Book Review: The Dreaming Stars

the dreaming starsThe Dreaming Stars
by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction
384 pages
Published September 2018

I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi. It’s just not where my interests lie. But every once in a while, I do enjoy a good space opera. Firefly/Serenity (before I learned about the Confederate connection, dammit), Dark Matter, even the occasional episode of The Expanse. Tim Pratt has written a fantastic space opera in his Axiom series. (The Forbidden Stars should be coming out sometime in 2019.) The story started with The Wrong Stars and continues here.

First, the diversity is fantastic. The crew runs the gamut of genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and religions. Our two main characters, Captain Machedo and Elena, are both bisexual women, and the Captain is also demisexual. (One of the first things she does in this book is crash her own funeral being held by her ex-husband!) I enjoyed seeing Elena and Callie’s relationship continue to grow.

Second, the dialog is hilarious. The Captain and her ship’s AI are both smart alecks, and sarcasm and snappy comebacks abound.

The action is also very well-done; the physics of traveling through space aside, most of the science is feasible. All of the Axiom-tech is pretty far out, and some of the other science is….well it’s such a long shot that it only worked because it’s in a book, but it IS conceivable it could work.

This is one sci-fi series I will continue to watch for. (And I wonder how long before it gets optioned for TV?)

From the cover of The Dreaming Stars:

In the breathtaking sequel to The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt brings you much closer to that ancient race of aliens, the Axiom, who will kill us all – when they wake up. 

In deep space, a swarm of nanoparticles threatens the colonies, transforming everything it meets into computronium – including the colonists. The crew of the White Raven investigate, and discover an Axiom facility filled with aliens, hibernating while their minds roam a vast virtual reality. The treacherous Sebastien wakes up, claiming his altered brain architecture can help the crew deactivate the swarm – from inside the Axiom simulation. To protect humanity, beleaguered Captain Callie Machedo must trust him, but if Sebastien still plans to dominate the universe using Axiom tech, they could be in for a whole galaxy of trouble.

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Book Review: Redshirts

redshirtsRedshirts
by John Scalzi
Science Fiction
317 pages
Published 2012

Some books are surreal suspensions of disbelief. Some books just make you go “WHAT the FUCK” every couple of chapters when a new twist is revealed, and this is one of the latter. Just – what the FUCK.

Imagine your average sci-fi space opera TV show on cable television with hand-wavey science and half-assed special effects – take those characters and make them realize they’re IN A TV SHOW. Let them realize all of their woes are due to shitty writing, and see what they do with that knowledge. THAT is this book, and it is crazy and hilarious and weird and eye-roll-inducing.

Between the time travel, the Box that does magic science behind the scenes so things work out on-screen, the Narrative taking control and making people say and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do – this book is wacky and just full of what-the-fuckery. It’s fun, though, and if you can keep yourself from groaning out loud every few pages, it’s a pretty good read.

From the cover of Redshirts:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more thrilled to be assigned to the ship’s xenobiology laboratory, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Live couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranked crew member is invariable killed.

Unsurprisingly, the savvier members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

Book Review: The Wrong Stars

the wrong starsThe Wrong Stars
by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction/Space Opera
396 pages
Published 2017

I’ve watched my fair share of Space Opera (Firefly, Dark Matter, Farscape, Star Trek, Star Wars – don’t try to tell me those last two aren’t Space Opera, THEY TOTALLY ARE) – but I haven’t read much of it. I picked up The Wrong Stars mostly because reviews said it had a demisexual main character, rather than because it’s a Space Opera. Regardless, I am SO GLAD I DID. The book is excellent.

First off, the diversity! Over the course of the story, we meet people who are, in no particular order, gay, bisexual, demisexual, asexual, transgender, and non-binary. The story is set 500 years after Earth sends out its first colony ships, and in that time, culture has evolved. Marriage is not common, but contractually-bound relationships exist. Promiscuity and non-monogamy aren’t viewed any different than monogamy, and in the same way, the distinctions between gay, straight, and bi don’t carry any negative connotations. It’s not a complete utopia – it’s still a capitalist society, and there is still scarcity – but socially, at least, it has definitely evolved a lot from the present!

Elena, one of our main characters, was a biologist sent out on one of the first colony ships. Stocked with seeds, crude replicators, and cryo-sleep pods, a small crew was sent out, in stasis, on a five-hundred year journey to a system with probable life-supporting planets. They were called Goldilocks ships, in the hope they’d find a planet that was “just right.” What humanity didn’t expect was that in the intervening five hundred years, they would make contact with an alien species and be given the means for true space travel via wormholes. Some of the ships arrived at their destinations to find human colonies already thriving on their target planets! Elena, however, found something quite different, and it’s a very disconcerting difference. She is rescued by the motley crew of the White Raven, and they quickly get drawn into the mystery.

I really enjoyed the world-building and characterization in The Wrong Stars. The science of it made sense to me, but I’m not very versed in science, so I can’t really say how realistic it is. It was at least pretty internally consistent. I’d like to learn more about how the AIs are created, though. Luckily, there is a sequel coming! The Dreaming Stars should be coming out this September, and I’m DEFINITELY going to read it.

If you like Dark Matter, Firefly, or Farscape, you should definitely read The Wrong Stars. There’s a little bit of light romance threaded into the larger plot, and one fade-to-black sex scene. It’s definitely not the focus of the book. There is some violence, but nothing incredibly graphic. I would put it at about the same maturity level as Star Trek.

From the cover of The Wrong Stars:

The shady crew of the White Raven run freight and salvage at the fringes of our solar system. They discover the wreck of a centuries-old exploration vessel floating light years away from its intended destination. When they revive its sole occupant, she wakes from cryosleep with excited news of First Alien Contact.

The crew break it to her that, in the many years that she has been in stasis, humanity has already met and made an alliance with an alien race. But she reveals that these are very different extra-terrestrials . . . and the gifts they bestowed upon her could kill all of humanity, or take the human race out to the most distant stars.

Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

astroAn Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
Colonel Chris Hadfield
Memoir
284 pages
Published 2013

Wow. Just wow. I woke up far earlier than I wanted to this morning, so I picked up one of the nonfiction books I had from the library, expecting it to put me back to sleep. Three hours later I was still awake, nearly done with the book, and absolutely enthralled. I’m not sure why I thought it would be otherwise – I’d been one of the millions fascinated with Hadfield’s videos and tweets when he was Commander of the ISS. His particular voice is very clear throughout this book. In 284 pages he takes us from his childhood, through his career path to becoming an astronaut, to his 5 months in the International Space Station, and back home. Nothing felt rushed, nothing felt like it didn’t get the attention it deserved. I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of my favorite books of 2017 – I have several months to read more things, but this book just absolutely blew me away.

It does appeal to how I like to read about science, though. I love reading about scientists. How they worked, how they made their discoveries, the paths they took. Who they were. I’m less interested in the actual science. (As opposed to my husband, who cares only about the science, and isn’t interested in hearing much about the scientists.) This is part of why I loved A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, so much. I borrowed that book from the library and read it cover to cover, fascinated. Finally had to buy my own copy.

Hadfield took space exploration and made it accessible to everyone. According to the book, he didn’t even quite realize how big of an impact he was making at first. But between tweeting pictures from the ISS, making videos of how different life was in space, and making music videos, he really did become the most well-known astronaut of our generation. I remember putting his video of I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing) on repeat when it came out – and it STILL gives me chills today.

He only briefly talked about this video in the book, which I found surprising, given it was the one that hit me the hardest. He spent more time talking about filming and recording Space Oddity – which does have 36 million views, to I.S.S.’s 2 million. So I suppose that makes sense!

One thing he keeps coming back to in his book is his philosophy of trying to be a zero. That doesn’t sound very ambitious on the surface – but what he means is you can be one of three things in a group. You can be a negative impact (a -1) a neutral impact (a zero) or a positive impact (a +1). If you try to be a +1, it’s far likelier that you’ll try too hard, fuck up, and instead become a negative impact. So aim to be a zero. And most of the time you’ll wind up as a positive impact. I thought that was a very unique philosophy.

He’s also written a children’s book, The Darkest Dark, about a kid who wants to be an astronaut but is afraid of the dark.

This is the second book I’ve read for the Canadian Book Challenge, and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. (It’s the first one I’m reviewing, though, the first book I read I’ll be reviewing in August.)

My other Canadian reviews:
1. this book!
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth:

Col. Chris Hadfield has spend decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly four thousand hours in space. During this time he has broken into a space station with a Swiss Army knife, disposed of a live snake while piloting a plane, and been temporarily blinded while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft. The secret to Col. Hadfield’s success – and survival – is an unconventional philosophy he learned at NASA: Prepare for the worst – and enjoy every moment of it.

In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Col. Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Through eye-opening, entertaining stories that convey the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of space walks, and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of achievement – and happiness. His own extraordinary education in space has taught him some counterintuitive lessons: Don’t visualize success, do care what others think, and always sweat the small stuff. 

You may never be able to build a robot, pilot a spacecraft, make a music video, or perform basic surgery in zero gravity like Col. Hadfield. But his vivid and refreshing insights will teach you how to think like an astronaut and will change, completely, the way you view life on earth – especially your own.