Book Review – The Daedalus Incident by Michael J Martinez

The Daedalus Incident by Michael J Martinez

The Daedalus Incident by Michael J Martinez

The blurb ballyhoos:

Mars is supposed to be dead… a fact Lt. Shaila Jain of the Joint Space Command is beginning to doubt in a bad way.

Freak quakes are rumbling over the long-dormant tectonic plates of the planet, disrupting its trillion-dollar mining operations and driving scientists past the edges of theory and reason. However, when rocks shake off their ancient dust and begin to roll—seemingly of their own volition—carving canals as they converge to form a towering structure amid the ruddy terrain, Lt. Jain and her JSC team realize that their realize that their routine geological survey of a Martian cave system is anything but. The only clues they have stem from the emissions of a mysterious blue radiation, and a 300-year-old journal that is writing itself.

Lt. Thomas Weatherby of His Majesty’s Royal Navy is an honest 18th-century man of modest beginnings, doing his part for King and Country aboard the HMS Daedalus, a frigate sailing the high seas between continents…and the immense Void between the Known Worlds. Across the Solar System and among its colonies—rife with plunder and alien slave trade—through dire battles fraught with strange alchemy, nothing much can shake his resolve. But events are transpiring to change all that.

With the aid of his fierce captain, a drug-addled alchemist, and a servant girl with a remarkable past, Weatherby must track a great and powerful mystic, who has embarked upon a sinister quest to upset the balance of the planets—the consequences of which may reach far beyond the Solar System, threatening the very fabric of space itself.

Set sail among the stars with this uncanny tale, where adventure awaits, and dimensions collide!

The book consists of two interleaved storylines – one in our future and one one in an alternate past where space travel in sailing ships is possible.

Science fiction involves a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but this book pushes it past the breaking point.  The alternate history storyline tries to come up with reasonable explanations for sailing ships in space, but really any thought at all easily pokes holes in it.  The planets in the solar system are just REALLY far apart.

The storyline that takes place in our future is intrinsically less absurd, but still comes with assumptions that don’t bear scrutiny.  Space miners just don’t make sense.  The first chapter reads like cliche military sci-fi but it gets better after that.

There are a bunch of things that aren’t properly explained, but by that point you’ve either accepted the premise or you haven’t.

Right at the end the book introduces some plotlines that tease a sequel or trilogy, but it doesn’t interfere with the book’s plot arc.

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Book Review – Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

The blurb promotes:

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients — dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups — from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif — the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.

Altogether this was a pretty good book.

It’s still pretty unusual for a book to be set in the Arab world and to include Islam as a plot element, so that was refreshing.  It’s nice to be shown the world from a different point of view, and that’s one of the common goals of Sci Fi/Fantasy.

The contrast between ancient culture and modern (near-future?) technology was also enjoyable.

My biggest problem with the book is the pacing.  It’s as if there are two plot arcs – it feels like the book should end about halfway through but it keeps going and starts building up the tension again for a second climax at the end.

There are also some things that aren’t explained and some plot points that don’t pay off (setup for a second book?) but they weren’t terribly egregious.

The author also took some liberties with the “hacker” plotline – it felt like she was a lot more comfortable describing Islam and the middle east than describing technology.  In a few cases it skates on the edge of being like movies like The Net and TV shows like CSI that very earnestly get technology very wrong.

Book Review – Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

The blurb says:

In Wyoming, a little girl reads people’s darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms. In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billion. In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking. They’re called “brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind.

I usually have low expectations for books I get from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library but the last few have been very good, and this book is no exception.

I don’t usually comment on the covers of books, but the big quote on the  cover is kind of off-putting.

This book is another story like X-Men or Alphas that uses a sci-fi concept as a stand-in for prejudice against a people group (e.g. homosexuality) but it skips over the usual puberty aspect.  Since this has been done lots of times before, this aspect of the book isn’t groundbreaking.

There are pretty obvious references to 9/11 and the US’ corresponding civil liberty restricting reaction to it.  I was confused that nobody in the book made the connection, until I realized that in the book the “brilliants” appeared in the 80’s, so the book is actually an alternate history where 9/11 never happened.  In the book, prejudice against the brilliants replaced all other kinds of prejudice (and all other problems) so that there are no middle-eastern terrorists etc., which I found unlikely – adding another problem doesn’t solve existing problems.

The book is set in the US and there is no mention of the reaction to brilliants in other countries, which was a bit disappointing.  The appearance of brilliants would have a huge effect on international relations, but this isn’t addressed at all.

Given that the premise of the book wasn’t anything terribly original, what I enjoyed about it was the main character’s journey through trying to work out which side of the conflict he should be on.

Apparently this is the first book in a trilogy, but the plot arc is just about perfect for a stand-alone book so I only have positive feelings about there being more story in the same universe.

Book Review – The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

The blurb says:

An unmissable milestone for fans of Sir Terry Pratchett: the first SF novel in over three decades in which the visionary inventor of Discworld has created a new universe of tantalizing possibilities—a series of parallel “Earths” with doorways leading to adventure, intrigue, excitement, and an escape into the furthest reaches of the imagination.

The Long Earth, written with award-winning novelist Stephen Baxter, author of Stone SpringArk, and Floodwill, captivate science fiction fans of all stripes, readers of Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen, and anyone who enjoyed the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman collaboration Good Omens.

The Long Earth is an adventure of the highest order—and an unforgettable read.

I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett, but I’m also suspicious of collaboration novels.  The most recent collaboration novel I read was The Mongoliad, and I wasn’t impressed.  I also haven’t read anything by Stephen Baxter so I didn’t know what he was bringing to the table.

Given Terry Pratchett’s diagnosis of early onset alzheimer’s, I guess it was only a matter of time until he started relying on other authors to help him get books written, but since he’s still publishing books on his own I was surprised that he chose to do a collaboration at this stage.

The parts of the book set in England are accurate enough to have been written by an Englishman and the parts set in America are accurate enough to have been written by an American, so maybe that was the division of labour.

The blurb pretty much tells you what the book’s about, so off the bat you’re aware of the possibilities – an infinite number of worlds is a lot of space for writing stories in.  One of the problems I had with the book was that having opened up those possibilities, it sort of shies away from the scale of it.  The book skims over thousands – tens of thousands – of worlds, which makes it end up feeling like all of that potential is wasted.

I found the pacing of the book to be pretty slow, with not much of a plot arc – there wasn’t much of a buildup of tension, you just sort of find things out about the book’s universe and then it sets up the next book in the series.

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