Book Review: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick

seven-views-of-olduvai-gorgeI don’t know if it’s cheating to review this, but I received a small pamphlet, about 40 pages long, of Mike Resnick’s novella “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”. Since I read it as a single bound material, I guess it counts as a “book review”.

I liked this story! I really enjoyed it after a small adjustment period.

The story follows alien scientists researching the origins of humanity, who has gone extinct thousands of years ago. Humanity was an empire that stretched across the stars, but they began from a small world called Earth. There are seven flashbacks related to seven artifacts recovered related to humanity, and the scientists learn more about human nature as it goes on. Ultimately, it shows how humanity came about, and how it grew to become the dominant force in the galaxy.

Mike Resnick is renowned for his prose, and this story is no exception. His still with words is fantastic, and as a writer, his ability to plot out fiction shines through.

“Seven Views” is a fantastic story, and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in science fiction. It’s a great story about human nature.

The ending, without getting into spoilers, is a great way to cap the crescendo on human nature.


 

You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson

20518786Steven Erikson is well known for his series “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, a dark fantasy series. When I heard he had written a Star Trek parody called Willful Child, I was intrigued.

There are a few points that I should tackle up front. First, I understand there have been comparisons made between Willful Child and Redshirts by John Scalzi. To be fair, I’ve never read Mr. Scalzi’s Redshirts, so I can’t speak to any comparisons. Second, the book is considered by many to be lacking in the quality department. I don’t believe this is accurate, as I’ll explain later, but there is an element of humor related to the original series of Star Trek that many people may not catch.

With that out of the way, let me say this: I loved this book. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, as people have said about Malazan, but I would say it was entertaining and drove me to read it within a short time period.

Erikson hit a perfect stride with the character of Captain Hadrian Sawback. The character is an extreme parody of Captain Kirk. He’s brash, intelligent, extremely chauvinist, and sexually driven. He hits on basically every female character and breaks protocol to travel on away missions (despite being the captain).

Honestly, some of the jokes don’t hit. He makes many jokes and absurd situations, many of which made me smile or outright laugh. There’s many that don’t work, though, and it’s a shame.

To be fair, the book is entertaining and fun and exciting. It’s somewhat episodic (it’s a parody of Star Trek: The Original Series, remember?) but it’s a good read.

I’d recommend it if you like absurd science fiction.


If you like this review, you may like these others:

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Book Review: The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright

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(This is Book 2 of the Eschaton Sequence, and the sequel to Count to a Trillion, which I reviewed in the past.)

The Eschaton Sequence, these five books published by Tor and written by John C. Wright, are interesting and imaginative. There’s a lot to sort through, and a vast amount of world-building not easily summed up in one blog post about a single volume in the series.

But I’ll do my best.

This book is fantastic for those who don’t mind large swaths of information dumped on you within the first three chapters. Ultimately, I enjoyed it towards the end, finding some of the best writing towards the latter half of the book. Some of the personal accounts, as they were relayed from specific characters’ points of view, struck me as either a A Canterbury’s Tale or Hyperion type of influence (Hyperion was itself influenced by A Canterbury’s Tale). The editing is awful, however, as obvious spelling errors seemed to fly by the editor’s watch; I expected more from Tor for this volume (of which I paid for the hardcover full price to treasure on my shelf).

The Hermetic Millennia is a direct sequel to Count to a Trillion, so if you hadn’t read that one yet, I recommend stopping here. Spoilers ahead! You have been warned. You can skip ahead to where it says “Spoilers Over”.

This book jumped quickly from the mid-third millennia of the first book (2050ish AD?) to the year 10,000 AD (with a couple slight stops on the way). Menelaus is trying to maintain control of human history and evolution while being thwarted by the Hermeticists every step along the way. Multiple evolutionary off-shoots of humanity spring up over time, and the reasons for their specific focuses are explored early on and later in the book. It’s an interesting element.

As far as the characters go, Menelaus himself is as fascinating as he was before, but the Blue Men, the main antagonists in the book, are lifeless and boring. The younger of their group, and a female that’s introduced later, are interesting, but by the time they got development it was too late. Likewise, the Chimerae, the militaristic group of caste-based genetically-created humans, have interesting elements to them, but not enough time to develop and I honestly forgot about the characters, since they faded away in the story over time.

The build up in the book is towards the mystery of the Blue Men as they dig into a tomb of Menelaus’ design, while searching for the person they refer to as “the Judge of Ages”. This is the mythological term for Menelaus himself. All of this builds to the ending of the book, and…

…nothing happens. The planning for an attack, a revolution, goes nowhere. The book just ends. I get that it’s essentially part two of a five part series, but a complete story would have been nice.

Spoilers Over

Despite this, Wright’s writing is on point. He’s a fantastic writer with a great handle on metaphor and imagery. I love the use of dialogue to tell the story, especially in interviews of specific characters.

I would recommend this if you liked the first book.


 

See if you like my other posts!

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

 

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Sc48The story of a military recruit entering into a space program seems commonplace in science fiction these days. There have been any number of attempts, from Marko Kloos’ Terms of Enlistment to Ender’s Game, but the original “Space Cadet” novel was by Robert Heinlein in 1948.

This book was one of Heinlein’s “Juveniles“. These were books meant to appeal to a teenage boy audience and inspire scientific ideas. Interestingly, he also wrote three stories for girls with a female protagonist, but that’s for another day.

The main character is Matt Dodson, but he often takes a secondary role. In the beginning, we learn about the Patrol and their efforts in our solar system. We learn about aliens and colonists and the state of governments in the future. It’s explained early on that the Patrol exists to make sure war never breaks out again.

However, things are a little more confusing than that. 

Space Cadet is one of those books that grabs you half-way through and forces you to keep reading. I was hooked at that point and refused to put it down. The part on Venus is a little odd, and almost jarring. It was interesting to see the characters interact in a situation like that, but the main character stopped feeling like the main character at that point. Also, the ending felt a little underwhelming.

Ultimately, I would recommend this for anyone who’s interested in some of Heinlein’s earlier work; it was the second of his “Juveniles”, which culminated in Starship Troopers as his thirteenth attempted entry.

Book Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

1632-Eric_Flint_(2000)_cover1632 is a hard book to describe. It’s often listed with “alternate history” and “science fiction”, but it’s hard to nail down; it has elements of both.

Eric Flint has created an entire “Ring of Fire” universe with 1632. He gave birth to a regular anthology of short stories, spin off novels, and numerous sequels all set in the same universe.

1632 is the story of a small town named Grantville, WV which gets transported back in time to 1632, during the Thirty Years’ War. These Americans find themselves in Germany during a period of royalty and aristocracy. They are also the most technologically advanced society of the age.

The event that kicks off everything in the book is not explained, but the characters must deal with it. Ultimately, what we get is a story that’s both interesting and fun.

Interestingly, Flint and his co-writers in the Ring of Fire series have had to track characters who were transported back in time, because they saw too many ex-military characters would appear as a result of an author’s needs.

I really liked this book. I honestly thought I already did a review of it, but I didn’t see one. There’s a ton of interesting elements, from Gustavus Aldolphus interacting with the Americans and coming to respect their point of view, to the town converting a vehicle to a “war machine” and seeing the locals’ reactions.

I really liked that last one, by the way. Flint made sure the reader understood that these 17th century people weren’t mindless. They understood that machines were able to move things, and when they saw the diesel-powered vehicle, they didn’t think it was powered by magic, but weren’t sure how it was powered.

Also of note was the way people thought back then compared to how people thought now. One of the characters remark that the Americans are all commoners who think like nobility. It was an interesting concept.

All in all, I would recommend this one to anyone who likes character driven stories and alternate history.


 

Check out my other blog posts:

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

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Van Vogt is an author I was unfamiliar with growing up. I read the book Slan because of the nudging of a friend. He recommended the book because he thought A. E. van Vogt was one of the most under appreciated authors in science fiction history.

I’m inclined to agree.

This book was fantastic.

There were parts of Slan that felt dated. Certainly the lingo used and the manner of speaking in dialogue. The main part that hit me as dated was how Kathleen, the female tendriled slan, is used in the book.

Slan is about a society in the far future where a supposed war had broken out between humans and advanced humans called slans. As a result, there are slans who live as humans, hiding in plain sight, but humans are afraid of these advanced humanoids. Slans possess terrifying powers to read minds, and the main character Jommy uses his intellect to get creative with technology to advance this ability.

Jommy is originally introduced as a child, and the book follows him and Kathleen as they grow up separated and try to survive in this world of oppression.

By far the best aspect of this book is how any twists and turns the story takes. One chapter Jommy is living with Granny trying to survive on the streets. The next chapter, he is plotting how to steal a starship. It’s fantastic.

Of note is a fantastic ending, and a perfect bow to the story at the end.

If you like older science fiction, especially the works of Asimov or Heinlein, I would recommend Slan to you.


You might like some of my other book reviews:

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Or maybe my work on writing:

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

Is Writing Every Day Necessary?

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

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I used the cover I was used to for this book, growing up. It caught my eye because of how goofy it looked, and as a kid I wanted to see other kids in science fiction situations.

Honestly, Orson Scott Card’s most well-known book is one of my favorite books of all time, so it’s worth going through as a book review.

The main character is Ender Wiggin, a “third”. In this society parents are typically limited to two kids at a time. As a result, kids who are “thirds” are disrespected and treated poorly. Of note are his two siblings: Peter and Valentine. Peter is a kind of sadistic sociopath, while Valentine is a kind and loving person.

The story starts with Ender being tested for his capabilities. He is enrolled in battle school to learn to fight the “buggers”, aliens who apparently attacked Earth long ago, and Ender does progressively well. There’s a cast of interesting characters from across the planet (this was released in 1985, and one of the characters is from the Soviet Union). Of note are the zero gravity games, and their mechanics. Then, the twist at the end is widely regarded as one of the best in science fiction.

Critical reception was fairly positive. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a rare achievement.

I think my only problems with the novel have to do with the characters. Ender is interesting enough, but Peter is purely evil and Valentine purely good. I always hated that. Real people aren’t like that, and maybe you can argue that from Ender’s perspective that was the case, but Peter should have had something redeemable about him.

Likewise, I take issue to the 3/4 mark in the book, when Ender is established at battle school and they start to throw whatever they can at him to beat him. At that point it felt like there was little to no tension. Then, moving him to another kind of school with other characters felt pointless (at first). There was no tension in the simulated fights, because they were simulated to the character. He wasn’t risking anything by fighting simulations.

Overall, I hope you don’t take away that I dislike this book. It’s honestly one of the best science fiction books I’ve ever read. I have recommended it to friends who aren’t into science fiction and they loved it. It isn’t perfect, by any means.

(NOTE: Card himself has come to be something of a pariah in the science fiction community. I have no interest in his political opinions, and as such am reviewing this purely on the book’s merits. However, I think context is important: Card is a devout Mormon. As such, he has taken the Mormon position on homosexuality and gay marriage, and though I may disagree with him, I won’t burn his books because of it. )

Once again, I highly recommend Ender’s Game for anyone who is interested in science fiction.


 

Check out my other reviews!

Book Review: “The Lost Fleet” Series by Jack Campbell

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Also check out my posts on writing:

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

When To Completely Rewrite

Also make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Good Questions in Science Fiction

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It seems simplistic to say that “good” science fiction will pose a question, but I truly believe that. The greatest scifi books I have ever read has dealt with questions like “what would happen if…”

There is no requirement that scifi ask a question, but I think it helps.

So then, with that out of the way, how do you write good questions?

Oh it’s very easy to have your protagonist muse over the question while sipping coffee. But is that the best way? Maybe it’s best to make the readers pose the question themselves as a result of your writing?

I think the best questions in science fiction are asked by the author and answered by his or her work. That is how you write great science fiction.

Pursuing Your Dreams

realm-of-dreams-28Chasing after the long shot is what made America into what it is today. Entrepreneurs who built businesses, engineers who built bridges, and artists who imagined the future created the future we’re in today.

I sometimes think the division between “wealth” and “dreams” is too wide, unless you desire wealth as your dream. For me, I want to have my work read. I want to be published to the masses and my books to be discussed. I seek readership.

That’s my dream. I think I’ll keep fighting for it.