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

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Book Review: The “Troy Rising” Trilogy by John Ringo

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Live Free or Die, the first book in the series

I have previously reviewed John Ringo’s work, specifically his second Posleen War book, Gust Front. Truth be told, I found him to be an entertaining writer, but not necessarily one of the greats in science fiction.

However, the Troy Rising trilogy changed my perspective on him.

This first trilogy follows humanity as an alien race makes contact and extends to Earth the chance to be part of their portal network. After this occurs, Tyler Vernon, previously a webcomic artist, finds out that the aliens really like one product Earth has to offer. He ends up monopolizing this product and selling it at a high price to the aliens. As a result, he consolidates wealth and power in an attempt to better mankind’s standing within the galaxy.

There are aliens who do not see humanity as an asset, however, and would rather conquer them. The series uses this as a point of tension and plot development, going so far as to alter humanity at the genetic level.

The stakes increase from book to book, and ultimately the series builds to a satisfying third installment.

The series expands to include multiple interesting science fiction ideas:

  • First is the concept of Troy itself: a gigantic fortress created from a hollowed asteroid for the human forces to use as both a space station and a spacecraft. The size of the creation is expertly relayed to the reader, and Ringo does a good job of hitting home how amazing all of this is.
  • Second is the development of artificial intelligence. These AI are interesting in that they exist to work a single purpose, not to act as human intelligences. As such, they have unique personalities, sure, but their uniqueness as minds comes into play later in the series, and is an interesting development on its own.
  • Third is the SAPL, a system of interconnected mirrors that focus solar light/radiation. The system has been mentioned in other works, so it’s not exactly is unique idea from Ringo, but the way it’s used in the story is excellent, especially how it is specifically created for space mining. I also liked the element of AI being the only mind that could properly calculate its usage.
  • Fourth is the retrovirus that the Horvath infect humanity with at one point. This virus makes specific human females very likely to procreate, the idea being that the Horvath would eliminate more of the planet but save a select number of humans and selectively breed them to be slaves of the Horvath. It’s an interesting idea, and from a conquering alien standpoint makes sense.

(EDIT: I forgot to mention these ideas are developed in the story from science fiction, because the Earth was approached later in its development, so we had science fiction entertainment and most alien races did not.)

From this, Ringo works well to create a universe for fun science fiction that has interesting concepts, characters, and plot; this is everything you could ask for in science fiction! I would recommend it to fans of Military Science Fiction especially, but hard sci-fi fans will find some interesting ideas in it.

Book Review: Into the Black (Odyssey One) by Evan Currie

41asp2blhal-_ac_sl230_Into the Black was a book I bought blindly. I knew I liked ship-based military science fiction, so I thought I’d read it based purely on its reviews on Amazon. I was not disappointed. This is another story that was either self-published or published through Amazon’s online system.

The story follows the ship The Odyssey captained by former pilot Eric Weston. Captain Weston is the main character of the book, among a few other POV characters that are focused on throughout the story. He takes his ship on what begins as a rescue mission for a human bridge officer, but slowly transforms into a battle against instectoid aliens.

The technology is interesting, as is the setting. In this universe the Earth vessel finds that there are alien lifeforms who are human in all ways. However, these people hint at a past with the people of Earth that the Earthlings are unaware of. In addition, this book paints Earth as having a unique culture (or cultures) that causes a unique evolution of technologies that differ from the rest of humanity. I’ve always loved science fiction that explores the nature of civilizations or humanity. I also really liked the reactions of the alien humans to the military skills and strength of the Earthlings.

The technology gives The Odyssey the ability to travel instantaneously over light years. This is, of course, shocking to the alien humans, as is the advanced state of the Earthlings’ weapons systems. Otherwise, humanity lacks any technology on the scale of the aliens.

The main villains, as I mentioned, are an insectoid species that bear similarities to ants. Their ships are huge carriers and seem to give the alien humans problems, but the Earthlings seem capable of fending for themselves. They come to the aid of a bridge officer who was left adrift in space, which sets off the entire adventure.

This is not a perfect book, however. Oftentimes we would see the ship in combat and the Captain planning some heroic maneuver only to shift focus and see what a single pilot is doing flying around outside the ship, or we track an engineer through rescuing a person in her section of the ship. It threw off the pacing and seemed to exist for no reason except for a diversity in viewpoints.

In addition, two complete characters were developed and their relationships hinted at without any kind of closure by the end of the book. The characters were the weakest element in the story. It would have been better to keep perspective with simply the Captain and Milla, the alien bridge officer.

Another problem would be the pacing. The story goes from rescuing one alien to visiting two other planets. However, with instant travel they could have easily traveled home to Earth to communicate the situation and return to their mission with minor delays. The Captain waves off this suggestion in the book and it’s poorly explained in story. It was a glaring problem for me, but not enough to ruin the book.

I should mention I read the “Remastered Edition”, which corrected most of the typos and grammatical issues that apparently plagued the original. I can understand how those problems would taint an otherwise enjoyable read, but in my case the book was mostly devoid of any major issues.

Despite these criticisms, I would say this book was definitely one of my favorites in recent memory. If you liked either David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series or Jack Cambell’s “Lost Fleet” series, I would recommend this book for you.

 

 

Write What You Like

 

Planet Water Landscape Spaceship RockIt sounds simple. It even sounds like a platitude devoid of any meaning.

But it’s true.

I experienced this on a personal level. While working on my previous novel I was attempting to make some changes and realized I would never read the book. It’s not for me. I didn’t like that thought, so I started thinking: well what would I like to read?

So it occurred to me to do those simple four words: write what you like.

Thinking about it now, it seems so obvious. It makes too much sense, almost an Archimedes moment.

I like space stories with good science and action. I like fleet combat and maneuvers and soldiers fighting boarding enemies. I love all of that! Why shouldn’t I write it?

Oh I guarantee the money is elsewhere. But then, I’m not doing this for money, am I?

Book Review: Warship by Joshua Dalzelle

24292492I normally review traditionally published books, specifically reading works from Orbit, Tor, or Baen. But today I want to write about something I read that was seemingly self-published. The author, Joshua Dalzelle seems to have some military experience, so his work echoes that knowledge on the page.

Warship is about a ship called the Blue Jacket and their attempts to go about their last voyage. Captain Jackson receives a new XO from an antagonistic Admiral Winters.

While on their last voyage, they encounter destroyed planets and a possible alien ship, the first of its kind. The book centers around Captain Jackson’s attempts to confront this alien ship in a game of cat and mouse.

This book is entertaining and fun. It’s written pretty well, and contains in it a compelling story. I don’t necessarily like the ending, but the book explained it well. The politics and characters are more interesting than anything, and the book reminds me very much of Master and Commander.

All-in-all I’d recommend it for fans of ship-based science fiction. Dalzelle is a fine author and could easily have gotten this published conventionally if he wanted to.

Book Review: One Day on Mars by Travis S. Taylor

I was introduced to Travis S. Taylor thanks to his work with John Ringo. He had co-written Vorpal Blade with Ringo, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Let me start out with what I really liked: I loved the setting. The idea of a Mars rebellion against US rule mirrored the Revolutionary War perfectly. I also loved that the science was sound. Given Taylor’s physicist past it makes sense.

S950226enator Moore was an interesting character, and I would have liked him to be more developed before putting him in a scenario like this. Sure, the character was explored as he went on and the events shaped how we perceived him, but background to his character was thrown in randomly as he went on.

Another character I really liked was BIL, the garbage hauler. He was interesting and endearing, and I feel like he could have been used better. Ultimately, he was a fun addition to a story riddled with characters.

 

Unfortunately, there was a lot I didn’t like.

The Separatists were painted more as terrorists than anything, and did inhumane and barbaric acts in order for the reader to have a clear sense of what was right or wrong. Shades of grey would have been more interesting, but sometimes it’s not important. Here, it was glaringly obvious and missing. The ending sort of explained why, but not really and felt tacked on.

That also brings me to something I didn’t like: the main enemy General Ahmi. She was wholly undeveloped and mostly uninteresting. I hope she’s developed more in the later books, but in this one she was an “insert bad guy character here”.

Also long stretches of action in the bellies of the carriers kind of halted the story and felt extraneous. I didn’t find them interesting and felt like all the good stuff was missing in those stretches.

 

If it feels like I’m being harsh it’s because Vorpal Blade was so good to me. I can lend it to One Day being a solo venture, and most likely Taylor will improve in the later stories. Also I should note my version had several spelling errors and grammatical issues. I’m not a stickler for that stuff, but it does hit me when I’m reading a book that should have gone through editing.

All in all I would recommend this book, especially if you love what Baen cooks up for military science fiction. It was a good book, but could have been great.

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

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I’m reviewing all six books in the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell because the stories all sort of blended together in my mind. As far as sci-fi goes, especially military sci-fi, the books are fairly short. I also got addicted to them in a way and binged on them for a few months straight.

So with that in mind, let me give you my thoughts…

This series is great. If you like fleet strategy in a faster-than light science fiction universe you can find no better series of books. It also has some of the most convincing space combat of any book series I’ve read.

The detriment of this series are the characters. John Geary is an interesting Captain/Admiral, but he’s also a stereotype. He’s the same grizzled sailor you’ve seen a thousand times in a reluctant command situation. I would say he has no flaws, but I think his weak skills with women might be one.

Speaking of that… the lack of characters means two romantic relationships spring up and flourish without any kind of watering or care. More care is given to the combat and strategy than the people involved, and don’t even get me started on the antagonists. Geary is always one step ahead of his antagonists, which gets old quickly. Problems spring up in a chapter and are addressed in that same chapter. It’s irritating.

Don’t get me wrong. This series is fantastic, and I burned through it in a few months of obsession. I just emphasize the lack of character because it feels like this universe (and author) has so much potential. The combat situations are well-thought out and realistic. The struggle of a changing military and a relic of the past is an interesting one, but squandered. I hope that the two spin off series have more development.

Book Review: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

onbasiliskstationDavid Weber’s On Basilisk Station is widely considered a masterpiece of military science fiction. The main character Honor Harrington is very much a sprout from the same seed as Hornblower, and the setting is a rich and interesting one.

As far as the story goes, the novel explores Honor Harrington, a Captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy, an imperialist and aristocratic institution. Honor and her crew are assigned to Basilisk Station, a dead-end job of sorts, but while there discover a plot that they intervene in.

The space action is well-written and the political situation is explored robustly, but I feel like this book needed to develop some of the ideas it had before actually implementing them. In some cases, entire ideas in the technology and strategies employed were introduced the chapter before they were used (this is a problem of writing I see in MSF as a genre).

That’s not to say that the book isn’t remarkable. Weber is a skilled writer, and Honor is a fascinating character. I know she isn’t as developed in this book as I would have liked, but this is a series and likely intended to be one from the start.

If you like books like that, you will like On Basilisk Station.

Book Review: Gust Front by John Ringo

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The sequel to A Hymn Before Battle, this book takes place after the events of the first. The Posleen are on their way, and it’s up to Mike O’Neal and the rest of the military of Earth and the Galactics to defend the entire galaxy from their invasion. Unfortunately, their path leads them straight to Earth.

Gust Front is an interesting form of military science fiction, a book that takes the combat and strategy seriously in the face of fantastical scenarios. Ringo knows about the military, being a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, and it shows. The combat is realistic and the jargon used is effective in conveying a living military.

The story is that the impending invasion of Earth is coming, so the forces of the planet focus on defending large fortresses while essentially tossing away sections of the country. The planning as far as deciding how to defends specific regions of the United States are interesting, and show a knowledge of military tactics missing in other books of this genre.

However, the book does get bogged down in battle so much that it seemingly forgets about characters or certain storylines until the end of the book. Mike gets stuck away from the battle, and the focus switches to the battle in Virginia. The entire plot thread following Mike’s wife on a starship is essentially forgotten about until a short sentence is thrown in at the end of the book mentioning it.

Without spoiling too much, the story develops exactly as expected, and certain things from the first book are brought back for lighthearted effect. It works well, and is a fun addition to see elements from the previous book. Mike is still an interesting character, though I felt like he’s almost “hero man” without flaw or development. However, that’s not so much a detraction if you know that he’s that type of character.

I should also mention the book is over 700 pages long, but I read through it in about two weeks. It’s captivating, interesting, and a perfect example of how to do ground combat right in military science fiction.