Red Moon – Kim Stanley Robinson

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Any time I hear Kim has a new book it’s an auto purchase for me, no need to even read the blurb. After so many hits I just know whatever story he tackles next will be great and this book is no exception.

An interesting observation I noticed while reading this book was that I do find it quite interesting how books and movies and their choices in protagonists change over the years. Back in the 80s, the baddies were always Russians but now we see the Chinese being used more and more, no doubt a reflection of US politics. This change is a mixed bag in my mind, while I do enjoy the chance to explore characters of different backgrounds, it’s the names I struggle with. I’m completely clueless when it comes to their naming conventions and pronunciations, which leaves me unable to fully immerse myself in the characters. Hopefully, increased exposure to these types of characters may sort that out but only time will tell.

The best part of Kim’s stories is that they are always dosed with a touch of reality, the stories really feel like they could happen. I can fully see the Chinese sending people to the moon and that in turn starting another space race with the USA, so for the book to have this idea as the backbone of the story was great and easy to digest.

A simple technician (Fred) on an almost routine trip to deliver a product to the moon gets involved unknowingly in an assassination plot. Colour me intrigued. From there it’s a quick jump into political instability, power struggle and coup-de-tats, which seems more important than one of the main characters who might be the first to give birth on the moon, Chan Qi. While I thought Fred and Chan Qi were the main characters the events back on earth seem to overshadow the idea of a human born on the moon, with that story being given only a few lines, to my great annoyance.

That aside I really loved the political flavour of this story, trying to figure out along with the main characters what was going on and who was involved was quite a bit of fun. Definitely more of a political thriller than a sci-fi story but a great read nonetheless. I might even have a look at trying to read some more political thrillers now

 

Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy

Life gets in the way sometimes with what we really want to do and the past year has been a killer in terms of my reading progress. With all that was going on, I struggled to get the desire to read. Books would take almost a month for me to get through and rather than enjoy the fact I finished it I felt more a relief that it was over. That’s not how reading should make you feel, so I took a break from reading. I went from 60+ books read a year to 11. The book that changed it all for me had been sitting on my shelf for some time.  I had eyed it off many a time, found out it was part one in a trilogy and even order parts two and three but it still sat unread. In my reading lul its size was a turn-off, then one night while searching Netflix unsuccessfully for a good sci-fi movie, I said screw it and picked up book one and I just couldn’t put it down. A cliche I know but considering the last few months, I had struggled to even finish a chapter per reading session not being able to put this down was a huge turning point.

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The Three Body-Problem initially caught my eye for two reasons, firstly a big recommendation from another favourite sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson was on the cover and secondly,  the title alluded to an actual scientific concept/problem in the real world. The book’s blurb confirms my reasoning for grabbing it.

In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death. Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.”

Well colour me intrigued, the book involves SETI a huge interest of mine. We begin with A nanotech engineer, Wang Miao being asked by the police to investigate a secret cadre of scientists after a raft of suicides. Wangs pursuit of this leads him to an online game. Wang soon discovers that the game is key to everything and somehow links to an impending extinction-level threat to humanity. A game linked to a potential extinction, how? I just couldn’t put the book down at this point.

Such a unique story, I love the crime drama like feel to it as the plot is slowly unraveled from the perspective of Wang but just when you think you have it all figured out a bombshell is dropped on you. There is also a great insight into the realities of choices and the impact ones upbringing can have on your outlook in life. Early on, I was at a loss as to what the extinction level event could be and going into that last few pages I still couldnt piece it all together and then bam they drop the reveal right into our laps and we now know we have 400 years to prepare for it.

I just couldn’t leave it there so I dove straight into the second book as soon as I finished the first – spoilers will follow

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There’s no messing around this book dives right in and deals with the extinction-level threat and how humanity rallies to deal with it. We have 400 years to prepare somehow against the alien armada on its way. The Aliens are revealed to be called Trisolaris, a fitting name since they come from a planetary system with 3 suns hence the name of the first book. What’s worse is Trisolaris spies are already among us. The Sophons can see everything……How do you organize and plan to prevent an event of this magnitude when your every move is being watched and countered before you start it. How can you organize governments and the people to plan for something that’s 400 years in the future? The solution is the Wallfacer project, four men granted unlimited authority to prepare for the coming invasion how they see fit. The caveat, they can’t write anything down or tell anyone their plan as the sophons will see it and sabotage it.

There is a lot of pessimism in this book. I’m not sure if this is an insight into, the Chinese view of the world, just specifically the authors, or if this was merely for the sake of the plot but it was slightly discouraging to think that someone could be this pessimistic about humanity and life in the universe. For me, as an optimist, I saw the whole dark forest concept as deeply depressing. That instead of a galaxy with life everywhere and interacting like a forest full of animals, we are led to believe that all life comes to a stark and inevitable realization that its kill or be killed so all civilizations stay hidden from others, hence a dark forest and if signs of another are seen it is exterminated

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The climactic battle and the stalemate reach at the end of the previous book almost wrapped things up so just when you think you know how this one will bring the story home it takes it off onto such a unique path, I was just left in awe

From the unique concepts and twists on usual stories and themes to accurate science mentioned. This book series ticked all the right boxes for me. I had some difficulty with the names in this book, mainly from a lack of understanding of how to tell a given name from a family name for the numerous Chinese character, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. It was also great to read a story where the world isn’t saved by the good ol’ US of A. This series was apparently the first books from the author to be translated into English, so I am hoping more of his other works will be translated too. Definitely becoming one of my favorite book series.

This series has renewed my passion for reading once again

Artemis – Andy Weir

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I was skeptical when I first heard that Andy Weir was writing another book, like how could he back up after the Martian was such an amazing hit. Since we are all expecting another blockbuster do we then run the risk of over hyping this book and then being utterly disappointed once its released? Heck even cover is made to mirror The Martian. Fortunately I managed to convince myself to approach this in a positive light and while I can’t help but make comparisons to The Martian, this on its own, is a fantastic book. I hope they make a movie of it too.

Andy creates a world slightly more removed from our own, than the world established in The Martian. Yet the concept of a moon base isn’t too far fetched to require that much of a stretch of the imagination. Hell, if there was a moon base i’d move there pronto! I liked the character and the strained relationship with her father. Great believable characters and quite factual in terms of launch site location benefits.

Can’t really reveal more without entering spoiler territory but its a great story and
Hopefully Andy keeps the ball rolling and has plans for a 3rd blockbuster already in the works

The Long Cosmos – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

The Long Cosmos – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
There is something immensely bittersweet about the final book in a series, the fast approaching conclusion and reality of it being the last time we visit this world always makes the final book in a series a sad thing. More so this time considering the author died before this book was released
Many months back on hearing the news of his death i selfishly was concerned that the book would be unfinished or someone else would finish it and thus the writing style be different but it turns out Terry and his co author pretty much wrote all 5 books years ago. So my worries were unwarranted.
The final book in the series is set several years after the previous ones. Our main man Joshua has lost his wife and is estranged from his son. So in keeping with his character he says screw the world i’m going for a sabbatical and by sabbatical he means a journey into the many parallel worlds that make up the long Earth. I just love the concept of parallel worlds (the long earth) in the book. Such a unique spin on this scientific concept.
At the same time he leaves a startling event occurs, a message is received from space and while the message is analysed and deciphered,  Joshua runs into trouble out in the wilderness when he breaks his leg when an animal runs him over. Trapped in the middle of no where with no one around he contemplates his life right when the world at large needs him the most. The message has been deciphered and it says JOIN US.
Final books in a series always run the risk of not living up to expectations and while i loved the story, the ending left me wanting more. I should of seen it coming, each of the previous books rarely answered questions and this is the same. The book drew many parallels with the book/movie contact and just like that, this ones ending is left unresolved.
I loved this series so much, it tapped not only into the human desire to explorer but also notions that family isnt always blood and that the pursuit of knowledge for knowledges sake is a worthy adventure.
I really will miss these so very well crafted characters and with one the authors passing it really is the end. So many tv shows get canceled before they finish properly and the same can be said for book series much like the bourne series, yes someone else may pick up the reigns and continue but its just not the same. Here we were lucky to have a series of books from start to finish and such a wonderful series it was

Atlantis Series – Harry Turtledove

Atlantis Series – Harry Turtledove
After the author read an article about how New Zealand broke away from Australia 85 million years ago he wondered what would happen if the same happened to the east coast of the US. The idea of Atlantis was borne, the east coast of the US from Florida all the way up into Canada and as far west as the other side of the Appalachian mountains breaks off 85  million years ago and as such develops a unique and highly different fauna and flora.
The first book is set in the 1400s where a fisherman discovers the island after trading part of his catch  for directions to rich fishing grounds and finds Atlantis, he soon leads an expedition to colonise it to escape the tyranny of kings and queens back home but trouble soon follows him
The second book set in the 1700’s begins the trend of following the history of our US with this book dealing with Atlantis war of independence of England. Here we find that the Mainland has been colonised too but here it is called Terranova
The 3rd book set in 1800’s deals with slavery but unlike the real world and the civil war, here we have a slave insurrection fighting to be treated as equals
The 4th book is a collection of short stories not all to do with Atlantis but its included because it has 2 Atlantis stories. A knockoff of Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery and another of a naturalist searching for possibly extinct birds
The entire series is well written and i thoroughly enjoyed it but really felt it needed a map to accompany the story to help add depth and to understand the locations better.

The Bees – Laline Paull

The Bees – Laline Paull
Not sure how i stumbled on this gem. It has sat in my to read pile for months. Well to be honest i have that many books on my too read pile its now got its on dedicated bookcase. I seem to buy books far faster than i can read them. Anyway finally came around to reading this and all i can say is WOW. Such a creative story. Welcome to the life of Flora-717 our story follows Flora -717  from her  birth. She is quite special ,a normal sanitation worker would spend their lives cleaning the hive but very quickly her special mutation is noted and she is taken away before the fertility police can arrest and destroy her.  She is bigger than normal sanitation workers and the we soon discover she has a few more special habits. Flora is sent to work in the nurseries, feeding the newborns. After sometime she is no longer useful there and her story continues as we follow her as she returns to work with her clan. Through attacks from wasps. Crazy winters and political coups it is a great story. How high can a simple sanitation worker climb in a society dominated by clans? is any goal out of reach?
Such a unique and individual story. I always thought bee hives were full of males with only one female but this story shows that isn’t the case with honeybees. I really loved the conclusion to this story and the journey that Flora -717 goes through. Great female protagonist and written by a female too, will definitely be looking out for more works by this author.

The Long Earth Series – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth Series – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
I may not understand how or why authors co-author a book but that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of them. Do they co-author because they are too old to write themselves? Or are they trying to combine their powers like captain planet. More to the point how do they do it. Do they both just write separate plot lines then combine them and just alternate chapters or is it more a spinning ideas by each other. After all only one person can be typing at time.
Anyway this series turns out to be 5 books long and sadly Pratchett passed away just prior to book fours release. So the final book will be written solo. So i guess i might understand the writing process of a co-authored book by seeing how dissimilar the final book will be. Needless to say the world these two have made is stunningly imaginative.
A scientist discovers a way to travel to parallel worlds with a simple device made from basic component’s and a potato. Then he posts the blueprints online without a description of what it does and then disappears from society soon all over the place kids are building these and disappearing. No one knows where they are but one boy comes to the rescue, Joshua Valiente. He brings the kids back to home. The world soon learns of these parallel worlds and everything changes.
As one imagines when given the opportunity of slaving at some desk job to pay off a home loan. Or living like a pioneer building your own house and hunting or farming free from capitalism a huge amount of the population chooses the later and disappears from what they call datum earth(the same earth we the reader lives on). I know i sure as hell would go in a second. The parallel worlds are just numbered by how many steps they are from datum. They are also called east or west but those titles have nothing to do with a compass. A step is the term for stepping from one parallel world to another. In that you can step west into West 1, 2,3 or step east to 1 ,2,3 etc there is no end number. As you can imagine the first book deals with Joshua and friends going on an expedition to explore all the way to west 2 million. While still discussing the changes back home. Which were all quite logical. If half the population leaves government revenue dries up. Greedy evil banks and corporations start struggling but people can actually enjoy life.  Joshua on his journeys finds there are no humans in the other words but evolution has gone crazy and there is such an assortment of life out there.
The second book The Long War is more about the fall out of half the population getting up and leaving and then having the datum earth try and find ways to control and tax people. No taxation without representation sound familiar?  yeah how did that work out last time someone tried to do that.
I really felt the authors came into their own with the third book The Long Mars as its title suggests an expedition goes to mars and tries to step to see if its possible and if the parallel worlds of mars and earth are connected and there second objective is to keep stepping till they find life on mars
The fourth book The Long Utopia while still dealing with a natural disaster on datum earth our protagonist Joshua is led to a distant world where events are underway that could destroy the planet and possible the long earth
After the first book i just couldn’t stop and did all 4 in one go. The downside is i must wait till next year for the fifth and final part, oh the agony but well worth it. These books manage to tap into and capture that pioneering spirit and the readers imagination. i am just blown away by the level of creativity and imagination show by the authors in making this world.