Friday, June 26, 2015

Coming Home, by Jack McDevitt

Coming Home is the seventh novel in the Alex Benedict series, and next up in my reading of the Nebula nominees for this year.  I'm struggling with whether to damn this novel with faint praise or be a bit more direct.  I'll let you be the judge from here.

Alex Benedict is an antiquities dealer nine thousand years in the future.  His Boswell (hence narrator of these stories) is Chase Kolpath, ace pilot and beautiful assistant.  This installment has two story lines--Benedict's tracking of lost artifacts from the early space age, and the rescue of his uncle Gabe from a ship caught in a spacetime warp.

McDevitt is a solid speculator--we have some history on civilization's collapse, and a recap of encounters with the alien Mutes.  But it still rings odd to have people basically not changing traditions over ten thousand years, and using technologies that aren't even current now.

My main issue here is that this work is just dry as dust.  McDevitt always has that tendency, but sometimes the stories are fun anyway.  This was more of a slog.  Everyone is perfectly reasonable and speaks in the careful way office workers at major corporations speak.  You can't tell men from women, good guys from bad ones.  Makes it awfully hard to build dramatic tension, and this one doesn't.  I'm going to have forgotten all about it in a week or so.  The book is worthwhile if you are a fan of the series as it does advance the story.  Not otherwise.  Two stars from me.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin

The Three Body Problem is the first Nebula nominee of it's kind that I have read--a translation of a Chinese science fiction novel.  Liu Cixin is a very popular novelist in China, and he got a translation from an excellent author, Ken Liu.

Ken Liu says in the translator's notes that he is not trying to make the work sound like it was written in English.  He succeeds in this, the novel definitely has a Chinese prose flavor.  Overall slightly stiff, but kind of like Asimov.

The Three Body Problem is the first of the Three Body trilogy.  The story starts in the Cultural Revolution, and we get a fantastic picture of how very distorted and violent life got in China during that time.  During this time the Red Coast Base is constructed--an antenna to broadcast messages to the stars, as well as to receive them. 

And such a message is indeed received.  Trisolaris is a planet in a three-star system.  It is the last surviving planet in the chaotic environment.  Civilization has somehow developed to the point that it can survive the chaos.  They receive a signal from the Red Coast Base and make plans to come to Earth, contacting humans through an advanced video game.  Invasion to come?

This isn't a perfect book--the slight stiffness in the prose takes away a little--but the video game descriptions and scientific speculation are first rate and fascinating.  Well worth the read.  3 stars from me.,