Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Mars Trilogy Readalong: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ugh, guys, I’m sorry this took me so long to get through. I don’t really have any good excuses, except I should have started more than a week before we were supposed to be talking about it, especially since it’s almost 600 pages.

To sum up, as I told my dog last night: this is not a hopeful book. This is a book about how humanity is stupid and self-destructive.

I mean, I hope we eventually get into a hopeful phase, but who knows!

Red Mars came out in 1992 and won the Nebula in 1993. It covers somewhere between 35 and 40 years of time, starting with the colonist selection process on Earth and following them through the trip to Mars and approximately 30 years on Mars itself. It’s told in eight sections, with a different viewpoint character for each section (though Nadia and Frank each get two), and each viewpoint character is a member of the First Hundred, as the first colonists are called over time.

Most sections cover a decent amount of time, sometimes years, and there is also usually a time jump between sections (though section 8 follows directly from section 7). The book sets up characters on various sides of different issues, such as terraforming (the greens “let’s do this as fast as possible” vs. the reds “leave Mars alone–what right have we to meddle?”), colonization, emigration, corporations, government, etc. Genetic engineering is also present, but aside from its relation to terraforming (they create specialized algae that can survive on Mars’ surface), at least in this book, it’s treated as a uniformly good thing (i.e., no characters are presented as against it). I will be interested to see if that changes as the books go on.

There may be SPOILERS moving forward, so be aware.

The plot of the book is fairly chronological rather than action based. While we do open somewhere in the middle, subsequent chapters and sections start from the beginning and run straight through. The First Hundred are selected, leave for Mars on the Ares, an immense spaceship with some artificial gravity, gardens, farms, etc. (even birds) to try and help with mental states on the long voyage. On the voyage, we see the first signs that people have different plans for the planet and different ideologies, and that some people lied throughout the selection process.

They arrive at Mars and get started building up the infrastructure necessary to produce air and water, build habitats, and start exploring. Things are good. But eventually those ideological differences pop back up, especially in relation to terraforming and whether or not they need to get Earth’s permission before they do things. And a large section of the First Hundred disappear, becoming the Lost Colony, without any warning.

As time goes on, more people arrive from Earth, different factions with different goals, and without cohesive goals or leadership, tensions start to rise. Big corporations start sending a ton of workers and “security,” sabotages start happening, people disappear–and Earth is no help, because Earth is also falling apart, due to global warming and increasing numbers of wars.

Eventually the “revolution” happens–a number of rebel factions, not coordinating with each other, attack, destroying towns (reliant on thin domes for their atmospheres) and killing people. The “security” forces retaliate, shooting down from orbit. There is mass chaos, with all these factions working for themselves and the Earth forces (mostly these corporate security forces as well as some UN-approved ones) trying to lock everything down. The space elevator is destroyed, crashing down to the planet. Phobos is destroyed. The First Hundred become targets–Earth is trying to peg them as scapegoats and ring leaders–and they manage to escape to the Lost Colony at the end.

SPOILERS over.

This was actually a fairly quick read, all things considered–depending on whose point of view the section is in. I found Nadia the easiest to read and Frank the hardest; I’m sure other people would feel differently. Even when the characters spend forever building habitats or exploring the vastness of Mars, the book never feels slow (though I admit I occasionally skimmed sections with a lot of place names, which just didn’t mean anything to me). It does a great job of showing what life might be like on Mars, and a great job presenting a number of characters who are obviously different from each other. I would recommend it if you like hard science fiction, especially near future stuff, or space exploration.

Also, apparently the first person walks on Mars by 2020, and colonizing by 2026, so we’d better get on it.

Did you read this with me, squiders? What did you think?

Green Mars is next. Let’s do the end of January for it, so we can get through the holidays without going crazy.

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Announcing the Red Mars Readalong

All right, squiders. We’re going to do the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson for our next readalong.

I’m excited to do this one, because I have been carting this trilogy around for probably close to 20 years without reading it, and if you’re at all familiar with it, you know these are fat books. My copy of Red Mars (which is the only one handy–Green Mars and Blue Mars are currently relegated to the basement bookcase) is about 600 pages of tiny font. So not Wheel of Time fat, but pretty dang fat.

I think I picked the series up around the time I read Dune and Ringworld and books of those ilk. I think I thought the series was older than it was, since it seemed to be on all the same lists. It is a Nebula award winner, so that’s cool.

(My copy was also apparently once owned by my local library. I hope I bought it at a book sale and didn’t steal it off the shelves. It doesn’t seem to have the general library book accouterments such as stickers with shelving location and whatnot, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.)

I have also never read anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (though I believe these were some of his first books), though my husband recently finished 2312, so assuming he’s consistent in his narrative form, I have a vague idea of what to expect.

Let’s give ourselves plenty of time to get through this one. November 1 sound good?

(I will also note that I will probably read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was also on the poll, sometime in October, both because I want to, and because one of my writing groups is having a paranormal/horror reading challenge in October, and that’s the first one that comes to mind. So I may or may not talk about that one as well.)

Revisiting Time Travel a New Way

We like science fiction an awful lot on this blog, squiders, and I, at least, also like a good time travel story.

(If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know I come back to this topic every few years.)

Time travel can take a ton of different forms, of course, from being the main mechanism in a story to just some flavoring for another type of story (historical fiction, romance, etc.). So I was a bit amused recently when I found myself reading two different books, written almost 40 years apart, that used the same time travel mechanics, and ones that I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot elsewhere.

The books in question are Version Control (Dexter Palmer, 2016) and Thrice Upon a Time (James P. Hogan, 1980).

(I suppose this could potentially be spoiler-y, so read with caution.)

In both, time travel is treated very scientifically, with proper skepticism and with believable limits on how far you can go back and how the mechanism works. As such, we’re not jetting back to the Middle Ages or going back to assassinate Hitler or anything of that ilk. (Version Control deals with a limit of a few years, while Thrice Upon a Time deals in months.)

But both also include the fact that the new timeline overwrites the old timeline. Change something in the past, and the future that did the changing never existed. Not even the time traveler remembers.

(This is handled masterfully in Version Control, and even though I’m a bit sad about the ending–especially since there was another option–I understand why it went the way it did.)

So there’s no hints that the timeline has been changed (unless there’s a purposeful message left–in Thrice Upon a Time messages can be sent from the future to the past, but the act of sending/receiving the message is what erases the previous timeline) and no way for the people in the new timeline to know what happened on the original timeline or what, specifically, has been changed.

So it opens up very interesting questions like: what if you actually made things worse? How can you tell if it’s worth the risk to change the past when your present will no longer exist? If you did change that one event, would you actually accomplish what you meant to?

And no way to test, because the previous timeline is gone and can’t be recovered.

Very interesting take on the concept. Less adventure, more think-y.

I enjoyed Version Control and am not quite done with Thrice Upon a Time, though at this point I’m not sure if I would recommend it. It gets bogged down in long infodumps in the first half of the book, but has improved now that we’re finally using the time travel concept instead of just talking about it.

Know another book that uses this same time travel mechanic, Squiders? Read these books? Thoughts?

The Sparrow Readalong

Woo, squiders! This is quite a book. Bit rough to read in places. And apparently there is a sequel, Children of God, which starts up almost immediately after the first book ends.

I’m always a bit amused with science fiction books that were written a while ago (this was published in 1996) and were set in a time that has caught up to us. The Sparrow follows two timelines: one, after the mission, and the other going over the events that lead up to it (and the mission itself, later on), which starts in 2016.

Anyway! The Sparrow tells that story of a Jesuit mission to the planet of Rakhat, in orbit around Alpha Centauri. It’s got a lot of deep themes–about God and religion (though I do want to make it clear that it is not a religious book–there’s no dogmas being forced on the reader, and the characters themselves are of varying faiths and levels of belief/agnostics), about interacting with new cultures, about human interactions and how one views one’s self, etc. I can definitely see why it won a bunch of awards.

And it’s a debut novel. Major props to Ms. Russell.

The novel pulls no punches. And it takes the interesting tack of putting the ending first. Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the mission to Rakhat, and his name has been drug through the mud before he even makes it home, thanks to a transmission that was sent as he was leaving the planet to return home. He’s a broken man, both physically and mentally. So as the novel starts, you know this mission went bad. You know everyone died.

And then the novel goes about introducing everyone and stepping through the events leading up to the mission, and making you care about people, which is really very evil. I cried at one point when one of the characters died.

I feel like the approach to the species on Rakhat is an interesting choice as well. These are not alien aliens, that are incomprehensible to their human visitors, but more your Star Trek or Star Wars type of alien, where are the body parts are more or less in the same parts and they have conventions along the lines of humans. There can be a connection. There can be an exchange of language and ideas.

Anyway! I hope you read this one with me, squiders. I really enjoyed it. Dunno if I’ll pick up the sequel with any sort of timeliness, so I’m not going to include it as part of the readalong.

Thoughts on The Sparrow, squiders?

The Return of the Space Dinosaurs

Ugh, Squiders. It is already getting hot for the year, and I do not like hot. My Celtic and Scandinavian genes are not equipped to deal with this madness.

(It could be worse. I could live in Arizona. Ha. Ha. Haha. I don’t know how anybody lives down there.)

(I mean, I know a lot of people who do. But I would die.)

ANYWAY.

I finished up my draft of Book 1 and got it sent out to betas, and so, of course, that means waiting. Ugh, waiting. But it also means I get to work on other things for the first time in years (ignoring the few short breaks I took for mental sanity) which is very exciting.

(Also, I have gotten some feedback back on the first chapter, so I’m not sitting in a beta vacuum. But it will probably be months before I get most of their input. Not dwelling too much. That’ll drive you mad.)

So, aside from ongoing things (short story writing and submitting, monthly serial, very lazily querying the YA paranormal), I’m finally going on my space dinosaur story again.

I call it that because everyone likes space dinosaurs (and there is a space dinosaur, and I ♥ her a lot, and I love the way she plays on the humans’ innate fear of the predator in their midst, bwhahahaha) and because it gives people something to focus on, and then I don’t have to explain the whole plot, because I don’t know about you guys, but when I have to talk about my books it makes me really, really nervous.

Long story short, I wrote most of the draft for Nanowrimo back in 2014. And then I revised the YA paranormal, and then I revised Book 1, and somewhere in there was the entirety of City of Hope and Ruin, and, frankly, it’s been a long time. But I hate leaving drafts unfinished, and I especially hate leaving this one unfinished, because it’s super fun to write.

So I’ve read over my notes, read over the current draft (needs a bit of revision, same thing mentioned three times in three chapters at the beginning, and one character makes a decision not to do something and then apparently changes her mind, but that’s for later), made some notes to myself on where we’re going (I have the worst habit of not leaving myself notes because I always think I’m going to be working on a story sooner than I ever end up doing so), and have started writing again.

I mean, like, 300 words, but hey! And more hopefully whenever I get this GDPR thing figured out and finalized.

(Any resources if you’ve had something to GDPR-ize, squiders? From what I understand, I mostly need to update the forms for my mailing lists, and also send an email out asking if people want to stay on. But the whole thing is daunting.)

It’s so lovely to be working on this again. Hopefully once I actually get going, it’ll be smooth sailing.

How are you, squiders? More writing around life for Thursday, so I’ll see you then.

Announcing the Sparrow Readalong

Right, squiders, the results are in from last week’s poll! So for this month’s/quarter’s/however often we get to it’s readalong, we’re going to the doing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

My spouse will be pleased, as he greatly enjoyed the book and has been after me to read it for years.

This is an older book, originally published in 1997 (so it’s still newer than 85% of the rest of the stuff we’ve read in the readalongs over the years). Goodreads tells me it’s set in 2019, so I look forward to being amused by predictions gone awry.

(I’m reading a late ’70s scifi book right now which has overshot it all on technology and undershot everything social, which is pretty par for the course.)

From what I understand, it’s the story of a Jesuit priest who is part of a scientific expedition to contact a alien race on a planet we’ve picked up radio waves or some such from.

It’s supposed to be really good–the book has a 4.2 out of 5 on Goodreads, and won a ton of awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke award, James Tiptree award, and the British Science Fiction Association award.

Apparently there’s a sequel? Well, we’re see how we’re feeling after we read this one.

Anyway! I hope you’ll read this one with me! (Especially after I dug it out of the bottom of a stack of books.) It’s ~430 pages, so let’s give ourselves a little over a month–let’s discuss on June 5th.

Humanity and Prey (Video Game)

Oh, squiders. We humans are an interesting bunch. We do interesting, unexpected things. And today, we’re going to look at interesting, unexpected things in relation to a video game called Prey.


Prey is made by Arkane Studios, which also does the Dishonored series. It’s a science fiction horror game which takes place in an alternate near-future.  The setting is Talos I, a space station in orbit around the moon, so, you know, you’re trapped.

(I am not particularly great at video games unless they a) are motion-sensing or b) turn-based/adventure games, so mostly I watch my spouse play.)

(The beginning reminds me a lot of the original Half-Life, which I suspect was a major influence for this game. I mean, the first enemy you run into, an alien known as a Mimic, looks suspiciously like the first enemy you run into in Half Life, the headcrab. There’s other similarities but we shall not dwell on them here.)

(But here’s what a Mimic looks like.)

There are spoilers moving forward, so beware if you care about such things.

The main enemies in Prey are an alien race known as the Typhon. The story goes that some time during the initial space race era, we encountered the Typhon and built varying facilities in space to study them. There’s different kinds of Typhon of different strengths and abilities, but they all kind of look like blobs of black strings.

Like most games of this type, there’s a skill tree where you can unlock different skills to help you get through the game. Part of the way through the game you acquire a Psychoscope, which allows you scan Typhons to learn more about them. This also unlocks Typhon abilities in the skill tree.

But interestingly, it seems about half of the people who play the game never touch the Typhon abilities. Which is weird, right? These are cool powers. Mind control, shapeshifting, telekinesis, etc.

(We discovered this fact when my spouse took the mind control one–which also allows you to un-mind control people the Typhon have taken over–and received a trophy for it which was much rarer than it seemed like it should be.)

So I’ve been poking around, and people are really worried about the Typhon powers. On some level this is directly related to gameplay–Prey has multiple endings, and people are worried about getting a “bad” ending if they take the Typhon powers–but there is also an underlying…taboo about it, almost. As if taking on the alien powers is somehow immoral. Like if they give in to using those powers, no matter how helpful they might be toward the game objections, they’re losing some of their own humanity.

It’s very interesting. This is a science fiction game involving fake technology, fake aliens, fake people. It should be pure fantasy. Taking the Typhon powers has no bearing on your real life. So why have so many people avoided them?

Humanity, people. We are strange.

Played Prey, squiders? Games like it you would recommend for the spouse once he’s done? (Are you as upset about Danielle Sho and Abigail Foy as I am?)