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.
Cut to the Chase: Germline is a near future war thriller taking the form of a gonzo journalist stuck behind the lines of a horrific future conflict in Kazakhstan. This is a well written and well researched book, but honestly I’m not sure who it would really appeal to. It’s very violent and graphic, and the main thrust of the book is to depict how horrible war is in all its forms. Without any attempt to glamorize or excite the reader with its violence, it won’t exactly appeal to people looking for action, and there really isn’t enough of a sci-fi angle to interest anyone in the technology or man’s relationship with it. I liked the book, but I wasn’t exactly ever excited to get to read more of it just because it was so dark and violent and the situations the protagonist are placed in are so unpleasant. I guess I would recommend the book in general based on the fact that it was imaginative, well written, and interesting, but I’m not exactly sure who I would recommend it to.
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.
Cut to the Chase: The Quantum Thief is a far future mystery/thriller sci-fi novel. I’m not a big fan of the extreme far future sci-fi stuff, but The Quantum Thief was definitely interesting enough that I enjoyed it. It is really a beautiful novel visually. The scenes are incredibly vivid and dramatic and almost operatic. I found the plot and frequent perspective shifts to be disorienting, though, so you are left with something very unique in my experience, a crowded, busy, distracting morass of a novel from which these poignant, visually arresting scenes suddenly emerge, then suddenly vanish. This is the first in a planned trilogy, so some of the awkwardness might stem from that. I would recommend this book as a somewhat frustrating but unique experience.
Cut to the Chase: Saturn Returns is the first in a series of very strange far future sci-fi mystery/action novels. It has one of the stranger interpretations of far future technology I have seen: people exist in multiple bodies, copy themselves, can alter how they experience time at will, and can be recreated based purely on data. As you might imagine, this makes the story take some very strange directions. I was a bit conflicted on whether to recommend the book or not. I didn’t feel like the characters were particularly strong, the plot sort of meanders around demonstrating that there is probably a bit of filler, and the conclusion was entirely unsatisfying. On the plus side, though, the setting is incredibly rich, unique, and imaginative, so overall I am inclined to recommend the book for readers who read sci-fi for exotic experiences more so than character driven adventure. Continue reading →
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.
Cut to the Chase: Space Vulture is a modern throwback to the era of sci-fi serials of the 1940s. The heroes are larger than life, with perfect morality, and the villains are debased and evil just for the sake of being evil. The largest departure from something actually from this period is that this book has sections that are significantly more violent and gory than anything you could produce at the time. As a longtime fan of this era of sci-fi, I found this book to be a delightful homage and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are certainly some major issues stemming from doing anything in this style, largely somewhat one dimensional characters, a primary focus on violent fights, and a plotting designed more to link battles together with interesting backdrops than to create a cohesive, overarching plot. Given its limitations, I think Space Vulture is one of the best things I’ve read in its genre and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who isn’t put off by lack of strong plot or characters. Continue reading →
Cut to the Chase: On Basilisk Station is the first in David Weber’s very lengthy Honor Harrington series of military sci-fi. It pretty much follows the standard military sci-fi formula of a virtuous military hero protagonist hindered by venal duplicitous politicians, set up to fail by incompetent superiors, and besieged by insidiously vile antagonists. Other than the standard set piece characters and relationships, David Weber manages to carve out enough unique elements and execute the formula well enough that I very much enjoyed this book overall. The setting is fully developed and feels like an organic environment rather than a sterile non functional one dominated by a few set pieces that will be used for battles. For an unblinking embodiment of all things virtuous, the protagonist is reasonably interesting and her supporting cast is better than most in the genre. I was a little annoyed that the title is deceptive and only a tiny portion of the book takes place actually on Basilisk Station, but that is probably a more evocative title than “Somewhere Around Basilisk Station.” I would definately recommend this book to fans of military sci-fi because I feel like it is one of the best examples of the sub-genre, and I think I would also recommend it as a good introduction to the sub-genre as well. Continue reading →
Cut to the Chase: Grasp The Stars is a sci-fi romp through a space station populated by aliens and troubled with difficult internal and external politics. This is probably the worst pairing of title and cover art with a book that I have ever seen. The cover art and title make me envision an action-packed story where a pulp style male space hero guns down bad guys every other page, while the actual story centers around a female space administrator who solves problems by talking them through on her crumbling space station. The book has some other fairly glaring issues besides cover art though, in story, execution, characters, and pacing. Setting those aside, the book is quite imaginative, unusual, and fun. Although I winced at some of the decisions the author made and think that this project might have been overly ambitious, overall, I would recommend this book and found it enjoyable. Continue reading →
CleverHandle’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars Penguinhegemony’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
P: I found Jam to be a unique take on the standard apocalypse genre thriller. The setup is unique and playful and deserves praise for its creativity and execution. The character aspect suffered a little with a protagonist that could have been more intriguing and the supporting cast seemed a bit stilted, but overall this weakness didn’t detract much from the overall quality of the book. I would definitely recommend Jam to fans of the genre looking for a bit of fun, or strawberries, to go along with their apocalypse.
CH: I’ve said before that I’m no fan of zombies; here, we have the standard zombie-apocalypse setup sans undead; instead, man-eating strawberry jam quite suddenly takes over Australia. Like most of my favorite apocalypse stories, the tone is humorous, but Croshaw doesn’t use that as an excuse to shy away from exploring humanity at its worst. I agree with Penguinhegemony that the characters were rather weak, but I found this to be a bigger flaw than he did. I also found the plot to be a bit weak or forced in places, sometimes in an attempt to fit in humor. Overall, though, this was an enjoyable book, and it’s made me want to check out Croshaw’s first work, Mogworld.