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The Long Earth (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 01 September 2012 00:00

An unlikely teamup (Stephen Baxter of Flood and Ark and Terry Pratchett of Diskworld) put their heads together for The Long Earth, a roaming scifi novel set 15 minutes into the future, when the world(s) open up.

The book starts with a schematic, a simple diagram, some wires and resistors and such, all centered around a common potato. This drawing has appeared all over the internet (so the story tells us) detailing a device which can be built out of Radio Shack parts (have you been to a Radio Shack lately? Fat chance of that!), and when you push the center off switch one way or the other, you throw up down your front. And when you are done heaving, you realize that you are standing in woods or swamps which would have been there had your community (and your species) never existed. Welcome to either West-1 or East-1 (depending on which way you pushed the switch).

Turns out there are millions of Earths strung out in two metaphysical directions, east and west. Each represents a world where something changed, some sort of reality shift, that makes it slightly different. And our Earth, "Datum" Earth, is the one variant where humans showed up.

The only trick is that metal doesn't come through. That means no guns, no tools, no nothing. Everything needs to be be built from the ground up. Of course, most people just tour out a few words, get their thrill, then pop home.Others build houses in new communities in the low Earths. And some, well, the more adventurer frontiersmen, they head off into the far reaches, 100,000 worlds or more, to make their own communities and start from scratch.

It's an interesting premise which held my interest, even to such details as that Westerners tendered to shift "west" and Easterners "east" as fitting their frontier mentality. That's good. And there are the famous Pratchett characters, the moody young man, the smarmy young woman, along with a robot that seems to be trying too hard to be likable (good storytelling? Bad? Can't tell).

If Pratchett has a problem (be it for me to critique his writing methods), it tends to be that he has rippling climaxes, one overlapping another until you wonder if the story is ever going to resolve itself. Baxter (at least, from reading his book Flood) is more of a realistic writer, one whose climaxes are not really good-evil but simply the event that defines the novel. What we are left with in The Long Earth is a climax that kinda isn't, that the ultimate dread is discovered and reasoned with, off page, a sort of "now why do you want to go and distress everyone like this, eh?" mood. There were other minor problems - a lot of time telling me how many jumps they were making, yet no time at all spent with the rise of Earth-centric fascism at "Datum".

But that's the analytical me, fussing over details. Overall, its a very interesting idea that seems to flow well, one with enough interesting vistas (in the form of SSDD (Same scenery, different dimension)) to keep it moving. I got my copy from the library, read it on a rainy day, and it was the perfect book for such a thing. I'm not giving it a rave, but a nod. Have a look.


Last Updated on Saturday, 01 September 2012 22:26
The Sea Witch (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 August 2012 00:00

The Sea Witch is a collection of three aviation short stories by Stephen Coonts, rich author guy, written between 1999 and 2003. They aren't bad, not if you like planes, but with one exception, I'm not sure what the point of the stories are. Anyway, the three shorts are...

The Sea Witch: The titular story centers on a PBY flying boat that has been tasked with a night bombing run over Rabal in WW2. Coonts demonstrates a full working knowledge of the craft itself (which is interesting). And it's one of those "desperate crew fearfully flies the edge" deals. However, I'm not sure of the point. The main character (the new copilot, booted out of SBDs because of his excess zeal (i.e. he's a dangerous-to-be-with-mo-fo)) joins a crew whose nerves are stretched to the limit. And the low-level night bombing run is hairy indeed. But I need to point out that action is only part of a good story. I'm not sure what all that character development led to. The main character hung onto the joystick to keep the plane flying. No tense dialogs took place. No appeals to patriotism, no snarling threats. Just a rattling night in a beat-to-shit plane with characters dropping like flies. I'm not sure if the conclusion meant anything. Look, I'm not suggesting that a story needs all sorts of crafty elements, but just that a slice of life (even dangerous seat-of-the-pants-flying life) doesn't necessarily make a story.

The 17th Day: This is a reference to the survival rate of WW1 pilots during Bloody April (where the Royal Flying Corp got shot out of the sky). Again, Coonts knows his airplanes (at least the SE5a) but neglects the storytelling. It turns out that today is the 17th day of this pilot's active service and he feels if he can make it, he'll last a good long time (like until next week, perhaps). However, my first bump centered on the fact that this statistic was known sometime after the period, not during it (you can't determine an average in the middle of the time span). In all the WW1 aviation books I grew up on, no pilot ever fixated on the 17th day. The second bump were the Fokker DVIIs showing up in presumably what is sometime in 1917 (the squadron's Nieuports have just been replaced with SEs). DVIIs shouldn't be about for another couple of months, even a half year. Even DR1s (the dreaded triplanes) would be a new thing then. And again, the story is episodic but somewhat pointless. The main character flies about, people get killed, it's all very thrilling. But no progression, no hopes, no introspection.

Al-Jihad: Finally, something resembling a plot. This time, a retired ex-marine is hired by a batshit crazy woman who flies V-22s, whose parents were killed some time ago aboard an airliner bombed by terrorists. So terrorists the world over are going to be meeting in this ancient fortress in the back-end of Libya, and she wants to blow the place up. With very little planning (they decide their plan of attack when they are on the ground), they go in. Of interest to me was the V-22 itself, which I did flight simulator work on years ago. Here, the main character has an interesting backstory, the woman is eerie yet mysterious, the tension mounts, and finally, in the end, a clever twist. So even though this story was the furthest from my interests, I found it better than the others. Still, there was that one terrorist who seemed to have expected them, who spoke English without prompting. This was a Chekhov's gun of the highest order.

I've been a little picky here. Coonts writes solid, he knows his stuff, he gives us flyboy porn. Since I got this from the library, I'm not too bent out of shape. If you are your library and see it on the shelves, by all means, run it through the scanner. Fun but light.


Last Updated on Sunday, 26 August 2012 08:14
Embedded (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 18 August 2012 20:38

I hate Embedded.

I hate Dan Abnett.

This is writer's hate, you see. It happens when a writer reads a book that's really, really good. I just sit here hating the book, the author, all while I'm really, really marveling at it.

Think I'm alone? Hemingway felt that way...

Gil: I would like you to read my novel and get your opinion.
Ernest Hemingway: I hate it.
Gil: You haven't even read it yet.
Ernest Hemingway: If it's bad, I'll hate it. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it even more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.

Well, this comes from the movie Midnight in Paris, but it's still true.

Seriously, Embedded is good cutting-edge scifi. The first moment I hated it was when some journalists said the work "freeking®". That's right, with the register mark behind it. Finally the main character asks about it - it's a "sponsored expletive". Turns out that the government office behind the journalists being there wanted to broadcast to a wide audience but didn't want to have to bleep everything. So they gave the journalists "ling mods" (linguistic mods, i.e. changed their brain wiring) so they would say "freeking®" every time they swore a blue streak. And "freeking" is such a weak word - it just fits, and you could see corporations actually doing that, registering an expletive. Bloody beautiful.

I hate it.

So the book is about a once-famous-but-going-to-pot journalist who gets into something that looks like a war zone - not civil disturbance, not terrorism or anything humans have seen for three hundred years, but a war. A real shooting war. And to get that cutting-edge story, the journalist gets his consciousness injected (via new cutting-edge technology) into a soldier's head (totally illegal, but there's a little cash on the side, and what harm can come from it?)

Except that the soldier takes a disabilitating head wound, and now the journal's mental presence is all that's keeping this staggering body going.

The story rolls along with us finding out along the way who's behind the war, how it's going, and more hints as to why it started. I'll give Abnett this, his combat scenes will have you ducking when the shots are flying, and his dialog feels pretty much like soldier talk. So, man, do I hate him.

If I've got a complaint, I began to suspect what was behind the war about fifty pages short. It's a bit of a old-school reason, and I was hoping he'd come up with something new. It's a shame since everything was new and fresh, but the wrapup was a bit of an old chestnut.

But still, I hated this book. And I strongly recommend that you go out and get a copy - you'll hate it too!



Last Updated on Saturday, 18 August 2012 21:11
The Odyssey (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 09 August 2012 20:10

Odysseus' household is in trouble, worse than an upside down mortgage. See, this King of Ithaca has been away in the Trojan war for nine years, then missing for another decade. Convinced that he is dead, a hundred suitors for his wife Penelope's hand have flooded his hall, working through the larder like cockroaches, threatening his son Telemacus. They are insistent to wed Penelope (not for her beauty, which appears to have held up well into her mid-thirties (if not later), but for Odysseus' riches).

She's already started one gambit, claiming that she needs to finish sewing a funeral pall for her father-in-law, claiming she'll pick one of the bores once she completes it. Years go by before they realize that she's been sewing by day and unraveling by night. Suckers.

Telemacus, meanwhile, has launched a private expedition, attempting to gain world of his missing Pappy (like Popeye, in a way). The suitors, not wishing him back, stake out a narrow strait, intending to deep-six the troubling youth. And where the hell in all this is Odysseus?

See, I thought this book would be a Sinbad the Sailor sort of thing (which I've read), where he goes from adventure to adventure, all while losing crews to horrible disasters (who would want to work for these guys?). And yes, we do get some of Odysseus' alibi (he and his crew getting trapped by the cyclops, of the cyclops eating a couple of them (See???), of him tricking it and putting out its eye, of them sneaking away. This angers HIS pappy, Poseidon, who makes Odysseus' life a seagoing hell. Several crews later, he finally manages to get home.

And this is where the book really caught me. With the help of Athena the Goddess, he disguises himself as a beggar. After being reunited with his son, he sneaks into his own house. And now the epic king plays it crafty. Odysseus takes his time, shuffling about like Pig Pen, being buffeted and humiliated (and taking names). Soon will come the accounting. Soon will come the payback. And when it comes, it's godlike.

I won't say this is an easy read. The story hops back and forth between the present and the story-telling past. Also, people tell their backstories over and over. And there are those poetic memory tricks (used in a more verbal day) for describing the wine-dark sea, the dark-hulled ships, the bronze-gleaming dawn, dialogs of winged words.

Different time. Different storytelling. But still a must-read for anyone curious about the origin's of western plot devices and narrative pace. I enjoyed it, I'm glad I read it, but like the true Odyssey, I'm glad it's over.

Have a look.


Last Updated on Thursday, 09 August 2012 20:42

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