Science Fiction

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Read: Rise of the Terran Empire

The decline and the fall of the Polesotechnic League: The style, approach, and content is different but Anderson’s (short) novels reminded me of Asimov’s Foundation. It is grand.

I liked the “intergalactic entrepreneur as hero”-theme; I would have liked to read more of it. Cut-throat, scheming business men, space exploration, (inter-species) camaraderie, and philanthropic, culture-preserving, selfless acts, and maybe a tad too much space battle make for very good entertainment (and laymen social science).

As this book marks the end of the Polesotechnic League trilogy collection it is also a new beginning. Let’s see what the collection of Flandry novels will offer.

Read: Black Order

With now having read the third book in a series by James Rollins, he is now officially part of my rotation.

Black Order is a nice mix of action adventure, thriller, and science fiction. It is certainly not (high brow) literature but it is good for relaxing a couple of hours. Even though the characters (within a given book) still remain a bit flat, over the course of several novels in the series there is now some noticeable character development.

And even though I did not want to think (much) while reading the (such a) book, there was an interesting take on intelligent design.

Two things annoyed me.

First, the publisher should spend some money on a foreign language editor before a book is printed. There are some foreign language words and phrases (as it happens, most of them in German) that are just plain wrong. At least once I could only get the meaning after trying to conceive how an automatic translation would translate that phrase. At any rate, the title of the book should be translated correctly: And no, “Black Order” is not “Schwarzer Auftrag.”

Second, the book could have ended one supernatural experience earlier.

Read: David Falkayn: Star Trader

Reading Anderson’s Technic Civilization Sage makes you feel like a historian who tries to piece together the story of a society long gone by looking at a few personal accounts, by following the exploits, the fates and fortunes, of a few exceptional individuals. There are no records of ordinary persons.

You may get romantic notions of adventures, reckless and successful quests. And yet, Anderson manages to also show the dark(er) side, to hint at the fate of those left behind. That is quite an accomplishment. I still believe that not writing a unified tome (with multiple time lines, going back and forth), not putting everything in one book but having a collection of short stories and novellas is cause for how much better this work seems compared to other, more recent space operas.

The self-contained small(er) pieces are fun to read. You a read a story and you can put down the book feeling (entertained and) satisfied and rewarded. Reading never becomes chore, you do not have to read on so that something …anything happens! Instead a lot is happening in just a few pages. Of course, the frequent re-introductions of the protagonists are repetitive but some new facets are added to the characters every time and so you do not mind.

A final observation, though. While the physics (as far as you can expect from a science fiction novel) and economics seems sound (ok, this is not a textbook) I am not so sure about the armchair sociobiology that Anderson is feeding his readers. On the other hand, given that the short stories and novellas were written in the 60s and early 70s he was certainly was at the forefront of the idea that and how biological factors (like being a herbivore, carnivore, omnivore) determine individual social behavior and society. E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology was only published in the mid-70s.

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.

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