: My Name is Bruce

REVIEW SUMMARY: Bruce Campbell laughs at himself, his fans, and the camp movie industry he is very much a part of with this silly spoof of cult horror films.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: What do you do if you’re a small mining town in Oregon plauged by a demon? You kidnap Bruce Campbell – believing he is the character he has portrayed in his films – and get him to fight for you. Duh…

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Lots of very funny moments, call-backs to Bruce’s other movies, pokes fun at Bruce’s fans

CONS: Non-Campbell fans should probably avoid it. Numerous in-jokes that won’t be funny for many. Some of the dialog isn’t as strong as it could be.

BOTTOM LINE: Very worth watching if you’re a Bruce Campbell fan.

I first heard about this movie about a year and a half ago and thought it sounded funny, but didn’t hear much about it again. It turns out I wasn’t alone – the movie was shown at various film festivals starting in 2007 (which generated some buzz) but wasn’t shown theatrically until late 2008. Even then, it was released to very few theatres (despite selling out the Alamo Draft House in Austin in less than 2 minutes) before going to DVD earlier this year. It showed up on Netflix ‘Watch Instantly’ streaming service this past week.

REVIEW: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

REVIEW SUMMARY: Extremely funny offering by Pratchett, a true standout in a long series of quality books.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Rescued from the gallows by the Prince, Moist von Lipwig finds himself sentenced to running the postal service (which is only slightly better than being hanged.) The postal service has degenerated into nothing – no letters are delivered and the building is filled with literally mounds of undelivered mail. Mail has been replaced by the clacks, a series of signal towers that can move messages quickly over hundreds of miles. Who is going to pay to have a letter delivered in days when a they can send a message in hours? And what to do about all these stamps that keep getting misprinted?

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Best use of language in a book I’ve read this year.

CONS: Too short, I wanted it to keep going.

BOTTOM LINE: Very well worth reading, and a great book to start with if you haven’t read Pratchett before.

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Thoughts on Sarah Connor Chronicles season/series finale

TV’s version of Terminator had its season wrap-up this week and all I can say is, “what?” But before we get to the last episode, let me give you my thoughts on the whole season.

This season was a real mixed bag. The episodes with the ‘3 dots’ were flat out lame, with the worst being the Kubrik-esque episode “Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep” that attempted to be artistic (or something) and ended up being merely confusing. But we also had episodes like “The Last Voyage of the Jimmy Carter” which were excellent. I really liked the episodes leading up to the finale – it became super-sci-fi with alternate timelines and time alteration galore. I give the series writers a lot of tackling the challenges of time travel head-on and acknowledging that they people we are watching are changing the futures they knew. That’s awesome and treats the audience with a higher intelligence than most shows.

Derek, Jesse, and others admited they have come from alternate versions of the future with different dates for Judgement Day, different outcomes to various altercations, and different people alive and dead. All good, if only there was more.

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Doctor Who Season 1 Thoughts…

I know I’m just getting to this series, but wow! I keep wondering why it took me so long to start watching. The other folks here (John especially) raved about it. It isn’t that I didn’t believe them.

I guess I was thinking of that pretty campy Tom Baker version I watched right before Monty Python on my local PBS station so many years ago. Perhaps I simply didn’t understand it back then, but I certain can appreciate it now. This series is fantastic. It is easily the best Sci-Fi TV I’ve seen in a long time.

I loaded Doctor Who Season 1 DVDs up on my NetFlix ‘Instant Watch’ queue and it sat there for over a month. Every time I sat down to watch TV I would see it there and instantly think of that old show and skip it. But then one day I happened to be on Netflix.com and saw a little note next to the entry for Season 1 saying that It was going to be removed on April 13th. I decided I better get to it watching it or lose my chance.

This isn’t anything like what my mind remembers the old show being. Sure, it still has some humor in it, but it is a smart kind of humor. I don’t find it rediculously campy at all. The special effects aren’t up to Battlestar Galactica maybe, but then they don’t really need to be. The science fiction is excellent, better than anything I can think of being on TV since Babylon 5. Some of the episodes, such as The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, are downright scary and pretty far away from humor.

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Making Money by Terry Pratchett

REVIEW SUMMARY: Fantastic and time-appropriate novel by a master of comedic fantasy. I wouldn’t make this my first Diskworld book, but it is a great part of the series.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Moist, the protagonist of Going Postal is back and asked to take on Ankh-Morpork’s banking system, including the mint, the treasury, and the bank itself.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Brilliant humor, excellent new characters, fun with old favorites

CONS: Banking humor might be over the head of many non-bankers

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed the heck out of this book and recommend it to Pratchett fans without question (although I’d read Going Postal first if you haven’t already.) I don’t think this is the book I’d recommend if you haven’t read any in the series though. As we’ve discussed before, you might want to follow another order to reading the series.

What SF would you recommend to a non-reader?

It’s time for the 2009 edition of a question that comes up on SF Signal every so often. The other day, a colleague of mine recently asked me what five sci-fi books I could recommend to her. She had read what she considered to be some classic authors maybe 20 years ago (Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein) but wondered what was the best of the more modern sci-fi. Interestingly, she felt most of the genre was plot-driven and was honestly looking for that kind of book, but I didn’t restrict myself to that.

I have listed my answer with a little description of why I included the book. But I would appreciate knowing what others might put on their ‘top 5 of recent sci-fi’ list.

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Are Science Fiction Conventions Dying?

I recently met a person who was a major supporter and volunteer for the Boskone science fiction convention. He was concerned that the cons were dying. He indicated that attendance was down at Boskone and at other conventions across the country. He had a few reasons why he thought cons were waning in popularity, but most of them traced to the Internet. He felt that fans no longer felt the need to go to a convention to be with like-minded folks – they had friends online now all the time. He felt that artists and authors no longer had to attend a convention to meet with publishers since they could use the ‘net to host portfolios and email treatments.

Honestly, I couldn’t find fault with his thinking. Of course I pointed out that the economy this year might be part of the problem – fewer people are traveling to conventions (obviously a luxury item to most.) But he felt it had been declining for years and this wasn’t a new phenomenon.

So what do you think? Are they going by the wayside? Is the Internet to blame?

[Image courtesy unforth]

REVIEW: The Sunborn by Gregory Benford

REVIEW SUMMARY: Gregory Benford’s follow-on to The Martian Race about life on the edge of the solar system is innovative and intriguing. There are lots of good ideas here, but the pacing was a little slow for me.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A pair of scientists have been living on and researching Mars for the last couple of decades when they suddenly discover the algae-like moss they have been studying on the planet might have more to it. Before they can study it further, they are ordered out to the edge of the solar system – to Pluto – where another set of scientists have found something truly amazing.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Very interesting sci-fi ideas about life at extremely low temperatures, includes facts based on the very latest science available in biology and planetology, characters were very interesting and well managed.

CONS: Overall story pacing was a little odd, with some parts advancing rapidly and many parts dragging. Ending felt rushed.

BOTTOM LINE: Benford is a scientist and it shows in his writing. I’d recommend this book for the ideas alone, but the characters he creates makes the really worth the time. I just felt the overall progression could have been sped up a bit.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Frequency

REVIEW SUMMARY: Very interesting time travel movie that moved in a direction I hadn’t expected.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 30 years after his fathers death, a man discovers his fathers old HAM radio is allowing him to talk to his father in the past. When he warns his farther to avoid death it doesn’t go exactly as they had hoped.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Overall well executed time travel story, great twists and turns

CONS: Ending wasn’t totally satisfying

BOTTOM LINE: Worth spending a couple of hours with. Fans of time travel as a plot device should see it.

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