book review: the collapsing empire

The Collapsing Empire is John Scalzi’s most recent space opera. It takes the tropes of far flung planets and space ships travelling between them and puts some interesting characters doing clever things in those ships and places of power and knowledge. Yup. Good stuff.

The collapsing part of the empire (called the Interdependency because they rely on trade between stars to survive) is that the bits of nonspace that connect these farflung worlds without having to travel actually faster than light (though the effect is pretty much the same in a Traveller-esque fashion) are shifting, and that’s shifting how power will play out on the grand scale. It’s a good ecological metaphor and I enjoyed how humanity has had to build habitats wherever they could connect to each other, rather than on planets that would be suitable for bearing human life.

I’m a bit interested in what will happen when the shifting status quo meets up with either Earth or a generationship kind of thing that didn’t use the networks that are shifting. It’s a series though, so that doesn’t happen in this book. It was a fine light read; a good popcorn book. As far as space opera I’ve read recently I like it better than The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but not as much as Leviathan Wakes or The Stars Are Legion.

book review: redshirts

So the joke in John Scalzi’s Redshirts is that in a Star Trek-like future a bunch of expendable crewmembers on a starship figure out that something is hinky about their incredible death rate. Anyone who goes on a mission with one of the bridge crew has a terribly low survival rate. The book is about some of these lower decks members figuring out what is going on and how to change the universe to improve their odds. Be warned: it gets kind of meta. (Normally I like that, but this didn’t set my brain/heart on fire.)

It was a decent enough book, but that may be because I’m enough of a Star Trek nerd to enjoy looking at the bizarre universe they live in and figuring out ways to rationalize it. It had some decent things to say about lazy storytelling and figuring out a better way to write. And it didn’t take very long to read. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped but I didn’t hate myself for taking a few hours out of my life with it.

book review: the god engines

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.

book review: fuzzy nation

Fuzzy Nation is John Scalzi’s reboot of H. Beam Piper’s classic science fiction book Little Fuzzy. I haven’t read the original, but Scalzi’s version is a lot of fun.

Jack Holloway is an ex-lawyer current-prospector on a remote planet who finds a huge mineral claim. He also finds a bunch of fuzzy creatures that take up residence in his home out in the (dangerous) jungle. The story follows the wrangling over people getting what they want, which isn’t always completely obvious. There’s intrigue and CSI-type stuff, courtroom drama, and debates over sentience. All classic SF stuff.

There are a few points where I think I can guess how the original differed from Scalzi’s story, just in the way some things are set up that feel specifically modern, but there are only enough of them to make you feel like you’re clever. They don’t dominate the proceedings.

Like most of Scalzi’s work, it’s a quick read, but worth the time if you like witty scifi.

book review: zoe’s tale

I read John Scalzi’s blog but he’s not an author whose books I clamour for on the day of release. This week, though I felt an urge for his non-bloggish writing and got a bunch of books from the library. First up, the YA novel set in the Old Man’s War universe called Zoe’s Tale.

This book is about Zoe, the teenage daughter to two war-heroes turned colonists. She’s got a special relationship with an alien race and is kind of bored with her life on Huckleberry (though there’s a lot of exciting backstory to her life you can read in the other Old Man’s War books about her parents). She and her parents and her alien bodyguards head off to start a new colony. Zoe makes friends, deals with relationship issues and gets embroiled in interstellar politics.

It’s a really interesting book because of what it leaves out. It takes place at the same time as The Last Colony so you read this knowing that yeah you’re missing stuff, or having it summarized because Zoe heard about it secondhand. It had a different feel because of it. You really felt like Zoe was dealing with a world and events out of her control. I liked it a lot.

I was also reading this to see if I could suggest it as a standalone YA novel (I’ve only read the first book in the series and that was a few years ago). I think I can. It doesn’t hit quite the same beats as usual, but it’s different in a good way, and Zoe’s got a good voice and feels funny and real.

book review: agent to the stars

I read John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars on my new replacement ereader (my last one got lost in Nanchong). It was okay. I like Scalzi’s style fine, and unlike The Android’s Dream this one didn’t involve a lot of casual killing by people you wouldn’t expect to be mass murderers. A dog dies and there’s a bunch of drama over a near/non-death. The entire plot is all kind of stupidly coincidental and convenient, but that’s okay since it’s basically a science fiction comedy kind of thing. I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it, but if you like Scalzi, it’s not terrible. Woo, ringing endorsement!

book review: the forever war

Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is a classic of science fiction about a soldier drafted in the futuristic time of 1997 and his life in and out of the military. Because of relativistic effects that life lasts a long time. I confess, I read it because of John Scalzi, who wrote the introduction to this new edition and was pimping it on his blog, Whatever. Haldeman wrote it in the 70s after his time in the Vietnam war and I think what I like best about the book is the lack of battles. There’s one engagement where they slaughter aliens, one in which they get hit by an attack en route to a battle, and a fight out on some cold rock in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t this one soldier being in the middle of everything important that happened in the war. It was a soldier trying to live his life with a war happening to him. I liked it a lot. He wasn’t some war hero, as he never really did much, but he was seen as one for surviving. Yeah, I can see why it was a classic.