Neptune’s Brood is a great space opera about interstellar banking by Charles Stross. Seriously great.
The protagonist, Krina Alizond, is a banking historian who now that she’s worked her way out of her indentured servitude to the hugely wealthy intelligence that created her, is into Ponzi schemes and especially how they play out over huge distances and slower than light travel. There are tonnes of digressions into the history of banking and how to set up a colony around another star when you can only travel at a percent of the speed of light and building a ship to do that is planetary economy expensive. The solution is debt and repayment over the long long term.
Alizond, is also interested in what happened to her sibling (who was also forked off of the same hugely wealthy being) on a distant world so she’s going there by hitching a ride working on a chapel-ship dedicated to the Fragile (ie humans who have not been upgraded to actually function in space and over the timescales one needs to be thinking in if you want to make a difference in a huge uncaring universe). There are banking privateers and mermaids and queens and a (really boring) space battle. It’s set in the same universe as Saturn’s Children, but I haven’t read that one and it did not matter at all.
Definitely one of my favourite books of the year, and it even includes an epigraph from David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (one of my favourite nonfiction books). If you like thinking about how things could be if they were different, this is a book you should read. We have science fiction basically so books like this can be made.
The God Engines is a short SF book by John Scalzi. It’s set in a distant future where ships adhering to the Mighty Lord ply the stars fighting battles and the like – a very Warhammer 40k-ish bleak setting. What makes any given ship (and the story) go is the defeated god chained up in its lower decks. These gods (one per ship) are the defiled unworthy competitors to the One God who defeated them in ages long past, and the only thing letting people survive in the coldness of space and travel across the galaxy.
The story is about a captain with very good judgment and the mission he is called upon to perform. He has a stalwart first officer and a lousy priest on board. I won’t spoil the story but the book is a very interesting examination of the nature of faith in a SF context. It’s short, but does its job well.
I think having read this just before seeing Prometheus might have shifted my expectations for the movie a bit, through no fault of either Scalzi or Scott. I thought they would be dealing with similar questions but one treated them thoughtfully while the other posed like it did.
As always when I read one of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, after Surface Detail it took me a while to get back into twenty-first century human life. Surface Detail is about a war over hells and whether they should be allowed to exist or not, and it’s about endlessly fighting battles, and about revenge and political expediency.
There’s an excellent bastard you’re rooting against for being terrible, but you know he doesn’t give a shit if you want him to win or not, and a woman who gets murdered in the first chapter (almost everyone dies at least once in this book) and then crosses the galaxy to get revenge, and a couple who voyage to hell and one of them doesn’t make it out again, and an appropriately uncouth Ship designed for battle. Pretty excellent stuff.
Iain M Banks’ The Algebraist was a far future space opera book that wasn’t in the Culture universe, which was disorienting for the first long while of reading it. Instead of Ship Minds this is a universe of wormholes and ships that are restricted to the speed of light otherwise. There are aliens including the gas-giant occupants the Dwellers, who feature heavily in the book.
Dwellers are incredibly long-lived. Some individuals are billions of years old. They’re also full of shit liars and completely uninterested in the deadly serious politics of the Quick (as they refer to all the short-lived species of the universe). This apathy towards politics is important to the inhabitants of the Ulubis system which has been cut off from the wormhole network for centuries and has learned it’s the target of an invasion by a ridiculously terrible warlord with diamond teeth and a huge-ass fleet. The Dwellers aren’t concerned but Fassin Taak has been sent in to find one of their secrets that could help turn the tide of the coming war.
It was a fine space-opera adventure story, but I missed the ubiquitous AI presence from the Culture books. Though there was an awesome bit with a species that was sentenced to become terribly morbid and look after corpses. That was pretty sweet. I also enjoyed the depiction of the Dwellers as so completely unserious. In general, it felt a little more traditional than I like, less mind-bending in its ideas.
I have been neglecting my reviewing duties. But don’t worry, I’ve still been reading. I haven’t given up on the printed word (and image). Just been slow in typing about them. So here is a list of the books I read before coming to Australia.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Vor Game is another of the Miles Vorkosigan space opera books. They’re fun stuff, nothing dense, just a lot of crazy stuff happening. You know there’ll be ridiculous coincidences and that people will be brilliant just in the nick of time. You aren’t worrying about huge amounts of ethical implications, though the characters do a lot better job of being human than in some books I’ve read recently.
The thing about this one is that it felt like two books bolted together. There’s the arctic mystery story and then the rollicking space opera with Ensign Miles being very insubordinate. In the afterword McMaster Bujold talks about how they probably should have been split in two. I agree.
Executive summary: good light adventure fiction, like the rest of the series.
Oh how I hated this book. I get that EE Doc Smith was writing Triplanetary in a different time. It was the 1930s. This is pulp science fiction. The heroes are supposed to be square jawed and the women should be plucky but dependent. I knew that’s how this kind of science fiction was back then, but actually reading it was intensely aggravating.
There isn’t a true human emotion in the entire story, just resolute action without thought and “scientific” reveals that come out of nowhere and casual genocide. Seriously, at one point the hero escapes from a zoo-cage-ish kind of prison and then proceeds to murder everyone in the city with poison gas. Everyone! And he had an antidote but only used it for the human who got caught up in the gas as well. At the end of the book the humans and aliens can still be friends despite the millions of lives lost because they killed millions of humans too. And they all laughed and had a beer because everyone was a good ol’ sort anyway (and the woman commented on how the aliens were still kind of gross).
It was aggressively stupid and ham-handed and I hated the whole thing. I get that books like this are ancestors to books I like, but I need someone to recommend me better 1930s pulp sci fi if I’m going to develop an appreciation for it.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga is a space opera classic. There are wormholes and space battles and currency discrepancies between worlds. This book, The Warrior’s Apprentice, is about Miles Vorkosigan who doesn’t get into the Imperial academy and then sets off to accidentally create a mercenary company.
It’s exciting and fun and there’s actually a bit more darkness in terms of war crimes and consequences than I’d expected. I was a little surprised at the shying away from depicting the climactic mercenary battle, but it followed that up with some interestingly manipulated politics to get Miles out of a treason charge, so that was pretty neat.
I think I own a couple of Vorkosigan books but have never read them. I only started them now because Baen made nearly the entire series available as free ebooks so I could bring the entire collection on my winter travels. Which is pretty enjoyable.
I expected something different from Iain M Banks’ Consider Phlebas. I mean I knew coming in that it was science fiction, that there was a group in it called The Culture, who are kind of a post scarcity and everything else kind of society, and that there are a few books in the series. I also knew from interviews that the protagonist would be a rebel against The Culture, which it sees as too perfect, an evolutionary dead end. I didn’t expect it to read like a game of Traveller. A very good game, one filled with adventure and mercenaries and explosions and an alien war and crazy card games and stuff, but it was a lot less cerebral than I’d been led to expect.
I’d thought the rebellious protagonist would engage in debate with the Culture and that would be how it would all get illuminated. Instead it was a bunch of space opera action scenes. Which is cool and all. I just expected density. It was better written than the (similar) Alastair Reynolds books I’ve been reading in the last year or so (but with fewer cool ideas), and now I know what to expect.