Posts Tagged: Science Fiction

AI Science Fiction Book Covers: Stranger in a Strange Land

If you click on the Craiyon-generated image, the larger view looks creepier. Today’s image is of Heinlein’s classic, Stranger in a Strange Land, though I wonder how the AI pulls from the Bible.

Valentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth. Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love.

~ Goodreads

AI Science Fiction Book Covers: The Martian Chronicles

I love The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. On the left, we have the 1984 paperback cover. On the right, we have Craiyon AI‘s interpretation.

Events in the chronicle include the apocalyptic destruction of both Martian and human civilizations, both instigated by humans, though there are no stories with settings at the catastrophes. The outcomes of many stories raise concerns about the values and direction of America of the time by addressing militarism, science, technology, and war time prosperity

~ Wikipedia

AI Science Fiction Book Covers: The Day of the Triffids

What happens when you run a science fiction book title through Craiyon AI?

Today we took John Wyndam’s novel The Day of the Triffids and get this scary interpretation.

The Day of the Triffids is a 1951 post-apocalyptic novel by the English science fiction author John Wyndham. After most people in the world are blinded by an apparent meteor shower, an aggressive species of plant starts killing people. Although Wyndham had already published other novels using other pen name combinations drawn from his real name, this was the first novel published as “John Wyndham”.

Wikipedia

Book Reviews I’ve Not Done

Yes, I’ve been reading.

No, I’ve not been writing.

Here are my Siskel-and-Ebertesque responses.

  • The Murderbot Diaries 👍
  • Children of Time 👍
  • The Boston Girl 👍
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling 👎
  • Stormlight Archive 👍
  • The House of Spirits 👍
  • The Library at Mount Char 👍
  • Use of Weapons 👍
  • Undermajordomo Minor 👍
  • A Darker Shade of Magic 👍
  • A Gathering of Shadows 👍
  • A Conjuring of Light 👎

 

Tiamat’s Wrath is Full of Chaos and Creation

Tiamat's WrathTiamat’s Wrath, the eighth book in The Expanse series picks up decades after the events in Persepolis Rising. Laconia is in control. The protomolecule gives Laconia an edge over everyone else in terms of technology. How will the crew of the Rocinante overcome these odds? The ship is mothballed. Bobbie Draper commands her own ship with Alex as the pilot. Holden is locked up. Amos is MIA. And, Naomi is in the role of strategist for the resistance while living the life of a hermit in hidden cargo containers.

What the James Corey duo does so well is drastically changing the landscape. The narrative isn’t a simple cause and effect where conflict is resolved back into a satisfactory state. The writers knock over the game board to the point where the conflict doesn’t matter to the characters and now there’s a new situation that needs to be met. How the characters adapt, survive and meet these challenges keep the reader hooked.

It’s hard to write about Tiamat’s Wrath without giving things away. As the situation changed in Persepolis Rising so it changes again by the end of Tiamat’s Wrath. Will humanity unite against an outside threat or tear themselves to pieces while the threat goes unchecked?

A few things I loved in this book were the re-introduction of Elvi and making her a strong character instead of her awful portrayal in Cibola Burn. In Tiamat’s Wrath she is smart, driven, humane and forceful. Also, the transformation of Naomi Ngata to the leader of the resistance was great. We see her dealing with some of things Holden used to deal with in terms of how she is perceived. What’s real and what’s myth?

I also really liked the inner-workings of Laconia through Teresa’s and Elvi’s perspectives. We see the leaders of Laconia slightly off perspective. The monsters are humanized, at least most of them. It made me think of Hitler’s inner circle. As the tension mounts how will these characters react? What will the Empire do? Who is the Empire?

As for the deaths, I’m good with them. If a beloved character dies for no reason, it kind of sucks. If a beloved character dies and it creates an interesting change in the other characters or moves the story, then it sucks far less. This isn’t a spoiler, because it’s the first sentence of the book. “Chrisjen Avasarala was dead.” But, there also wasn’t really a place for her in this novel. Holden needed to evolve. Bobbie needed to step up. What could Avasarala really do against Laconia as the aged and former ruler of Earth? Instead, we see how Laconia uses her death and re-writes history.

As for the other death, it’s been a long time coming. Get over it, people.

Tiamat’s Wrath is the penultimate book in The Expanse. The characters are in position for what happens next. My money is on humanity becoming protomolecule hybrids. As in previous books, it would up-end the game board in a way that might be unexpected and leave the door open for more narratives in this universe.

Excession, A Cool Concept for Sci-Fi

ExcessionAs a concept, the Culture novels are wonderful; but at times the narrative crumbles under the weight of drawn out plots and overly detailed moments. In Excession by Iain M. Banks, the Culture faces a threat unlike any it’s known before, an object or species with superior technology that is both a terminal threat to the Culture and an opportunity to evolve beyond four-dimensional life. That’s cool, right?

But, Then Robots Talk for Pages and Pages

Chunks of the novel revolve around Minds making plans. Since the Culture is sort of a democratically led consensus of artificial intelligence that prides itself on transparency to a degree, the reader witnesses Minds conspiring, delving into tactics, panicking, and being prickly with one another. It’s long-winded and boring.

 A Love Affair Because Why Not?

Enter two main characters, Byr Genar-Hofoen, a diplomat who is a bit of rogue and Dajeil, a scientist, who’s been living aboard an eccentric ship, which stores people’s bodies in tableaus while they hibernate till a more interesting time. The ship considers it art. Meanwhile, Dajeil, lives in a recreation of the home she shared with Genar-Hofoen, and she has paused her pregnancy since the couple split twenty-some years ago. It does make some of the themes of gender fluidity interesting, but it feels unnecessary, like an added complication just to ratchet up the drama.

An Opportunity for Gaseous Airbags to Attack

While the excession event occurs, a warlike species of aliens, called the Affront, which Genar-Hofoen admires decides now is the time to try to take the Culture. Banks does a wonderful job in creating non-humanoid aliens, and they are interesting. However, they action the Affronters provide isn’t enough to rescue the slow pace of the novel.

Excession: The Short Story

Could Banks edit this 500 page novel to thirty pages or go for a novella at 120 pages? What would the narrative lose? The idea is great, an outside threat to the Culture which they can’t understand. But there is so much excessive exposition. Characters and Minds talking to provide information, that isn’t even that relevant, to the reader. Yes, the idea that Genar-Hofoen wants to become an Affronter for a while is interesting, but maybe that could be it’s own short story. In the end, Excession was terribly long and dull.

Test Your Skill Against the Player of Games

Player of GamesI wasn’t blown away with Consider Phlebas, the first book in the Culture novels; but a friend recommended Player of Games, and it was far more entertaining. It’s set at some later time after the Culture defeated the Idrians. The main character in Player of Games is Gurgeh, a professional game player. He’s studied every game and is a ranked master in some of the most challenging games. But, in a post-scarcity existence with hundreds of years to live one’s life, what happens when one wants something else?

Azad: The Game

What if there was a game played outside of the Culture, a grand game in which the winner became Emperor of an empire? Gurgeh is led in this direction. He forgoes his quiet life on a habitat, sort of like a ring world, and journeys out on a trip that takes years to the edge of the Culture’s domain. It reminded me a bit of Bilbo Baggins being uprooted from his hobbit hole and set forth on an adventure.

In the game of Azad, players can be tortured or killed. The stakes are high and unlike the Culture, the aliens are very hierarchical and aggressive. Their subjugation of members of their own species and other species they’ve enslaved, as well as their rampant capitalism and strict laws work as a mirror to show us an exaggerated version of humanity through the eyes of the Culture. At times it’s harsh.

Due to the complexity of the game, Gurgeh is not supposed to do well. There are players among the Azad who’ve spent their lives studying the game. As players lose, how they played determines what roles they fill in the new government.

Cold War Resonance

The game Gurgeh plays becomes a clash between the Culture and the Azad. The Culture’s player of games is seen as an existential threat to the dominion of the Azad. What happens if he advances? It reminds me of the 1980 Olympic hockey match between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Is it just a game or is it more than a game? That’s a question which is asked toward the end of the novel.

Beep Beep, Boop Boop

The Minds and drones in the Culture novels are wonderful. It’s fun seeing how these artificial intelligences work with their organic counterparts. Are they equal partners? Benign dictators? Master manipulators? They are full of humor and schemes as the humanoid populace luxuriate in their mostly carefree lifestyle.

Overall

Player of Games is a wonderful science fiction novel. It propelled me back into the Culture novels and it’s a book I’ve passed along to friends. Give it a read.

Clones, Ethics, and Murder in Six Wakes

Six WakesSix Wakes by Mur Lafferty is a promising book with some glaring issues. In one sense, Six Wakes is a closed room mystery with a science fiction twist of clones. The crew of a generation ship is made up of six clones who happen to be convicts kept in check by the ship’s A.I. The action opens with the clones waking up in their pods, naked and covered in goo while their previous bodies float around in zero gravity having been gruesomely murdered. One of them is the murderer. So, what’s the catch? The clones have no memory of the last twenty-five years. Their most recent memories are from when they first boarded the ship. Moreover, the A.I. is no help as it’s been sabotaged and all logs scrubbed.

Secrets, Secrets Everywhere

Everyone has a secret and supposedly no other crew member knows the other’s past. The cast is made up a captain, first officer, pilot, doctor, programmer, and all-purpose mechanic. These jobs sort of work like the jobs in Wool; they obfuscate people, make it appear as if the title or uniform is the representative of the person. Of course, as you learn about the character’s pasts, they present comes into focus.

Dark Matter

The first issue I had with this book is it treads very close to the TV show Dark Matter. Six people wake up in stasis pods with no memories. In the case of Dark Matter, the characters are total blank canvasses, while in Six Wakes only the last twenty-five years are gone. Still, it almost feels like a Lafferty borrowed elements of the show for Six Wakes.

All Too Obvious

In the first one-hundred pages, Lafferty gives away the whole plot or mystery. When death is off the table, how does one get revenge against a clone? The plan has the grandiosity of Dr. Evil and it’s also broadcast to the reader so early that it takes away the joy of figuring the mystery out. It doesn’t really matter who the killer is when you figure out the whole mastermind. Imagine if in the movie The Usual Suspects we knew within the first twenty minutes that Verbal Kent was making up the whole story based on details from the detective’s office and that he was really Keyser Söze? Lafferty tips her hand and the novel suffers for it.

Too Clone or Not to Clone

What I really liked about the novel are the ethical questions Lafferty raises about clones. She opens the book a set of laws governing the creation and rights of clones. Also, the character’s backstories fill in these issues with “real life” examples. Could Six Wakes explore these issues without the mediocre plot device? I think it could, but it would’ve been a much different book.

Overall

I liked this book; but it could’ve been a lot better. Perhaps the echoing of Dark Matter was a mistake, but between that and the ridiculous/obvious plan it really leaves the reader let down.

The Solar System is Screwed in Babylon’s Ashes

Babylon's AshesWhat I love about the Expanse are the risks the writers James S. A. Corey take. Babylon’s Ashes continue to explore those risks with the entire landscape cracked open. Earth is decimated. Billions of people are dying. Mars suffers a coup, or perhaps a mutiny is a better term, as a large contingent of the Martian Navy abandon Mars and heads to a new life through the Ring Gate. The Belt is under control of Marco Inaros and at war with the inner planets. Again, the writers upend the worlds of the characters and life can never go back the way it was before.

Perspectives Worth Showing

As the cast of characters have grown, the writers are able to bring back minor characters in order to offer small glimpses of events from a different perspective. One example is the scientist, Prax, on Ganymede. His motivations are to protect his daughter and sink into his research. He’s not political. He doesn’t notice much outside of his lab and his family. But, we see the Free Navy tighten control. We see characters become politically active and die. Prax offers a viewpoint into that fear and intimidation on Ganymede. He also offers us a view of how Holden’s human interest videos are seen by some and the inspiration they provide. It’s a change that works in the series.

Evolving Alliances

Chrisjen Avasarala isn’t that believable; but she’s a wonderful character. It’s hard to imagine such a crafty, smart, political animal with an indomitable will and a sense of humor, but every scene of hers is sharp and funny. The only character that comes close to her might be Disc World’s Lord Vetinari.

I enjoyed seeing Michio Pa reintroduced to the series and have her be a counterpoint to Inaros. She offers a voice of reason in the Free Navy as Inaros begins to disintegrate. The alliances we’re presented with in the beginning of the book decay and the new ones, full of mistrust, make for an engaging read.

How will Mars and Earth work together? Who holds power? What are the role of pirates?

Deus Ex Machina

When all looks lost hope for an unexpected, irrational device to save the story. For anti-spoiler purposes, stop reading here. The showdown of Holden and Inaros is cheap. It feels like the writers just whipped something out of their back pocket and hoped readers would go with it. Hey, remember those disappearing ships at the beginning of the novel? Let’s have Naomi Ngata dive back into that problem and, not only solve it, but come up with a tactical advantage that destroys all the ships that were going to take out the Rocinante. A more fitting ending would have been some mixed fleet from the colonies to come through the gates and back up Holden, that would’ve been more interesting than what happens. I understand that the energy pulses in traveling through the gates provide a job or reason for the Belters to takeover Medina Station and have a new job in the solar system, but they could’ve done that and still had the more realistic ending.

Questions

The novel answers some questions, but raises plenty more. What happened to the breakaway Martians? What are they doing on the colony? The coalition has some prisoners from the space station and I assume will interrogate them heavily, but at this point we don’t know.

Will Mars basically just die as terraforming makes no sense in the face of hundreds of habitable planets?

Does Earth rebound? Or is humanity’s future tied up in colonizing new planets and abandoning the Solar System?

Is Marco Inaros actually dead or did he “go somewhere?” Unless you see a body, a disappearing death in pop culture might not mean dead.

Does Filip come back and reunite with Naomi?

Finally, what’s next for the crew of the Rocinante? A new adventure to a different planet? We’ll see.

Overall

I really enjoyed Babylon’s Ashes. It’s well-paced and character driven. I’ve read some complaints about Inaros, but as a character I didn’t feel like he was out of place. He’s narcissistic and a misogynist. He has delusions of grandeur. He and his son have killed billions of people. Is his fixation with Naomi unbelievable or crazy? Before one says, yes, maybe look at how abusive people act. Darth Vader is obsessed with Luke Skywalker and risks everything to turn him toward the dark side; but people seem to accept that defect of Vader’s evil persona. Likewise, Inaros is larger than life and also pathetically human. The reader and a few characters see that.

 

Acceptance for Whom?

Acceptance by Jeff VandermeerIn Acceptance, the final novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, the action continues to move forward; but, interspersed with flashbacks from new points-of-view. As the reader learns about Area X, they also see how Area X came to be and what life along the forgotten coast was like before the event happened.

Control and the Biologist / Ghost Bird are the characters in the present. They’re trying to elude the government and make it back to Area X. In the past, we experience Saul, the Lighthouse Keeper’s perspective. What brought him to the forgotten coast? Who are the Seance and Science Brigade? And, what do they have to do with Saul? Finally, there is the Director of the Southern Reach, Gloria, also known as the Psychologist from the last expedition. We discover the personal nature she has to Area X and are filled in with her backstory and obsession.

As much as I enjoyed Saul’s and Gloria’s perspective I wondered if they were actually necessary. How does it move the story forward? We learn that the event was triggered and by whom. But the number of pages dedicated drag on the pace of the novel. It’s a balancing act between action and layered richness.

Turning back to Control and Ghost Bird, they are trying to stop the expansion of Area X. The key seems to be Ghost Bird, a copy of the Biologist, and yet her own, dare I say it, person. Will they be able to stop Area X from spreading? Can they communicate with the Crawler or whatever drives Area X?

It’s hard to write about a mystery without giving it away. In the end, we learn what happened on Area X. The questions from Annihilation are answered. We see the Southern Reach before the changes wrought in and before Authority. The ending is not neat. It’s not quite satisfying either. However the larger themes around survival, environmental resources and human’s impact on the landscape aren’t neat or satisfying either. At times, I wondered, what it be so bad if Area X spread across the planet? Are people or the thing that is Area X the greater threat to our world?

Vandermeer leaves the reader with hope at the end of Acceptance. It’s up to the reader whether or not they welcome it.