Book Review Archives

REVIEW: The Sky People by S.M. Stirling

REVIEW SUMMARY:Well-written alternative history novel with a story that comes up a bit short.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The worlds of Mars and Venus turn out to be exactly as the classic sci-fi writers of the 50′s thought they would be – populated with sentient life. After establishing a base on Venus, American colonist Marc Vitrac goes on a rescue mission for a downed SovietBloc space ship only to be caught up in a squabble with the natives for the very reason for Venus’ existence.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Solid prose, well-done military / action sequences

CONS: Characters are largely one-dimensional, story isn’t very compelling

BOTTOM LINE: If you love Stirling you’ll probably like this one – otherwise, I’d give it a pass and read one of his better works such as Islands in the Sea of Time.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A must-read for anyone who is a fan of “A Boy and His Dog” and a should-read for anyone else.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Graphic novel of three Ellison adaptations (plus Ellison’s original short stories) in which Vic and his telepathic dog named Blood travel a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of food and sex.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent stories; graphic adaptations faithful to original material; high production value.

CONS: Visual adaptations appear before the source material.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine addition to the library of any sf fan.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: The cover blurb caused me to expect something more.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two mathematicians devise a way to predict the future and hop to parallel worlds in hopes of wooing the same girl and depose a tyrannical president.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Cool premise; clear language allows Inner Geek to enjoy advanced math concepts.

CONS: The promise of alternate-realities doesn’t come to fruition until the second half of the book and even then it’s downplayed in favor of political satire; Surfer-Dude dialogue can become annoying.

BOTTOM LINE: A mediocre reading experience.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Very good stories based on cool sf-nal ideas.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of eleven pieces of holiday-themed short fiction.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Imaginative ideas; clear writing; well-placed humor.

CONS: The list-like infodump writing technique is all too evident when reading the stories back to back.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine collection of science fiction stories to be enjoyed any time of year.

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REVIEW: Starship: Pirate by Mike Resnick

REVIEW SUMMARY: Continuing the story and characters started in Starship: Mutiny, Mike Resnick turns in a quality effort.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Facing life in exile from his beloved Navy, Captain Wilson Cole decides to try life as a pirate.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Great action sequences, fun plot, quick read

CONS: Feels like it suffers a bit from being the middle book of a trilogy. Not as strong as the first book.

BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoyed the first book, you’re likely to enjoy this one.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Non-fiction : a very interesting book describing the facts of energy usage in the United States that challenges a lot of conventional thinking.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Huber and Mills are out to challenge the pundits, policy-makers, and environmentalists as they use the history of energy consumption to predict the future – and the future is bright! While others have constantly predicted the end of oil and a coming crisis, the facts say otherwise.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent analysis, facts of the past, and predictions for the future.

CONS: Last chapter is out of place, belongs in another book.

BOTTOM LINE: Great read for anybody who wants to challenge their own thinking about energy and its use not only today, but in the future.

This book surprised the heck out of me – it was recommended so I took a chance and was very surprised. I post it here because I was facinated by some of the recommendations and predictions for the immediate future regarding the changes to automobiles and traditional power sources (like oil and gas heat, for example.) I know not everybody on this list likes to read non-fiction books, but if you do, I think you’ll enjoy this one – even if you don’t agree with everything the authors came up with.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Another worthwhile sampling of space opera adventure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 17 SF adventure stories “in the grand tradition” written after 1970.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 13 stories good or better, 5 of them standouts.
CONS: 4 stories mediocre or worse.
BOTTOM LINE: A good representation of space adventure stories between 1970 and 1998.

Gardner Dozois’ 1999 anthology, The Good New Stuff: Adventure in SF in the Grand Tradition, looks at space adventure stories written between 1970 and 1998. It is the companion to his earlier anthology from 1998, The Good Old Stuff, which samples adventure stories from 1948 and 1975. (Both books, by the way, are (were?) available from the Science Fiction Book Club as The Good Stuff. Biblioholic that I am, I also have a copy of that hardback omnibus in addition to the individual paperbacks, a disorder I thinly rationalize by having the ability to read one at home and one on my lunch hour without having to carry a book back and forth. [Hangs head in shame.])

The stories in The Good New Stuff do an admirable job at entertaining, though there were some weaker stories. When the stories worked, though, they worked quite well. Standout stories include “The Way of Cross and Dragon” by George R. R. Martin, “Swarm” by Bruce Sterling, “Poles Apart” by G. David Nordley, “Cilia-of-Gold” by Stephen Baxter and “Escape Route” by Peter F. Hamilton. I note here without comment (since I can draw no conclusion from it) that a larger-than-expected number of stories had some economic element to them.

In the introduction to The Good New Stuff, Dozois uses the term adventure synonymously with space opera. Thus, I cannot help but compare his two anthologies to the more recent (2006) collection of space opera, The Space Opera Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer. While the Hartwell/Cramer anthology seemed more concerned with critical analyses and all the myriad definitions of space opera (including some forays into military sf), the Dozois books seem to (mostly) center on stories of adventure. However, the inclusion of some stories here also seemed questionable, like “The Blind Minotaur” which came across more like a literary fantasy than adventure story. To be sure, both anthologies succeed at their own goals and there is only one overlapping story between them (Hamilton’s “Escape Route”).

Reviewlettes of the stories follow.

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REVIEW: Spears of God by Howard V. Hendrix

REVIEW SUMMARY:

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Children from a remote area survive the massacre of their tribe over a meteorite which may contain some primal genetic material. This material when combined with material from other meteorites some of which have religious significance may help produce the ultimate super soldier, but other factions are at work to use the children and these rocks from space to start a holy war.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: An interesting view on meteorites and life on this planet.

CONS: Unbelievably smart characters and some of the theological elements might turn folks off.

BOTTOM LINE: A hard science novel with some fantastic ideas that just didn’t work for me.

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REVIEW: Blindsight by Peter Watts

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A first contact novel with Watts’ unique view of humans.

PROS: Very hard SF, a new take on first contact, lots of cool SF ideas.

CONS: Lots of talking and info dumps, a dark and grim future, difficult to accept rationale for vampires.

BOTTOM LINE: Definitely worthwhile if you like really hard SF with lots of speculation on future technology. Blindsight is also an interesting take on first contact, but the novel is weighed down by its dark and grim setting.

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REVIEW: Helltown by Dennis O’Neil

REVIEW SUMMARY:

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Vic Sage returns to the town of his youth to find some answers regarding his past. In the process of trying to find these answers, he asks the wrong questions and is nearly killed. With some assistance from Batman, he returns as The Question to really find out what is going on.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The transformation of Vic Sage into The Question, Lady Shiva as a character is great

CONS: The fact that The Question is very similar to Batman, and cookie cutter villians.

BOTTOM LINE: A good book that brings a new hero into existence.

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a guest review by Fred Kiesche, blogger extraordinaire of The Eternal Golden Braid.]

REVIEW SUMMARY: Hopefully will revitalize the number of Tiptree books in print.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The ups and downs of world traveler, egg farmer, intelligence officer and occasional author Alice B. Sheldon in her multiple identities.

MY REVIEW

PROS: Should prove to skeptics out there that there is more to SF than Star Wars.

CONS: Ignores much of the field and its history, and does not give a sense of where Sheldon fit in.

BOTTOM LINE: Does not live up to the hype.

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REVIEW: The Witling by Vernor Vinge

REVIEW SUMMARY: Decent adventure, sound science and, perchance, a preview of The Singularity?

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Stranded on an alien planet of teleports and used as pawns of warring kingdoms, an archaeologist and a pilot try to find a way home before the local food finally poisons them.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Well-thought-out culture based on alien abilities; uses physics to frame alien mind powers; the emphasis on this sf/fantasy hybrid is on the science fiction.

CONS: Mind powers are not fully explained; the large majority of the characters are two dimensional.

BOTTOM LINE: A quick and entertaining read.

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REVIEW: Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Three strangers are brought together by an unusual murder. What they find sends them on an incredible journey to save the world.

PROS: A fun adventure aimed at young adult readers, lots of allusions and references to the fantasy genre, a breeze to read.

CONS: Plot driven story, paper thin characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Here, There Be Dragons is a terrific first novel by James A. Owen. Anyone who likes earlier works of fantasy will have a field day decoding the allusions liberally sprinkled throughout the book. This is also a great novel to introduce the younger readers to the world of fantasy.

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REVIEW: Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster

REVIEW SUMMARY: Would you believe there’s another fine book set in futuristic India?

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the near-future Indian city of Sagramanda, a corporate scientist and his “untouchable” girlfriend try to sell a secret formula; company hires assassin to stop him; shopkeeper tries to broker the deal; father tries to kill scientists and girlfriend; cop tries to catch sword-wielding serial killer; and a dangerous tiger prowls unsuspecting victims.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Wonderful depiction of Indian culture; fast-paced; entertaining characters and back stories; excellent finish.

CONS: Too many separate plot threads that took too long to converge.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine near-future thriller and a fun, engrossing read.

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REVIEW: Three Days To Never by Tim Powers

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: I don’t think you can write a brief synopsis of this book. You might as well try to summarize Proust.

PROS: The Tim Powers skewed view of fantasy, Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, the Mossad, time travel and more.

CONS: Somewhat convoluted plot, feels a lot like Expiration Date.

BOTTOM LINE: Not as inventive as Declare, but still worth a read if you’re a Tim Powers fan.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The continuing adventures of Chicago’s only openly practicing wizard P.I.

PROS: Non-stop action, smooth prose, interesting characters, unique setting, a page-turner.

CONS: Quite often Harry extricates himself from dire situations via the plot and not his own initiative, not much character development, more convoluted plots.

BOTTOM LINE: A very entertaining and enjoyable read. This combination of fantasy/supernatural and P.I. genres works very well. A must read for fantasy fans.

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REVIEW: Runner by William C. Dietz

REVIEW SUMMARY: Interesting action-packed book that explores the collapse of a technological society.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Jak is a delivery man (or runner in this time) who is asked to deliver a very interesting package – a boy believed to be the reincarnated spiritual leader of the predominant religion. In addition to dodging a rival sect who wants to eliminate the boy, he also runs into a woman capable of reading thoughts who is occasionally possessed by the spirit of the former ruler of the 1000 planet empire.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Excellent action sequences, the exploration of a space-faring society dealing with technological collapse is well done, most characters are complex.

CONS: Ending seems very rushed, and the plot stalls out right near the climax.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a fun book that offers a decent read, if not much to savor afterwards.

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REVIEW: Escape From Earth edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

REVIEW SUMMARY: A sure-fire way to get teenage readers hooked on science fiction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of seven original young-adult novellas designed to get kids hooked on science fiction.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Filled with sense of wonder; strong, positive role-models.

CONS: One story less effective than the others.

BOTTOM LINE: This is simply a very good collection of science fiction stories, for teenagers and adults alike.

This week my daughter’s elementary school had a book fair and I was once again amazed at how many more fantasy titles there are for kids than there are science fiction titles. I could count the number of sf books they offered on one hand and still have enough fingers left over to poke Scholastic in the eyes. To be fair, there is a much higher demand for fantasy these days thanks to books and films like Harry Potter. And, of course, we are happy that kids are reading anything! But that doesn’t stop us here at SF Signal from opining about the lack of science fiction for kids. (Not for the least of reasons which include being able to use a form of the word “opine”.)

Imagine, then, how high my hopes were when I heard about the new young adult sf anthology Escape From Earth edited by well-respected and capable editors Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. The book is designed to be a gateway to science fiction for younger readers.

It succeeds in a big way…with one caveat. Parents may feel that some of the language (s**t, b***h,) and situations (talk of sex) presented herein might be unsuitable for younger readers but they may decide it’s OK for teenagers. This exemplifies the difference I see between “young adult” and “juvenile” books. The good news is that all the stories have positive messages for young readers, something that, as a parent, I find particularly encouraging and commendable.

While all the stories are good (with one borderline case), the standout ones for me were “Derelict” by Geoffrey A. Landis, “Combat Shopping” by Elizabeth Moon and “The Mars Girl” by Joe Haldeman. Each one of these not only provided the requisite sense of wonder that drew me to the genre in my formative years, but they also contain characters who exhibit positive qualities without being phony.

Reviewlettes of the stories follow.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Zima Blue is a collection of 10 short stories not set in Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe.

PROS: All of the stories were excellent and thought-provoking, great hard SF ideas, interesting new universes.

CONS: Some of the characters were a bit weak.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a must read for all fans of Reynolds.

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REVIEW: The Children of Men by P.D. James

REVIEW SUMMARY: Come to the book for the pre-apocalyptic sf or thriller story line, but stay for the dark mood.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: During the last generation of mankind, Theo Faron falls in with a band of revolutionaries who aim to change the ways of the tyrannical Warden of England.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Wonderfully dark and moody; thought-provoking; well-done characterizations; page-turning.

CONS: It’s not entirely convincing that more efforts wouldn’t be put towards a technological solution to worldwide fertility rather than enforcing new policies to achieve a level of civilization.

BOTTOM LINE: A smashingly good read.

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