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: 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: 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: Fallen Dragon

  • Galactic empires; time travel; genetic and technological (self) enhancements; a romantic, tragic hero; and a strong moral: what is there not to like?

    At first it took me a while to see the link between the different time strands; I blame the medium. Reading an ebook is different from reading the printed text. The link was rather obvious, the protagonist at different ages, different levels of experience and maturity.

    One aspect that made Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon interesting was the political and economic system in place in this future vesion of our society. Not so different of what we have now, therefore the more credible. Nations states still exist, yet the decisions are made by and within the big companies, “public” services are provided rather by them, consumed by their employees and owners; participation in society and economic and social progress is via stakeholding in a company. Being an owner is having a voice, being able to progress through the ranks within the company, determining one’s own fate, being able to escape. There are, of course, prositive and negative sides to this way of organizing society. Hamilton very frankly spells them out, at least a few of them, without pushing the reader too strongly in a particular direction; embracing or condeming it. After all, freedom of choice and assuming responsibilty can arise from within this systen and from opposing it.

Read: Ensign Flandry

  • Obviously, my vacation reading list contains more books than I could possibly read during one vacation. The idea is rather to get started with a larger set of authors. The final author on my vacation reading list is Poul Anderson. Anderson wrote a lot of different series, primarily Science Fiction. For reading during my two summer weeks off I picked the first Dominic Flandry Novel: Ensign Flandry, first published in the sixties.

    The novel describes a military / political conflict between the star-faring earth and some alien nation, mostly from the viewpoint of the young Ensign Flandry. The conflict focuses seemingly on one rather insignificant planet with two sentient races. Both races receive help from one of the two protagonist races, one of which is earth’s mankind. Though this is only a smoke screen. The ultimate goal is galaxy’s hegemony.

    The novel is a nice example of the ways of international diplomacy. It is written within a futuristic Science Fiction setting. Yet, it could have been as well set on earth in our current time or immediate past as far as political or military strategy is concerned.

    I wonder how Anderson develops his character Flandry in the next novels. So far, Flandry’s success seems to be a result of chance and accidents. Nevertheless – or maybe because of this –, he seems quite likable.