Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Readalong: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

The title looked really barren for a second, and then I remembered that this was our first standalone readalong, so I normally have the series title as well.

Anyway! It’s the 18th! Let’s get to it.

First, the basics. Dream Thief is an early-’80s science fiction novel about Spencer Reston, a sleep researcher interested in the long-term effects of space travel on people. Stephen R. Lawhead is a name I have heard before–he’s probably most famous for his Pendragon cycle (late ’80s through late ’90s) and his trilogy of Robin Hood retelling (mid-2000s)–but I’ve never gotten around to reading anything of his before.

I suspect I picked this book up at a thrift store somewhere along the line, but I have had it for a long time, so if nothing else, I’m glad to have finally gotten through it.

Spencer Reston has recently arrived on Gotham, a space station in orbit around Earth. It’s quite an honor to have your experiment chosen by the station, but things have not been going well. Every night Spencer (nicknamed Spence, though it’s somewhat inconsistent throughout what other characters call him) goes to sleep in the lab to have his sleep recorded; every morning he wakes up knowing he’s had terrible nightmares that he cannot remember.

There’s multiple viewpoints through, and there’s some headhopping which is a bit annoying at times but not terrible. The antagonists also have viewpoints, starting maybe halfway, so there’s no great mystery in how the story is going (or at least what they’re trying to accomplish).

There are some good things about the novel–for being fairly massive (and a bit slow in places), it reads pretty fast. The dialogue is good. The sequence on Mars, though it does bog down at one particular point, is quite interesting and some good scifi. There are some interesting side characters that I enjoyed very much.

That said, some other characters are almost walking stereotypes. There is a single female character of any note who is handled fairly badly. The theme of the story is heavy-handed almost to the point of ridiculousness in some places. And then there’s Spence.

Are you familiar with what it means when a story is considered “wish fulfillment”? Essentially, it’s when an author writes about what they wish would happen to them. My husband has recently been reading a novel about a man who’s cryogenically frozen, and when he wakes up, there’s a shortage of men and all the lovely, young, nubile women can’t keep their hands off of him. (My husband gave it an honest go, but eventually the book got too ridiculous and he gave up on it.) This feels like that in some places. All the good guys like Spence immediately, he gains intimate friends through no effort on his part (people who are willing to die for him), important people take care of him, etc. Yes, of course, there is the dream issue which is a problem, but there’s no lack of people trying to help him out.

And, of course, the single female character falls madly in love with him.

And Spence is kind of a jerk, especially through the first part of the book (it doesn’t really start to change until after Mars), which makes it a bit more grating.

(Oh, yeah, and there’s no female scientists. We talked about that already.)

So, let’s see. It’s an okay book. It has its good and bad points, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone else. There’s better scifi out there, both in terms of story and scifi concepts, and between the character pitfalls and Spence in general, the good points get somewhat overruled.

Did you read this with me, Squiders? Thoughts? Favorite part? What did you think about reading a single book over reading a series? Which would you prefer to do moving forward?

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Library Book Sale Finds: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Hey, look, squiders! I actually picked a scifi novel out of the bunch for once!

(Well, in actuality, I was talking to my grandmother about Connie Willis and the Oxford time travel novels because I’d seen Connie at MileHiCon and I’m a bit of a fangirl about her. And the next time I went by, my grandmother was reading The Doomsday Book and I was like, “Hey, I have that book and I should read it and then we can talk.” Except, of course, my grandmother is 95 and has nothing to do except read all day, so she was done in about four days and it took me three weeks, and she’s probably read four other books by now.)

Title: The Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1992

Pros: Excellent twists mid-book, Colin, Mr. Dunworthy, Kirvin trying to speak Middle English
Cons: Drags a bit for first third of book

Let’s talk for a minute about the Oxford time travel books. There’s four novels and one novella in the series, and now I’ve read them all except for the novella, though Connie has it nicely available on her website, so I can get there shortly. (All five entries won Hugo awards, if you care about that sort of thing.) The premise is that sometime in the mid-2000s or 2100s (the Internet is telling me both and I can’t recall which is correct off the top of my head) time travel was invented. However, you can’t bring things through time, so commercial interest quickly died off and time travel became the realm of academics, “historians” who travel back in time to observe how life worked or important events, etc. There is some amount of “slippage” based on how far you’re traveling and how close you are to milestone events (which tend to be unreachable directly).

The Doomsday Book is the first of the series, published in 1992. (The novella, Fire Watch, is technically first, being published in 1983. Then there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1999, and the duology of Blackout/All Clear from 2010.) I will say that time travel is more of a frame story, and most of the novels tend to be historical in nature. Blackout/All Clear is a brilliant WWII story within the trappings of time travel (which mostly doesn’t work throughout for Drama), for example. (To Say Nothing of the Dog is not as historical as the others. That’s not to say that there’s not historical elements–Ned and Verity spend a lot of time in WWII era–but it’s not the focus. It’s much more of a farcical/romantic comedy.)

The Doomsday Book is a play on the Domesday Book (pronounced the same way), which was produced by William the Conqueror in 1086 to take stock of the land and ownership thereof in England after the invasion. The Medieval department has just gotten access to the “Net” (the process that time travel works through) and are taking advantage of the history department head being MIA to send their first historian back to 1320. The 1300s have a danger rating of 10 (because of things like the Black Plague) so they’re supposed to go through a bunch of tests before sending people, but screw that. Nothing can go wrong, right? 20th century has been sending people forever.

Of course, things go wrong.

Like most of the series, the book switches between “modern day” Oxford and the historian (Kirvin, in this case) in the past. (To Say Nothing of the Dog stays in Ned’s point of view throughout, if I recall correctly, but he’s going back and forth through time so often that he can carry both time periods on his own.) An interesting mechanic of the time travel is that time is equivalent. So if you want to spend a week in 1918, for example, a week has to pass in the current time as well before you can be picked back up. This makes missing your “drop” a big deal as you can’t just go back and try again.

There are some comedic elements, such as when Kirvin realizes basically everything she learned about the time period is incorrect (and her attempts to understand and speak Middle English) and the general snarkiness of Mr. Dunworthy’s thoughts (he’s our viewpoint character in the “present” day) and Colin in general. (I ♥ Colin, and he’ll be back in Blackout/All Clear.) But this book is closer in tone to Blackout/All Clear, more serious, and it doesn’t shy away from the less appealing aspects of the time period.

(Seriously, though, if you haven’t read Blackout/All Clear I highly recommend it. It’s long–1300 pages between the two books, but it’s one of those books you read and are awed by.)

(Not great for re-readability, though.)

Overall, it’s a good book, especially once it gets moving about a third of the way through, though I like the later books in the series better. It’s always nice to see reoccurring characters (Mr. Dunworthy is a constant throughout all the books) again, and the comedy is spot-on when it’s present. I’d recommend it, especially if the series sounds interesting to you.

Back Thursday for more common writing mistakes.

Read any of the Oxford time travel series, Squiders? Thoughts? Which one is your favorite?

Readalong Announcement: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

Well, squiders, I’ve gone through my bookshelves and picked a book for us to try for our first stand-alone book readalong.

(Of course, since I was looking for a standalone, I found a ton of duologies and trilogies, because that is, of course, how this goes.)

I’ve picked Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead, which is a science fiction novel from the early ’80s. I think I picked it up from Goodwill at some point some years ago. I was originally looking at Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, but at almost 1200 pages I thought that might be too long for this sort of thing.

(Let me know if you are on board for reading 1000+ page novels over a couple of months. Maybe we could do monthly check-ins and break it down more. It’s an idea.)

Dream Thief is slightly under 500 pages, at least in my copy, which is from the mid-90s, and has fairly large font, so it shouldn’t be too bad. I’m going to give us until January 16 to read this so we have plenty of time to survive the holidays and whatnot.

Just a reminder that we’re playing with the readalong format here. If we don’t like the standalones, we can go back to the series, or we can do a mix of standalones and series moving forward.

This should be interesting, anyway. Older science fiction and fantasy can be so hit or miss, and even if things are good, they still often include aspects that wouldn’t fly today. (A friend once recommended a book called The Voyages of the Space Beagle, which is about a crew of about 1000 scientists of various fields flying about exploring space, but not a single person onboard is a woman.)

So, read along, as usual, if this sounds interesting, and we’ll discuss in mid-January.

Oh, and as a FYI, here’s the book description from Goodreads:

Every morning Dr. Spencer Reston, dream-research scientist on space station Gotham, wakes up exhausted with the nagging feeling that something terrible is about to happen. Spence soon discovers that he has become a vital link in a cosmic coup masterminded by a mysterious creature known as the Dream Thief . . . and all civilization hangs in the balance.

Common writing mistakes on Thursday! See you then!

Review: Entromancy by M.S. Farzan

Good morning, squiders! Today I’m bringing you Entromancy by M.S. Farzan, which is a fun mix of science fiction and fantasy.

BLURB

2076 is not a good year to be a special agent. A quarter of the world’s power runs on ceridium, a newly discovered element that has had the unintended consequence of spawning a new race of people, and several forms of magic that were once thought to have been forgotten. Eskander Aradowsi is an agent of NIGHT, a paramilitary force created to contain and control this new perceived threat, but he soon learns that not all within his organization is as it seems. A botched mission turns out to be the least of his troubles, when he unearths a plot that threatens the uneasy truce between the aurics and humans of San Francisco, and centers on a form of magic that toys with the very fabric of the universe: Entromancy.

 

EXCERPT

I turned into a tiny cul-de-sac, passing a hand over the cruiser’s console to turn off the engine.  I stepped off of the vehicle and unraveled my long coat, adjusting my lenses to see better in the dim light away from the main thoroughfare.  Moving casually but silently, I walked to the mouth of the alley and peered down the side street towards the storefront, a large corner location masquerading as a legalized Oxidium dispensary.  Unlike the larger buildings surrounding it, the shop was comprised of only two stories, with dark, nondescript windows facing out towards the intersection.

Reaching into a pocket, I opened a small packet and slipped a ceridium capsule into my hand.  I held it out in front of me and made several deft, practiced gestures, scanning the street around me to ensure that I wasn’t drawing any undue attention.  With a final pass of my hand, I crushed the capsule and tossed the contents over my head in a brief flash of blue.  I could feel my skin tingling slightly as the spell took effect, shrouding me in a gentle mist that would hide me from all but direct eye contact.

I quietly padded down the street towards the location’s opposing corner, filtering the different readings coming through my lenses and being recorded onto my digitab.  A handful of night porters were working a block away, loading furniture into a large truck.  Two street people slept under the cover of an awning, bundled even during the unusual heat.  Several parked cars lined the roadway, all but one appearing cold in the IR scan.  From my vantage, the storefront looked quiet and empty, as expected.

The timer on the upper corner of my lens display read 21:04:05, forty-one minutes before the place was set to blow.  Plenty of time.

 

REVIEW

I’m giving this a 4 out of 5.

I am in love with the worldbuilding on this one. Seriously, it’s amazing. It’s hard to write science fiction with fantasy races and have it make sense, but by jove, I have now seen it done. The book is almost worth it just for that aspect.

Luckily, it’s also good in other ways. The writing is good, the characterization is good, the plot is slightly predictable but still eminently readable, and, seriously, A+ on the worldbuilding. There are some infodumps throughout that could have been shortened or spread out better, and there is a FAIRLY MAJOR piece of information about the main character that’s not revealed til about halfway through that I’m a bit annoyed about, but overall, I really enjoyed reading this one.

I’d recommend picking this up if you like a good mix of science fiction and fantasy.

 

BIO

S. Farzan was born in London, UK and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a B.A. in Integrative Biology, M.A. in Religious Leadership for Social Change, and Ph.D. in Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions. He has written and worked for high-profile video game companies and editorial websites such as Electronic Arts, Perfect World Entertainment, and MMORPG.com, and has trained in and taught Japanese martial arts for over ten years. He also enjoys soccer, baseball, and games of all kinds.

( Buy the BookWebsite | Twitter )

 

The author will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

Let’s Talk About Star Trek Discovery

Okay, Squiders, fair warning: SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 3 (which, for those of you who might read this in the future, is all there is as of today.) Though I am going to complain about CBS for a minute, so you can read that if you want.

First of all–what is CBS thinking with their Access service? Do they really think that the other content they’re offering is going to be enough to hook anyone that comes in just for Trek? Cuz let me tell you how motivated I am to poke around and see what else they have: not at all. I am here for Trek and Trek alone, and if that Trek fails me, then I’m out of here. Likewise, if the Trek does not fail me, then I’m still out of there as soon as the season’s over.

(Actually, we’re thinking after our free trial is over, we’ll bugger off for a few months, then subscribe for a month and binge watch the episodes we missed.)

The Access service is not a good value anyway. Not only is it $7 or $8 or whatever a month, but there are commercials. A lot of them. Probably 4 or 5 breaks an episode, and 3 to 4 commercials per break. If I am paying for my TV, it should at least be commercial-free.

And it feels like they don’t really know their target market. Yes, a lot of people my age and younger don’t watch traditional television and an Internet-based service might be a good fit for us (but still, $7 a month PLUS COMMERCIALS), but what about the older generations? The ones that watched the Original Series, the ones that made Trek popular enough to do the movies and Next Generation? Like my parents. Like my mother. These are not people who are terribly familiar with Internet television. These are not people who are going to watch TV on their computers. These are not people who are going to have streaming devices like Rokus or video game consoles. My mother-in-law has already given up on the series because she can’t figure out how to watch it.

GOOD JOB, CBS, YOU SUCK.

Anyway, let’s talk about the actual series now, shall we?

I will admit to being really wary about the whole thing. First of all, time period–why do we keep sticking things before the Original Series? Is there some reason we feel like we can’t explore what happens post-Voyager? The 25th century is too scary somehow? And then there were the issues with the showrunners and production and so forth, and the general worry from promotional stuff that they were simply trying too hard. (Uniforms whhhhyyyy. No one is going to be able to easily make that from scratch, and I say that having made an Original Series minidress from the pattern in the original technical manual.)

Also, I feel like some of the promotional stuff was misleading. “Look, we have a female first officer AND a female captain and neither is white!” without telling you that said captain dies and said first officer is stripped of rank and court martialed by the time you get to the end of the second episode. And the captain of the Discovery? Your standard white man, so if you signed up for some ladies in power, well.

That being said, the series goes in a completely unexpected direction, and one that I am digging thus far. There are things I have issues with, but I am here for the storytelling. This is not your standard episodic Trek, and I will be very interested to see where we end up at the end of the season. The acting and characters are very good (though Anthony Rapp’s character Lt. Stamets is a no-go for me), and they’re playing around with making the aliens more alien since technology has improved. 

So! If we ignore the CBS Access stupidity, I’d recommend Discovery. It’s early days, but I’m intrigued, and that’s high praise for a show that normally takes at least a season to get their groove (or three, if you’re Next Gen). 

Have you been watching, Squiders? What do you think?

Fun Scifi Tropes: Alternate Universes

Alas, Squiders, today we come to the end of our scifi trope series, and we end with alternate universes, which are a personal favorite of mine (which seems to be a trend). WordPress handily keeps track of blog posts I’ve started, and there’s one from, oh, six years ago that is entitled “Alternate Universes” and the entirety of the post is “ARE AWESOME WOO.”

Good job, me.

Related to this (and to be included in this discussion) are parallel universes, which are almost exactly the same thing.

An alternate universe is a universe existing alongside our own, usually with slight changes (or sometimes major changes). These can be accessed in some manner that helps the plot along (or, alternately, the alt universe can stick its nose into our universe, usually with disastrous results).

TV Tropes lists ten specific variations of alternate universes:

  • Alternate History (This is, as it sounds, where some major event in the past never happened, or happened differently. Germany winning WWII is a common example of this.)
  • Another Dimension (TV Tropes says this is actually the parent trope for Alternate Universes. In this case, this is any world next to our own, whether it’s the Otherworld of the Fey or some of the weirder planes in Dungeons and Dragons. There does not need to be a relationship between our universe/dimension and the other one.)
  • Bizarro Universe (Usually everything is opposite, though the name of trope makes me think of the bizarro episode of SeaLab 2021 where all the bizarro versions said “Bizarro” all the time.)
  • Dark World (Essentially our world, but everything is terrible. To link in with last week’s time travel, you can get one of these by accidentally messing up something in the past.)
  • For Want of a Nail (One small change creates a MAJOR change between universes. Also In Spite of a Nail where the differences are critical but the characters tend to be the same.)
  • Mirror Universe (a subset of the Bizarro Universe, but basically where everything is the same except good people are evil and vice versa.)
  • The Multiverse (There’s multiple universes to be bounced around across.)
  • Elseworld (This is essentially what fanfiction alt universes–AUs–are. Basically you take a familiar character and put them in a wildly different situation.)
  • Wonderful Life (How the world would be if you were never born/existed.)
  • Alternate Tooniverse (An alternative universe that’s animated.)

(As a side note, TV Tropes is a bit like Wikipedia and you can lose hours in there, so be careful.)

Like most of the scifi tropes we’ve looked at, alternate universes can be used pretty much any way you want. They can be used to explore aspects of humanity, causality, or history. They can be used as backdrops for adventure, romance, and exploration. You can have a new universe every week, or have a number of universes intricately connected.

What are your favorite uses of alternate universes, Squiders? I recently started V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, which deals with alternate universes in a fantasy setting. And, of course, Star Trek makes excellent use of this trope through episodes like Mirror, Mirror and even my very favorite Next Gen episode, Inner Light.

Fun Scifi Tropes: Time Travel

Time travel! My other trope-y love. I have been known to pick up media based solely on the fact that they included time travel even if all other signs pointed to the whole idea being terrible.

But there’s so many things you can do with a time travel story! You can do fish-out-of-water stories (i.e., character ends up in incorrect time, either past or future–I mean, it’s the whole premise of Futurama, but even Mark Twain got in on the action). You can explore a past time period through a modern lens. You can stick dinosaurs wherever the hell you want them. You can have wacky shenanigans or tragic separation. The possibilities are truly endless. (As are the time travel related tropes, yikes.)

TVTropes has categories for time travel stories as well, although it breaks it up into nine:

It also notes four methods of time travel:

  • Videocassette time travel (basically, time is a straight line that you can travel forward or back on, and you can see the world changing around you)
  • Wormhole time travel (a wormhole or other “time tunnel” is used–this going along with my theory that no one understands wormholes and writers are going to exploit that as much as possible)
  • Instantaneous time travel (one minute you’re in one time, the next you’re in another)
  • Unseen time travel (the traveling character doesn’t know how they got there, or the audience is never shown the time travel process)

Time travel can be the main plot point of a story or in the background; it can be something that comes up once or twice in a series and is never mentioned again, or something used every week. It can be used to explore history, humanity, the future, time itself, cause and effect–you name it. Or it can just be the pretty box around an adventure or romance story.

It does seem to seep into all scifi series eventually, though, doesn’t it? I mean, even if we discount time travel-oriented series like Doctor Who or Quantum Leap, you get it in Star Trek, Stargate, Supernatural…even Fraggle Rock has a time travel episode.

But I still love it.

Favorite time travel stories or tropes, squiders? I’m pretty indiscriminate, though I will say that I thought Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear duology was magnificent. (And I’m fond of Connie Willis in general.)