Containment (Christian Cantrell)

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287 pages, 2010

287 pages, 2010

When I picked it up, Containment seemed like an interesting choice. It picks an interesting location to set its story: a colony on Venus. It’s not exactly a setting that you see everyday, even in science fiction. The planet is just considered too unforgiving to set up shop. Naturally, I wanted to see how the topic was handled. Hard sci-fi, check. Interesting premise, check. Writer I’d never heard of before, check.

As it turns out, the reality falls a little short, and the result is a highly flawed book with occasional flashes of brilliance. Some parts are really good, while others just drag on and on. In the end, Containment had many of the makings of being a modern hard sf classic, but unfortunately was unable to put them together in a satisfying way. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the jump.

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Short Reviews: Man Against the Future (Brian L. Young)

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202 p, 2011

202 p, published 2011

Back at the end of October, I met Bryan L. Young hawking his books while waiting to attend a panel led by Billy West (the voice actor). He slipped me a small pamphlet, containing his story “An Original”. I read through it then, and thought it was a pretty good story, if a little short side. Then and there I bought his short story collection “Man Against the Future” and his novel “Operation Montauk”.

Unfortunately “Man Against the Future” ended up being a really, really uneven collection of stories, and I nearly threw down the book about halfway through because of one story. I’m glad I stuck with it, because I think the best story in the collection is near the end, and it turned it around from being really unpleasant to mildly unpleasant.

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Liminal States (Zack Parsons)

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Zack Parsons, 448 pages, 2012

Zack Parsons, 448 pages, 2012

I confess that I occasionally read the front page stories of somethingawful.com, where Zack “Geist Editor” Parsons is a regular contributor. I usually read his pieces, which include things like “William Gibson Correctly Predicts the Internet of 2013” and “The Overly Optimistic Futurist’s Guide to Dating in the Post-Singularity“. They’re wonderfully weird, and usually very good pastiches of other writing styles. So, when I came across Liminal States in the bookstore, I was understandably excited to pick it up. Fortunately, it mostly lived up to my expectations.

For those of you who may be interested in the book, beware, there are spoilers ahead. To make my recommendation notes short: While the story draws off a taproot of science fiction and horror, its three acts are presented as different genres: western, detective, and thriller. My only real problem with it is that parts of the book are slow reading (especially towards the end of the second act). Otherwise, the prose is technically excellent and occasionally beautiful. A solid story, read it if you’ve got the time for a 400-odd page novel.

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The Pit of Lovecraft

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A trope that seems to pop up occasionally in stories that I read is something I’ve begun calling “The Pit of Lovecraft”. The theme seems fairly standardized: people discover some sort of unspeakably alien and utterly ancient artifact, attempt to study and/or weaponize it, and then through some catastrophic failure, unleash their research on the world. Once unleashed, the world is irreversibly altered and unfit for human existence. I call it “The Pit of Lovecraft” because the objects are contained underground or within a pit, and the results are usually Lovecraftian in nature.

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Roadside Picnic (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky)

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Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, originally published 1972 - retranslated 2012, 209 pages

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, original English publication 1977 and retranslated 2012, 209 pages

Roadside Picnic is considered one of the great examples of Soviet science fiction. First published in English in 1972, the book received new translation in 2012, along with a forward by Ursula K. LeGuin and an afterword by Boris Strugatsky about the struggles of getting the book through Soviet censorship controls. All three are a fascinating read.

The book has also resonated in the realm of pop culture, inspiring the Soviet film Stalker (1979) and the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (2007). The story concerns a researcher paid to explore the site of an extraterrestrial visit and bring artifacts back to safe zones for study. However, he finds a growing temptation to return to illegally recovering the artifacts for sale on the black market as his life begins to spin out of control.

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Dancing With Eternity (John Patrick Lowrie)

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John Patrick Lowrie, 402 pages - 2011

John Patrick Lowrie, 402 pages – 2011

What happens when death becomes all but a bad memory? Do we eventually forget about it, or does our fear of it become even stronger? This is the main question that Dancing With Eternity poses, but John Patrick Lowrie goes much further in his exploration of humanity after it’s figured out a way to conquer death.

One of the nice things about medium-scale conventions is the ability to meet or read material from relatively unknown authors and sample their work in a way that you can’t in bookstores or over the internet. I picked up Dancing With Eternity at the GMX convention in Nashville, TN back in October. Valve (the gaming company) had a booth there, staffed by Ellen McLain (who most probably know as the voice of GLaDoS in Portal). Her husband, John Patrick Lowrie, wasn’t present, but she was selling his book at the booth. After a few kind words, I picked up the book. I don’t regret it one bit.

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All’s Quiet On The Writing Front…

Yes, it’s been nearly a month since the last review, but fear not, I’ve spent much of my Thanksgiving break busy reading. Reviews will be along as soon as I can finish some grad school applications and a couple of projects that need to be wrapped up by the end of the semester. There’s also the matter of digesting the sheer volume of material I read. Between scientific articles, science fiction, and my daily forum rounds, I would guess that I’ve read close to 2,000,000 words in five days.
Anyway, on the docket:

  • Dancing With Eternity – A debut sci-fi novel by John Patrick Lowrie, published last year by Camel Press. I’ll have a full review coming up soon, but I would like to go ahead and recommend it anyway. There’s adventure, technology, and insight into what it means to be human. Would make a great gift for Christmas (ages 16+) Done
  • Man Against the Future (Brian Young) Done
  • The Forever War (Joe Haldeman)
  • Old Man’s War Series (John Scalzi)
  • Various William Gibson
  • Pump Six and Other Stories (Paolo Bacigalupi)
  • Convergent Series (Larry Niven)
  • Roadside Picnic (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky) – Sadly, I learned later on that in a weird coincidence, Boris Strugatsky died the night I read this. Done

There are some other books that I would like to get read over winter break. How much will get read remains to be seen. Some of the things I need to get finished or would really like to read soon:

  • Accelerando (Charles Stross) – started this one over the summer, and got a third of the way through before other things got in the way
  • Ringworld (Larry Niven) – same as above
  • The Stories of Ibis (Hiroshi Yamamoto)
  • The Case for Mars (Robert Zubrin) – kind of straddles the line between sci-fi and advocating for a Mars mission with current and near future technologies.
  • Cryptic (Jack McDevitt)
  • Lightspeed Magazine (Issues 28, 29, 30, and 31) – part of my attempt to read the monthly magazines and review some interesting new stories. Haven’t quite caught up enough to do this yet, though.

There’s more that I would like to read but I haven’t started those yet. Thanksgiving was at least good for cutting down on the number of books that I had laying around started, but never finished.

A couple of quick notes

Sorry for the slightly extended absence, I’ve been fairly busy in the last couple weeks. This last weekend I attended GMX Volume 4 in Franklin, TN, and met a few sci-fi authors who got me interested in their work. So, I have a few books from some authors you may not have heard of, and will be reviewing their work in the upcoming weeks. Assuming, that is, I don’t get sidetracked with NaNoWriMo, which I’m planning to participate in. November may be a little quiet here. Just a heads up.