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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

Posted by Zumbs on September 8, 2012

keeping it real coverA few years into the future, an accident in the Superconducting Supercollider rips a hole between 7 realms, reshaping our reality in the process (fun, almost prescient, variation on the LHC black hole scare a few years after the book was published). Realms of demons, elves, faeries, magic and even weirder creatures become accessible – or were they created by the event? In the years that followed, humanity began to interact with the new creatures and mystical forces, trying to find its footing.

Our story starts in 2021, 6 years after the accident. The diplomatic relations between Earth and the Alfheim (home of the elves) are so bad that the borders have been closed.

The heroine, Agent Lila Black, is an undercover operative, charged with the protection of elven rock singer Zal. She is also a prototype of an augmented agent: After a terrible experience that left her body shredded, most of it has been replaced with cybernetic implants, and she even has an Artificial Intelligence at her disposal. This makes her pretty much the antithesis of the regular elf, who rely on magic and despise technology.

Zal, however, isn’t the regular elf. Regular elves play the flute and treat their bodies as a temple. Zal is a rock singer with all that entails. In fact, he is so controversial that he has been receiving multiple death threads, some even from the Jayon Daga – the Elvish Secret Service.

Imaginative, magical, well written, interesting. If you have a sweet tooth for cyberpunk or fantasy, I expect this book to be right up your alley. The setting may seem a bit like Shadowrun, and there are definite similarities, but Robsons world is quite different from Shadowrun.

Keeping it Real is the first book of the Quantum Gravity series. At time of writing, there are five books in the Quantum Gravity series. If the first book is any indication, I suspect that I will find the remaining four quite an interesting read.

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In the Company of Others by Julie E. Czerneda

Posted by Zumbs on August 26, 2012

In the Company of Others coverThis is a story that has so many twists and turns that it is difficult to describe without giving away a number of spoilers. Instead, I will sketch out the situation at the start of the book.

In the far future, humanity managed to travel to the stars. First they searched for extra terrestrial intelligence without success. Then they selected a number of dead planets fit for human life and started to terraform these worlds. As the terraforming progressed a number of space stations were established to facilitate immigration from Earth to the new worlds. However, something went wrong in the new worlds. The mysterious Quill caused the new worlds to be uninhabitable. Little is known of the Quill, and theories range from a plague, dangerous “three meter tall giants with googly eyes and long tentacles” to simply being a hoax.

Either way, the Sol system put the new worlds under quarantine and in panic refused the settlers to return home, fearing that they would bring the Quill to Earth. This left the settlers and station personal effectively stranded on the space stations, quickly filled past capacity, afraid and with few supplies. Our story starts some decades later, when Earth scientist Dr. Gail Smith and her ship The Seeker docs at Thromberg space station, looking for a young man called Aaron Pardell. As you may have guessed, Dr. Smith is researching the Quill, and trying to find some way of making the quarantined worlds inhabitable.

Having been left out to dry by Earth, the people at Thromberg station aren’t exactly happy with Earth or the newcomers. They managed to survive through the extreme hardship of the last few decades and live in extreme close quaters. And “they” are not a uniform group: Some are remnants of the old station personal, others are settlers and some few are space explorers. While they live together, each group has its own desires, internal intrigues and goals.

The book is well written and the characters are nuanced, different, and often have their own agendas. The description of the development of the crowded Thromberg station, as well as the intrigues on The Seeker work well. In many ways the story is character driven in the sense that it is people who act and react to each other.

It is highly recommended, and I plan on reading more by the author.

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Review of City of Pearl by Karen Travis

Posted by Zumbs on August 5, 2012

city of pearls coverA few centuries into the future, Environmental Hazard Enforcement officer Shan Frankland is sent to a distant star system on a secret mission. So secret, in fact, that she will only learn the mission specifics as she needs them. Along with her are a number of marines and scientists (charmingly dubbed “the payload”) representing various academic and commercial interests. With a round trip time of 150 years, everyone they knew will be dead and gone by the time they return. The planet contains life and, possibly, the survivors of a human colony of Christian fundamentalists whose last transmission hinted that there could be alien life on the world.

Upon their arrival they discover that the human colony has indeed survived. But they are not alone. The seas of the world is inhabited by the bezeri. The isenj had colonized the surface and were polluting the seas, so the bezeri were dying. Yet, the isenj refused to stop. A cry for help caused the wess’har, who own a planet in the system, to come to the aid of the bezeri and exterminate the isenj colony on the planet.

The wess’har are fierce defenders of the bezeri and only just tolerate the human colony there. The isenj still claim the planet and (not surprisingly) consider the wess’har to be monsters. The fundamentalists would rather just be left alone. And the wess’har require that the scientists do not take living samples of anything.

The heroine, Shan, is somewhat like a female Dirty Harry. She is pretty buff and not afraid to apply physical force to do the job, even if it means bending or even breaking the rules. She has her own morality and puts a great deal of weight on that. Unlike Dirty Harry, her morality is not utterly conservative – her work in the Environmental Hazard Enforcement has left the leery of bio corporations and caused her to get some empathy for the eco-terrorists.

The major theme of this book is environmental destruction and the question of how we coexist with the other living beings in the world. As it happens in the future, a lot of the tendencies seen today are brought to to their logical next step. In this sense, Traviss poses the question if this is the way we want to go. The ecology of the planet in the distant solar system can be viewed as one, possible, path where our own destruction of nature causes our own destruction. These are important questions, and Traviss pack them into a readable book that is likely to cause you to think it over.

The wess’har are strict vegetarians and consider all animals to be “people” and are in general very protective of the environment. While they wonder why humans do not see things that way, they are never asked why they do not have the same respect for non-animal life, e.g. the plants that they eat. The question of dietary choices is a significant theme of the book, sometimes given too much space with too little discussion. Similarly, the vegetarian fundamentalists are put in a positive light, whereas the scientists are uniformly put in a rather unfavorable light. As in fundamentalists are part of the solution, scientists are part of the problem. Sigh.

Overall, this is a very readable book, well written, intelligent and thought provoking. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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