Book Review

REVIEW: Earthcent series (4/5 stars)


Date Night on Union Station (EarthCent Ambassador #1)Date Night on Union Station by E.M. Foner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I originally read Date Night (First in the earthcent series) because I read a few good reviews and it was both short and cheap.
As of now there are 12 stories that are more long novellas then novels. I normally don’t go for stories of this length but for Earthcent it works.

Roughly two generations before the start of Date Night some very powerful AI’s saw that earth was on the brink of an economic collapse that could have taken centuries to recover from so they stepped up to make us a protectorate.
Earthcent is the diplomatic and quasi governmental arm that the AI’s created.

The stories are the opposite of what you expect. They are about the mostly normal problems that a growing list of characters have. It is sort of a slice of life with sci-fi problems, like how to attract alien businesses to earth (so we can be taught how to make some advanced tech) and how to deal with counterfeit earth exports. All this is done without violence. It is nice to see sci-fi stories which could not double as action movies. In place of the action, it has humor. And while not Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy it has made me laugh out loud more then once.

I will say though that there is a large cast of characters that grows with each story so its best to read them close together.

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Review: Spin

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spin is a high concept novel. It starts with one idea then extrapolates from there.

The idea is that suddenly a sphere surrounds the earth, and the stars go out. We learn that time passes much faster for us then the rest of the universe, so much faster that in forty or fifty years, were the barrier to fall (it was providing us with normal sunlight, tides and such) we would all die because the sun would no longer be able to support life on earth.

More then anything, it’s a disaster story. Its told from the point of view of a person who is adjacent to people who are studying the spin, and making decisions, even though he is not. It takes place over a long period of time. It starts when the main character is ten and ends when he is fortyish.
It is a very intelligent, if pessimistic, projection of how people would react and how the world at large would react.
I will say that its not big on character arc’s. There are some but its not a focus of the book. It reads more like the diary of the best friend of a important figure.

While the book did drag on a bit it is a very good story, I am looking forward to reading the sequels.

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Review: The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Three Body Problem is a Chinese science fiction, which I admit was part of the appeal to me. I have been hearing about it off and on for years. It has won many awards. It is one of the few, if not only Chinese science fiction to gain such acclaim in the west.

Light spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

There are three main threads. The first starts in the communist revolution of China. The second is a video game modeled after the life of an alien race, and the last is set in modern times.
The first thread, set just after the revolution, defines why things are the way they are and provides an important context for the rest of the novel. Even before the big payoff the setting is interesting (if depressing) in its own right.
The video game in some ways is the most interesting. It uses human references and metaphors to tell the story of an alien race. Trying to understand what the game is about and why it is telling is part of the fun of the book.
The modern thread is more about watching outcomes then anything else. Things have been in motion for decades. Wang (main character) is trying to figure out what is going on.

One of the large ideas of the book is how people deal with knowing there are aliens. One of the ideas is that the type of aliens doesn’t matter. The fact that they exist is all that matters.
The science is impeccable. It was vitally important that the author understand how the process of science works for the plot of the book and he pulled it off easily.

The book is very good. It was a pleasure to read such a well thought out story that had so many layers.

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Review: Freefall

Freefall by Felix R. Savage

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Freefall was definitely hard science fiction. It also had elements of a spy thriller and a Project Manhattan style race. That may make it sound scattershot but its not.

Spoilers ahead, you have been warned (I will keep them light however)

Just after the shuttle program is shut down we detect an alien ship in orbit of one of the moons of Jupiter. The book is about our reaction to this. The leaders of the world decide they have to send a ship there and at minimum make sure it’s no threat (the ship looks like its dead in space) and at best grab everything not nailed down.
In pursuit of this, the entire worlds supply of rockets are used over the course of two years to put our new ship and its supplies into orbit. To make the ship itself requires a massive level of resources from the five richest nations on earth. Many authors would underestimate the scope of the resources needed, but Felix R. Savage did not.
Beyond the money spent, the government (at least the US) was willing to lie, steal and kill to get the technologies needed to make the ship work.

One of my pet peeves is when books show everyone as selfish, or evil with little redeeming characteristics. While freefall does not go that far, and many of the characters exist in a shade of gray, it does veer in that direction. The main character, Jack Kildare, is a main part of the reason this does not became too much of an issue. He is a good man who really only wants to just be an astronaut.

The scope of the book, in concept and scope truly made it a pleasure to read and I am looking forward to reading the sequels.

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