Jacqueline Koyanagi – Ascension

I’m having a good luck streak. So far, every book I’ve read this year has at least been good, but considering this is only the sixth story I read in 2014, there have been many outstanding ones. Ascension belongs on that list. This book does so many things right and gave me that Firefly-esque warm feeling in my belly of stepping onto a fictional space ship and coming home.

ascensionASCENSION
by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Published by: Prime Books, 2013
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Tangled Axon #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Heat buffeted my face, whipping my locs behind me.

Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything–even destroying planets–to get their hands on her.

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Space Opera is an interesting subgenre, though not one famed for its diverse characters, its space-faring queer, disabled, polygamous, engineer women – or so I hear. Ascension presents a crew made up of some very underrepresented groups and I loved every single one of them.

Alana Quick is a sky surgeon (read: spaceship engineer) who has never left her home planet but dreams of the Big Black, of serving on a ship, going places in the universe, and not having to worry about the next job. She doesn’t just need the money for rent and food but also – even more – to pay medical bills.

If this novel has a theme, it is how oppressive a disease can be, especially an invisible one. Alana doesn’t seem sick but she knows that without her medication, her body will slowly wither away, her muscles will betray her until they stop functioning altogether. That’s a heavy load to carry around and I’m glad to say I have no experience with anything like that. I could ramble on about how brave Alana is and how she doesn’t let the disease take over her life. But honestly, I believe if I suffered from something as severe, I would go to pieces and I wouldn’t want people to judge me for it. More power to her for being as strong as she is, but I would have liked her every bit as much if she had wallowed in self-pity every once in a while.

Alana isn’t the only one with a medical condition. Take Marre, the Tangled Axon‘s pilot, whose body fades in and out of reality as she slowly, literally, is losing parts of herself. Captain Tev Helix lost a leg in an accident, the ship’s engineer thinks he’s a wolf and Alana’s sister Nova, while not considered ill in the context of the novel, is starving herself in order to reach the next spiritual level. Let’s just say these characters each have a life and backstory of their own. None of them are defined by their disease (maybe Marre, a little bit) and all of them show us page after page that not being “whole”, by society’s standards, doesn’t keep them from living their lives.

Now while you could say the plot is pretty straight-forward and not exactly original – Alana gets onto the Tangled Axon, bad stuff happens, the crew gets framed for it and is on the run, trying to figure out how to save their hides – this book isn’t about what happens, it’s about who it happens to and how these characters act in the situations they’re thrown into. Sure, dangerous situations arise and things go boom, and these moments are thrilling, but they aren’t what makes the novel great. Getting to know the characters and seeing them grow as people and grow closer together as a crew, that’s what did it for me.

ascension cover art

The book blurb gives away that there is romance on the Tangled Axon. I loved the romantic (read: steamy) scenes but I found some of the set-up a bit silly. For example, if you have the hots for a woman, and you’re already kissing her and telling her how badly you want her, why would you not also tell her some other vital information that may help her not feel like a piece of shit after kissing you? In general, Tev withholds pieces of information for no reason that I can see, that would have helped Alana understand better why the crew are the way they are. Oh well, it’s a small thing to nitpick.

But as much as Alana is falling for her new captain, the real romance is her love affair with the ship. The way Koyanagi describes Alana’s connection to this vessel read like a proper love story. The last time I read of such a beautiful love story between a human and a thing was in Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy (and those ships were actually alive, so it’s not quite the same). She feels the ship’s pain, she hears its humming, she loves every metal plate, every cable, every fiber of it. Koyanagi also shows off her best writing in the scenes describing Alana’s feelings about the Tangled Axon, going from simple language to almost poetic.

My biggest qualms are all about the ending. “Rushed” doesn’t begin to describe it. So much was crammed in last second, crazy things were revealed as if they meant nothing – they’re not all game changers but still, a bit of build-up wouldn’t have hurt – and the things Tev had been holding back came out all at once. There is a bit of an overload at the end that I would have preferred to see drawn out a bit or even cut completely. I was especially sad about the way Nova’s character arc was handled. She became one of my favorites in the book (I hated her at first, then ended up totally rooting for her) and to see her storyline done with in such a hurried way just sold her entire character short.

But there is something to be said about a book that tells the stories of an almost entirely female cast, of a ship’s crew that – while vastly different – reminded me of Serenity, in the way they stuck together as a team. I loved that a queer woman who has to think about getting her medication on time every single day, gets to be the heroine of this tale, I love how much depth even minor characters had, and if the future holds more stories for the Tangled Axon (pretty please?), I’ll be among its first readers.

RATING: 8/10  –  Excellent!

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Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 2

I don’t read comics an issue at a time. This may be because I love long, sprawling novels and still haven’t quite warmed to short fiction but reading a story one comic book issue at a time feels like chopping a big tale into very small bits. As soon as I get into it, it’s over. So I’ve been waiting for the second collected volume of Saga since I devoured volume one. When it showed up as immediately available on NetGalley, I frantically clicked on the download button and squeed like a little girl. Adobe DRM made it impossible for me to read the book on my boyfriend’s tablet (ugh!) but it only speaks for Saga that I simply couldn’t wait and ended up reading it on my computer screen.

saga volume 2SAGA: VOLUME 2
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Published by: Image Comics, July 2013
ISBN: 9781607066927
Paperback: 144 Pages
Series: Saga #2

My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: I should rewind for a second. This is my old man back when he wasn’t.

The smash-hit ongoing epic continues! Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and alien monstrosities, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters something truly frightening: her grandparents!
Collects Saga issues #7-12

dividerAlana and Marko just got themselves to a mildly safe place – a tree that is also a space ship – and could continue their flight almost comfortably. If it weren’t for Marko’s parents who drop by unannounced and are less than happy to find their only son married to a Landfall girl. At the same time, The Will and Prince IV continue their search for the scandalous couple and their baby. And to make things worse, there’s a new hunter on their trail…

This series manages not only to keep up its whacky style, it turns it up to eleven. Whether it’s a giant with a monstrous scrotum trying to kill our heroes, a “space fetus”, or a rodent medic, Vaughan and Staples’ imagination seems to know no limits. The artwork is stunning as ever, the characters are vivid and don’t all look the same (something I’ve noticed with certain comic artists), their age differences are visible. But there are more reasons to love these characters, because they feel utterly believable, each with their own problems and dreams. Most of all, I was impressed (again) with the depiction of Alana and Marko’s relationship. There is no romanticizing or cheesy scenes. Apart from them having wings and horns, respectively, they could be an ordinary couple trying to make it in our world.

I suspect that this story will continue to grow and end up being about way more than an interspecies war. If it keeps up this kind of quality and suspense, I’m in for the long ride. Ten volumes? Great. Twenty? Why not? Because so far, every issue was better than the last and there are more characters to love or hate, but always with a passion.
The Will and Lying Cat grew on me even more in this volume. Once Will is joined by Marko’s mysterious ex Gwendolyn (whom I love and hate at the same time), things take an interesting turn and plot strings tie together beautifully. There were even a few moments that made me hold my breath and fear for the characters’ lives – until then I hadn’t even known I cared that much.

saga will and lying catI was extremely pleased to see how Marko and Alana met, a scene that added another layer to each of their personalities. The appearance of Marko’s parents temproarily splits the plot in two. Because Hazel’s new babysitter was unceremoniously sent away by Marko’s mother, Marko goes out to find her and his mother follows after him. Which leaves Alana and her new father-in-law on the ship with Hazel. Marko and his mother don’t have much time to talk about relationships or family because they are thrown from one danger into the next. Alana on the other hand, gets some quiet moments, interrupted only by her discovery (yet again) of how babies work.

saga alana readingEvery plot thread delivers a wonderful mixture of action, character development and flash backs to keep me utterly hooked. The only negative I can think of is that Marko’s parents – while featuring throughout the entire collection – don’t get enough depth. Yes, they are layered characters but I was under the impression that I was supposed to care a lot more about them than I did. This being a very, very minor issue (and may just as well be my own fault for not connecting with the characters), my love for the comic series has only grown. So… when is the third collection coming out?

THE GOOD: Amazing characters, crazy ideas, a killer plot – drawn beautifully and vividly. Realistic depiction of Marko and Alana’s relationship. Fantastically narrated by Hazel-at-some-unknown-point-in-the-future.
THE BAD: I couldn’t connect with Marko’s parents as much as I wanted to.
THE VERDICT: Even more highly recommended than volume one (which you should read first, nonetheless!). Possibly my favorite comic books ever.

RATING: 9,5/10  – Pretty close to perfection.

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  1. Volume 1
  2. Volume 2

Review: James S. A. Corey – Leviathan Wakes

I’ve been wanting to read a space opera for a long time but I never new quite where to start. When everybody started raving about author-duo Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham’s Expanse series and how accessible it was, my first space opera was chosen. It turned out to be fun but didn’t get to me on a deeper level.

leviathan wakesLEVIATHAN WAKES
by James S.A. Corey

Published by: Orbit, 2011
ISBN: 1841499889
Paperback: 561 pages
Series: The Expanse #1

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: The Scopuli had been taken eight days ago, and Julie Mao was finally ready to be shot.

Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach. Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, “The Scopuli,” they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to “The Scopuli” and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

dividerAs a Space Opera newbie, I have always understood the expression to mean a story that is pretty much universal and could take place anywhere but happens to be set in space, with space ships instead of cars or planes or boats, with interplanetary travel instead of just intercity travel, etc. Well, this is pretty much true for Leviathan Wakes. At its heart is a mystery story, wrapped in conspiracies, padded with lots of action. It would have worked just as well set on Earth – but let’s face it, inserting a space ship makes most things instantly cooler.

The story is told alternately out of Holden and Miller’s perspective. I liked Holden immediately but over time, his constant righteousness, his naiveté and sometimes downright too-goodness got on my nerves a bit. I still like him but surprisingly, Miller – who is a lot less easy to identify with  – grew on me over the course of the novel. Miller is this dark, brooding cop on Ceres station, a Belter to the bone, and dealing with personal demons galore. He may also be a little bit out of his mind but I thought his character offered nice layers of complexity. Figuring out what really made him tick was at least as much fun as unraveling the conspiracy.

Through our two protagonists’ eyes, we get to see quite a bit of the solar system that humanity has populated. In addition to Earth, Mars is populated, as well as the Belt, and to me that was the most interesting part. Terraformed Mars? Fine, show me the entirely new culture of Belters. People who are born in such an environment are automatically different from Earthers. Because of the difference in gravity, Belters usually grow extremely tall and (to our Earther eyes) very skinny. They also have their own slang, whic to me read like a mix of bad English, Spanish, and the occasional German mixed in. It gives the place a lot of character though and I had fun walking around Ceres station with Miller.leviathan wakes german

Holden lost a bit of sympathy over time but in general, I love the dynamic between him and his crew. It’s amazing that most of them never get to say very much (Alex) but still feel like proper characters. Maybe my brain also just inserted Firefly characters into the blanks… which reminds me. This book has been compared to Firefly and I honestly don’t see why. It is a fun and engaging story with space ships and battles and a big, evil conspiracy, but I just don’t see the parallels. Seriously people. Let it go. We’re all mourning the Serenity but not every crew on a space ship that banters back and forth is automatically our favorite of crews.

Plotwise, I thought it was solid. I never got close enough to the characters or stories to feel that pull. On the other hand, I looked forward to picking the book up again. This is one of those books that I enjoyed while reading but it didn’t make me want to read the next instalment right away. Maybe this year, maybe next, I’m in no hurry. But whenever I feel like an easy-to-read yet sprawling space opera again, I’ll pick up Caliban’s Hour. Overall, I liked Leviathan Wakes, but it offered only a few things that were new to me. Then again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an action-packed detective story in space. Recommended for a fun and surprisingly quick read.

THE GOOD: Miller is a great character, there is almost non-stop action and an intersting mystery.
THE BAD: I would have enjoyed more politics, more world-building and character depth.
THE VERDICT: 500 pages full of fun, action, and a lovable crew – plus Miller’s own particular brand of crazy. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s a thorougly enjoyable read – like Annalee Newitz said on io9: “A Hollywood blockbuster in book form.”

RATING: 7/10 – Very good.

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The Expanse Series:

  1. Leviathan Wakes
  2. Caliban’s War
  3. Abaddon’s Gate

Expanse novellas:

  • The Butcher of Anderson Station
  • Gods of Risk

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Oh boy. Let me say this first before the hordes of Scalzi-enthusiasts come and stone me. I don’t blindly adore John Sclazi. I’ve only read Old Man’s War and while it was a fun and quick read, the characters were so shallow that I can’t say I find Scalzi to be a great writer and the book didn’t leave a whole lot of impression. But there is potential. Here’s the second thing: I’ve never watched Star Trek or any of the movies/TV shows/spin-offs. I have seen an occasional episode so I know enough to recognize a redshirt when I see one.

The reason I picked up the book in the first place was Luke Burrage’s podcast review (there’s spoilers but the review is really great!). And if you don’t want to read what comes now, you might as well listen to Luke’s review. Because I agree with it wholeheartedly.

REDSHIRTS
by John Scalzi

published: Tor, June 2012
ISBN: 1429963603
pages: 320
copy: ebook

my rating: 3,5/10

first sentence: From the top of the large boulder he sat on, Ensign tom Davis looked across the expanse of the cave toward Captain Lucius Abernathy, Science Officer Q’eeng and Chief Engineer Paul West perched on a second, larger boulder, and though, Well, this sucks.

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 thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn’t be better… until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact 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) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed. Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. 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.

A “redshirt” is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates with fans of Star Trek (1966–1969), from the red shirts worn by Starfleet security officers who frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.
Wikipedia

Andy Dahl may be a redshirt but in this book he’s our protagonist. Not that that means a lot. He is the one we follow as he notices that things are weird. His group of friends – who are all similarly-named (Dahl and Duvall, Hanson and Hester) and have so little personality that it’s hard to tell them apart at all – are told by another crew member what the deal is. As somebody who knows the Star Trek trope of killing off the poor fucker in the red shirt to create some action and up the stakes, we of course already know what’s going on. It would have been nice to have our main character figure it out too. But no, he is told by someone smarter, but not much more three-dimensional than him (at least then.).

Now we know the author is bad with characters. That’s why I found Old Man’s War not at all memorable and don’t remember a single name, because I didn’t feel an emotional attachment to the characters. I didn’t even dislike anyone, they didn’t have enough to them for that. I literally nothinged them. And I nothing every character in this book. Jenkins is the only one with some meat to him – character-wise, that is. And while I say that, he is still a very, very flat character.

Here’s the thing though: It becomes clearer towards the end of the story that the bad writing is on purpose. It’s impossible to talk about this without spoiling so I’ll be vague. The characters realize they are the redshirts and, naturally, try to escape their fate of useless death. They are also told why they are redshirts and that this implies them having little backstory and next to no personality or reason for existence… phew, I hope that was vague enough. You get the idea, though. There is a reason why the characters and the dialogue are so bad.

Still, I cringed at the irony of a character with no personality at all calling another character (who she’s talked to for one minute) “not hugely full of personality”. WTF? That happens in the first dialogue between Dahl and Duvall which is not only painfully badly written (everything ends in “Dahl said” or “Duval said” – you learn in elementary school not to do that) but also just not funny. I thought Scalzi would be playing with the tropes and clichés of the genre, poke fun at the Enterprise – in a clever way. What he does is just give us a boring story that’s been done better many times and to top it off, it is incredibly badly written. If this were his first novel, I doubt he would make it to become a bestseller. Instead of writing a satire or a smart and funny book about what it’s like to be the redshirt, the token guy who has to die to show how dangerous this planet or that alien species are, and to break the cliché by giving these characters personality and a life of their own, he spits the trope right back in our faces. Example: The characters’ entire “backstory” can be (and is) wrapped up by another character quite accurately:

You were a novitiate to an alien religion. You’re a scoundrel who’s made enemies across the fleet. You’re the son of one of the richest men in the universe. You left your last ship after having an altercation with your superior officer, and you’re sleeping with Kerensky now.

You may think this is just a summary of big events that have an impact on all of their lives. It’s not. This is all the information we’re given, none of which actually defines any of their actions or how other people react to them. Nobody treats Hanson different for being rich, Dahl’s knowledge of some alien language has no impact or importance on anything in the plot and the rest ist really just tropes so these guys have more than a name to them. But not much.

Additionally, the book is made up entirely of dialogue. There are absolutely no descriptions. Now even for a Star Trek fan I can imagine that’s annoying. How are we supposed to know what anything looks like, especially the characters. And their “personalities” are interchangable (even males and females don’t have any difference in their behaviour, mannerism or looks). We don’t know what they look like, most of the time we only get their last names, not even being able to tell if a woman or a man is talking. Ending every single line of dialogue with “xyz said” is also not helpful. When the entire group of redshirts were having a one-liner discussion going back and forth, I just skipped the “xyz said” and just inserted “yeah that guy or whatever” because it really didn’t make a difference. Really, John Scalzi, why should I care if these cardboard figures get killed off, anyway?

The novel does have some redeeming qualities to it, though. Towards the very end of the main story, it does get a little better. Kerensky, while his only trait is being quite silly, at least stands out as a character in the dialogue while the others are just a big, mushy group talking at each other, trying to be funny and failing. And surprisingly, we are introduced to a few characters shortly before the end that we actually almost care about. The three codas that come after the main plot, while not groundbreaking or filled with better dialogue, are much better written. You can tell that Scalzi is actually like one of his own characters – not a bad writer, just producing bad writing.

He’s being very meta about all of this. But being meta does not excuse you from being a decent writer. And we know Scalzi (while not great with characters) can do better than this. I got the feeling that he was just too lazy. He knows his name will sell no matter what. So why not just poop out a NaNoWriMo novel and publish it however it comes out? The fact that it’s a bestseller speaks for itself. So was the painful and boring journey through this short book worth it? No. I will not buy any more Scalzi books. I’ll read the ones I already own but I’m not throwing any more of my money towards this guy. I don’t like being made fun of by authors. Fuck with somebody else, you should respect your readers more than that!

THE GOOD: The idea of writing a story about redshirts is good. The idea of the meta-element is excellent (if not original) and the codas are actually well written.
THE BAD: Basic language, cardboard characters, bad writing, clichéd dialogue and not very funny. Also, I feel (as the Germans would say “verarscht”) like he’s laughing his ass off about me for getting away with this and making money off his readers’ hopes.
THE VERDICT: Has been done much better in other stories (listen to Luke’s podcast, he talks about this in detail) and other than make me angry, this book really didn’t do much for me. No food for thought, no memorably characters. And a cheesy ending.

RATING: 3,5/10  Bad but not without some merit.

Related Posts:

Other reviews:

John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

John Scalzi can do no wrong. Or so it seems when one listens to the prevalent opinion on his books on the internet. Having read only one of his novels so far, I see the appeal. But I don’t think Old Man’s War merits the hype it has received. Its obvious flaws seem less important to most people than they were to me. I liked this book a lot. I just don’t think it’s that much better than many others.

OLD MAN’S WAR
by John Scalzi:

published: Tor Books, 2005
ISBN: 0765348276
pages: 314
copy: paperback
series: Old Man’s War #1

my rating: 7/10

first sentence: I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.  Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.  John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

John Scalzi leads his readers, and his protagonist alike, into this world slowly, taking one step at a time. Having everything explained to you – how the army works, why you join when you’re 75 years old, and especially how a bunch of old people is going to be fighting a war – was never boring or lecturing. It was a lot of fun. John Perry is as clueless as we are and has to learn things and take them in bit by bit. His reactions and the fact that he was just so likable made this really interesting. We learn about some awesome technology and why the Colonial Defense Force keeps everything secret from Earth’s inhabitants.

I said I liked John Perry. And I did. I also liked most of the other characters, Perry’s friends who call jokingly themselves  the “Old Farts”. But it was with these quippy, fun friends that I had my biggest problems. They are all stand-ins for certain pieces of information Scalzi needs to bring across. One of them just happens to be a physicist who can explain one thing or another that needs explaning. One of the ladies seems to be there simply to give Perry a girl to sleep with, once all their bodies have been rejuvinated. That said, this was probably one of the best scenes in the book. Hey, what would you do if you get turned from 75 to 25 years old in a matter of minutes and suddenly all the elderly ladies around you are hot babes?
Sadly, once the actual fighting starts for Perry and his friends, they seem to be there simply to show how gruesome war is and in how many different ways a person can die in this particular interstellar conflict. Since they were kept so vague and flat, I didn’t really feel much when some of them did die – and that can’t be the point of a war story, can it?

Now that the negative is out of the way: This book is just pure fun. It has almost everything you can wish for in a good novel. Aliens, brawling, space ships, physics and mathematics that remind you dreadfully of your school days and a suspenseful story with a nicely built story arc. Military sci-fi gets a bed reputation for “glorifying war/the military” but I didn’t feel that here at all. The reason for this Old Man’s War and the power of the military are discussed in the novel and I found the reasons understandable. Scalzi didn’t just show us how positive the new recruits take their situation but also lets us see other points of view.

I understand why this book made it to a lot of best of lists. It is a fun military science fiction novel with some great ideas (I loved the personal computers and the original names some characters gave them). The story is well-rounded and could be read as a standalone as well as part of the series. You can tell that Scalzi’s world has a lot more to offer and personally, I look forward to The Ghost Brigades.

Was this a good book? Definitely. Was it overwhelmingly awe-inspiring? No. But I’ll be back for the next one and hope to see some of that Scalzi-magic that everybody seems to go on about.

THE GOOD: Fast-paced, great science fictional ideas. Not a moment of boredom. At times quite hilarious.
THE BAD: Except for the protagonist, very flat characters. Their fates left me emotionally blank.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended for people new to science fiction. It’s quite the adventure and eases you into a world of spaceships and interstellar warfare.

RATING: 7/10 Very good book

The Old Man’s War series:

  1. Old Man’s War
  2. The Ghost Brigades
  3. The Last Colony
  4. Zoe’s Tale

Other reviewers:

Orson Scott Card – Speaker for the Dead

After an amazing book like Ender’s Game, it must be hard for an author to come up with something even remotely as awesome. But Orson Scott Card has earned all my respect and admiration with this second volume in the Ender series. Because while it is very different from Ender’s Game, it is as good, if not better!

SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD
by Orson Scott Card

published: Tor, 1986
ISBN: 0812550757
pages: 382
copy: paperback
series: Ender  #2

my rating: 9,5/10

first sentence: In the year 1830, after the formation of the Starways Congress, a robot scout ship sent a report by ansible: The planet it was investigating was well within the parameters for human life.

In the aftermath of his terrible war, Ender Wiggin disappeared, and a powerful voice arose: The Speaker for the Dead, who told the true story of the Bugger War. Now, 3000 years later, a second alien race has been discovered, but again the aliens’ ways are strange and frightening. Again, humans die. And it is only the Speaker for the Dead, who is also Ender Wiggin the Xenocide, who has the courage to confront the mystery…and the truth.

From the beginning, it is obvious that this is a very different story from the one told in Ender’s Game. Three thousand years have passed, the setting is a planet called Lusitania and the protagonsits are scientists – xenologers, xenobiologists. Ender Wiggin, the original Xenocide, is only 35 years old. Constant space travel at nearly the speed of light has made it possible for him to see his own name spoken with hatred by everyone. And at the same time be praised as the Speaker for the Dead who wrote The Hive Queen and the Hegemon. Before Ender is called to Speak the death of several people on Lusitania, we get to know a whole new cast of characters.

The xenologers and xenobiologists may have been sent to discover and study the piggies’ culture but, by law, they are not allowed to intervene or, in fact, give away any information about human life, in order to preserve the natural behavior of the alien species. I found the idea intriguing to try and learn about a strange culture without being allowed to ask direct questions, lest one give too much away of one’s own culture. From a science point of view, that is absolutely devestationg. And incredibly fun to read!

I was stunned by Orson Scott Card’s story-telling. Going from a beloved book like Ender’s Game into something (almost) entirely new felt a bit like leaving an old friend behind for someone fresher – I was reluctant, to say the least. But then I fell in love with this novel immediately. There isn’t a single boring or unnecessary page in The Speaker for the Dead, the language is on point and the pacing is fantastic. In the piggies, Card created a very original and strange alien race which is used to explore themes of cultural understanding, philosophy and scientific work.

How the author managed to fit character development in this story – for every single person, I might add – is unbelievable. But it’s true. There is a range of characters, human, piggy, and even an incredibly likeable artificial mind, and each of them feels utterly real and grows throughout this story. I still can’t decide what aspect I found more interesting – learning about the piggies’ culture, watching the protagonists’ family tragidy, or seeing how Ender will act.

There is not a single bad thing to be said about this book. It feels well-rounded, has a satisfying end (that leaves room for the sequel of course) and could even be read as a stand-alone novel. There are lots of hints and mentions of the things that happened in Ender’s Game, but they’re not vital to get an amazing story out of this book. Both the Hugo and Nebula were awarded to this (and Ender’s Game) and they are as deserved as they can be. Orson Scott Card has managed the almost impossible. To write a follow-up to a pretty much universally beloved story and make it – while entirely different – just as good.

THE GOOD: Engaging characters, interesting alien race, quick pace (took me two days to read) and great themes.
THE BAD: Uhm… I don’t know, you tell me.
THE VERDICT: There is no reason why this book shouldn’t be read by everyone. Pick it up, sit down and don’t expect to get up before you’re done.

RATING: 9,5/10

The series:

  1. Ender’s Game (German review)
  2. Speaker for the Dead
  3. Xenocide
  4. Children of the Mind

Kristine Kathryn Rusch – Diving Into the Wreck

Tiefseetaucher im Weltall. Ich war mir nicht sicher, ob diese Idee aufgehen würde, aber trotz einiger Mängel hat Kristine Kathryn Rusch hier eine tolle Geschichte geschrieben, die verspricht, in den folgenden Bänden noch besser zu werden.

Deutscher Titel: noch nicht bekannt
Erschienen: 2009
Seiten: 269
Erschienen bei: PYR

Meine Bewertung: 6,5/10

Erster Satz: I tell people I sleep alone because I prefer to be alone.

Die Ich-Erzählerin – uns nur als “Boss” bekannt – ist eine Weltraum-Taucherin und ständig auf der Suche nach verlassenen Raumschiffen. Ihr letzter Fund ist ebenso fantastisch wie unmöglich: ein Schiff von der Alten Erde, das schon längst nicht mehr existieren dürfte. Als Boss mit einer Crew von Tauchern das Wrack erkundet, macht sie einen noch viel schrecklicheren Fund. Manche Geheimnisse sollte man ruhen lassen…
Von der ersten Seite an war ich wie gebannt.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch erzählt in knappen, prägnanten Sätzen und schafft es, den Leser sofort zu packen. “Boss” ist zwar eine ziemlich deprimierende Heldin, ihre Erzählungen lesen sich aber sehr flüssig und erzeugen genau an den richtigen Stellen Spannung. Der Schreibstil ist es, was dieses Buch zu einem guten Buch macht. Die Beschreibungen von Raumschiffen, futuristischen Geräten und Raumanzügen konnte ich gut nachvollziehen und mir problemlos vorstellen. Viele Science Fiction Romane protzen zwar vor guten Ideen, scheitern aber an der Umsetzung. Rusch hat ihre Technik im Griff.

Der Roman ist in drei Teile gegliedert, die ich passenderweise auch an drei Abenden gelesen habe. Zuerst scheint der erste Teil mit dem zweiten nichts zu tun zu haben, aber man ahnt doch schnell, wie alles zusammenhängt. Die Gliederung fühlte sich sehr natürlich an, täuscht aber nicht darüber hinweg, dass für die Anzahl an Seiten doch sehr wenige – wenn auch gute – Ideen vorhanden sind. Rusch konzentriert sich stark auf eine besondere Technologie – stealth tech – , erwähnt das restliche Zukunftsleben nur nebenbei. Ich hätte mich sehr über mehr Informationen zur politischen Situation in der Welt gefreut. Wir erfahren nur, dass die Neun-Planeten-Allianz und das Imperium politische Gegner sind und vor vielen Jahren einen grausamen Krieg geführt haben. Auch das alltägliche Leben und die technischen Errungenschaften, hätten mehr Potenzial gehabt. Diese werden angedeutet und es kommen einige wirklich spannende Ideen vor wie etwa das Wartezimmer beim Arzt, das sich auf den Wartenden einstellt und dementsprechend einrichtet.

Manche Charaktere bleiben leider auch eher flach. Rusch macht vor allem oft den Fehler zu sagen, was sie zeigen könnte. So denkt “Boss” ständig, wie vorsichtig ihr Crew-Mitglied Karl ist, aber wir erleben ihn eigentlich eher mutig und sogar ein bisschen leichtsinnig. Der Rest der Crews, mit denen “Boss” arbeitet hat zwar jeweils eine eigene Hintergrundgeschichte und oft auch eine düstere Vergangengheit, aber seltsamerweise für mich trotzdem kaum Charakter, auch die “Bösewichte” nicht. “Boss” selbst ist klar gezeichnet, ist aber so melancholisch und depressiv, dass man auch nicht unbedingt mit ihr befreundet sein will. Aber man muss einen Charakter ja nicht gern haben, um gerne über ihn zu lesen.

Insgesamt eine toll erzählte Geschichte mit guter Idee, die aber sicher als Novelle (worauf das Buch übrigens basiert) besser aufgehoben wäre. Den zweiten Teil der Serie werde ich aber sicher noch lesen. Denn hatte ich das Buch erstmal in der Hand, wollte ich es nicht mehr weglegen. Und das ist es, was ein gutes Buch für mich erreichen muss. Mich für ein paar Stunden in eine andere Welt entführen und einfach Spaß machen.

PRO: Sehr gut und fesselnd geschriebene Geschichte, die Lust auf mehr macht.
CON: Zu wenige Ideen, hätte mehr aus dem Potenzial herausholen können.
FAZIT: Ein paar unterhaltsame Stunden, auch für Science Fiction Anfänger geeignet.

BEWERTUNG: 6,5/10

Alle Bücher der Serie:

  1. Diving Into the Wreck
  2. City of Ruins
  3. Boneyards