28 June 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Saturn Run by John Sandford

Saturn RunSaturn Run by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.

A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.

The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

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A great book, no doubt about it, and probably one of the more "solid" novels that I've read in years. By that, I mean that it kept my attention firmly from beginning to end and left me feeling satisfied. It's a combination of techno-thriller and hard sci-fi and, while I know that could sound rather heavy, it actually works well and flows superbly. I reckon that if Larry Niven and Tom Clancy were to have collaborated on a book it would've come out something like this. The sci-fi elements (which are almost space-opera in flavor) were nothing outstanding but solid nonetheless, and from this I get the feeling that this book is aimed more at a general audience rather than the dedicated sci-fi crowd. In general, there's not a whole lot to criticize, the subject matter and plot are great, it's written very well and the story moves about from scene to scene seamlessly. The characters are excellent as is the dialogue, and there's no shortage of all of the good stuff including a fair dose humor along the way as well, which was actually one of my favorite aspects of the book. The only reason that I didn't give it the fifth star was that I was expecting a big and surprising twist which never eventuated. As I said, I still felt satisfied with the end, but it felt like it was building up to something bigger. That should not put anyone who enjoys a good thriller from reading it, and I reckon it's not likely to disappoint.

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20 June 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Helix Wars (Helix #2) by Eric Brown

Helix WarsHelix Wars by Eric Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Helix Wars, sequel to the best-selling Helix is a fast-paced adventure novel about the ultimate threat to the Helix itself and to humanity, whose role it is to protect it.

The Helix: a vast spiral of ten thousand worlds turning around its sun. Aeons ago, the enigmatic Builders constructed the Helix as a refuge for alien races on the verge of extinction.

Two hundred years ago, humankind came to the Helix aboard a great colony ship, and the Builders conferred on them the mantle of peacekeepers. For that long, peace has reigned on the Helix. But when shuttle pilot Jeff Ellis crash-lands on the world of Phandra, he interrupts a barbarous invasion from the neighbouring Sporelli - who scheme to track down and exterminate Ellis before he can return to New Earth and inform the peacekeepers.

Helix Wars, sequel to the best-selling Helix, is a fast-paced adventure novel about the ultimate threat to the Helix itself.

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Following on from the earlier book Helix, where a human starship crashes onto a huge and spectacular helix shaped construct containing thousands of worlds, Helix Wars continues the story a couple of hundred years later. It's a good yarn, no doubt about it, but this was definitely my least enjoyed Eric Brown story to date. The reason for this is not so much with the delivery, which is typically good, but I was surprised to find myself rushing a little and trying to avoid text skipping during a large portion of the book. This is the first time I've experienced this while reading Brown's work. I think I know why, many of the action sequences were just a tad painful, and certainly felt like the author was positioning them in the story for the sake of having action, not so much because they'd add to the story, which I guess in general they did, it's just that it was a bit too much. I don't remember Helix being like this. With all that said, the tale itself is good, and contains the usual Eric Brown epic scale and wonder, huge alien artifacts, species and cultures, lots of good sci-fi stuff. It's certainly advisable to read Helix first, as this introduces much of the background information and characters that have roles in this book. The conclusion is okay with enough room left for further expansion, etc. and I sense that there could be further Helix stories in the future. Mostly recommended, mainly if you enjoyed Helix, but it's not a book that I would steer a first time Eric Brown reader toward.

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05 June 2016

The Chinese Government is Setting Up Its Own Major Science Fiction Award

by Andrew Liptak

This is pretty interesting: during the latest national congress of the China Association for Science and Technology, chairman Han Qide announced that the country would be setting up a program to promote science fiction and fantasy, including the creation of a new major award.

Throughout much of its genre’s history, China’s science fiction has had a legacy of usefulness, often promoted to educate readers in concepts relating to science and technology. This new award will be accompanied by an “international sci-fi festival” and other initiatives to promote the creation of new stories.

In the last couple of decades, China has enjoyed an unprecedented boom when it comes to science fiction. Since the 1990s, dozens of authors have broken out and written a number of high profile books, creating a viable community. Every year, Chinese science fiction magazine Science Fiction World issues its own major award, the Galaxy.
The Three Body trilogy by Liu Cixin
This is particularly exciting news, given the increases that we’ve seen in science fiction coming from China. Authors such as Liu Cixin, Chen Quifan, Xia Jia, and others have had their works translated into English frequently, while Liu Cixin’s novel The Three Body Problem earned the Hugo Award for Best Novel last year.

With more works coming to English readers this year, such as Death’s End - the concluding volume of the Three Body trilogy - and Ken Liu’s anthology of translated stories Invisible Planets, greater support for science fiction will hopefully translate into a wealth of new stories.

Given the quality of the stories that have been written already, this could be the start of a promising new wave of exciting new fiction for readers across the world.