Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Courageous

Courageous by Jack Campbell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

We don't really seem to be adding anything new in these later books. Geary still angsting about hero-worship. A strange relationship with Rione. Politics among fleet captains. Spaceships smash each other up.

The space battles are sort of cool, but - and I wouldn't even notice this in a book that had much of anything going for it _besides_ the space battles - they don't really see to make much sense. The ships seem to be subject to Newtonian physics, because we worry about things like how closely they can turn at certain speeds, and being able to catch someone in a long chase who has a speed advantage. But at the same time, it all seems to get thrown out the window once the ships get close; the ships suddenly duck through each other, turn around, and duck back at top speed, with no thought for momentum and acceleration. This is the kind of nit-picky attention-to-realism that you'd easily excuse an author for violating... if there was anything else much going on in these books besides gritty "realistic" space combat. But since that's all we really get here, it's kind of grating when he gets that wrong too.

Also getting a little tired of him re-explaining things about his world that you got from the first two books - like the changes in fleet tactics from the last 100 years. I am aware that there is a fine line between expecting your readers to remember every last detail from book-to-book when they are released a year or more apart, and placating readers like me, who get to come back and binge-read them all in a row, but he hasn't quite hit the mark, to my mind. I keep running into one of these sections, saying to myself "ug; this again" and skipping forward a page or so rather than have to read it again.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: Dauntless

Dauntless by Jack Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Big-scale military space opera. I enjoyed this a fair bit, because I like that sort of thing, but didn't think this was exceptionally well or badly written. The beginning was a bit abrupt - would have liked a little backstory before getting dropped in the action. I also laughed myself silly at the scene where a bunch of hardened military professionals, who live in a universe with interstellar travel and no known intelligent alien races, glance at a computer in a mothballed enemy base and say: "They wiped the hard drives? Space Aliens!".

(For the record, when I cleaned up an old home computer for disposal this weekend, I wiped the drive because it was the easiest way to clean it up. No aliens were involved.)

But the fleet battles are intricate and interesting and well-described, and the book rollocks along. Light but fun.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Zoe's Tale

Zoe's Tale
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What this book does well: capture the voice of the characters, making them fun to read about.

What this book does not do well: tell a story.

What we have here is basically the leftover chapters from [b:The Last Colony|88071|The Last Colony (Old Man's War #3)|John Scalzi||18279847]. (Though not literally, apparently; he describes going back to write them in the afterword.) It is snippets of Zoe's life, from her perspective, at various points while the story of that book is going on. Which is kind of a problem; it reads like a connection of loosely-related vignettes, and requires knowledge of The Last Colony to make it hang together. That's not a _terrible_ thing, per-se - most of the readers of this book probably _have_ read the previous one - but it breaks the narrative up in weird ways. It's like reading only the even-numbered chapters of a book, then going back and reading the odd ones; yes, you get the whole story in the end, but the experience is lessened by the presentation. And the attempts Scalzi makes to tie the little storylets together by reminding you about what was happening in the previous book don't really help. They're slightly annoying, repeating obvious things you already know, but still not enough to make the book stand on its own.

I quite enjoyed reading this. Zoe is an interesting character, portrayed well, and with a wry humour that appeals to me (it made me laugh out loud while having surgery, which the doctor said was a first...) But the individual pieces, while well-crafted, don't seem to add up to a coherent whole.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Review: The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is kind of for both this and the previous novel [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi||50700], which I read together with this one and don't think I reviewed separately - they're going to end up somewhat muddled.

Good science fiction asks questions, and then speculates about the answers. One of the most interesting questions it ever asks is "What does it mean to be human?" I think Scalzi explores this question in the middle of an adventure tale without, crucially, bogging down in philosophy and losing the adventure. What if you take a human's personality and transplant it into a human-like body? Is it still human? What if you construct one of those superficially human-like bodies, based on human, engineered, and alien genetics, and allow it to develop a personality of its own? Is _that_ human? Now what if that body doesn't even look human, and lives in the depths of space? How much of humanity is biology, and how much social structure and upbringing? How much is brain and how much memory? Its the old nature-vs-nurture chestnut, and if you think it has a simple black-and-white answer... well Scalzi - or at least his book - doesn't agree with you.

I liked these because of the balance between probing these questions and a good ole-fashioned bug hunt. There are some minor weird inconsistencies in the technology (why is a standard marine's body a catatonic vegetable until a personality is implanted in it, but a special forces body - which seems to be essentially the same thing, but which never has a personality implanted - develops it's own personality?) but you can mostly just wave those away by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. Overall, I enjoyed these quite a lot.

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