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Hunter’s Run (George RR Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Hunter’s Run is an anomaly in my experience, a book that was worked on for several decades by several authors that actually came out well. I’m not a particular fan of any of the authors involved in the project, and yet together they managed to make something that I really liked. The story is a straight up hard sci-fi adventure, but there are a lot of more subtle psychological elements thrown in that give the book real emotional hooks to sink into the readers. The setting is standard profligate expansionist, capitalist, ecologically disastrous, humanity exploiting a beautiful, pristine, wild, alien world, but other than this tired device, everything is quite original and interesting. The protagonist shows real character growth throughout the book, and while initially the bizarre alien scenery is more interesting than his personal journey, eventually the psychological element proves to be the real strength of the book. I would definately recommend this book to any hard sci-fi fans and I hope you will pick up a copy yourself.

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Murphy’s Gambit (Syne Mitchell)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Murphy’s Gambit is a hard sci-fi, traditional faster-than-light travel spaceship themed adventure story. The protagonist is unique, I think this is the only sci-fi story I’ve read where the protagonist is adapted to zero gravity and has trouble under normal Earth conditions. The supporting cast isn’t quite as engaging, and the villain borders on being evil for the sake of evil even though there are much easier ways to accomplish their goals of supervillainy. The setting is a standard corporation-controlled space dystopia, which I wasn’t especially thrilled with, but was serviceable for the story the author was trying to tell. The pacing is good, and the author keeps the stretches of exposition brief, which is a definite mark of distinction among far-future sci-fi. I would recommend this book as good hard sci-fi that’s very accessible.

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WWW:Wake (Robert J Sawyer, WWW Trilogy #1)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
WWW:Wake is a contemporary hard sci-fi coming of age story. Apparently it is the first in a trilogy, but I was rather surprised to learn this, since this book stands so well on its own. This is one of the best hard sci-fi books I have read. I’ve read quite a lot of sci-fi dealing with the emergence of machine intelligence, but this is first one I found at all believable or well thought out. The human side isn’t neglected, either, as it often is in hard sci-fi; the author also does well here. The characters are vivid and unique, deep without a great deal of exposition. The author does a great job of condensing an intrinsically complicated story until it is both manageable and quick moving. With the exception of one brief scene (fairly PG, but non-consensual, groping) which might disturb some readers who are sensitive to such things, I would unhesitatingly recommend WWW:Wake to anyone with even a passing interest in sci-fi; I doubt you will be disappointed by this book.

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Spin (Robert Charles Wilson)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Spin attempts to combine a fairly intriguing and original hard sci-fi concept with a deep personal story.  The sci-fi elements really don’t take up that much room; you could probably write them all out in about 10 pages, so the bulk of the book is comprised of the story of one man’s events during this sci-fi event.  Unfortunately, while the sci-fi elements are compelling, the human side of things is maudlin and boring.  The characters are as deep as I have ever seen in a book, with detailed backstories and personal dramas, but at their core they are fundamentally very, very uninteresting and uncompelling characters.  I enjoyed finishing this book, and once the whole sci-fi aspect had been revealed I found myself having fun thinking about it, but the actual experience of reading the book was tedious and unpleasant.  As a genre, hard sci-fi can and should do better at marrying intriguing concepts with compelling stories, so I do not recommend this book.
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The Prometheus Project (Steve White)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Prometheus Project is an ambitious hard sci-fi adventure.  It takes the tired trope of a government conspiracy designed to keep the existence of aliens secret from the public and re-imagines it as something both compelling and rational.  The story is well developed and every scene is integral to the greater plot rather than just something tacked on to fill space.  There aren’t that many characters, but each one feels fleshed out and interesting.  The setting is really well thought out and something of a treat for fans of hard sci-fi world building.  I saw somewhere that this book was being presented as appropriate young adult sci-fi, but I would be somewhat apprehensive of exposing it to that audience without a warning that there is a bit of sex and violence that might offend some sensibilities.  Overall, I would heartily recommend the book; it was a treat to read and should please sci-fi fans of almost any variety.
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Planet of the Damned (Harry Harrison)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Planet of the Damned is an action oriented sci-fi adventure story about a man trying to save a planet from thermonuclear armageddon.  I guess the most pronounced twists on the standard perfect-hero-saves-the-world formula is a strict deadline looming before all life on the planet is obliterated and the fact that the people populating the threatened world appear at first to be alien and difficult to comprehend even though they eventually turn out to be standard noble savages.  It was written while the Cold War was in full swing, so there is a bit of the whole “war is futile and peace is the only answer” subtext going on that will probably seem heavy-handed to modern readers.  This probably also explains the strict deadline to thermonuclear annihilation, as living under that looming threat wouldn’t have been sci-fi to people of that era but instead a grim reality.  The technology is also decidedly anachronistic in some ways, as the author had no way of predicting the technological innovations that have subsequently remade society.  I wouldn’t say this is a terrible book, but I wouldn’t recommend it, largely because I think sci-fi has evolved significantly since it was written and most things written today are simply better.
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Reality 36 (Guy Haley, Richards & Klein Investigations #1)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
In this near-future, posthuman, artificial intelligence detective thriller, the protagonists transverse a world fractured by the emergence of artificial realities and arcane laws relating to the rights of sentient intelligences in the attempt to uncover the identity of the one responsible for a multiple homicide of the same individual.  As this description might suggest, this novel attempts to grapple with some weighty moral and political issues in combination with a very complicated setting and intricate plot.  I liked the book a great deal, but I think that maybe the author was trying to do a bit too much all at once.  I can’t point to any one fault that undermines the work as a whole, but the overall feeling I left with was that the author was a bit scattered in what he was trying to do.  Despite this shortcoming, and a very unsatisfactory conclusion which presumably will be solved by the sequel, Reality 36 is really hard sci-fi at its best and most complicated and I would definitely recommend it to any hard sci-fi fan.
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Finity (John Barnes)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This should have been a fairly deep, hard sci-fi treatment of alternate realities and identity in a universe where everything but the individual is constantly changing.  Unfortunately, the effect is ruined by boring disposable characters, a premise that isn’t self consistent, and a story that sort of meanders about with mostly unnecessary scenes that feels more like a travelogue than than the action-packed, exciting story the author is trying to write.  We are left with a decent attempt at high-concept hard sci-fi that explores some interesting concepts and is imaginative, but fails in execution.  I would not recommend it.
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