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Posts tagged “Science Fiction

On the Bookshelf: Influx by Daniel Suarez

Daniel Suarez is one of those authors that in a few more years (or after one of his novels reaches the big screen) is going to be talked about as one of the top authors of contemporary science fiction. His latest book, Influx, while I wouldn’t say is his best novel (that honor in my mind goes to Daemon) it is probably his most cinematic.

The plot is based around a “what if” scenario. What if humanity was in reality far more technologically advanced than we thought we were? What if we had already perfected fusion power, created true nano tech, found the cure for cancer, created Artificial Intelligence, vastly expanded human longevity and physical and mental limitations, and made huge advances in materials science? What if the human race had all these things but they had all been hidden from us by an organization that hides them from us for our own good because the consequences of their discovery would do more harm than good?

When you put it like that it sounds noble. However, as the main character of the novel, Jon Grady, finds out it is far from anything of the sort. Jon is a thinker with a unique mind and discovers a technology that could represent one of the greatest technological shifts in human history; the Gravity Mirror, a device that can harness the most powerful force in the universe. That’s when the BTC, the Bureau of Technology Control, arrives and destroys his lab before any news of his accomplishment can spread.

You see, while the BTC may be protecting us from rampant change it has also been taking all of this revolutionary technology and hoarding it for itself, abducting those who created it and attempting to turn them to its own research agenda. Those scientists who decline their offer are imprisoned and tortured. Jon is one of these Resistors.

Influx is a roller coaster read with a wide-ranging scope and well thought out premise. A summer blockbuster waiting to happen.  I think I killed the book in about two days because it is one of those page turners that you don’t want to put down. I only have a few quibbles. 1) While most of the book has dead-on pacing the finale seemed a little rushed, but that may only mean it will translate even better to the big screen (including the epilogue that I think could have tied up some loose ends with just a few more words . 2) One of the characters is improbably able to acquire and adapt the BTC’s advanced technology and provide it at the most opportune moment. 3) One simple answer invalidates every single disaster model the BTC produces: Space Colonization. The last scene is good and I like the feeling behind it, but all I need is an orbital elevator or space launch to make me feel better.


On the Bookshelf: Bolos

Bolo Mk. XX

I haven’t, lately, been much into writing but since I have a few minutes I thought I would ramble a bit about some reading I’ve been doing lately. On a whim I picked up a paperback that has been on my bookshelf a while (an old friend already well read) and since have read through most of its series brethren. This book was Bolos Bk 1: Honor of the Regiment, a collection of short stories set in a universe created by Keith Laumer that features huge self-aware tanks known as Bolos.

It may be kind of a small thing but the very first time that I read these books the aspect that probably hooked me was the name for a Bolo’s main offensive weapon, a kind of plasma cannon that in the books measures its destructive output in megatons-per-second; the Hellbore. The picture above, a Mk XX Bolo (the first marks that were considered to be fully self-aware), features two Hellbore cannons as well as a suite of point defense and anti-personnel turrets (known as Infinite Repeaters), a bank of mortars, and magazine fed VLS missile cells behind an armored hull strong enough to resist the fire of virtually anything except for another Bolo’s Hellbore. Furthermore, this arsenal is powered by a pair of fusion reactors, and rolling on multiple, independent, track systems capable of cruising at 55mph and spiriting at 75 mph. It is a fourteen thousand ton juggernaut and later marks just get bigger, smarter, and more powerful.

Now, there is something to be said for the utility of tanks this size, especially in the current era of warfare where the tank seems to be falling by the wayside (the earliest Mk. I Bolo was essentially a late-model variant of the Abrams tank) but I always saw it in the context of where the Bolos fought, which is mostly not on Earth. No, Bolos are the human’s sword and shield on battlefields among the stars, against aliens who see us as prey, wish to take our resources, or stand in our way.

After all is said and done the very coolest thing about the Bolo universe is that most of the books are collections of short stories written by a whole host of sci-fi authors. While this does lead to a bit of confusion at times as the different authors sometimes are inconsistent in the capabilities of the Bolos themselves, it leads to many voices exploring different aspects of the universe and as a reader I love that.

On the Bookshelf: Citadel by John Ringo


Troy Rising: Book 2

by John Ringo

Sometimes you just need some hard-core science fiction. Nothing quite scratches that action itch like plucky space marines killing lizard-like or squid-like aliens in droves.

As is pretty typical for humanity in science fiction stories, we Earthlings were discovered by aliens that treated us very badly. Our capitols were bombed from orbit. A vicious virus was released among the population. Humanity eventually fought back, harnessing the power of our sun to throw off the yoke of our overlord race, the Horvath. But that didn’t happen in this book, it happened in the previous novel in the series, Live Free or Die, which I highly recommend reading.

This novel is Citadel, the second novel of the series. The eponymous citadel is the Troy, a space station guarding the hypergate entrance to the Earth system. The Troy is an asteroid that was melted and then expanded like a giant metal balloon to become an orbital fortress with nickel/iron walls a kilometer and a half thick and the capability of simultaneously launching more missiles than an invasion fleet can carry, as well as holding a small fleet inside its walls and being the targeting focus for the solar mining system that measures its power in the hundreds of petawatts (that’s 10 with 15 zeros behind it).

Can you say Death Star?

 As fearsome as it appears the Troy is the first, and only, line of defense for the Earth, and the enemy is at the gates. That enemy is the Rangora and they are poised to launch an invasion of the Glatun, the only alien race that has been friendly to the Earth. The Glatun are an old and very advanced race that historically has helped the races around them, including the Horvath and Rangora, rise and prosper so that they may become better trading partners. Now their civilization is on the decline and though they have a capable navy, the Rangora have the most powerful military in the region, and securing the Earth system will undoubtedly be part of their attack plan. The partially completed Troy and its new sibling station the Thermopylae must stand against fleets of the most powerful warships ever created, Rangora Assault Vectors.

As I’ve said before, science fiction like this is pure brain candy. Too much of it will rot your mind but it sure does taste good. Just call John Ringo the candy man (if admittedly a dark and kind of twisted sort of candy man). Hopefully, Citadel will tide me over until the next installment of the Troy Rising series, The Hot Gates.

On the Bookshelf: Echo by Jack McDevitt


by Jack McDevitt

I have been a fan of Jack McDevitt’s books for a long time (and the eye-catching covers of his books by artist John Harris). I think the main reason would be that while Mr. McDevitt’s books would largely be described as Science Fiction, they are first and foremost stories. In other words, though the novels include superluminal starships, A.I.’s, and a host of other futuristic concepts, those elements that would define it as Science Fiction serve only as the setting for the story, not the story itself.

Echo is a great example. The novel is essentially a treasure hunt mystery with an interplanetary scale, sparked by a stone tablet carved with strange, unidentifiable symbols once owned by an explorer who spent his life unsuccessfully searching for non-human intelligent life among the stars. What starts out as a curiosity soon becomes deadly serious. In the tradition of Doyle, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict is the Sherlock Holmes of the story with his friend / assistant / interstellar pilot Chase Kolpath serving in the role of Watson as the narrator for the events of the book.

I really enjoyed Echo. The story itself is fairly typical of other Alex Benedict novels but it still contains that undefinable element that makes the reader eager to turn the pages that McDevitt always seems to have in spades. Lately, some of the books on my shelf have been uninteresting, stale, or personally disagreeable and have left me unmotivated to read (those who know me well would find that hard to believe but it is nonetheless true). Echo is just the sort of story I needed to re-motivate me to dive into the next novel or text in the pile.

On The Bookshelf: Out of the Dark by David Weber (Spoilers!)

Out of the Dark

by David Weber

Much like one of David Weber’s previous novels, The Excalibur Alternative, humanity is discovered by a galactic civilization and treated very, very badly. In that novel a small force of English longbowmen and men-at-arms on their way to fight in France during the Hundred Years War are abducted by highly advanced aliens and used as slave soldiers on planets where it isn’t legal for them to employ high-tech weaponry.

Out of the Dark also starts at the battle of Agincourt as seen from the perspective of a survey mission from a technologically advanced galactic civilization, the Galactic Hegemony. The members of the survey crew, a race evolved from herd animal herbivores, are horrified by the ferocity and brutality of the “humans” that inhabit planet KU-197-20. The next aliens to visit Earth are the Shongairi.

The Shongairi are not herbivores. The are, in fact, the only race of carnivores in the Galactic Hegemony. They are pack hunters and see themselves as true predators. Frankly, the Shongairi frighten the other members of the Hegemony. They are expansionist and militant. To appease them, the Hegemony allows the Shongairi to conquer and occupy planets with primitive inhabitants. Apparently the Shongairi have done this many times before and they have gotten very good at it. Soon the Shongairi arrive at Earth with a colonization fleet. What they were expecting were humans at approximately an early 1600’s level of technology, but what they find is 21st century Earth. Apparently, our level of technological advancement is off the chart compared to anything else the Hegemony has experienced. Technically, by Hegemony standards, Earth has reached a high enough level of technology where it should be protected until it discovers hyperspace capability and is offered membership in the Hegemony. The Shongairi decide to ignore that and invade anyway as they had hoped to use humans as a client race, turning our ferocity toward their own ends as cannon fodder, now they see as even more valuable our innovative ability and hope to harness that as well. They have never invaded a planet with our level of technology before, but seeing as we are still primitives compared to them (and that they have the forces necessary to conquer two more planets after ours on hand) they decide to go ahead and attack.

Big mistake.

I won’t go into the details of the invasion except to say that hubris is the word of the day for the invaders. The Shongairi are able to, in most ways, completely destroy any form of organized resistance. Yes, the Shongairi lose an entire army’s worth of soldiers and equipment when a quartet of F-22s get the drop on a huge formation of massive, unarmed alien landing craft. Yes, a battalion of U.S. armor and mechanized infantry savages an entire brigade of Shongairi ground forces. Yes, guerilla fighters are able to inflict horribly costly ambushes time and again. However, the Shongairi still hold the orbitals and continuously drop Kinetic Energy Weapons (KEWs, essentially rocks) on any population center near these points of resistance. The Shongairi, for the most part aren’t winning, but in spite of the pain inflicted by casualties and destroyed equipment, they also aren’t really losing.

On the ground, humans are tactically much more proficient than the Shongairi. Our technology doesn’t match theirs, but there is a huge asymmetry between our man-portable systems, and the sort of bows-and-arrows-type resistance the existing Shongairi equipment is designed to deal with. One of the characters even makes the remark that at some point humans are going to be too much trouble and expense to deal with and the Shongairi will just get rid of the lot of us and keep the planet.

Then the inevitable plot-twist (biggest spoilers are after this point).

One of the viewpoint characters is a Marine NCO who was on a military flight into Italy before the initial Shongairi bombardment that destroyed most military bases and major population centers around the world. They fly north to get out of danger and eventually crash-land in Serbia and make their way into Romania where they meet another group of fighters protecting some isolated villages. The leader of this group turns out to be a bit more than he seems. In fact, after the Shongairi eventually invade and destroy those villages he goes a little nuts, you see, he spent a very, very, long time trying to forget the blood lust that made him famous. Oh yes, his real name is Vlad Dracul and he is a vampire, and the Shongairi have really, really pissed him off.

In this way, the name Out of the Dark has a double meaning. First, the alien invasion from the darkness of deep space, but also the counter-strike from the darkness of human myth and legend. Dracula, using his supernatural abilities and recruiting others to form a small army of vampires, begin to destroy Shongairi bases one after another. They even ride shuttles up to the orbiting Shongairi ships and take them over. In the end, humanity is left with Shongairi orbital factories capable of producing a Hegemony level industrial base, Dreadnought class starships capable of turning a planet to rubble, neural-education devices containing all existing Hegemony science and technology information, and a really bad attitude toward the galactic civilization that hung a big target on their home planet.

I expect, like The Excalibur Alternative, Out of the Dark will be a one book stand-alone, but I kind of wish it wasn’t. Aliens and spaceships and vampires, oh my!

On the Bookshelf: After America by John Birmingham (Spoilers!)

After America

by John Birmingham

The sequence of novels in this series is somewhat strange. After America, as the sequel to Without Warning and (I had guessed) the middle book of a trilogy, should be the bridge book between the plot driving catastrophe  of the first book, and the climax that dramatically reshapes the world in the third book. Instead, After America breaks that mold and tells a story all of its own.

The way the series seems to be shaping up, Without Warning is the story of survival. It is the chronicle of all the things that went horribly terribly and unexpectedly wrong, and the lengths that the main characters went to in order to survive the unimaginable chaos that ensued with the arrival of the Wave that destroyed all higher primate life over the majority of North America. However, in the final pages of the first book,  just when some sense of normalcy was returning to the world, the Wave disappears as enigmatically as it had appeared, leaving open a continent devoid of people yet covered by modern infrastructure, burned flooded and encroached upon by nature. After America is a novel that begins the story of the taming of a new and dangerous frontier, a Wild Wild East beset by pirates, pillagers, squatters and all manner of people doing unsavory and unscrupulous things..

I really liked After America although it seemed to be a bit scattered in its focus. Granted the story is told through the main characters and they themselves are scattered throughout the world, but I feel like there should be more going on in the background. Through the main characters we are able to get a feel for what it is like to be in post-wave Europe, Texas, New York and the partially/barely reclaimed American  midwest, but everything else is a mystery. What was the fallout of the Israeli nuclear strike? There is a war being fought in New York, but why isn’t there just as big a confrontation going on in Washington D.C. or Philadelphia or Boston? I don’t feel like I needed to have viewpoint characters there as well, but considering that one of them is now the President of the United States perhaps something could have been mentioned in passing or as a part of some sort of status update from some department or another.

Oh well, I guess that makes me more eager for the arrival of the next book (and I am definitely going to read the next book!).

On the Bookshelf: Without Warning by John Birmingham (Spoilers!)

Without Warning

by John Birmingham

Do you want to know what happens when a science fiction writer overhears some idiots during a student riot at the University of Queensland loudly proclaiming how much of an awesomely better place the world would be if the United States of America were to suddenly disappear?

Without Warning is what happens.

 The Setting:

The eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The MacGuffin:

An unexplained/unexplainable teardrop shaped  energy phenomenon that mysteriously appeared over most of North America known as “The Wave”. All higher primates (including zoo monkeys) disappear in a rapture-like instant, leaving behind piles of clothing and organic goo. All that is left of the United States is Hawaii, Alaska, and a small corner of northwestern Washington State including Seattle. The Wave doesn’t register on any scientific instrument and “disappears” anyone who attempts to cross its boundary.

The Aftermath:

The United States civilian government is literally gone. There is no line of succession to follow. The military command structure, however, is still fairly strong but most of its surviving power is deployed on the other side of the globe in the midst of a hostile environment that, of course, sees The Wave as a divine retribution. After a moment of jaw-dropping shock the world realizes that the heart of the world’s economy has stopped beating and its guarantor of global security is no-longer walking the beat. Tom Barnett would be banging his head repeatedly against his desk (except he was probably disappeared), and Nassim Taleb would be clapping with glee at the scope of the Black Swan that just crapped all over the planet (except Israel, back against the wall, pre-emptively nukes all of its neighbors including Lebanon).

I really liked this book. Unlike many ‘end-of-the-world’ genre books, this one didn’t make me want to stockpile cans of food and firearms. Instead, I started to anticipate the next catastrophe, some I got right, some I didn’t see coming, and that made the book a fun and exciting read.

The second book of the trilogy, After America, is just out with a third book yet to come. I’ve finished it and will write a review in the near future.