Showing posts with label 2012 Science Fiction Experience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2012 Science Fiction Experience. Show all posts

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Completing: The 2012 Science Fiction Experience

The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings was a quick, short term non-challenge that I joined for a period of two months, from January 1st through February 29, 2012.

Carl V. made this a cool experience by giving the participants the choice of discussing everything science fiction: from movies to books, to well... anything. It was fun! I participated by watching quite a few movies, more than I posted about, and reading quite a few books, again, more than posted on my blog. I also ended up purchasing MORE books for that ever growing TBR pile after reading some of the reviews posted by my fellow participants, and adding some old favorites for re-reading purposes in ebook format.

At the beginning of this experience I had in mind two series and authors whose works I wanted to read, but was not sure which one I would choose. I ended up finishing one series, and began the other. So not too bad! Here they are:
Below is a summary of my posts for The 2012 Science Fiction Experience. I've also listed the titles of all books read, and movies that I remember watching.

  1. Science Fiction "B Movies"
  2. The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of the Expanse by James S.A. Corey - Mini
  3. Overview: Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Old Man's War #1, The Ghost Brigades #2) 
  4. Impressions: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Books Read:
    1. Old Man's War (Old Man's War, Book 1) by John Scalzi
    2. "Quiritationem Suis." (Metatropolis Anthology) by John Scalzi
    3. The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, Book 2)  by John Scalzi
    4. The Sagan Diary (Old Man's War, Book 2.5) by John Scalzi
    5. The Last Colony (Old Man's War, Book 3) by John Scalzi
    6. After the Coup (Old Man's War 4.5) by John Scalzi
    7. The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of the Expanse (Book 1.5) by James S.A. Corey
    8. Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Series, #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold
    9. How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story by John Scalzi
    Movies Watched (watched more!):
    1. The Matrix
    2. Pitch Black
    3. Soldier
    4. Push
    5. The Chronicles of Riddick
    6. Star Trek (2009, directed by J.J. Abrams)
    7. Priest (spec fic)
    8. The Andromeda Strain
    Thank you, Carl V., I had a blast!

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    Impressions: Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold

    Cordelia Naismith is enjoying a baptism of fire. Her first mission is to captain a throwaway warship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an entire enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she is forced into an uneasy peace with her nemesis: Lord Aral Vorkosigan. Discovering that astrocartography is not the soundest training for a military leader, Cordelia rapidly finds herself the prisoner of the Barrayaran Captain Aral Vorkosigan, also known as 'The Butcher of Komarr'. But the notorious captain is not quite the beast Cordelia was expecting and a grudging respect develops between the two of them. As captor and prisoner on an abandoned outpost planet, the honourable captain and the resolute scientist must rely on each others' trust to survive a trek across dangerous terrain, thus sparking a relationship that shares the struggles of culture and politics between their worlds.
    I finally began reading the Vorkosigan science fiction saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Although I understand that Miles, their son, is the main character throughout the rest of the series, I decided to begin at the beginning by reading Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan's story. I figured the backstory would help me understand Miles' character better later on. I think it was a good move.

    As the first full-length novel in the series Shards of Honour is key. It serves two purposes: one is to give the readers of this series Miles' family history from both sides, and the other is to introduce the complex political, military and cultural differences between the Barrayaran and the worlds they war against, the Betan included.

    Bujold uses the slow developing and low-key romance between Cordelia and Aral to build her world through exchanges of information and conversations between the two main characters. They first meet as enemies, but slowly the need to fight for survival in an alien planet brings them together and Cordelia and Aral form a bond of trust through honor and finally affection.

    Honor and valor are also key to this story. It is what drives Aral and what he finds in Cordelia -- that, plus strength and will. Cordelia is not only Aral's ideal of a warrior's wife, but everything he himself would like to be as a warrior. Yet, she is not a warrior but a scientist. Aral is a man of honor through and through, but he is also a military strategist and in his heart, a politician. As such, he must make tough decisions that bruise his sense of self. Cordelia understands him and soothes his soul.

    Barrayar's politics are quite complex in this story, and what begins as an attack on Cordelia's scientific party in an alien planet balloons into a disproportionate situation that places more than just a few people in danger. There are betrayals behind betrayals, secrets, and massive amounts of people die or are tortured, planets go to war and in the end Bujold leaves the reader with gray areas as to where responsibilities really lie for the loses and slaughter, and even Cordelia must make a tough choice between her own world and Aral's.

    Shards of Honour is most definitely a science fiction novel though. Bujold incorporates the necessary details seamlessly into her worldbuilding. Beginning with the alien planet where Cordelia and Aral meet, and where they both use whatever futuristic science there is to survive, and ending with the space ships and developing edgy science used to win and lose wars.

    However, I walked away from Shards of Honour thinking mostly about characterization and complex plotting. The romance that Bujold developed between two mature adults that grows from admiration to an almost quiet, deep love was rather enjoyable, and the complex political circumstances and militaristic Barrayaran culture fascinating. So I'm on my way and can't wait to continue by reading the second book in the series, Barrayar.

    Category: Science Fiction
    Series: Vorkosigan Series, Book 1
    Publisher/Release Date: October 1, 1991/Baen Books
    Grade: B

    Visit Lois McMaster Bujold here.

    Read as part of The 2012 Science Fiction Experience.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Overview: Old Man's War Series by John Scalzi (Old Man's War #1, The Ghost Brigades #2)

    John Scalzi's first novel Old Man's War was first published in 2005 and made it as Hugo Award Finalist in 2006. The sequels followed in order, The Ghost Brigades in 2006, The Last Colony in 2007, and Zoe's Tale in 2008. There are also two novellas set in the same world, The Sagan Diary (written before The Last Colony) and After the Coup.

    Old Man's War - First Edition Cover

    In Scalzi's world humans finally figured out interstellar space travel and have moved on to colonize other planets. The problem is that humans are in competition with a vast amount of hostile alien races for the same pieces of real estate (planets), and war and conflict are constant and inevitable as there are only a limited amount of planets that are livable. Negotiations are limited to land-grabbing by way of war as they race through the known universe expanding and colonizing. Humans are represented by the powerful and controlling Colonial Union (CU) and the Colonial Defence Force (CDF) is out there to help protect human colonies.

    Colonial Defence Force: The CU recruits their CDF soldiers from planet Earth. These old men and women have accumulated a lifetime of knowledge and skills that saves the CDF time while training. The idea also is that the life-time experiences will help these future soldiers make the correct decisions while in battle, and having had an emotional connection with family and loved ones throughout their first lifetime, these soldiers will stay sympathetic to the human cause throughout the upcoming years of war and death. Plus, these old people have nothing else to look forward to but the pain of old age and death -- they make perfect recruits. They are offered a future as soldiers by way of a two to ten year contract, and once finished with their service, if they survive the wars, a new life in a colonized planet.

    Special Forces: The CDF also has their own Special Forces. These soldiers are not recruited. Special Forces or Ghost Brigade soldiers are made from the DNA of dead humans and different alien races, and using the BrainPal technology (see below) they are given a consciousness which allows them to function as humans -- albeit with super-human capabilities -- but with the specific purpose of being a soldier. However, they are not readily accepted by other humans and as a result they keep to themselves. They are the Frankenstein monsters of the CU.

    Space Travel and Technology: To travel through space, humans use the Skip Drive. Scalzi goes into detail about the extent of what humans know about this technology, as well as its limitations. Besides the Skip Drive, there are other key technological advances that humans developed and saved their attempts at colonization. The two most important are the ability to successfully grow an engineered matured human body in a matter of months, and the ability to transfer consciousness from one body to another as long as the two brains are identical. These two developments combined allowed humans to successfully "produce" super soldiers (CDF and Special Forces) that could then do battle against hostile alien forces.

    The two other key technological developments are the BrainPal and nanotechnology. The BrainPal is an neuroimplant that allows CDF and Special Forces soldiers to send information directly to each other -- from one BrainPal to another -- as well as to download information instantly as needed, i.e., translating alien languages, etc. The soldiers are not only able to communicate with each other through the BrainPal, they can also see through each other's eyes, and even feel each other's emotions. Nanotechnology is used everywhere. As examples: Nanobots are used to make the soldiers unitards and used like armor, the soldiers' blood (SmartBlood) is composed of nanobots, the soldiers' bodies self-heal and re-grow lost limbs, and even their weapon (MP-35) can self-repair.

    Alien Races: There are many alien races introduced by Scalzi throughout the story. However, there are only a few that are slightly developed -- none with real depth: the Consu, Rraey, and the Obin. The Consu are the most advanced and complex race in the known universe and although they do battle with humans, their motivations remain a mystery. The Rraey are cannibalistic, acquisitive and aggressive but less techno-savvy than humans and the Obin are technologically advanced, but possess no consciousness or awareness. All three are at war with humanity as are the rest of the aliens in this series.

    Old Man's War (Book #1)

    In his first novel, Old Man's War, Scalzi begins by introducing his main character, John Perry and setting up the world building. When John Perry and his wife Kathy were 65 years old they signed a letter of intent to join the CDF, however his wife died and on his 75th birthday Perry visits his wife's grave and then goes on to join the army. Perry figures the odds are not so bad, if he's going to die anyway, he might as well die young and doing something worthwhile.

    I liked the premise. The first part of the book is the best in my opinion. This is where Scalzi introduces the main character John Perry, the cast of secondary characters that later on become important to him throughout this story, and where you'll find the first blocks for the world building. I loved John Perry's sense of wonder and naivete as he and his new friends take a leap of faith and go on to an unknown future. The sense of freedom and vitality that seems to overcome the geriatric volunteers, combined with excitement and fear as an unknown future looms ahead of them, is intoxicating to them and makes the reader want to know what lies ahead.

    The second section of the book is where I began to have problems with the story. After Perry undergoes his transformation, he begins the all important military training and eventually goes on to war. The military training section is brief, lacking in in-depth detail, and I thought it at best quite sketchy. As the action and the story continues, and there is plenty of action, I became torn. It is a fast paced story, with a nice flow and a central character whose actions we follow from beginning to end, but it just seemed to me that although there are plenty of details at the beginning of the book: the skip drive, nano technology, etc., when it comes to developing alien hostile races and secondary characters, true depth is sacrificed to both the action and pace.

    I enjoy military science fiction, and that's exactly what Old Men's War is. Of course there's also the moral ambiguity as a central theme. Scalzi doesn't over-philosophize in Old Men's War though, he has an easy-peasy, flowing writing style that is quite reader friendly, and in this first book he gets his point across without beating the drums to a pulp. 

    The Ghost Brigades (Book #2)

    The Ghost Brigades is the second book in the Old Man's War series, and although it's set in the same world, very few characters from the first book make an appearance. This story focuses on the Special Forces soldiers and how they are "produced," how they function and how they feel about their roles as soldiers.

    Jared Dirac is made, not born. The difference between him and other Special Forces soldiers is that he is a superhuman hybrid made out of the dead scientist Charles Boutin's DNA and consciousness. The scientist was a traitor to humanity who gave away key information to three hostile alien races who are now allied and planning to attack the Colonial Union. Jared is an experiment and if that experiment works then Boutin's motivations for betraying the Colonial Union will be known; if the experiment doesn't work, then this superhuman hybrid will be given to Special Forces as a soldier. There's no loss for the CDF, right?

    The Ghost Brigades begins with plenty of moral ambiguity as you can see by my summary. It actually goes on to become even more so as the story moves along. The experiment doesn't really take at first and Jared Dirac is relegated to Special Forces. The reader goes through the whole process of experiencing life and events for the first time with Jared. That's the focus of the story, Jared's experiences, his loses and where they eventually take him as a "person" and a soldier. The consequences of the experiment and who pays the final price.  The question of the individual's rights, choices, and consciousness are all touched upon in the Ghost Brigades. Scalzi gives most of his focus to this subject.

    Don't misunderstand me, there's plenty of action in The Ghost Brigades, and as in Old Man's War you'll find battles, war and carnage. Under Jane Sagan's command (Old Man's War), he experiences both loss and pain and eventually Boutin's memories begin to surface. As they battle the aliens to break the alliance, and Jared fights his and someone else's emotions and memories, finding the answer to whose consciousness makes the person becomes the key to this puzzle.

    Scalzi has that flowing style that makes a long book go in a flash. My biggest problem with this particular story was the lack of connection I felt with most of the characters, and again the lack of depth and certain background detail that well... just left me wanting more. Plus, the fact that the action, Jared's character development, and the mystery are not woven well, instead they are separated into sections.

    The 2012 Science
    Fiction Experience
    Conclusion: I'm not going to make any specific comparisons as I'm sure those have been done to death by now, but I do have to mention that although Old Man's War is very much Scalzi's, it is also obvious that it's a tribute to Heinlein (Starship Troopers) and Haldeman (The Forever War). This month I actually read the first three novels, including The Last Colony, plus The Sagan Diary and After the Coup, but decided to just focus this post on the first two books.

    The first two books in this series are the best ones in my opinion. Although I'm sure for hardcore science fiction readers out there these stories don't sound fresh, Scalzi's style certainly made me appreciate them as such. That first section of Old Man's War is an absolute winner. I loved his take on the Skip Drive and how that works, as well as his attempts at explaining how consciousness can be transferred onto an engineered body. I loved that the soldiers are green and there are plenty of battles and fights to go around. Plus I certainly enjoyed Scalzi's flowing and fast paced writing style.

    Unfortunately, there's also those other details such as characterization and developing background stories that were left hanging that I missed. A missed opportunity in my opinion are the hostile alien races which are pretty much two dimensional and left unexplored for the most part throughout the series. Characters also came to what seemed to be deep realizations throughout the course of events and then dismissed those conclusions without a second thought -- I didn't get that. And although Scalzi gives John Perry a strong female love interest, and follows through on that relationship in The Last Colony, I found the dialogue and interactions between those two wooden and lacking emotion.

    Finally, overall this was a fun series even with its weaknesses. I loved the space opera military battles, the gruesome deaths, (one inch aliens, really? really?) and the sense of wonder that humans experience when out in space for the first time, mixed with all the rest of the techo-babble... it was a wonderful adventure.

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    This 'n That: Reading Update, Romance & Scifi

    Happy weekend everyone! I'm back at work and well... working! Already missing my wonderful, lazy, vacation days and very glad that the weekend is finally here.

    My blogging has been spotty these past couple of weeks due to all the beginning of the year craziness, but I have found time for reading. And what have I been reading? Lots of science fiction! Yes... By participating in Carl V's 2012 Science Fiction Experience I've developed a craving for all things sci fi, and I'm the type of reader that obsesses. Sci fi and/or Fantasy can do that to me. :)


    So far this month, I've read lots of Scalzi! From the Metatropolis anthology edited by John Scalzi, I read his novella, "Quiritationem Suis." I also read Scalzi's first novel Old Man's War, and the second book of the Old Man's War trilogy, The Ghost Brigades. I followed that up with a novella set in this same world, After the Coup. Right now I'm reading The Sagan Diary in preparation for the third and last book of the original Old Man's War trilogy, The Last Colony. After I finish that book, I'll write up an overview about the trilogy. What I can tell you is that so far the first book is my favorite, it is definitely quick paced military science fiction with great action and flow. Scalzi also gives the reader something to think about without beating him/her over the head with a hammer, and yes... there's actually a love interest in there! Can you believe it? :)


    Also as a follow up to reading Leviathan Wakes in December, I read the novella The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. This novella focuses on an incident that defined the career of (and eventually the man) one of the characters that plays a key role in Leviathan Wakes. Fred Johnson is the leader of the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) by the time we meet him in Leviathan Wakes. Throughout the book he was referred to as the Butcher of Anderson Station, however that was never explained.

    This story goes back in time and focuses on that story, giving the readers and fans of this new series a terrific first person account of exactly what shaped this character. It also gives the reader further insight into how Earth viewed Belters and why Fred eventually turns from hero to traitor. The story feels rather incomplete, though. By the end there's a sense that there's more to Fred, or that there should be more. The political implications are touched upon lightly in this novella, and I'm hoping that the second book of the trilogy will give us more Fred. Of course, to me this was just an appetizer before the main course. That would be Caliban's War (Expanse #2), coming in June 2012.


    And sticking with the subject of sci fi, if you like old style pulp sci fi, you need to check out Carl V's post on Hunt the Space Witch! by Robert Silverberg. I haven't read anything by this author and after reading that post of course I immediately purchased the book. I love pulp, plus hmm... check out that cover!

    I also joined the 2012 TBR Challenge, hosted by our Super Librarian Wendy. However, between the Science Fiction Experience and Wendy's TBR Challenge, so far this year I've added more to my reading pile than I've read! How is that helping me? Well, hopefully it will help me gather some great titles instead of duds. Right? Isn't that a wonderful way to rationalize my recent book-buying spree? Check out my recent additions:

    After reading Scalzi's Old Man's War I experienced a bit of nostalgia, so to re-read a couple of books I no longer own, I also purchased in ebook format two old classics:


    In other news, I broke the sci fi spell I was under by reading a couple of contemporary romances. One of those books was by Emily March. She's a new-to-me author and for some reason I kept looking at her latest release Lover's Leap: An Eternity Springs Novel and going back to it, until I bought it and read it this last week.

    This book is part of a series, but it's pretty much a self-contained romance, so it was not too tough reading it and getting into it. It's basically a story about second chances at love, errors in judgment, redemption, and forgiveness. It's an interesting series, although there's something 'quirky' about it. A lot of talk about the 'angel inside' and 'miracles.' I wasn't too taken with this aspect of the book... plus there's this character, Celeste who comes off as kind of "new-agey," who seems to be the center of the whole series. I know there was something about her that I missed. Definitely. For me, it was an okay contemporary romance with a couple of frustrating moments provided by one character that turned out to be particularly immature. Has anyone read the other books in this series? I'm curious because I liked some of the secondary characters.


    I read a few other books, including Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis, but I'll be reviewing those books later on. 

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    2012 Science Fiction Experience: Science Fiction "B Movies"

    Joining the 2012 Science Fiction Experience has made me crave not only books, but also science fiction movies! Now, I'm not talking about the best of the best here... I do love those: Star Wars (the original series), Blade Runner, The Matrix, Alien, a few of the Star Trek movies, etc. I also happen to have a secret passion for "B" movies. You know... the ones that get the dreaded "Rotten Tomatoes" ratings every year, the ones that the critics hate and that serious science fiction fans can't stand to watch? Those.

    So, I began by watching some of those movies that I know are flawed (some of the seriously flawed), but that for some unknown reason I get stuck watching anyway. It's interesting because here and there these movies all offer something to science fiction fans. I looked for that this time around instead of doing what I usually do -- talking through most of the movies, pointing out what's wrong with them to my poor husband (who does the same thing to me), or just laughing at the most inappropriate moments, it's fun!

    The first movie I watched was Pitch Black. Pitch Black was directed by David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel. Why do I watch this movie? I enjoy the action, the fact that in effect it has that sci-fi/thriller/horror edge to it with the aliens providing the gore, while some of the humans provide the real horror through their questionable actions. They prove to be the true monsters to be conquered by the oh so very dark hero, Riddick. Of course the thriller aspect of the film is still provided as those same humans are pitted against the aliens. It's nothing new or fresh in science fiction, but I do enjoy that type of story line within this genre.

    Now, when it comes to the actual sci-fi details and world building, the story is lacking and the action aspect of the film takes precedence over character depth or specific details. This is where Pitch Black falls under the "B movie" category for me. A great science fiction film is all about the details, and those are missing. For example right at the beginning of the movie the pilot (Caroline Fry) crash lands the ship on the planet after they are hit by debris from a comet. However there's no way she could have survived the crash as all the windows of the ship burst right on her face as they are entering the planet's atmosphere at top speed. Later on, Fry should not have survived her foray into the alien's cave either, but obviously it wasn't her time to die yet.

    There's also the planet itself and the fact that seems to be very close to three suns, with desert-like weather and blistering temperatures. The survivors are not prepared for a trek through this blistering desert. They don't have the right gear, nor do they have water... yet they survive a long trek by drinking alcohol without any outward effects. And then there's Riddick, the questionable hero of the piece. He obviously has abilities that are beyond those of a mere human. For example, he can see in the dark, but the rest is basically implied. In Pitch Black, Riddick is just a very dangerous criminal who somehow can survive in the dark when others can't, can smell when someone is bleeding (even though this is not apparent), and can even fight the native aliens and win, but how he does this is never explained. Ever. Not even at the end of the movie.

    There are also lots of cliches used in the film. Most of what happens is foreshadowed. You know when someone is going to bite the dust, or make the stupid move that's going to get someone killed. This is not a movie I recommend as a great example of a science fiction film. However, as an action film with some of that science fiction flavor it can be highly entertaining to watch on a Sunday afternoon.

    There's a sequel to Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick where Riddick's abilities are explained. I've also seen that film, but that would be another post. :)

    I did watch two other movies in the "B movie" category:

    Soldier is a 1998 science fiction-action film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. The film stars Kurt Russell as Sgt. Todd, a soldier trained from birth. This was one of the biggest flops ever in the history of film! There's some military sci-fi action in this film with a bit of social sci-fi. The problem is that neither is really developed and the film devolves into an action film that doesn't really make a point either way.

    The interesting factoid about this film? The screenwriter David Peoples "considers Soldier to be a "sidequel"/spiritual successor to Blade Runner." Ahhh, nope! Sorry, but I don't see it.

    Push is a 2009 American science fiction thriller film directed by Paul McGuigan starring Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Gretsch and Djimon Hounsou. The film focuses on a group of people born with various superhuman abilities: Movers (Telekinetics), Watchers (Foreseers), Pushers (Mind Controllers), Sniffers, Shadows, Shifters, etc...

    The main characters, three young adults band together in order to take down the "Division", a government agency that is developing a dangerous drug to enhance their powers, hoping to create an army of super soldiers. This was an interesting movie with a good premise I enjoyed, even as I watched the dead end action scenes that had no real purpose and its inconclusive and sequel-bating ending. This movie is like an episode in an ongoing series with no real conclusion. Incomplete.

    That's it for my science fiction "B" movie watching. That was fun!