2014 Science Fiction Exprience

I can’t believe it’s over!

I ended up reviewing 12 things, books, comics, and tv-shows. Just like our gracious host Carl, I fully intend to continue enjoying SF all through the year. Thanks, Carl, for an awesome event!

1, Battlestar Galactica: Season Zero Omnibus
2, Kage Baker: The Machine’s Child
3, J. G. Ballard: The Drowned World
4, Kage Baker: The Sons of Heaven
5, Battlestar Galactica: Cylon War Omnibus
6, Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination
7, Battlestar Galactica Complete Omnibus vol. 1
8, Ursula LeGuin: The Planet of Exile
9, C. S. Friedman: Black Sun Rising
10, Orphan Black: season 1
11, Stargate Universe: season 1
12, John Scalzi: The Android’s Dream

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Running Time: 10 hr, 34 m

A light and fun read. In fact, I loved the first half of the book, especially the start which was almost hysterically funny.

Farting starts an interstellar incident between humans and the Nidu, who are aliens with an incredibly sensitive noses. Their elite people have even developed a language based on smells. And so during a conference the Earth trade representative farts deadly insults to the Nidu trade representative. Both keel over dead and Earth is in deadly danger from the Nidu. You see, Earth is powerless against pretty much all of the alien governments who are part of the Common Confederation. However, the Nidu give Earth one last chance: they have to produce in one week a sheep from a rare, genetically engineered breed called the Android’s Dream.

The job of finding even one sheep is given to Harry Creek, a former solder and current problem solver who has some pretty intense personal history with the Nidu. Unfortunately, a group of anti-Nidu people is trying their best to wipe out all of the sheep first. It turns out that there’s only one Android’s Dream sheep around and she’s Robin Baker, a human/sheep hybrid.

In addition to humor, Scalzi also offers up ironic potshots on religion, middle-management, incompetence, and other subjects. And there’s also an AI or two. I really enjoyed the Church of the Evolved Lamb. All of its adherents know that it’s based on made-up prophecies but they still try to make them come true.

I really enjoyed the book and Wheaton’s performance is spot-on.

The first book in the Coldfire trilogy.

Publication year: 1991
Format: Audio
Narrator: R. C. Bray
Running Time: 23 hrs, 51 m

The book is set on Erna, a world which humans colonized over a thousand years ago. The planet has an energy field which reacts to people’s feeling; apparently mostly to their fears. I guess fear is such a strong feeling that it’s easy for the energy to pick up. The energy is called Fae. Over the centuries, some humans have learned to use the Fae to their advantage (they’re called Adepts or sorcerers) but most people still fear it. There are at least three different kinds of Fae: Earth, Solar, and Dark. Most humans sorcerers use Earth Fae to do magic.

The Church of Human Unification wants to stop people from using the Fae ever again because in their view the Fae are evil and can only bring destruction to humans. The Church seems to be a descendant of some Christian church.

The main character of the book is Reverend Father Damien Vryce, a priest of the Church. He is one of the very few priests who can also work the Fae and he has come to the city of Jaggonath to teach his skills to others. There he meets the beautiful Adept Ciani and is attracted to her. However, Ciani is attacked by mysterious creatures. She’s alive but wounded spiritually; her magical abilities have been robbed. Damien decides to help her. Against his Church’s orders he, Ciani, and Ciani’s friend and assistant Senzei “Zen” Reese hurry after the creatures.

Damien is essentially a paladin, a character type which I tend to like more than the “bad boys”. He’s a great fighter and devoted to his faith. He’s battled the forces of evil all over Erna. He’s against the Fae but at the same time, he can work them. He seems to use them mostly for healing. At the start of the book he’s rigid in his beliefs but during the story his faith and questioned and he has to make difficult decision, especially concerning one of his traveling companions.

For much of the book Ciani has been robbed of her powers and even her memories, and she has to rely on her companions. However, I was delighted when she turned out not to be wholly good person; she would do pretty much anything to get her powers back.

The trio is soon joined by a mysterious man called Gerald Tarrant. Damien dislikes him instantly. It turns out that his dislike is more than warranted. Tarrant is a fascinating character and I think he’s very complex one, too.

I guess my main problem with the characters was their lack of motivation. Ciani has, of course, a clear motivation in wanting her powers and memories back. But I couldn’t understand why Damien would defy his Church to help her and possibly even lose his life. At one point, he thinks that he could have loved her, given enough time (but I doubt that; he didn’t really know her at all) but I think a much better motivation would have been the simple need to find out what the creatures were and to kill them. Similarly, Tarrant’s motivations are very unclear.

The book is very dark in tone. There isn’t much humor and everything is desperate and depressing. I don’t think I’ll continue with the series.

This is a new science fiction thriller show from Canada. It’s available to Finns through the Finnish Broadcast company’s net pages (Yle Areena) until the end of January, so for a couple of more days. The first season has 10 episodes.

The main character is Sarah Manning who is an absent mother and involved with a drug-dealer. She’s used to running cons and has left her daughter Kira to her own foster mother. The show starts when Sarah sees a woman who looks exactly like her. Moments later, the double throws herself under a train and is killed. Sarah grabs her bag and looks through it. She notices that the double has a lot of money in the bank and so she decides to impersonate the woman until she can steal that money. Quickly, Sarah realizes that she has taken on more than she can chew: in turns out that the double, Elizabeth Child, is a cop and that both Sarah and Elizabeth are clones. And someone is hunting them.

I really enjoyed this show. It has action, plot twists, and humor. Often the humor is quite black and Sarah’s former boyfriend grew (to me at least) from a quite a frightening character to a tragi-comical one. However, the strongest draw to me are, again, the characters. Sarah’s actress does also all of the other clones and she’s (and the writers) are excellent at keeping them apart from each other. One clone is a cop, one a con-woman, one is a scientist, one a homicidal killer…

I also really liked the cast of characters. Sarah has a foster brother, Felix, who brings some comedic elements: he’s a struggling artist but apparently also works as a prostitute. He’s gay and not shy about it. He’s also very loyal to his family and protective of Sarah.

Mrs. S is Felix and Sarah’s foster mother who is now raising little Kira because Sarah hasn’t been able to. Mrs. S loves Sarah but she also loves Kira and is trying to protect Kira from the worst parts of Sarah’s life.

The various clones have also different personalities and they quite different from each other so it seems to me that the show suggest that nurture is more important than nature (identical genes in this case). Sarah also becomes very competent very quickly. Of course, otherwise she would be dead.

The show raises questions about identity and what makes a human.

I got this from the local library, much to my surprise, and was hooked. SGU has lots of elements in common with Galactica (the new one) so in retrospect it wasn’t strange that I really liked it.

SGU has lots of elements which I like and some which I don’t care for but the good outweighs the bad. I’m anxious to see the second season but it’s not in the library system and currently I don’t have extra 50 euros to spend on it.

Good things:
The premise: this is a lot like Galactica: a random group of people are flung together and sent to an Ancient spaceship billions of light years away. They have to survive together. Whee!
In the recent years, I’ve started to really like groups of disparate people flung together in order to survive (like Walking Dead). It’s rife for all sort of conflict and tension, and here it’s done right.

The conflicts between the main characters: the main conflict is of course between the Dr House (or Holmes) like abrasive Rusch and the military leader Colonel Young. There’s also conflict between Young and the civilian leader Camile Wray, although this isn’t seen as often. Also, the rest of the cast aren’t each others’ best friends.

Exploration: of the ship, the universe, and various planets. In fact, I’d like them to explore the ship quite a bit more. They did explain that it was damaged and so inaccessible but still.

The communication stones: I loved this concept that they have a way to “visit” Earth but in other people’s bodies. I was expecting that they would do some drama with that and so they did. (Even when your billions of light years away, you can apparently still screw up your marriage…) Yet, I’ve like most of the stuff, like Eli visiting his mother or the episode with a disabled scientist. And also they can send experts into the ship but not stuff.

Camila Wray: She’s tough and capable but she’s not military; her expertize is in other matters. I also really like her back story; she’s in a stable same-sex relationship.

Continuous story lines.

And truthfully, I was a kind of relieved that they didn’t make a big deal about the fact that the characters don’t have any change of clothing available. 🙂 Same with the caffeine and tobacco addictions.

Stuff I wasn’t so wild about
Eli: he seems like a personification of the preferred viewership. I get that we need a new person in the show who is asking about stuff which new viewers don’t know. Still, do we really need yet another white, straight man for this? Someone who is apparently more intelligent than the resident genius? Bah.

Focus on the military: except for Eli and Rusch, all the main characters are military. Sigh. In fact…

Most of the crew are apparently just waiting to be rescued: Really? Isn’t there anything useful they could be doing? T.J. could be training a couple of civilians to help her out, at least.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this show and it’s a shame it got canceled.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 1966
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2011
Format: print
Finnish translator: Jyrki Iivonen
Page count: 166
Finnish Publisher: Avain

This short book has more going on than most 600-page modern fantasy books. 🙂

Rolery lives in a planet which has very long solar cycle, about 60 Earth years. Her people are nomads who live in tents and travel with the seasonal changes which, of course, don’t happen as often as in Earth. Her people also have children based on the seasonal change. Rolery was born during the long summer and so was born out of season. She doesn’t have any age mates. Even though she’s outspoken and independent, she also worries that she will die single and childless, which according to her culture is worse than death, for a woman. At the start of the book she goes to Landin where the farborn people live. Rolery’s people, the hilfs, fear them and think that they are witches. However, Rolery wants to see the sea. There she meets Jakob Agat and is afraid of him and fascinated by him.

Agat has found out that Rolery’s town is in danger because of the gaals. The gaals are another (humanoid) tribe which live in the mountains and when the year turns towards winter, they walk in small groups near the town towards South. However, this year they would not be walking by. Instead, they are coming in great numbers and destroying everything and everyone in their path. Agat thinks that the only way that both the hilfs and the farborn can survive is by banding together. But to do that, they have to get over generations of distrust and fear.

The third point-of-view character is Roleyr’s old father who is pretty set in his ways. He’s still the chief of the village but younger and stronger men are challenging him.

Another reviewer mentioned that the Prime Directive should actually work this way. The farborn are in fact humans who have, for some reason which is never told, settled on the planet but only after they agreed to not use any advanced technology. The locals are of Stone Age level technology so the humans can’t use any of theirs and have in fact started to forget it.

The humans have other problem’s, too. They have difficulty having live children. Those that live in Landin all know each other, perhaps a bit too well.

The culture clash is pretty obvious here. However, LeGuin managed to surprise me quite a bit. As soon as the main conflict was introduced, it was sure I knew how it would end, but the plot went in quite a different direction. This was a very nice surprise. On the other hand, the book is so short it wasn’t possible, for me at least, to really get attached to the characters.

Collects the Battlestar Galactica issues 0-12 and the Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus one-shot.

Writer: Greg Pack (the Returners) and Brandon Jerwa (the Pegasus)
Artists: Nigel Raynor, Jonathan Lau
Publisher: Dynamite

The collection has two different stories which are sent at different points in the time line. The Returners is set during season two but before Pegasus shows up. The Pegasus one-shot is set before the TV-show starts and it’s also wildly inconsistent with canon. In it Admiral Caine and her crew meet and fight the cylons before the show.

I think the Returners is my favorite storyline from all of the Galactica comics I’ve read. It has a lot of the same elements as the TV-show itself: human drama between the characters and between the cylons, and action.

Galactica and the civilian fleet come to ship graveyard full of earlier spaceships which destroyed each other in a war between the humans. They find a old medship which is on fire but full of people, people who have died years ago. One of them is Adama’s younger son Zak and another is Dualla’s brother. Galactica sends a team to investigate. Adama is convinced that this just a cylon trick but many of the humans think that it’s a sign from the gods. Apparently, there’s a prophecy that dead people will return. So, some of the Returners manage to get to the civilian fleet and disappear there. Then a strange illness strikes down most to the people, including almost all of the Viper pilots and other soldiers. Of course, the cylons attack. At the same time Adama and Roslin are trying to deal with a group of human terrorists who think that they’re protecting Earth from the cylons by preventing the fleet from finding Earth.

This story has pretty intense scenes between the three Adamas. Also, one of the Returners has a young kid who is convinced that the Returner is her dad and not a cylon. Once again, Adama has to make difficult decisions.

The Pegasus follows Admiral Caine. The battlestar has just returned from a months long mission but the admiralty sends it immediately to another mission. Unfortunately for Caine, that means that 90% of the Vipers are offloaded before she’s sent into a potentially volatile situation. I liked this as a character piece for Caine but otherwise it was remarkably stupid.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for the art this time either. Sharon and the older Adama are about the only ones who looks like themselves. Still, I think this is the best one for any Galactica fan to pick up.

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 1956
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1978
Format: print
Finnish translator: Tuulikki Lahti
Page count: 271
Finnish Publisher: WSOY

This is apparently one of Bester’s best books so I guess I was exposed to a lot of hype beforehand.
The book has a very interesting world. It’s set in the 25th century which is quite a different place from today. Humans have learned how to teleport, or jaunte. It turns out that humans have always had the ability, we just aren’t using it. In order to jaunte, people have to know the precise places where they start and end, so it’s possible to keep jaunte-capable people prisoners by keeping them in darkness. Some people can jaunt over a long distance and others shorter one. A few unfortunate people can’t teleport and they are only allowed to do the most menial jobs. Even though humanity has spread to other planets in our solar system, they can’t jaunt over space.

The main character of the book is Gulliver, Gully, Foyle. At the start, he’s described as lazy and incompetent. He was only able to get a job as a mechanic’s third grade assistant (although on a starship!). Because of the changes in economy and power balance which jaunting has created, the Inner Planets (Terra, Moon, Venus, and Mars) are at war with the Outer Satellites (the inhabited moons Io, Ganymedes, Europa, Callisto, Rhea, Titan, and Triton). One of the warships attack the merchant ship Foyle is on, called the Nomad, and leaves him as the only survivor. Foyle managed to survive for six months in an airtight closet. He has to raid the rest of the ship for food and oxygen bottles. Then, he notices a ship passing and is able to get its attention. However, the ship leaves, leaving Foyle on the wrecked Nomad. This so infuriates Foyle that he’s snapped out of this helplessness. He manages to read the manual and get the Nomad going while swearing that he will find the ship, called Vorga, and get his revenge for leaving him behind.

Through Foyle Bester explores the world he has created. He includes things which many later writers also use, like megacorporations which have just as much power as countries and one man’s crusade against the world world, or solar system in this case. Initially, I was disappointed with how women, or at least upper class white women, were treated: they were shut into windowless rooms to preserve the society’s “morals”. However, it turned out that Bester knew what he was doing even with that.

For such a short novel, it’s almost amazing who much we see of the society in it. While I didn’t much care for the character of Foyle, I really enjoyed the world and the quick plot.

Collects Battlestar Galactica: Cylon War issues 1-4

Writers: Joshua Ortega, Eric Nylund
Artists: Nigel Raynor

This series explores the beginnings of the human/cylon hostility. It starts before the first Cylon war, 40 years before the beginning of the re-imagined TV-series. The series was written before the Final Five were revealed and has some continuity problems, such as showing Pegaus constructed at the same time as Galactica.

The series focuses on Ben Tanner and his robot Isak. At the start of the series, Ben is shown being a little uncomfortable around Isak but he starts to rely on Isak more and more as the story goes on. When Caprica and Sagittarion start a war over technology (the Sagittarions don’t want it – except for the big space ships to carry their trade goods) Ben joins the Academy and is soon aboard one of Caprica’s military space ships fighting the Sagittarions. However, the war is costly and Ben is commanded to find a way to make the robots fight it. The robots have been programmed not to kill humans, under any circumstances, and it turns out that it’s very hard to change that programming. In fact, nobody can do it until Isak has to save Ben from certain death by overriding his program and killing the soldiers who threaten Ben.

The series attempts to give answers to why the Cylons rebelled in the first place and also why they believe in one god. The story itself is entertaining if somewhat predictable.

I have some problems with the way that Isak just took a look at some of the Colonies’ religious symbols and was able to “deduce” that it all points to just one, all-powerful god instead of the many which the symbols are supposed to represent. Apparently he also deduced that humans must be killed… because humans are destroying creation itself. I’m sorry but what?? So, more death will save the universe?

I have a feeling that the story could have been better if it had been longer. Four issues is rather a short time to tell the story of the First Cylon war.

The final book in the Company science fiction series.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 501
Publisher: TOR

This is the book where the series has been leading. I would recommend starting with the first book “In the Garden of Iden” rather than this one, if you haven’t read Baker before.

The book has multiple points-of-view. The main part is devoted to the Botanist Mendoza and her companions. These passages have a lot of wry humor and observations of domestic life. Unfortunately, I still find their situation more than a little creepy.

During the first half of the book we also follow a small girl who lives under a hill with Quean Barbie and her Uncles, and the stupids who live just to serve the others. The girl, who is initially called just Baby, finds a man who used to be a slave to the big people. But the man turns out to be alive, just hurt very badly. He’s Literature specialist Lewis who disappeared a long time ago.

We also follow Joseph who is busy freeing the old Enforcers and a couple of powerful Section heads, immortals who are poised to take over when the Silence starts. A couple of them want to destroy humans and one wants to protect humans. All of these powers have been building their powerbases and now, we finally see what will happen in 2355.

I felt the ending was somewhat too easy. Then again, we’ve been given so many hints and speculation about the Silence that I don’t know if anything would have been fully satisfying. It was certainly different from most SF (and fantasy) endings and Baker does weave all of the various plot threads together. Perhaps I was somewhat disappointed with just how cowering and ineffectual the human “master minds” are compared to the cyborgs they created. Of course, it was no surprise, because Baker has shown it plenty of times. Also, the more I see Alec, the less I like him and he has really taken over the series by now. But I thoroughly enjoyed the familiar immortals and their melodramatic ways, as usual.

Next Page »