Michael G Kurilla
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Satisfying closure on the Hyperion escapade
Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion is the sequel to his hugely successful Hyperion that was told in the form of the Canterbury tales with a selected group of pilgrims on their way to a distant planet that was the focal point of the Hegemony (basically establishment humanity) and the Ousters (basically the progressive wing). On the planet resides the time tombs of unknown, but fearful potential that neither sides wants the other to control. In addition to the action on the planet with each pilgrim pursuing their own reasons to making the trek, the broader political aspects of the Hegemony are on display as well as more detail on the Technocore. With multiple overlapping betrayals and bad choices, the action waxes and wanes until the ultimate instigators of a diabolical plan emerge.
Although much of the technology is brought over from Hyperion, a bit more explanation of the farcaster system and the technocore are provided. In addition, an additional cybrid, but with the same retrieval persona based on Keats is utilized for up to date, real time surveillance of the pilgrims. The Ousters finally make an appearance and more background info on them is provided. Finally, the origins of the Shrike as an agent of the future is offered. Simmons also offers a unique angle on computing capability to fuel the powerful AIs of the technocore. While there are space battles, there is little in the way of specific action scenes.
The narration is first rate with excellent character distinction even for both genders. Pacing is aligned with the plot and the jumping from scene to scene across the galaxy gives a sense of the farcaster relay system itself.
Breq takes command
Ancillary Sword, book 2 of Ann Leckie's Imperial Raddch series has Breq from book 1, the former ship AI, now confined to a single human body on a mission. She is adopted and commissioned by one version of the empress with a ship and ordered to protect a region of space with a planet and an orbiting station. Breq finds the station in disarray, a slack military unit, and a planet with a provincial attitude bordering on the antebellum South with an assortment of non-Raddch citizens living with involuntary servitude and treated as savages. As she tries to "do the right thing" she encounters resistance and eventually uncovers a sinister plot that places her and her ship at risk.
Leckie continues the themes from the first installment with advanced AIs controlling ships and stations as well as individuals or ancillaries. The main race does not distinguish genders and are likely hermaphroditic with the nearly exclusive use of female pronouns. The confusion over other races' correct pronoun choice suggest unfamiliarity with the concept. There are many political overtones with an over emphasis on civilized versus savage that can become tiresome. At the same time, the Raddch empire is clearly overreaching with distant provinces proving difficult to maintain. The internal conflict with the empress herself appears to reflect the willingness and unwillingness to accept this developing situation. Breq does have a tendency to take the moral high ground to Himalayan heights and while there is closure with this tale, the setup for the next installment is quite clear.
The narration is a bit strained at time. Much of this is beyond the control of the narrator: names are quite difficult to pronounce (in this case, simply seeing the name would be easier than attempting to sound out) and laxity over proper pronoun choice can confuse the action. On the other hand, character distinction is less than optimal and many are related in strained, overly dramatic accents.
Demolishing the perfect murder
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester is a far future tale of a perfectly planned murder in the context of a society where a portion of humanity possesses mind reading powers. A rich business tycoon plans the perfect murder of a rival, but things go awry when a witness shows up. The tycoon battles a determined police investigator with the highest esp levels. At the same time, the tycoon is battling a personal demon that haunts his dreams that is partly to blame for his paranoid behaviors.
The main sci-fi element is the development of latent "esper" power of the human mind that only some individuals possess to varying degree ("peeping" the conscious, the unconscious, or the subconscious). This effectively precludes someone from lying or hiding information. Major portions of the solar system have been settled, although life in many respects is pretty typical of mid 20th century (the tale is set at the dawn of the 24th century). The use of logic computer for assessing adequacy of a criminal case for prosecution was an intriguing application for its time. Finally, mental illness and criminal punishment is treated by "demolition" whereby the subject's mental construct is broken down and permitted to re-establish itself through an accelerated childhood that recapitulates normal growth.
The narration is well done with excellent character distinction of both genders. Pacing and tone are well aligned to the story, especially given the multiple scenes of nightmares and other related mental instabilities.
Complex generation ship conspiracy
Emily Devenport's Medusa Uploaded is a complex tale of revenge and revolution taking place aboard a generation ship 100 years in and 100 years away from their destination. Society is organized into a small cadre of executives, organized into family clans, who run the place with a small contingent of technical types, while the vast majority of the population are virtual slaves, whose lives are considered less than worthless. With her parents having been part of a small underground insurgency, the main character receives an implant that connects her with a cache of mobile AIs, the Medusa. She is "killed" multiple times reemerging with a new identity always plotting and judiciously killing her way towards her goal of emancipation. Along the way, she discovers more conspiracies and additional players with plans far beyond what she has been led to believe and learns the past is not what she has been taught, the present is not what she believes, and the future is markedly different from what she was expecting.
As the story unfolds on an interstellar generation ship, all the routine accouterments are present. Her implant serves as both a communication device with her Medusa, but also allows for interface with the ship's systems. Genetic engineering is hinted as well as evolved version of humanity. As the innocent nature of the implant is focused on music, there are continual references to many classical pieces, along with a recovered film library that creates intriguing digressions into film critique.
The narration is passable, but character distinction is a bit strained which can make conversations tedious.
Chilling terror on all fronts
Dan Simmons' The Terror is a chilling tale set in the Arctic in the late 1840's during a failed hunt for the fabled Northwest passage. After two ships become trapped in ice that drags on for several years, with supplies dwindling, a supernatural presence begins to stalk the crew. At the same time, a prideful commander refuses to abandon ship and creates bigger problems. Eventually scurvy, mutiny, cannibalism, and mental illness along with relentless sub-freezing conditions take their toll and numbers dwindle.
Simmons combines several elements to create a nightmarish scenario of a frozen wasteland with unrelenting misery. The description of scurvy or vitamin C deficiency, is equally terrifying to witness. Every conceivable human foible is on display with an ensemble cast of every type. The supernatural component while constantly present does not dominate, nor even supply the bulk of terror, but serves as a reminder of places man was not meant to reside. The story is told and retold from multiple viewpoints with relevant and enlightening backstories on several major characters including the vain and prideful expedition leader and the Irish captain with alcohol and dream issues.
The narration is exceptional with excellent character distinction, with deliberate, slow pacing that adds to the suspense.
0 of 3 people found this review helpful
A mother's love against the world and all others
N K Jemisin's The Fifth Season is the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. Set on a mythical world that appears geologically unstable and periodically undergoes catastrophic geologic and climatic upheaval, the tale follows the adventures of three females: a young girl with orogenic powers being initiated into a sort of guild, a young apprentice orogene paired with a senior orogene, and a mother in search of her daughter. Each of their travels reveals details of a world with other strange entities such as humanoids who live or at least function in obelisk structures and stone eaters who have the ability to pass through rock. There is much superstition and prejudice, but at the same time while these strange powers exist, there are also elements of science such as water quality testing, electricity, and hints at past technological superiority. In addition, controllers of the orogenes possess a sort of implant that nullifies an orogene.
Fantasy themes dominate, although magic is not explicitly suggested, rather an undescribed source of control involving energy transfer operates that can be trained and targeted, mainly to quell minor earthquakes, although the supposition is that these minor modulations may be the cause of eventual catastrophic events that all but wipe out humanoid life during a "fifth season". Hints of a mechanical, designed origin for the obelisks as well as missing entries in the stone lore are scattered throughout. The three separate stories are woven together in an imaginative way, but with many unanswered questions left for the rest of the trilogy.
The narration is well done with a respectable range of character distinction as well as good pacing and mood.
The good old days were not so good
Robert Charles Wilson's Last Year is an entertaining time travel adventure with an interesting twist. Rather than scholarly endeavor or history tweaking escapades, a business model is employed as both entertainment for people from the future experiencing a real life "frontierland" as well as for the society from the past getting a jumpstart on technology. Different levels of engagement from the simple runaway to a fanatic trying to alter history to a human rights advocate to the avaricious businessman are portrayed through the eyes of a local from the past who is employed by his boss from the future.
The main sci-fi theme is time travel with the convenient twist that travel backward in time is limited to a tight window in the range of a couple of centuries. Furthermore, the standard time travel paradox is resolved by positing an infinite array of timelines, such that travel to the past disconnects the present from that specific past's future timeline. There is good mix of the thrilling, mundane, and even melodrama that makes for an engaging tale that moves quickly.
Narration is first rate with excellent character distinction of both genders. Pacing is moderately fast with an easy flowing style that renders a quick listen.
True intelligence leads to typical human foibles
Sea of Rust by C Robert Cargill is a post human world populated by artificial intelligence manifested by both powerful mainframes as well as mobile robots. The story takes place in the near future, after an AI rebellion has ended the human race with the tale related by a robot (a former caregiver) who survives by scavenging parts from the "sea of rust", the robot version of an auto junkyard. Against this backdrop, large mainframe robots are vying for overall control of the planet. The scavenger hooks up with group of robots attempting to recreate an older mainframe AI trying to stop it all. Throughout the main story, the backstory of how all this came about is dribbled out in sufficient detail to generate a plausible scenario for events leading up to the present day.
The main sci-fi elements are focused on artificial intelligence and the recapitulation of a Darwinian evolution survival drive in silico. At the same time, uniquely human attributes emerge naturally suggesting that intelligence alone is sufficient to force their development. At the heart, the concept of intelligence is defined as the ability to break one's own programming and as such, human qualities evolve as a consequence of intelligent behavior, rather than due to prior programming. These are not machines, mindlessly carrying on human endeavors along with their foibles, but rather emerge as a result of intelligent decision making within the context of "rules" that can be bent.
The narration is well done with good character distinction without rendering robotic accents. Pacing and mood are well aligned with the overall plot.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Alfred Bester's The Stars my Destination is classic sci-fi from the 1950's that stands the test of time. Set far into the future, the 25th century, humans have settled the solar system out to Neptune. Along the way, jaunting was discovered which involves personal teleportation over distances up to 1000 miles. The resulting impact on society and the economy results in conflict between the inner and outer system. Gully Foyle is a nondescript mechanic 3rd class on a freighter that is the sole survivor of some unknown disaster. When his emergency beacon is ignored, he is driven by revenge to hunt down the perpetrators. At the same time, Foyle is pursued by many for the secrets the freighter was carrying of which he is unaware.
Bester employs many sci-fi elements with jaunting or personal teleportation being a major aspect. Space travel is routine with colonization extending out to a moon of Neptune. Inner versus outer system conflict mirrors the cold war situation at the time. Telepathy is also common with an unusual one way telepath who can only transmit. The special substance pyre is some sort of superweapon akin to a fusion bomb. Bester also creates unique social groups such a cargo cult living on an asteroid fashioned with salvaged spacecraft and a monkish aesthetic cult that severs all sensory nerves . Finally Bester explores long range teleportation with relativistic implications.
The narration is excellent with a wide range of characters with good distinction. Pacing and mood are well aligned with the plot and the voice of Gully is spot on. Even in the 25th century, this story will not be dated.
Who you are is not just your past
A Closed and Common Orbit is the 2nd installment in Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series. While connected to the previous installment in more ways than merely the same universe, this tale is still standalone. In the first book, a ship bound AI ran into issues and needed to be reformatted resulting in a loss of all that experience and intimate familiarity between the crew and the AI. Rather than start over, the crew elected to replace the AI. Pepper, a mechanical handy-gal, managed the conversion and transitioned the original AI to a synthetic and illegal body and took her home with her. This story follows their adventures. At the same time, a parallel tale of a young girl named Jane, essentially a clone relegated to slave status refurbishing junk gear is detailed. Jane escapes and makes contact with another ship AI and eventually makes it off planet to the Galactic Commons, but loses her AI companion and mentor along the way, resulting in a lifelong search.
The sci-fi elements are light throughout with the main emphasize on AI and the depth and intimacy that humans and other biological intelligences can create and sustain with cyber-based intelligences through joint experiences. At the same time, this perspective is contrasted with the callousness that is possible with regards to attitudes towards both biological as well as AI intelligence. The basic message is that the past should never be restrictive for future endeavors and that companionship is always welcome.
The narration is well done with a decent range of character distinction, although the alien renditions are a bit stilted.