Science Fiction

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Read: The Van Rijn Method

A good work of science fiction, a space opera does not need to be a monolithic (and maybe even multi-volume) tome. In fact, the collection of short stories and novella(s) that I have just begun proves to be much more enjoyable than some of the tomes that I have read recently.

Poul Anderson’s Technic Civilization Saga really makes me wonder why today’s authors choose to write these huge tomes with a story that drags on and on and needs to be constantly interrupted with a second and third (sub)plot to create the illusion of breath taking action and a plot with substance.

A short story allows to play with a single idea, to focus on one single message. As soon as the point is made the author can stop. It’s like a good speech that does neither exhaust the topic nor the audience. The reader hungers for more.

The novella, then, allows to develop the characters, and the social and economic context in the necessary detail. There is no need for interrupting (sub)plots. A story is told that fits into a larger whole.

As a result every part of the collection brings something new. Reading it does never feel like a chore. It is fast paced. Yet, despite the many different characters that provide the context the reader is never lost. Hence, there is no need for a list of characters or a glossary that you find so often in more modern science fiction and fantasy.

More specifically, reading The Van Rijn Methods evokes the feeling of being a historian working with primary sources. The short stories and novella are pieces of a big puzzle. Maybe some pieces are missing so some parts of the puzzle will show fewer and some parts more details. The gaps are good. Every piece is different. Every piece entertains. Every piece has its own message. I am looking forward to the next six volumes of the collection. And this time, there is no fear that Anderson may not be able to keep up with the standard his first volume has set.

Read: Misspent Youth

This is certainly not Hamilton’s best novel. Honestly, Misspent Youth was not at all what I expected. Maybe I should have.

While, e.g., Magary’s The End Specialist was dealing with a cure for death’s effect on society: what happens if immortality is introduced, Misspent Youth deals with the impact of the first rejuvenation – also a form of a cure for death – on its immediate environment. Given Hamilton being renowned for space operas – and the last I have read I really liked – I did not expect a family drama. I did not expect to read about the adventures of a randy octogenarian in the body of a 20 year old.

The backdrop, however, is quite interesting. The political and economic outlook into the nearest future was not too far fetched and, despite the exaggeration, credible. Indeed, I would have preferred to read more about this society …without all the drivel about the protagonist’s and his family’s lifestyle.

Read: Orphaned Worlds

Cobley keeps up with the pace of Seeds of Earth. Yet, the second book in his “Humanity’s Fire” trilogy losses some appeal compared to the first one.

Orphaned Worlds has too many battles and too many unnecessary technical details in their description. In contrast to the first book the various plot lines feel diverging, the size of the cast results in some confusion. It is a bit strenuous to keep all the different persons and plot lines in mind. Killing a character and bringing him back is fine, doing it twice is not. And ending the book with even multiple cliffhangers is really a turn-off.

Still, good enough.

Read: Seeds of Earth

British Science Fiction / Space Opera is a genre of its own, isn’t it? With Seeds of Earth Michael Cobley has earned his place among much more known authors of the genre.

There was nothing really that I did not like. Yes, he switches the perspective and plot line with every new chapter what I often cannot stand as it just disguises a lack of plot and clear thought. Yet, here, there is structure. Here, it works quite well.

And there is certainly enough “plot.” The story is well planned and there was even a plot twist that I did not anticipate. It’s nice to be surprised. I think this indicates the quality of the writing. Too often everything is too obvious.

Maybe the aliens aren’t alien enough and there are humans everywhere. Yet, like so many successful and good (two different things) science fictions authors he anticipates social and technological developments – or at least the fear of them

My only sorrow is that there are another three tomes in the series (at the moment). How likely is it that Cobley can keep up the pace and is able to entertain that well?

Read: The End Specialist

Drew Magary’s The End Specialist (or the USA version The Postmortal) is interesting for (at least) two reasons. The first is, of course, the idea to explore the consequences on an individual and societal level of finding a cure for aging. (Was Malthus right, will we suffer horribly from population growth after all?) The second is the literary style of writing such explorations in the form of a personal (b)log, giving the particular perspective of a single individuum.

While I feel that Magary does not take full advantage of the blog approach, it allows for leaving many gaps (in the time sequence of the story, the protagonist’s development, and the details of his fictitious world) that otherwise would be perceived negatively.

The bit parts remain absolutely undeveloped, the political and economic ramifications of the elimination of natural death are not spelled out in greater detail, only minor bits and pieces that have an immediate effect on the protagonist are made explicit. Hence, The End Specialist may disappoint a little on the exploration of the individual and societal consequences of the end of death expectation that the reader may have had before reading the novel. Other science fiction novels do a much better job on this end.

Yet, The End Specialist’s moral is clear. “The cure for death must never … be legalized.” At least as long as we all have to stay on earth.

Read: I am number four

With all the excitement this summer, culminating in leaving my job at Jacobs University Bremen and my moving back to Berlin after 15 years or so working in Thuringia and then Bremen, I fell a bit behind with my reading list and with my “bookkeeping”. To keep things short (as some time has already passed since I finished the book), I am number four, the book, is much better than I am number four, the movie. Still, I will remove all the other Lorien Legacies novels from my to-buy list…

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